Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

146 those other agents however are not all human

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Unformatted text preview: them. I have some knowledge or notion of my mind and of how it acts with regard to ideas, in that I know or understand what is meant by those words. When I know something, I have some notion of it. The terms ‘idea’ and ‘notion’ could be treated as interchangeable with one another, if that is what people want; but we speak more clearly and properly when we distinguish very different things by giving them different names. 143. I should add that the doctrine of abstract ideas has had a large share in making intricate and obscure those sciences that focus on spiritual things. Men have imagined they 52 could form abstract notions of the powers and acts of the mind, and could consider them apart from the mind or spirit itself, and also apart from their respective objects and effects. In this way a great many dark and indeterminate words, presumed to stand for abstract notions, have been introduced into metaphysics and morality, and from these have grown infinite distractions and disputes amongst the learned. 144. But nothing seems to have contributed more to pulling men into controversies and mistakes regarding the nature and operations of the mind than their custom of speaking of those things in terms borrowed from perceptible ideas. For example, the will is termed the motion of the soul; which encourages people to believe the mind of man is like a ball in motion, pushed and determined by the objects of sense as necessarily as the ball is by the stroke of a racket. From this arise endless worries and errors of dangerous consequence in morality. I am sure that all of this could be cleared up, and the truth be made to appear plain, uniform, and consistent, if philosophers could only be prevailed upon to look into themselves and think hard about what they mean by what they say. 145. From what I have said, it is clear that the only way we can know that there are other spirits is through what they do - that is, the ideas they arouse in us. Some of the changes and recombinations that I perceive among my ideas inform me there are certain particular agents like myself, which accompany those ideas and concur in [= agree to, go along with] their production in my mind. Whereas I know about my own ideas immediately, my knowledge of other spirits is not immediate; it depends on the intervention of ideas that I take to be effects or signs of agents (spirits) other than myself. 146. · Those ‘other agents’, however, are not all human·. Though we are sometimes convinced that human agents are involved in producing some events. everyone can see that the things we call ‘the works of nature’ - that is, the great majority of the ideas or sensations that we perceive - are not produced by human wills and do not depend on them in any way. So there must be some other spirit that causes them, since it is contradictory that they should exist by themselves. (See section 29.) ·What is the nature of that ‘other spirit’? Here is how we can find out·. We can attend carefully to Ÿhow regular, orderly and inter-connected natural things are; to Ÿthe surprising magnificence, beauty and perfection of the larger parts of the creation, and the delicately intricate way in which its smaller parts are arranged; to Ÿhow harmoniously all the parts fit together; and, above all - this being something that we don’t view with the astonishment it deserves - to Ÿthe laws of pain and pleasure, and the instincts (that is, the natural inclinations, appetites, and emotions) of animals. If while considering all this we also attend to the nature of the attributes one, eternal, infinitely wise, good and perfect, we shall see clearly that they are attributes of that spirit I have mentioned - the one who makes everything happen and gives everything its reality. 147. Clearly, then, we know God as certainly and immediately as we know any mind or spirit other than ourselves. Indeed, God’s existence is far more evidently perceived than the existence of other men, because nature has infinitely more and bigger effects than those that are attributed to human agents. ·Indeed, the things that are done by humans are at the same time effects of nature - that is, they are also done by God·. Every sign of a man’s existence - that is, every effect produced by a man - points even more strongly to the existence of that Spirit who is the Author of nature. ·Here is why·. When you have an 53 effect on me, all that you actually will to do is to move your own limbs ·or larynx·; that the movements you make with your body should lead to any change in the ideas in my mind depends wholly on the will of the Creator. It is He alone who keeps other spirits ‘in step’ with one another in such a way that they can perceive one another’s existence. Yet this pure, clear light that illuminates us all, making us visible to one another, is in itself invisible. 148. The unthinking herd all seem to hold that they cannot see God. ‘If only we could see him in way we see a man,’ they say, ‘we would believe that he exists and, as b...
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