Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

I answer that if by nature you mean only the visible

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Unformatted text preview: elievers, obey his commands.’ But, unfortunately ·for them·, we need only open our eyes to have a fuller and clearer view of the sovereign Lord of all things than we have of any one of our fellow-creatures! I am not supposing that we have a direct and immediate view of God (as some think we do), or that when we see bodies we do so not directly but rather by seeing something that represents them in the essence of God (·as Malebranche thinks we do·) - a doctrine that I confess to finding incomprehensible. Let me explain what I mean. A human spirit or person is not perceived by sense, because it is not an idea; so when we see the colour, size, shape, and motions of a man, all we perceive are certain sensations or ideas caused in our own minds; and these, being exhibited to us in various distinct collections, serve to indicate to us the existence of finite created spirits like ourselves. Clearly, then, we do not see a man, if by ‘man’ is meant something that lives, moves, perceives, and thinks as we do. What we perceive is a certain collection of ideas that leads us to think there is a distinct principle of thought and motion like ourselves, accompanying it and represented by it. That is also how we see God. The only difference is that whereas some one finite and narrow assemblage of ideas points to a particular human mind, we perceive clear indications of the divinity wherever we look, at any time and in any place. That is because everything we see, hear, feel, or in any way perceive by sense is a sign or effect of the power of God; as is our perception of the motions that are produced by men. 149. Clearly, then, nothing can be more evident to anyone who is capable of the least reflection than the existence of God, or a Spirit Ÿwho is intimately present to our minds, producing in them all the variety of ideas or sensations that we continually undergo, Ÿon whom we have an absolute and entire dependence, in short, Ÿin whom we live and move and have our being. Very few people have reasoned their way to this great truth, which lies so near and obvious to the mind. That is a sad example of the stupidity and inattention of men who, though they are surrounded with such clear manifestations of the Deity, are so little affected by them that it is as though they were blinded with excess of light. 150. ‘But’, you will say, ‘doesn’t nature have a share in the production of natural things? Must they all be ascribed to the immediate operation of God and nothing else?’ I answer that if by ‘nature’ you mean only the visible series of effects or sensations imprinted on our minds according to certain fixed and general laws, then clearly nature (in this sense) cannot produce anything at all. But if by ‘nature’ you mean some being distinct from God, from the laws of nature, and from the things perceived by sense, I have to say that the word is to me an empty sound with no intelligible meaning. Nature in this meaning of the word is a vain chimera, introduced by heathens who did not grasp the omnipresence and infinite perfection of God. It is harder to explain its being accepted among Christians who profess belief in the holy scriptures; for the latter constantly ascribe to the immediate hand 54 of God the effects that heathen philosophers customarily attribute to nature. [Berkeley here gives three biblical quotations.] But although this is the constant language of scripture, yet Christians are weirdly reluctant to believe that God concerns himself so nearly in our affairs. They would prefer to suppose him to be at a great distance from us, and substitute ·matter, that is· a blind unthinking deputy in his place, though according to St. Paul God is ‘not far from every one of us’. 151. No doubt these objections will be raised: The slow and gradual methods that are kept to in the production of natural things don’t seem to be caused by the immediate hand of an almighty agent. Furthermore, monsters, untimely births, fruits blasted in the blossom, rains falling in desert places, miseries incident to human life, are all evidence that the whole frame of nature is not immediately actuated and superintended by a spirit of infinite wisdom and goodness. But much of the answer to this is plain from section 62: those methods of nature are absolutely necessary if things are to go according to the most simple and general rules, and in a steady and consistent manner; and that is evidence for both the wisdom and goodness of God. This mighty machine of nature is so skillfully contrived that while its motions and various phenomena strike on our senses, the hand that drives the whole thing is itself not perceivable by men of flesh and blood. ‘Verily,’ says the prophet ‘thou art a God that hidest thyself’ (Isaiah xlv.15). But though God conceals himself from the eyes of sensual and lazy people who won’t take the slightest trouble to think, to an unbiassed and attentive mind nothing can be more plainly legible than the close presence of an all-wise Spirit who designs, regulates, and sustains the whole system of being. It is clear from what I have pointed out elsewhere that operating according to general and...
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