Unformatted text preview: is language, so to speak) instituted by the 30
author of nature, not claiming to explain things in terms of corporeal causes - a claim that
seems to have too much estranged the minds of men from ·God·, that active principle, that
supreme and wise spirit, ‘in whom we live, move, and have our being’.
67. In the twelfth place, this may be objected:
It is clear from what you have said that there can be no such thing as an inert,
senseless, extended, solid, shaped, movable substance existing outside the mind,
which is how philosophers describe matter. But suppose someone leaves out of his
idea of matter the positive ideas of extension, shape, solidity, and motion, and says
that all he means by that word is an inert senseless substance that exists outside
the mind (or unperceived) and is the occasion of our ideas, meaning ·by
‘occasion’· that God is pleased to cause ideas in us when matter is present. There
seems to be no reason why matter in this sense of the word should not exist.
In answer to this I say first that it seems no less absurd to suppose a substance without
qualities than it is to suppose qualities without a substance. Anyway, secondly, if this
unknown substance exists where does it do so? We agree that it does not exist in the mind;
and it is equally certain that it does not exist in some place, for all (place or) extension
exists only in the mind, as I have already proved. So it exists nowhere at all!
68. Let us examine a little the description of matter that is here given to us. It neither acts,
nor perceives, nor is perceived, for that is all it means to say that it is an inert, senseless,
unknown substance - which is a definition entirely made up of negatives (except for the
relative notion of its standing under or supporting, but notice that it supports ·no qualities,
and therefore supports· nothing at all), so that it comes as close as you like to being the
description of a nonentity. ‘But’, you say, ‘it is the unknown occasion at the presence of
which ideas are caused in us by the will of God.’ I would like to know how anything can
be present to us if it is not perceivable by sense or reflection, is not capable of producing
any idea in our minds, is not at all extended, has no form, and exists in no place! The
words ‘to be present’, as used here, have to be taken in some abstract and strange
meaning that I cannot grasp.
69. Again, let us examine what is meant by ‘occasion’. So far as I can gather from the
common use of language, that word signifies either Ÿthe agent that produces some effect,
or Ÿsomething that is observed to accompany or go before ·a kind of event· in the ordinary
course of things. But when it is applied to matter as described in section 67, the word
‘occasion’ cannot be taken in either of those senses. For matter is said to be passive and
inert, and so it cannot be an agent or cause. It is also unperceivable, because devoid of all
perceptible qualities, and so it cannot be the occasion of our perceptions in the latter sense
- as when burning my finger is said to be the occasion of the pain that goes with it. So
what can be meant by calling matter an ‘occasion’? this term is used either with no
meaning or with some meaning very distant from its commonly accepted one.
70. Perhaps you will say this:
Although matter is not perceived by us, it is perceived by God, and to him it is the
occasion of causing ideas in our minds. We do observe that our sensations are
imprinted on our minds in an orderly and constant manner, which makes it
reasonable for us to suppose there are certain constant and regular occasions of
their being produced. That is, there are certain permanent and distinct portions of 31
matter corresponding to our ideas; they do not cause the ideas in our minds or any
other way immediately affect us, because they are altogether passive and
unperceivable by us; but God can and does perceive them, and lets them serve as
occasions to remind him when and what ideas to imprint on our minds, that so
things may go on in a constant, uniform manner.
71. In answer to this I remark that on this account of matter we are no longer discussing
the existence of a thing distinct from spirit and idea, from perceiving and being perceived.
·For matter is now being said to be perceived by God, and so· our concern now is with the
question of whether there are certain ideas (of I know not what sort) in the mind of God
that are marks or notes that direct him how to produce sensations in our minds in a
constant and regular method - in much the way that a musician is directed by the notes of
music ·in the score· to produce a tune, though the listeners do not perceive the notes and
may be entirely ignorant of them. But this notion of matter seems too extravagant to
deserve a refutation. And anyway it does not count against what I have been defending,
namely the thesis that there is no senseless unperceived substance.
72. The constant, uniform way that our sensations run will, if we follow the light of
reason, lead us to infer the goodness and wisdom of the spirit who causes them in our
minds. But I...
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- Spring '13
- Philosophy, Thought, ........., Abstraction, ·by Locke