Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

Furthermore we suppose that our own ideas resemble

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Unformatted text preview: ence consists in being perceived) could be the image or likeness of a spirit (meaning: an active thing that exists independently of being perceived). 138. ‘Although an idea cannot resemble a spirit in its thinking, acting or existing independently,’ you may say, ‘it may resemble it in other ways. An idea or image of a thing need not be like it in every respect.’ I answer that if the idea does not resemble the thing in the ways I have mentioned, it cannot possibly represent it in any other respect. If you leave out the power of willing, thinking and perceiving ideas, nothing remains in respect of which an idea could resemble a spirit. All we mean by the word ‘spirit’ is ‘that which thinks, wills, and perceives’; this is the whole meaning of that term. So if none of those powers can be represented in an idea, there can be no idea at all of a spirit. 139. Y ou may object that if no idea is signified by the terms ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ and ‘substance’, they must be meaningless. I answer that those words do mean or signify a real thing, which is neither an idea nor like an idea, but is a thing that perceives ideas, and wills, and reasons about them. I am myself a thing of that kind: what I refer to by the word ‘I’ is the same as what is meant by ‘soul’ or ‘spiritual substance’. You may object: Why quarrel over a word?’ The immediate significations of other general words are by common consent called ‘ideas’, so there is no reason not to give that same label to what is signified by the general term ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. To that I reply that the unthinking objects of the mind all have in common that they are entirely passive and exist only in being perceived; whereas a soul or spirit is an active being whose existence consists not in being perceived but in perceiving ideas and in thinking. ·These are two utterly, profoundly different categories of thing·. So we need to maintain the distinction between ‘spirit’ and ‘idea’, so as to avoid ambiguity and running together things that are utterly opposite and unlike one another. See Section 27. 51 140. In a broad sense, indeed, we can be said to have an idea or rather a notion of spirit that is, we understand the meaning of the word ‘spirit’, otherwise we couldn’t use it in affirming or denying things of spirits. Furthermore, we suppose that our own ideas resemble ideas in the minds of others; for example, my ideas of blueness or heat resemble the ideas of blueness and heat that other people have. In that sense our own soul is the image or idea of the souls of others because it resembles them. And so we conceive ideas in the minds of other spirits by means of our own ideas, and we know other spirits by means of our own soul. 141. Those who assert that the soul is naturally immortal must not be thought to mean that nothing could possibly annihilate the soul, even the infinite power of the Creator who first brought it into existence. Their view is merely that the soul is not at risk of being broken or pulled apart in accordance with the ordinary laws of nature or motion. Some people think the soul of man to be only a thin living flame, or a gaseous system of ‘animal spirits’; and on that view it is as easily destructible as the body, because nothing is more easily dissipated than flame or gas, which could not possibly survive the ruin of the body that houses it. This view ·that the soul is naturally perishable· has been eagerly embraced and cherished by the worst people, who see it as the strongest antidote to virtue and religion. But I have shown clearly that bodies, no matter what their structure or materials, ·including flames and ‘animal spirits’·, are merely passive ideas in the mind. The mind itself is more unlike them than light is unlike darkness. I have shown that the soul is indivisible, incorporeal, unextended, and it is therefore incapable of being destroyed by natural processes. ·It cannot fall apart because it has no parts·. What we call ‘the course of nature’ is a series of motions, changes, decays and disintegrations that we see natural bodies undergoing constantly; none of this can possibly affect an active, simple, uncompounded substance: such a being therefore is indissoluble by the force of nature, which is to say that the human soul is naturally immortal. 142. What I have said presumably makes it clear that our souls cannot be known in the way that senseless, inactive objects are known; that is, we cannot know them by having ideas of them. We can say of both spirits and ideas that they ‘exist’, ‘are known’ and so on, but these words do not mean that spirits have anything in common with ideas. They are not alike in any respect; and we have no more chance of Ÿincreasing our powers so that we can know a spirit as we do a triangle than we have of Ÿbecoming able to see a sound! I emphasize this because I think it may help towards clearing up several important questions and preventing some dangerous errors about the nature of the soul. Although it is not strictly right to say that we have an idea of an active being or of an action, we can be said to have a notion of...
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