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Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

15 in short the arguments that are thought to prove

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Unformatted text preview: same eye in different positions, or eyes in different states in the same position? Again, they argue that Ÿsweetness is not really in the thing that is described as ‘sweet’, because sweetness can be changed into bitterness without there being any alteration in the thing itself - because the person’s palate has been affected by a fever or some other harm. Is it not equally 15 reasonable to argue that Ÿmotion is not outside the mind because a thing will appear to move more or less quickly - without any change in the thing itself - depending on whether the succession of ideas in the observer’s mind is slow or fast? 15. In short, the arguments that are thought to prove that colours and tastes exist only in the mind have as much force to prove the same thing of extension, shape and motion. Really, though, these arguments don’t prove that there is no extension or colour in an outward object, but only that our senses do not tell us what its true extension or colour is. My own previous arguments ·do better: they· clearly show it to be impossible that any colour or extension or other perceptible quality should exist in an unthinking thing outside the mind, or indeed that there should be any such thing as an object outside the mind. 16. But let us examine the usual opinion a little further. It is said that extension is a quality of matter, and that matter is the substratum that supports it. Please explain to me what is meant by matter’s ‘supporting’ extension. You reply: ‘I have no idea of matter; so I can’t explain it.’ I answer: Even if you have no positive meaning for ‘matter’ - ·that is, have no idea of what matter is like in itself· - you must at least have a relative idea of it, so that you know how matter relates to qualities, and what it means to say that it ‘supports’ them. If you don’t even know that, you have no meaning at all in what you are saying. Explain ‘support’, then! Obviously it cannot be meant here in its usual or literal sense, as when we say that pillars support a building: in what sense, then, are we to understand it? 17. When we attend to what the most accurate philosophers say they mean by ‘material substance’, we find them admitting that the only meaning they can give to those sounds is the idea of being in general, together with the relative notion of its supporting qualities. The general idea of being seems to me the most abstract and incomprehensible of all. As for its ‘supporting qualities’: since this cannot be understood in the ordinary sense of those words (as I have just pointed out), it must be taken in some other sense; but we are not told what that other sense is. I am sure, therefore, that there is no clear meaning in either of the two parts or strands that are supposed to make up the meaning of the words ‘material substance’. Anyway, why should we trouble ourselves any further in discussing this material substratum or support of shape and motion and other perceptible qualities? ·Whatever we make of its details - the notions of being in general, and of support· - it is clearly being said that shape and motion and the rest exist outside the mind. Isn’t this a direct contradiction, and altogether inconceivable? 18. Suppose it were possible for solid, figured, movable substances to exist outside the mind, corresponding to the ideas we have of bodies - how could we possibly know that there are any such things? We must know it either by sense or by reason. Our senses give us knowledge only of our sensations - ideas - things that are immediately perceived by sense - call them what you will! They do not inform us that outside the mind (that is, unperceived) there exist things that resemble the items that are perceived. The materialists themselves admit this. So if we are to have any knowledge of external things, it must be by reason, inferring their existence from what is immediately perceived by sense. But what reasons can lead us Ÿfrom the ideas that we perceive Ÿto a belief in the existence of bodies outside the mind? The supporters of matter themselves don’t claim that there is any necessary connection between material things and our ideas. We could have all the ideas that we now have without there being any bodies existing outside us that resemble them; 16 everyone admits this, and what happens in dreams, hallucinations and so on puts it beyond dispute. Evidently, then, we are not compelled to suppose that there are external bodies as causes of our ideas. Those ideas are sometimes, so they could be always, produced without help from bodies yet falling into the patterns that they do in fact exhibit. 19. ‘Even though external bodies are not absolutely needed to explain our sensations,’ you might think, ‘the course of our experience is easier to explain on the supposition of external bodies than it is without that supposition. So it is at least probable there are bodies that cause our minds to have ideas of them.’ But this is not...
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