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Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

That is what the knowledge of nature consists in an

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Unformatted text preview: learest and most convincing reasons; but on your principles there can be no such motion. For motion is only an idea; so it does not exist except as perceived; but the motion of the earth is not perceived by sense. I answer that the doctrine that the earth moves, if rightly understood, will be found to agree with my principles. The question Does the earth move? amounts in reality to just this: Do we have reason to conclude from what astronomers have observed that if we were placed in such and such circumstances, and such or such a position and distance both from the earth and sun, we would perceive the earth to move among the choir of the planets and to appear in all respects like one of them? ·The answer is Yes·. This is a conclusion we can reasonably draw from the phenomena through the established rules of nature, which we have no reason to mistrust. 59. From the experience we have had of the order and succession of ideas in our minds, we can often make something better than uncertain conjectures - indeed, sure and wellgrounded predictions - concerning the ideas we shall have if we engage in this or that complex sequence of actions; and these predictions enable us to judge correctly what would have appeared to us if things had been ·in such and such specific ways· very different from those we are in at present. That is what the knowledge of nature consists in - an account that preserves the usefulness and certainty of such knowledge without conflicting with what I have said. It will be easy to re-apply this ·line of argument· to any other objections of the same sort concerning the size of the stars or any other discoveries in astronomy or nature. 60. In the eleventh place, you will want to ask: What purpose is served by the intricate organization of plants, and the wonderful mechanism in the parts of animals? All those internal parts so elegantly contrived and put together, because they are ideas, have no power, no capacity to operate in any way; nor are they necessarily connected with the effects that are attributed to them. So couldn’t plants grow and send out leaves and blossoms, and animals move as they now do, just as well without all those inner parts as with them? If every effect is produced by the immediate action of a spirit, everything that is fine and skillfully put together in the works of man or of nature seems to be made in vain. According to this doctrine, a skilled watchmaker who makes the spring and wheels and other parts of a watch, putting them together in the way that he knows will produce the movements that he wants the hands to make, should think that he is wasting his time and that it is an intelligence - ·namely, God’s· - which steers the hands of the watch so that they tell the time. If so, why shouldn’t the intelligence do it without his having to take the trouble to make the parts and put them 28 together? Why does not an empty watch-case serve as well as one containing a mechanism? Also, why is it that whenever a watch does not go right there is some corresponding fault to be found in its mechanism, and when the fault is repaired the watch works properly again? The same questions arise regarding the clockwork of nature, much of which is so wonderfully fine and subtle that it could hardly be detected by the best microscope. 61. ·Here are three preliminaries to my main answer to this·. First, even if my principles do fail to solve some difficulties concerning how providence manages the world, and what uses it assigns to the various parts of nature, this objection could not carry much weight against the truth and certainty of those things that can be conclusively proved a priori. Secondly, the commonly accepted principles suffer from similar difficulties; for we can challenge their adherents to explain why God should take those round-about methods of getting results by instruments and machines, when everyone knows that he could have achieved them by the mere command of his will, without all that apparatus. Indeed (thirdly), if we think about it hard we shall find that this objection tells with greater force against those who believe in those machines outside the mind; for it has been made evident that solidity, bulk, shape, motion and the like have no activity or efficacy in them, and so cannot produce any one effect in nature. See section 25. So anyone who supposes them to exist (allowing the supposition to be possible) when they are not perceived does this obviously to no purpose; for the only use that is assigned to them, as they exist unperceived, is to produce those perceivable effects that in truth cannot be ascribed to anything but spirit. 62. But to come nearer the difficulty, it must be observed that though the making of all those parts and organs is not absolutely necessary for producing any effect, it is necessary for producing things in a constant, regular way according to the laws of nature. There are certain general laws that run through the whole chain of natural effects; we learn these by the observation and study of nature, and apply them in making artificial things for the use and ornament of life, as well as in explaining the various phenomena. Such an explanation consists only i...
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