Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

I cannot make sense of this to me a die seems to be

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Unformatted text preview: the mind’, I refer not to this or that particular mind but to all minds whatsoever. So it doesn’t follow from my principles that bodies are annihilated and created every moment, or that they don’t exist at all during the intervals between our perception of them. 49. Fifthly, it may be objected that if extension and shape exist only in the mind, it follows that the mind is extended and shaped, because extension is a quality or attribute, which is predicated of the subject in which it exists. I answer, that those qualities are ‘in the mind’ only in that they are perceived by it - that is, not as qualities or attributes but only as ideas. It no more follows that the soul or mind is extended because extension exists only in it than it follows that the mind is red or blue because (as everyone agrees) those colours exist only in it. As to what philosophers say of subject and mode [= quality], that seems very groundless and unintelligible. For instance, in the proposition A die is hard, extended, and square they hold that the word ‘die’ refers to a subject or substance that is distinct from the hardness, extension, and squareness that are predicated of it - a subject in which those qualities exist. I cannot make sense of this. To me a die seems to be nothing over and above those things that are termed its qualities. And to say that a die is hard, extended, and square is not to attribute those qualities to a subject distinct from and supporting them, but only to explain the meaning of the word ‘die’. 50. Sixthly, you will object like this: Many things have been explained in terms of matter and motion. if you take away these you will destroy the whole corpuscular philosophy [that is, the approach to physics in which the key concepts are those of matter, motion, and structure], and undermine those mechanical principles which have been applied with so much success to explain the phenomena. In short, whatever advances have been made in the study of nature by ancient scientists or by modern ones have all built on the supposition that corporeal substance or matter really exists. To this I answer that every single phenomenon that is explained on that supposition could just as well be explained without it, as I could easily show by going through them all one by one. ·Instead of that, however, I shall do something that takes less time, namely show that the supposition of matter c annot e xplain any phenomenon·. To explain t he phenomena is simply to show why upon such and such occasions we are affected with such and such ideas. But how matter should operate on a mind, or produce any idea in it, is something that no philosopher or scientist will claim to explain. So, obviously, there can 25 be no use of ·the concept of· matter in natural science. Besides, those who try explain things do it not by corporeal substance but by shape, motion and other qualities; these are really just mere ideas and therefore cannot cause anything, as I have already shown. See section 25. 51. Seventhly, from what I have said you will want to protest: It seems absurd to take away natural causes, and attribute everything to the immediate operation of spirits! According to your principles, we must no longer say that fire heats or water cools, but that a spirit heats, and so forth. If someone actually talked like that, wouldn’t he be laughed at, and rightly so? Yes, he would. In matters like this we ought to think with the learned and speak with the vulgar [= ‘with the common people’]. People who are perfectly convinced of the truth of the Copernican system in astronomy still say that ‘the sun rises’, ‘the sun sets’, ‘the sun is high in the sky’; and it would surely seem ridiculous to speak in any other way. Think about this a little and you will see that the acceptance of my doctrines would not even slightly disturb or alter the common use of language. 52. In the ordinary affairs of life, we can go on using any turns of phrase - even ones that are false when taken in a really strict sense - so long as they arouse in us appropriate thoughts or feelings or dispositions to act in ways that are good for us. Indeed, this is unavoidable, because the standards for proper speech are set by what is customary, so that language has to be shaped by commonly held opinions, which are not always the truest. So even in the strictest philosophic reasonings we cannot alter the outlines of the English language so completely that we never provide fault-finders with an opportunity to accuse us of difficulties and inconsistencies in what we say. But a fair and honest reader will gather what is meant by a discourse from its over-all tendency and from how its parts hang together, making allowances for those inaccurate turns of phrase that common use has made inevitable. 53. As for the thesis that there are no corporeal causes· - that is, no bodies that have causal powers· - this used to be maintained by some of the schoolmen, and also more recently by some modern philosophers ·such as Malebranche·. The latter philosophers did believe that matter exists, but they insisted that God alone is the immediate cause of every...
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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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