Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

46 it would be as well to think about how far the

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Unformatted text preview: and 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 created. 23 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 outside...
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