John Norris was born at Collingbourne Kingston, a small village about eight miles away from Wiltshire, England. He got his education at the Winchester School and Exeter College in Oxford, getting a B.A. in 1680. Norris touched on many topics throughout his career such as politics, religion, Philosophy and the lives of Christians. Norris was known as a Cartesian philosopher who continued the Cartesian project during the height of the Lockean movement. He made a name for himself early in his life by opposing the dominant beliefs of John Locke. In addition, John Norris set out to finish the work of Malebranche. Norris personally believed that Malebranche did not provide enough evidence for the existence of the intelligible world and did not describe it thoroughly enough. Norris set out to describe the mind of God and the immorality and existence of the soul.
John Norris is much more deserving of a spot on our syllabus compared to Lady Masham. While I am comparing the two philosophers I have already compared, I cannot think of two philosophers that oppose each other more than these two thinkers. I personally believe that John Norris’s theories are much more convincing than Lady Masham if you consider God as a conception, contrary to some man sitting in the sky. I am very skeptical of human rationalization as a basis for philosophical theories, largely because I do not think humans are rational. Masham believes that we should rationally love God because of the inherit beauty of nature. Since God created everything, and the world is beautiful, humans should rationally conclude that God deserves our praise and love. I cannot swallow that theory because the world is just not that beautiful. Granted, I do think the world is beautiful in many ways, but I cannot assert that the world is strictly beautiful because of the existence and predominance of tragedy in life. If anything, I believe humans would rationally conclude that there is a God that created everything, but he does not deserve our love. Norris has a more palatable view, stating that we must love and worship God based on faith. We must take the good parts of life and elevate them over the bad parts of life in order to move forward. We must believe that God is perfect and move towards him despite how tragic life is. We essentially need to hold onto the transcendent aspect of existence and pursue it as the most important part of life, instead of allowing ourselves to get caught up in the rat race of life. Norris deserves a place on the syllabus because he does not have any holes in his argument. Lady Masham does not deserve a spot on our syllabus because she has a giant hole in her argument, which is the existence of tragedy and her rigid focus on human rationality.
In comparing Damaris Masham and John Norris, I have found their primary difference in thought to be centered around the idea of God. The idea of God, according to Norris, exists as a result of the divine nature of humans. The fact that all humans are made by God in the image of God allows humans to have a rough conception of the idea of God. Norris Discusses how the first thing which is conceivable in God is the first thing that could be absolutely conceived. What he means by this is that God has certain attributes and qualities that cause humans to conceive of him, based solely off those qualities. For example, you could be sitting in a nice chair. You could comment on how comfortable that chair is, yet you could likely imagine a chair that is more comfortable without much thought. This is true for all objects, where certain attributes of that object cause it to be a better or worse object. For the chair it could be comfort where a guitar would be sound, and a painting would be the sight of it and so on. All objects are sub-representations of the perfect version of that object. All guitars are made in the image of the absolute perfect guitar, or the absolute perfect chair and so on. Norris calls this perfect representation the divine ideal. Norris then asserts that we as humans conceive of this representation of the divine ideal within all objects as a result of the divine ideal of ourselves that we have in our mind. We see objects through this hierarchy of value because we all have the image if the ideal human within our minds (God described in different words). This divine ideal of humans we have is the origin of morality, pain and pleasure, and love (specifically for God). In regard to morality, Norris states that we act in accordance with our divine ideal and base our set of morals off of that image of the perfect being. When we act, we either act in a way that moves us closer to that divine ideal (in a morally good way) or farther from that ideal (in a morally wrong way). In addition, all thought and action is based off this divine ideal, because you choose to act in ways that either moves you towards your ideal or away from it, and your thoughts are shaped around the parts of the world you value by filtering out many of the parts you do not value. This is where pleasure and pain come in, where everything that happens to you is either painful or pleasurable only in comparison to your divine ideal. If you are doing something pleasurable, you are moving yourself towards your divine ideal (in other words God), and God essentially gives you the feeling of pleasure when you are doing something that acts in accordance with his will as a sort of reward. Similarly, when you are acting immorally, God punishes you in order to push you towards the correct path. God in Norris’s view is directly responsible for your feelings. This is also true for the feeling of love (a particular bone of contention for Lady Masham). Norris asserts that we all must love God because that is the true way to enlightenment and the only true way to live. We all have the divine ideal of humans in our head, and we must love and embrace this ideal. In order to feel any pleasure, we need to act in accordance with our divine ideal, and we must thank and love that ideal for endowing us with those good feelings and to stay aligned with the ideal path. Love and faith are connected in this scenario where you must have faith in your ideal and love it so you can know the difference between pain and pleasure, in order to always pursue the pleasure, in order to always move towards God.
Lady Masham, being a Lockian, disagrees with certain points made by John Norris, specifically referring the origin of pain and pleasure, love, and even the image of God that we have within our minds. Masham presents herself as more of a materialist than Norris is, or at least the material world has more of an impact on her view than Norris’s view. This defines her as a rationalist as well, where human rationalism plays a direct role in the formulation of her theories. Referring the image of God that exists in our minds, Masham states that we as humans essentially inferred the existence of God from the existence of ourselves, and particularly the existence of material things and external forces that affect the human mind and body. In other words, we saw a world of objects and inferred that a God must have created this world. This abolishes Norris’s view of God as a reference to your own being. God, in Masham’s view, is a very complicated force that cannot necessarily be described. We only infer his existence from the material world, so we must also infer his attributes. Unlike Norris’s view, where God is defined as the ideal representation, Masham describes God as strictly the force that is responsible for the existence of nature and reality.
Masham has a very different view of pain, pleasure, and love in reference to God’s existence. Masham states that there are actual pleasurable things and actual painful things that exist in the world that were created by God. Her view says that God created things that we as humans find pleasurable, and we should always follow the phenomenon that is pleasurable. Similarly, there are phenomenon that are painful that we should work to avoid. God in Masham’s view is removed from the daily activities of a human. God was the original being, the creator, but our experience of pain and pleasure are not directly derived from his existence like Norris’s argues. Something like sex, food, or achievement are actually pleasurable by their very invention by God. God predetermined these things to be pleasurable. Much like fire and failure, God pre-determined them to be painful.
Masham’s view on love for God is rather difficult to accept because it directly relies on human rationalization. She states that the harmonious nature of the world and the existence of the feeling of pleasure should cause us humans to love and worship God, as a sort of thank you for the existence of reality. She states that we rationalized the existence in God this way, by inferring that a God must have created this world. We rationalize that whatever/whoever is responsible for the existence of reality had good in their heart and we should be unequivocally thankful for our life. This sentiment highlights a fatal flaw that I see in her argument. To many or even most people, life is not that pleasurable. In fact, I do not doubt that the Buddhists were right to call life suffering. Life is suffering, at least if you do nothing. There is death, disease, tragedy and malevolence. I highly doubt that there is anyone who hasn’t questioned reality before, hasn’t asked the question “why me?” I do not think we could’ve rationalized our love for God because life is not blissful enough to worship its creator without question. This is where the problem of evil that many theologians contend with would eradicate her argument. I feel as though most people who live right now (especially outside the western world) would certainly question what the hell is wrong with the creator, if Masham’s view was true.
I would elect Norris’s view as the more acceptable view because it makes a great deal of room for the practicality and use of faith. Norris’s view states that you must trust in your ideal in order to move towards it. Despite hardships, you must not lose faith. This view makes room for the suffering that is intrinsic in life. Even if life is truly tragic for you, Norris says you must still maintain your faith in your ideal in order to move away from that tragedy. I believe that is a much more solid theory because life truly is not a picnic (all the time at least). Faith moves us forward; rationalization will leave us aimless. If I was to rationalize about the nature of reality/existence, I’d say it doesn’t matter cause we’ll all be dead in some millions of years. That is a little too pessimistic for me to agree with. We must hold onto our faith that existence is good.
- Perfection as a being
- Norris discusses how there are varying degrees of perfection when it comes to Being. There are many ways for a person to be called perfect in some fashion. In other words, there is no single definition of perfection because it varies dramatically between beings. God, in Norris’s view, is the amalgam of all different forms of perfection in one being. We call God perfect because he is the definition of all perfection that could ever exist.
- Norris calls God the definition of being. Being itself is the untainted essence of conscious existence. Human beings are all subsets of being because we’ve been tainted by many bad forces that compel our behavior. We all have pieces of the untainted being in our souls (the good side of all humans) but we cannot be the true definition of being. God is the definition of being because being itself is perfect, when it is untainted.
- The part of us that is aligned with god, the good aspects of being within us, should always be loved. We have Godly good and satanic evil within our hearts, and we should work to follow the good. This is only possible through faith and love of the good parts of oneself. “IF then God be Being it self, there is Infinite reason why we should Love, Fear, Reverence, and Adore him. For what an inlarged, indeter∣minate, transcendental, universalized thing is Being it self!” (27)
- Omniscience of God, Based off of Knowledge of Eternal Truths
- Norris asserts that there are eternal and necessary truths within life that we accept as immutable. These are truths that govern the way we as humans act, perceive, and move through the world, and what defines good.
- He asserts that nothing else can be true but these truths, thus making them eternal. These truths are not different ways of looking at life, but ways to correctly describe the structure of life and how to navigate that structure. Following the way of God is to follow what is objectively good, and the opposite will be following what is factually bad. Much like in the constitution where it states that these truths are self-evident. Those truths referenced by the constitution are the eternal truths of life, and these truths are infinitely known by God.
- We as humans have knowledge about objects that allows us to interact with them in a tool like function. We perceive the essence of objects, and strictly the essence. We see a chair as a chair, but we do not see the formulation of its atoms, or how it could be held together, or how that matter exists at all, etc. God has the eternal knowledge of all of these truths. We see objects as very one dimensional while God is able to see every aspect of all objects.
- The Omnipresence of God
- There is a Godly attribute within everything that exists in the natural world based off the fact that God is the ideal being. God made everything, so all objects are reflections of Gods perfect existence. God has the images of the ideal versions of all objects within his understanding. He holds the image of an ideal coffee mug, or car, or anything. He knows what the perfect version of a tree is, and he made every tree in comparison to the one truly perfect tree.
- God gave us the ability to perceive the concept of a perfect thing. We are not able to know what a perfect thing truly is (because only God has the eternal knowledge of everything), but we can perceive its existence. God gave us this in order to follow the path that leads us to perfection. We can perceive of the concept of a perfect being (God) and we perceive this in order to aim at it and pursue this perfection. We should be doing this with ourselves, other people, and any object we create. We should always attempt to move towards the divine ideal of anything that exists.
- God is a path that we all need to sacrifice ourselves to. He is a route to perfection that we must follow to be truly good. Norris labels our souls as corrupt because we do not always follow the path of God, or perfection. We constantly follow paths that do not align with God because of our own choices. We do not always act well because we are corrupted. We have the choice to follow the path of God but it is entirely up to us to do that.
God, whether considered in reality or conception, has certain qualities that should compel us as humans to act in accordance with His truth, according to Norris. God holds “chief Excellencies and Perfections of his which may have a more strong and immediate influence upon our Piety and Devotion” (III). In a less specific manner, God is the ideal, the ideal of all humans. He is the true and only true way, by definition. Norris drives this point home by discussing Being itself.
God is not exactly considered a Being, but The Being; He is Being itself, in Norris’s view. We are all disciples of the very first Being, God (at least in conception). Being in this case is defined as existing as a living entity that holds within them an essence. Norris describes God as the force that guides us and has always guided. One primary aspect of God is that He is responsible for all Beings, and therefore we are made in His image. We as humans were all created in the image of the first Being, a Being who is perfect. Judging that we are all made in the image of God, and humans have different degrees and types of perfection that describe their Being, God is the amalgamation of the most perfect aspects of Being. He is all the good of Being put into one body, which is how Norris describes true perfection. He is the definition of Being, compared to humans that contain aspects of Being itself. We are all a small part of the whole of Being, which is God. We all are destined to attempt to live up to that image of Being, flawless and infinitely good. Norris’s center argument in regard to God’s perfection is that God is the way, and the one and only true and good way. God, in Norris’s view, is the path of Being itself.
Norris moves to prove God’s Omnipotence and Omnipresence in reference to his idea of God as a path. God’s omnipotence is based off the existence of eternal and necessary truths in the world, in reference to an ideal world. Norris describes these truths though the essences of things. He states that every object has within it an essence which lays out two types of truth; the truth of the object complex and the truth of the object simple. He explains that the truth of the object complex is what is constant across all objects/things in one category, for example, humans. There is a certain essence in humans that is constant across all humans. There is something within us, whether it is consciousness or our feelings or vulnerability, that connects us by definition. However, there is something within all of us that distinguishes ourselves from all other humans, which Norris calls the truth of the object simple. While I am a human, I am different than other humans in many ways. There may be several specific reasons that I am different than other humans, but the combination of all my differences is called my simple essence. One could say that all things, let’s say humans, are different in many ways, but are all made in the image of one human form that is represented in all humans, but does not exist in all humans. In other words, all humans are representative of one image of a human, but individuals can never be in essence the image of a human. This is the same for all objects, where every object is made in the image of the divine object itself. All coffee mugs are made in the image of one coffee mug, the coffee mug, and have the essence of a coffee mug. As Norris states, this is why any aspect of a thing cannot be used to explain the general idea of a thing. The size and color of any individual coffee mug cannot describe the idea of a coffee mug. In general, Norris is concerning himself with universals, what he calls the divine idea of things. The constant across all coffee mugs, all humans, is their divine idea. Norris includes in his explanation that the divine idea of a thing is the ideal of anything. The divine idea of a mug is the perfect mug, and this is the same for a human. The true idea of a thing is the essence it houses in comparison to the perfect, or divine version of that thing.
Based off of these proofs, Norris describes the extent of Gods Omniscience as follows: God is the totality of all of these divine ideas, giving Him divine infinite knowledge. He has the infinite knowledge of all things that were, are, will be, or could ever be. God, in conception, is the force that holds the divine understanding of all things. Norris continuously asserts that God does not only hold this knowledge, but he is this knowledge. God is represented by the ideal Being, however, there exists this divine nature in all things. There is a divine nature of a coffee mug, where all coffee mugs are made in the image of a perfect coffee mug, the divine ideal of all mugs. Norris refers to this divine ideal as God Himself manifesting in this object. God is the form of all ideal things. Norris states that these divine ideas are “really coessential with and indistinct from the Essence of God” (155). When we consider the ideal version of anything that may or may not exist on earth, we are considering God himself. Gods “infinite knowledge” is the existence of all knowledge of the ideal versions of all objects existing in one totality. God is omniscient because He is and contains the knowledge of all things.
God’s Omnipresence is much simpler to grasp than his Omniscience, according to Norris, although it has been hardest to grasp for non-theologians. The proof of the latter proves the existence of the former. God’s Omnipresence is represented in the fact that God, described as the existence of any ideal, exists in all things at all times. God represents the ideal of all things, whether it is an object, system, idea, choice or path. He exists within all of these things at all times. God manifests in all things as a judge, as in the individual object is always compared to the divine ideal of the object. To conclude, God and His divine ideal nature exists in all things at all times, making Him Omnipresent.
Norris’s ideas converge into one axiom; that God is a path that exists within all things at all times. We all have the choice to follow the path of God, which is the absolute perfect and ideal path. Everything is made in the image of God, also defined as the ideal version of everything. This is true for ideas, choices, and objects. So, we should ideally search for the most flawless ideas and make the most ideal choices on order to align with God. Similarly, any craftsman who makes an object is making it based on the image of the perfect object and should ideally aim towards that perfect object. To follow God is to follow the ideal in any scenario. The option for the ideal path is always there because of God’s Omnipresence and Gods Omniscience. His existence everywhere at all times allows us to see how all things fall short of the divine ideal and allows us to know whether we are aligned with this divine ideal.