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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
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.
- Spring '13