Rethinking Occasionalism: John Locke and the Power(s) of Nature

  • Mariangela Priarolo University "Ca' Foscari", Venice
Keywords: John Locke, Nicolas Malebranche, Jonh Norris, Occasionalism, Power, Laws of Nature


Although, in recent years, the literature on early modern occasionalism, its different expressions and its dissemination has increased, the number of inquiries on the British reception of such a doctrine is still very limited. However, the spread of Malebranche’s philosophy in Britain suggests that some of the discussions on God’s role in relation to causal actions and the nature of bodies which took place across the Channel were driven by the same questions raised by occasionalist doctrines in the rest of Europe. The aim of this article is to suggest that Locke’s definition of natural powers, with all the difficulties that it entails, can also be read as an answer to the problems posed by occasionalist arguments, in particular by the denial of the claim that by observing natural phenomena we can infer the existence of causal powers. The first section will briefly summarize Locke’s criticism of occasionalism in his writings on Malebranche and John Norris, while the second will analyse Locke’s treatment of the notion of power. Through this survey, it will be demonstrated that the weight of experience in Locke’s philosophy is strictly connected to the problem of accounting for the actions of finite beings that we find in the occasionalist criticism of causal action.