OF THE ORIGIN OF IDEAS
EVERY one will readily allow, that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of
the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and
when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination.
These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never can entirely
reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when
they operate with greatest vigour, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner, that
we could almost say we feel or see it: But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness,
they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether
undistinguishable. All the colours of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in
such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landskip. The most lively thought is
still inferior to the dullest sensation.
We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in
a fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If
you tell me, that any person is in love, I easily understand your meaning, and from a just
conception of his situation; but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and
agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a
faithful mirror, and copies its objects truly; but the colours which it employs are faint and dull, in
comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice
discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.
Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which
are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are
commonly denominated Thoughts or Ideas. The other species want a name in our language, and
in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but philosophical purposes, to
rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call
them Impressions; employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the
term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or
love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less
lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or
movements above mentioned.
Nothing, at first view, may seem more unbounded than the thought of man, which not only