Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

But if you think hard and take care to understand

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Unformatted text preview: e is separated from all the particular actions and ideas that diversify the day, and taken merely to be the continuation of existence or duration in the abstract, then even a philosopher may be at a loss to understand it. 98. Whenever I try to form a simple idea of time, abstracted from the succession of ideas in my mind - time that flows uniformly and is gone through by all beings - I am lost and entangled in inextricable difficulties. I have no notion of it at all. But I hear others say that it is infinitely divisible, and speak of it in a manner that leads me to entertain strange thoughts about my existence. That is because the doctrine that time is infinitely divisible absolutely requires me to think either Ÿthat I exist through innumerable ages without a thought, or else Ÿthat I am annihilated every moment of my life; and these seem equally absurd. Time is therefore nothing when it is abstracted from the succession of ideas in our minds; and from this it follows that the duration of any finite spirit must be estimated by the number of ideas or actions succeeding each other in that spirit or mind. This plainly implies that the soul always thinks; and indeed anyone who tries in his thoughts to separate or abstract the existence of a spirit from its thinking will, I believe, find it no easy task. 99. Similarly, when we try to abstract extension and motion from all other qualities and consider them by themselves, we immediately lose sight of them, and are led to wild conclusions. These all depend on a twofold abstraction: first, it is supposed that Ÿextension, for example, can be abstracted from all other perceptible qualities; and secondly, that Ÿthe existence of extension can be abstracted from its being perceived. But if you think hard and take care to understand what you say, I think you will agree Ÿthat all perceptible qualities are sensations, and all are real; Ÿthat where extension is, colour is too - namely in your mind - and Ÿthat if they are copies from patterns it must be patterns existing in some other mind; and Ÿthat the objects of sense are nothing but those sensations combined, blended, or (if I may put it this way) concreted together - none of which can be supposed to exist unperceived. [Berkeley is making a mild punish here: ‘concreted together’ = ‘fused together’, and ‘concrete’ = opposite of ‘abstract’.] 39 100. Everyone may think he knows what it is for a man to be happy, or an object to be good. But few people can claim to make an abstract idea of happiness separated from all particular pleasures, or of goodness separated from everything that is good. Similarly a man may be just and virtuous without having precise ideas of justice and virtue. The opinion that words like those stand for general notions, abstracted from all particular persons and actions, seems to have made morality difficult, and the study of it less useful to mankind. And in effect the doctrine of abstraction has contributed greatly towards spoiling the most useful parts of knowledge. 101. The two great provinces of speculative [= not practical, not moral] science that have to do with ideas received from sense are natural science and mathematics; and I shall make some remarks about each of these, starting with the former. ·This discussion will run up to the end of section 117, after which I shall turn to mathematics·. It is with natural science that the sceptics ·seem to· triumph: the great stock of arguments they produce, to belittle our faculties and make mankind appear ignorant and low, are drawn principally from the premise that we are incurably blind as to the true and real nature of things. They exaggerate this, and love to enlarge on it. We are miserably made fools of, they say, by our senses, and fobbed off with the outside, the mere appearance, of things. The real essence - the internal qualities and constitution of every little object - is hidden from our view; every drop of water, every grain of sand, contains something that it is beyond the power of human understanding to fathom or comprehend. But it is evident from what I have shown that this complaint is wholly groundless, and that false principles are making us mistrust our senses to such an extent that we think we know nothing of things that in fact we comprehend perfectly. 102. One great inducement to our pronouncing ourselves ignorant of the nature of things is the opinion - which is popular these day - that every thing contains within itself the cause of its own properties: or ·in other words· that there is in each object an inner essence that is the source from which its perceptible qualities flow and on which they depend. Some have claimed to account for appearances by secret and mysterious qualities, but recently they are mostly explained in terms of mechanical causes, that is, the shape, motion, weight, etc. of imperceptible particles. But really the only agent or cause is spirit, because obviously motion and all the other ideas are pe...
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