Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

But however widely and confidently this belief may be

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Unformatted text preview: e are those who speak of things that ·unlike spirits· do not think and ·unlike ideas· exist whether or not they are perceived; but that seems to be perfectly unintelligible. For unthinking things, to exist is to be perceived; so they couldn’t possibly exist out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them. 4. It is indeed widely believed that all perceptible objects - houses, mountains, rivers, and so on - really exist independently of being perceived by the understanding. But however widely and confidently this belief may be held, anyone who has the courage to challenge it will - if I am not mistaken - see that it involves a manifest contradiction. For what are houses, mountains, rivers etc. but things we perceive by sense? And what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations? And isn’t it plainly contradictory that these, either singly or in combination, should exist unperceived? 5. If we thoroughly examine this belief ·in things existing independently of the mind· it will, perhaps, be found to depend basically on the doctrine of abstract ideas. For can there be a more delicate and precise strain of abstraction than to distinguish the existence of perceptible things from their being perceived, so as to conceive them existing unperceived? Light and colours, heat and cold, extension and shapes, in a word the things we see and feel - what are they but so many sensations, notions, ideas, or sense impressions? And can any of these be separated, even in thought, from perception? Speaking for myself, I would find it no easier to do that than to divide a thing from itself! I don’t deny that I can abstract (if indeed this is properly called abstraction) by conceiving separately objects that can exist separately, even if I have never experienced them apart from one another. I can for example imagine a human torso without the limbs, or conceive the smell of a rose without thinking of the rose itself. But my power of conceiving or imagining goes no further than that: it doesn’t extend beyond the limits of what can actually exist or be perceived. Therefore, because I cannot possibly see or feel a thing without having an actual sensation of it, I also cannot possibly conceive of a perceptible thing distinct from the sensation or perception of it. 6. Some truths are so close to the mind, and so obvious, that as soon as you open your eyes you will see them. Here is an important truth of that kind: All the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies that compose the mighty frame of the world, have no existence outside a mind; for them to exist is for them to be perceived or known; consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all or else exist in the mind of some eternal spirit; because it makes no sense - and involves all the absurdity of abstraction - to attribute to any such thing an existence independent of a spirit. To be convinced of this, you need only to reflect and try to separate in your own thoughts the existence of a perceptible thing from its being perceived. 13 7. From what I have said it follows that the only substances are spirits - things that perceive. Another argument for the same conclusion is the following ·down to the end of the section·. The perceptible qualities are colour, shape, motion, smell, taste and so on, and these are ideas perceived by sense. Now it is plainly self-contradictory to suppose that an idea might exist in an unperceiving thing, for to have an idea is just the same as to perceive: so whatever has colour, shape and so on must perceive these qualities; from which it clearly follows that there can be no unthinking substance or substratum of those ideas. 8. ‘But’, you say, ‘though the ideas themselves do not exist outside the mind, still there may be things like them of which they are copies or resemblances, and these things may exist outside the mind in an unthinking substance.’ I answer that the only thing an idea can resemble is another idea; a colour or shape can be like nothing but another colour or shape. Pay just a little attention to your own thoughts and you will find that you cannot conceive of any likeness except between your ideas. Also: tell me about those supposed originals or external things of which our ideas are the pictures or representations - are they perceivable or not? If they are, then they are ideas, and I have won the argument; but if you say they are not, I appeal to anyone whether it makes sense to assert that a colour is like something that is invisible; that hard or soft is like something intangible; and similarly for the other qualities. 9. Some philosophers distinguish ‘primary’ from ‘secondary’ qualities: they use the Ÿformer term to stand for extension, shape, motion, rest, solidity and number; by the Ÿlatter term they denote all other perceptible qualities, such as colours, sounds, tastes, and so on. Our ideas of secondary qualities don’t resemble anything existing outside the mind or unperceived, they admit; but they insist that our ideas of pri...
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This note was uploaded on 03/12/2013 for the course PHIL 105 taught by Professor Mendetta during the Spring '13 term at SUNY Stony Brook.

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