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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
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
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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- Spring '13