--The Veil of Perception--
Locke's objections to Malebranche are connected with a fascinating and
important problem about ideas, and about how to interpet their views.
Jonathan Bennett in his book Locke, Berkeley, Hume attributes to
Locke, the very doctrine which Arnauld and Locke object to in
Malebranche! Bennett is hardly the first. Berkeley and Reid (among
others), in effect, attribute the "veil of perception" interpretation to
Locke when they attack his views. Both conclude that this leads to
skepticism about the existence of the external world.
Charles McCracken in Malebranche and British Philosophy writes:
Several of Locke's commentators have been intrgued that he should have made to Malebranche the very objection which Berkeley and others were to make to him. Indeed A.D. Woozley argues: "it is scarcely credible both that Locke should be able to see and state so clearly the fundamental objection to the picture-original theory of sense perception, and that he should have held the same theory himself." This very passage in the Examination of Malebranche should lead us, Woozley suggests, to consider that Locke may use 'idea' in a more ordinary way than is ususally supposed--holding not that we see or perceive ideas, but that when we see tables or chairs, we have an idea, notion or conception of what we have seen. But such an interpretation is hard to reconcile with much of what Locke says in the Essay.One interesting way to deal with this apparent inconsistency in Locke (and Arnauld as well) may be suggested in Steven Nadler's book Arnauld and the Cartesian philosophy of ideas (See Captain's Choice for bibliographic details). In his discussion of the Arnauld/Malebranche controversy, Nadler argues (along with a number of recent writers) that while Arnauld accepts the representative character of ideas, he is still a direct realist about perception.