Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

So the very notion of socalled matter or corporeal

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Unformatted text preview: mary qualities are patterns or images of things that exist outside the mind in an unthinking substance which they call ‘matter’. By ‘matter’, therefore, we are to understand an inert, senseless substance in which extension, shape and motion actually exist. But I have already shown that extension, shape, and motion are quite clearly nothing but ideas existing in the mind, and that an idea can be like nothing but another idea, and that consequently neither they nor things from which they are copied can exist in an unperceiving substance. So the very notion of socalled ‘matter’, or corporeal substance, clearly involves a contradiction. 10. Those who assert that shape, motion and the other primary qualities exist outside the mind in unthinking substances say in the same breath that colours, sounds, heat, cold, and other secondary qualities do not. These, they tell us, are sensations that exist in the mind alone, and depend on the different size, texture, and motion of the minute particles of matter. They offer this as an undoubted truth which they can prove conclusively. Now if it is certain that (1) primary qualities are inseparably united with secondary ones, and can’t be abstracted from them even in thought, it clearly follows that (2) primary qualities exist only in the mind, just as the secondary ones do. ·I now defend (1)·. Look in on yourself, and see whether you can perform a mental abstraction that enables you to conceive of a body’s being extended and moving without having any other perceptible qualities. Speaking for myself, I see quite clearly that I can’t form an idea of an extended, moving body unless I also give it some colour or other perceptible quality which is admitted ·by the philosophers I have been discussing· to exist only in the mind. In short, extension, 14 shape and motion, abstracted from all other qualities, are inconceivable. It follows that these primary qualities must be where the secondary ones are - namely in the mind and nowhere else. 11. ·Here is a further point about extension and motion·. Large and small, and fast and slow, are generally agreed to exist only in the mind. That is because they are entirely relative: whether something is large or small, and whether it moves quickly or slowly, depends on the condition or location of the sense-organs of the perceiver. [See the end of section 14 for a little light on the quick/slow part of this point.] So if there is extension outside the mind, it must be neither large nor small, and extra-mental motion must be neither fast nor slow. I conclude that there is no such extension or motion. (If you reply ‘They do exist; they are extension in general and motion in general’, that will be further evidence of how greatly the doctrine about extended, movable substances existing outside the mind depends on that strange theory of abstract ideas.) So unthinking substances cannot be extended; and that implies that they cannot be solid either, because it makes no sense to suppose that something is solid but not extended. 12. Even if we grant that the other primary qualities exist outside the mind, it must be conceded that number is entirely created by the mind. This will be obvious to anyone who notices that the same thing can be assigned different numbers depending on how the mind views it. Thus, the same distance is one or three or thirty-six, depending on whether the mind considers it in terms of yard, feet or inches. Number is so obviously relative and dependent on men’s understanding that I find it surprising that anyone should ever have credited it with an absolute existence outside the mind. We say one book, one page, one line; all these are equally units - ·that is, each is one something· - yet the book contains many pages and the page many lines. In each case, obviously, what we are saying there is one o f is a particular combination of ideas arbitrarily put together by the mind, ·for example, the arbitrary combination of ideas that we choose to call ‘a book’·. 13. Some philosophers, I realize, hold that unity is a simple or uncompounded idea that accompanies every other idea into the mind. I do not find that I have any such idea corresponding to the word ‘unity’. I could hardly overlook it if it were there in my mind: it ought to be the most familiar to me of all my ideas, since it is said to accompany all my other ideas and to be perceived by all the ways of sensation and reflection. In short, it is an abstract idea! 14. Here is a further point. Some modern philosophers argue that certain perceptible qualities have no existence in matter or outside the mind; their arguments can be used to prove the same thing of all perceptible qualities whatsoever. They point out for instance that a body that appears cold to one hand seems warm to the other, from which they infer that Ÿheat and cold are only states of the mind and don’t resemble anything in the corporeal substances that cause them. If that argument is good, then why can’t we reapply it to prove that Ÿshape and extension do not resemble any fixed and determinate qualities existing in matter, because they appear differently to the...
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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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