Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

That this does not in the least contradict what i

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Unformatted text preview: es - and even corporeal substances when this phrase is taken in its ordinarylanguage sense - has been shown to be agreeable to my principles: and the difference between things and ideas, realities and chimeras, has been clearly explained. I do not think that either what philosophers call matter, or the existence of objects outside the mind, is mentioned anywhere in Scripture. 83. Whether or not there are external things, everyone agrees that the proper use of words is in signalling our conceptions, or things only as they are known and perceived by us; and from this it plainly follows that in the doctrines I have laid down there is nothing inconsistent with the correct meaningful use of language, and that discourse of any kind whatsoever, as long as it is intelligible, remains undisturbed. But all this seems so obvious from what I have already said that it is needless to insist on it any further. 84. But this will be urged: Miracles, at least, become much less striking and important on your principles. What must we think of Moses’ rod? Rather than its really being turned into a serpent, was there only a change of ideas in the minds of the spectators? Are we to suppose that all our Saviour did at the marriage-feast in Cana was to influence the sight, smell, and taste of the guests in such a way as to create in them the appearance or mere idea of wine? The same may be said of all other miracles. On your principles they must all be regarded as merely cheats, or illusions of the imagination. To this I reply that the rod was changed into a real serpent, and the water into real wine. That this does not in the least contradict what I have elsewhere said will be evident from sections 34 and 35. But this business of real and imaginary has been already so plainly and fully explained, and so often referred to, and the difficulties about it are so easily answered by what I have already said, that it would be an insult to the reader’s understanding to explain it all over again here. I shall only observe that if at table all who were present could see, smell, taste and drink wine, and feel the effects of it, that leaves me with no doubt as to its reality. So that in the final analysis the worry about real miracles is not raised by my principles but is raised by the received principles [= by materialism], so that it counts for rather than against my position. 85. I have finished with the objections, which I tried to present as clearly and with as much force and weight as I could. My next task is to consider the consequences of my principles. Some of these come to the surface immediately, for example that several difficult and obscure questions on which much speculation has been wasted, are ·on my principles· entirely banished from philosophy. Can corporeal substance think? Is matter 35 infinitely divisible? How does matter act on spirit? These and similar questions have endlessly led philosophers astray in all ages; but because they depend on the existence of matter, they do not arise on my principles. Many other advantages, concerning religion as well as the sciences, can easily be deduced from what I have laid down. But this will appear more plainly in what follows ·from here to the end of the work·. 86. From the principles I have laid down, it follows that human knowledge can naturally be classified under two headings - knowledge of ideas, and of spirits. I shall take these separately. First, as to ideas or unthinking things, our knowledge of these has been very much obscured and confused, and we have been led into very dangerous errors, by supposing a two-fold existence of the objects of sense, Ÿone intelligible, or in the mind, Ÿthe other real and outside the mind. The latter has been thought to give unthinking things a natural existence of their own, distinct from being perceived by spirits. This, which I think I have shown to be a most groundless and absurd notion, is the very root of scepticism: as long as men thought that real things existed outside the mind, and that their knowledge was real only to the extent that it conformed to real things, it followed that they could not be certain that they had any real knowledge at all. For how can it be known that the things that are perceived conform to those that are not perceived, that is, which exist outside the mind? 87. Colour, shape, motion, extension, and the like, considered only as so many sensations in the mind, are perfectly known, because there is nothing in them that is not perceived. But if they are looked on as signs or images that are meant to copy things existing outside the mind, then we are all involved in scepticism ·through a line of thought that goes like this·. We see only the appearances, and not the real qualities of things. We cannot possibly know what a thing’s size, shape or motion is, really and absolutely, in itself; all we can know is how its size etc. relate to our senses. Our ideas can vary while things remain the same, and which of our ideas - whether indeed any of them - represent the true quality really existing in the thing is something we have no way to discover. For all we know, eve...
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