Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

It is also natural that they should listen to those

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Unformatted text preview: inert, extended, unperceiving substance that 37 they call ‘matter’, to which they attribute a natural existence, outside all thinking beings that is, distinct from being perceived by any mind whatsoever, even the eternal mind of the Creator. The only ideas they suppose to be in God’s mind are ideas of the corporeal substances he has created, if indeed they allow that those substances were created. 92. ·Following on from that last remark·: Just as the doctrine of matter or corporeal substance has - as I have shown - been the main pillar and support of scepticism, so likewise all the impious schemes of atheism and irreligion have been erected upon that same foundation. Indeed, it has been thought so difficult to conceive matter produced out of nothing that the most celebrated among the ancient philosophers, even of these who maintained the existence of a God, have thought matter to be uncreated and coeternal with God. I need not tell the story of how great a friend material substance has been to atheists in all ages. All their monstrous systems have so visible and necessary a dependence on it that when this corner-stone is once removed the whole structure falls to the ground; so that it is no longer worthwhile to attend separately to the absurdities of each wretched sect of atheists. 93. It is very natural that impious and profane people should readily accept systems that favour their inclinations, by mocking immaterial substance and supposing the soul to be divisible and subject to decay as the body is; systems that exclude all freedom, intelligence, and design from the formation of things, and instead make a self-existent, stupid, unthinking substance the root and origin of all things. It is also natural that they should listen to those who deny a Providence, or a superior mind surveying the affairs of the world, attributing the whole series of events either to blind chance or fatal necessity, arising from collisions of bodies. And when on the other hand men of better principles see the enemies of religion putting so much stress on unthinking matter, all of them working so hard and ingeniously to reduce every thing to it, I think they should rejoice to see them deprived of their grand support, and driven from their only fortress. Without that fortress ·of materialism·, Epicureans, Hobbists and the like have not even the shadow of something to say, and become the most cheap and easy triumph in the world. 94. The existence of matter, or unperceived bodies, has been the main support not only of atheists and fatalists but also of idolatry in all its various forms. If men would only consider that the sun, moon, and stars, and every other object of the senses are nothing but sensations in their minds, having no existence except in being perceived, no doubt they would never fall down and worship their own ideas! Rather, they would do homage to that eternal invisible Mind that produces and sustains all things. 95. The same absurd principle ·of materialism·, by mingling itself with the principles of our faith, has given considerable difficulties to Christians. For example, how many scruples and objections have been raised by Socinians and others concerning the resurrection? But don’t the most plausible of them depend on the supposition that sameness of a body comes not from its form (i.e. what is perceived by sense) but from the material substance that remains the same in different forms? All the dispute is about the identity of this material substance; take it away, and mean by ‘body’ what every plain ordinary person means by it - namely that which is immediately seen and felt, which is only a combination of perceptible qualities or ideas - and then the ·seemingly· most unanswerable objections of the Socinians etc. come to nothing. 38 96. When matter is expelled out of nature, it drags with it so many sceptical and impious notions, such an incredible number of disputes and puzzling questions that have been thorns in the sides of divines as well as philosophers, and made so much fruitless work for mankind, that if the arguments that I have produced against it are not found to be perfectly conclusive (which I think they obviously are), I am sure all friends to knowledge, peace, and religion have reason to wish they were. 97. Knowledge relating to ideas has suffered errors and difficulties not only from the belief in the external existence of the objects of perception but also from the doctrine of abstract ideas (as expounded in my Introduction). The plainest things in the world, those we are most intimately acquainted with and perfectly know, appear strangely difficult and incomprehensible when they are considered in an abstract way. Everybody knows what time, place, and motion are in particular cases; but when they are passed through the hands of a metaphysician they become too abstract and fine to be grasped by men of ordinary sense. Tell your servant meet you at such a time, in such a place, and he will never spend time thinking about the meanings of those words; he has no difficulty at all in understanding that particular time and place, or the movements he has to make to get there. But if tim...
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