Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

A man may understand natural signs well without being

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Unformatted text preview: d towards each other, according to various laws, while he keeps others at a fixed distance; and to some he gives a quite contrary tendency to fly apart, just as he sees convenient. 107. After what I have said, I think we may lay down the following conclusions. First, it is clear that philosophers give themselves needless trouble when they enquire for any natural cause other than a mind or spirit. Secondly, considering that the whole creation is the work of a wise and good agent, scientists should think it fitting to employ their thoughts (contrary to what some hold) about the purposes of things; and I must confess that I see no reason why pointing out the various ends to which natural things are adapted, and for which they were originally with unspeakable wisdom contrived, should not be thought to be one good way of accounting for them, and altogether worthy of a scientist. Thirdly, what I have said provides no reason why men should not study how things go in the world, making observations and experiments. That these are useful to us, enabling us to draw general conclusions, results not from Ÿany unchangeable properties of, or relations between, things themselves, but only from ŸGod’s goodness and kindness to men in his management of the world. See sections 30, 31. Fourthly, by diligently observing the phenomena within our view, we can discover the general laws of nature, and from them deduce further phenomena. I do not say demonstrate [= ‘prove in a rigorously valid manner’]; for all deductions of this kind depend on supposing that the Author of Nature always operates uniformly, constantly keeping to those rules that we regard as principles though we cannot know for sure that they are. 108. Those men who make general rules from phenomena, and afterwards derive phenomena from those rules, seem to be considering signs rather than causes. A man may understand natural signs well without being able to say by what rule a one event is a sign of another. And just as it is possible to write improperly through too strictly observing general rules of grammar, so also in arguing from general rules of nature we may extend the analogy too far and thus run into mistakes. 109. In reading ordinary books a wise man will choose to fix his thoughts on the meaning of what he reads, and on its application to his life, rather than bringing to mind grammatical remarks on the language. Similarly in reading the book of nature, it seems beneath the dignity of the mind to make a show of exactness in bringing each particular phenomenon under general rules, or showing how it follows from them. We should aim at nobler views, ones that Ÿwill relax and elevate the mind with a prospect of the beauty, order, extent, and variety of natural things; then Ÿenable us by proper inferences from them to enlarge our notions of the grandeur, wisdom, and kindness of the Creator; and lastly Ÿbring us to do our best to make the various parts of the creation subservient to the ends they were designed for - namely, God’s glory and the life and comfort of ourselves and our fellow-creatures. 110. The best key to natural science is widely agreed to be a certain celebrated treatise of mechanics - ·Newton’s Principia·. At the start of that justly admired treatise, time, space, and motion are each distinguished into absolute and relative, ·or, giving the same distinction in different words·, true and apparent, or ·in yet other words· mathematical and vulgar [= ‘that of the plain uneducated ordinary person’]. According to the author’s 42 extensive account of it, this distinction does presuppose that time, space and motion exist outside the mind, and that they are ordinarily Ÿconceived as relating to perceptible things; but Ÿreally in their own nature they have no relation to them at all. 111. As for time, as it is taken ·by Newton· in an absolute or abstracted sense, for the duration or continuance of the existence of things, I have nothing to add to what I said about this in sections 97, 98. For the rest, this celebrated author holds that there is an Ÿabsolute space which, not being perceivable by the senses, is the same everywhere and is immovable: and he takes Ÿrelative space to be the measure of absolute space, which being movable and defined by its situation in relation to perceptible bodies, is commonly taken to be immovable ·or absolute· space. He defines place as that part of space that is occupied by some body. And according as the space is absolute or relative, so also is the place. Absolute motion is said to be the moving of a body from one absolute place to another, as relative motion is from one relative place to another. And because the parts of absolute space do not fall under our senses, instead of them we are obliged to use their perceptible measures, ·namely parts of relative space·; and so we define both place and motion in relation to bodies that we regard as immovable. But, it is said ·by Newton·, in scientific matters we mu...
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