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created anew. The objects of sense ·according to you· exist only when they are
perceived; so the trees are in the garden and the chairs in the parlour only as long
as there is somebody there to perceive them. When I shut my eyes all the furniture
in the room is reduced to nothing, and merely from my opening them it is again
In answer to all this, I ask you to look back at sections 3, 4, etc. and then ask yourself
whether you mean by ‘the actual existence’ of an idea anything but its being perceived.
For my part, after the most carefully precise enquiry I could make, I cannot discover that I
mean anything else by those words. I ask you again - ·as I did at the end of the
Introduction· - to examine your own thoughts, and not to allow yourself to be imposed on
by words. If you can conceive it to be possible for either your ideas or things of which
they are copies to exist without being perceived, then I throw in my hand; but if you
cannot, you will admit that it is unreasonable for you to stand up in defence of you knows
not what, and claim to convict me of absurdity because I do not assent to propositions that
at bottom have no meaning in them.
46. It would be as well to think about how far the commonly accepted principles of
philosophy are themselves guilty of those alleged absurdities. It is thought to be highly
absurd that when I close my eyes all the visible objects around me should be reduced to
nothing; but isn’t this what philosophers commonly admit when they all agree that light
and colours - which are the only immediate objects of sight and only of sight - are mere
sensations, and exist only while they are perceived? Again, some may find it quite
incredible that things should be coming into existence at every moment; yet this very
notion is commonly taught in the schools [= the Aristotelian philosophy departments]. For
the schoolmen, though they acknowledge the existence of matter, and say that the whole
world is made out of it, nevertheless hold that matter cannot go on existing without God’s
conserving it, which they understand to be his continually creating it.
47. Furthermore, a little thought will show us that even if we do admit the existence of
matter or corporeal substance, it will still follow from principles that are now generally
accepted, that no particular bodies of any kind exist while they are not perceived. For it is
evident from section 11 and the following sections that the matter philosophers stand up
for is an incomprehensible something, having none of those particular qualities through
which the bodies falling under our senses are distinguished one from another. To make this
more plain, bear in mind that the infinite divisibility of matter is now accepted by all, or at
least by the most approved and considerable philosophers, who have demonstrated it
conclusively from principles that are generally accepted. Now consider the following line
of thought, starting from the premise of the infinite divisibility of matter·.
Each particle of matter contains an infinite number of parts that are not perceived
by sense ·because they are too small·. Why, then, does any particular body seem to
be of a finite magnitude, or exhibit only a finite number of parts to our senses? Not
because it has only finitely many parts, for it contains an infinite number of parts.
Rather, it is because our senses are not acute enough to detect any more.
Therefore, in proportion as any of our senses becomes more acute, it will perceive
more parts in the object; that is, the object will appear larger, and its shape will be
different because parts near its outer edges - ones that before were unperceivable will appear to give it a boundary whose lines and angles are very different from
those perceived by the sense before it became sharper. If the sense in question
became infinitely acute, the body would go through various changes of size and
shape, and would eventually seem infinite. All this would happen with no alteration
in the body, only a sharpening of the sense. Each body, therefore, considered in
itself, is infinitely extended and consequently has no shape. 24
From this it follows that even if we grant that the existence of matter is utterly certain, it is
equally certain - as the materialists are forced by their own principles to admit - that the
particular bodies perceived through the senses do not exist outside the mind, nor does
anything like them. According to them each particle of matter is infinite and shapeless,
and it is the mind that makes all that variety of bodies that compose the visible world, none
of which exists any longer than it is perceived.
48. When you think about it, the objection brought in section 45 turns out not to provide
reasonable support for any accusation against my views. I do indeed hold that the things
we perceive are nothing but ideas that can’t exist unperceived, but it doesn’t follow that
they have no existence except when they are perceived by us; for there may be some other
spirit that perceives them when we do not. Whenever I say that bodies have no existence
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- Spring '13