The representative doctrine of perception

Locke’s writings proved an inspiration to such Deists as John Toland and Matthew Tindal. A year after Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Toland published Christianity not Mysterious (1696). Like Locke, Toland thinks of ‘ideas’ as high- class sensations. He follows Locke in maintaining the ‘representative theory of perception’, whereby the objects of our thoughts are mental representations, not things outside of our consciousness. Locke somehow lost sight of the intentionality of thought, its orientation towards and absorption in things outside of consciousness. Toland states, ‘By the word IDEA ... I understand the immediate Object of the Mind when it thinks, or any Thought that the Mind employs about any thing.’12 If the Idea is the ‘Immediate Object of the Mind’, and not, rather, the mediate object of the mind, the object by which realities are mediated to it, then our objects of perception 11 12 [1] [2]

are representatives or emissaries from the world of sensible things. We shall have to make an inference from our sensations and ideas to realities outside of ourselves.

Certainty will then be sought and founded in qualities of the conscious mind itself, such as its reasonability. Disavowing the presence of miracle or mystery in the Scriptures, Toland claims, ‘Reason is the only Foundation of all Certitude, and ... nothing reveal’d ... is more exempted from its Disquisitions, than the ordinary Phenomena of Nature. Wherefore, there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason, nor above it; and that no Christian doctrine can be properly call’d a Mystery.’[3]

  • [1] John Locke, Letter 3, cited in Dixon, ‘Nice and Hot Disputes’, pp. 158-159.
  • [2] John Toland, Christianity not Mysterious (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 11.
  • [3] Toland, Christianity not Mysterious, p. 6.
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