Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

See the new theory of vision 117 what i am saying

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Unformatted text preview: d speak to say that the body ‘is in motion’. I grant indeed that when a body’s distance from some other alters, we may think it is moving although no force is acting on it; but if we think this it is because we think of the body in question as having the relevant force applied to it. This shows only that we are capable of wrongly thinking a thing to be in motion when it is not. 116. From what has been said, it follows that the scientific consideration of motion does not imply the existence of an absolute space, distinct from the space that Ÿis perceived by the senses, Ÿis related to bodies, and Ÿcannot exist outside the mind, as is clear from the principles that prove the same thing of all other objects of sense. If we look into it closely we shall perhaps find that we can’t even form an idea of pure space without bodies. This, I must confess, seems impossible, as being a most abstract idea. When I cause a motion in some part of my body, if it is free or without resistance I say there is space; but if I find resistance, then I say there is body; and in proportion as the resistance to motion is lesser or greater, I say the space is more or less pure. So that when I speak of pure or empty space, do not think that the word ‘space’ stands for an idea that can be conceived without 44 body and motion. (We are apt to think every noun stands for a distinct idea that can be separated from all others; and this has led to infinite mistakes.) Thus, when I say that if all the world were annihilated except for my own body, there would still remain ‘pure space’, all I mean is that I conceive it possible ·in that eventuality· for the limbs of my body to be moved on all sides without the least resistance. If my body were also annihilated, there could be no motion, and consequently no space. Some people may think that eyesight provides them with the idea of pure space; but it is plain from what I have shown elsewhere that the ideas of space and distance are not obtained through sight. See the New Theory of Vision. 117. What I am saying here seems to put an end to all those disputes and difficulties that have sprung up amongst the learned concerning the nature of pure space. Its biggest benefit is to free us from that dangerous dilemma, in which some who have thought about this topic see themselves as trapped, namely: having to think either that Ÿreal space is God, or else that Ÿthere is something besides God that is ·also· eternal, uncreated, infinite, indivisible, unchanging - each of which may fairly be thought pernicious and absurd. It is certain that a good many divines, as well as highly reputed philosophers, have thought that space must be divine, because they could not conceive its being limited or its being annihilated. And recently some ·such as Spinoza· have undertaken to show that the attributes of God (which cannot be shared) are possessed by space. However unworthy of the divine nature this doctrine may seem, I do not see how we can avoid it if we adhere to the commonly accepted opinions. 118. Up to here I have written about natural science. Now let us enquire into that other great branch of speculative knowledge, namely mathematics. ·See the start of section 101·. Celebrated though it is for its clearness and certainty of demonstration, which is matched hardly anywhere else, mathematics cannot be supposed altogether free from mistakes if in its principles there lurks some secret error that mathematicians share with the rest of mankind. Mathematicians deduce their theorems from premises that are highly certain; but their first principles are confined to the concept of quantity; and they don’t ascend into any enquiry concerning those higher maxims that influence all the particular sciences ·including ones that are not quantitative·. Any errors involved in those ·higher· maxims will infect every branch of knowledge, including mathematics. I don’t deny that the principles laid down by mathematicians are true, or that their methods of deduction from those principles are clear and beyond dispute. But I hold that there are certain erroneous maxims that spread wider than mathematics, and for that reason are not explicitly mentioned there, though they are tacitly assumed throughout the whole progress of that science; and that the bad effects of those secret, unexamined errors are diffused through all the branches of mathematics. To be plain, I suspect that mathematicians as well as other men are caught in the errors arising from the doctrines of abstract general ideas and of the existence of objects outside the mind. 119. Arithmetic has been thought to have for its object abstract ideas of number. A considerable part of speculative knowledge is supposed to consist in understanding the properties and mutual relations of numbers. The belief in the pure and intellectual nature of numbers in abstract has won for them the esteem of those thinkers who put on a show of having an uncommon fineness and elevation of thought. It has put a price on th...
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