Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

The answer to this and to all the similar objections

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Unformatted text preview: y the word ‘idea’, which implies those properties. 40. You may want to say: ‘Say what you like, I will still believe my senses, and will never allow any arguments, how plausible they may be, to prevail over the certainty of my senses.’ Be it so, assert the obvious rightness of the senses as strongly as you please - I shall do the same! What I see, hear, and feel exists - that is, is perceived by me - and I do not doubt this any more than I doubt my own existence. But I don’t see how the testimony of the senses can be brought as proof of the existence of anything that is not perceived by sense. I do not want anyone to become a sceptic, and to disbelieve his senses; on the contrary, I give the senses all the emphasis and assurance imaginable; nor are there any principles more opposite to scepticism than those I have laid down, as will be clearly shown later on. 41. Secondly [of the twelve objections mentioned in section 34], it will be objected that there is a great difference between (for instance) real fire and the idea of fire, between actually being burnt and dreaming or imagining oneself to be burnt. The answer to this and to all the similar objections that may be brought against my position - is evident from what I have already said. At this point I shall add only this: if real fire is very different from the idea of fire, so also is the real pain that comes from it very different from the idea of that pain; but nobody will maintain that real pain could possibly exist in an unperceiving thing, or outside the mind, any more than the idea of it can. 42. Thirdly, it will be objected that we see things actually outside us, at a distance from us; and these things do not exist in the mind, for it would be absurd to suppose that things that are seen at the distance of several miles are as near to us as our own thoughts. In answer to this I ask you to considered the fact that in dreams we often perceive things as 22 existing at a great distance off, and yet those things are acknowledged to exist only in the mind. 43. In order to clear up this matter more thoroughly, let us think about how we perceive distance, and things placed at a distance, by sight. For if we really do see external space, and bodies actually existing in it at various distances from us, that does seem to tell against my thesis that bodies exist nowhere outside the mind. It was thinking about this difficulty that led me to write my Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, which was published recently. In that work I show that distance or externality is not immediately of itself perceived by sight, nor is it something we grasp or believe in on the basis of lines and angles, or anything that has a necessary connection with it. Rather, it is only suggested to our thoughts by certain visible ideas and sensations that go with vision - ideas which in their own nature are in no way similar to or related to either Ÿdistance or Ÿthings at a distance. By a connection taught us by experience they come to signify and suggest distances and distant things to us, in the same way that the words of a language suggest the ideas they are made to stand for. ·There is nothing intrinsic to the word ‘red’ that makes it the right name for that colour; we merely learn what it names through our experience of general usage. Similarly, there is nothing intrinsic to my present visual idea that makes it an idea of a tree in the middle distance; but ideas like it have been connected with middle-distance things in my experience·. Thus, a man who was born blind, and afterwards made to see, would not at first sight think the things he saw to be outside his mind or at any distance from him ·because he would not have had any experience enabling him to make that connection·. See section 41 of the New Theory. 44. The ideas of sight and of touch make two species, entirely distinct and different from one another. The former are marks and forward-looking signs of the latter. (Even in my New Theory I showed - ·though this was not its central purpose· - that the items that are perceived only by sight don’t exist outside the mind and don’t resemble external things. Throughout that work I supposed that tangible objects - ·ones that we feel· - do exist outside the mind. I didn’t need that common error in order to establish the position I was developing in the book; but I let it stand because it was beside my purpose to examine and refute it in a treatment of vision.) Thus, the strict truth of the matter is this: when we see things at a distance from us, the ideas of sight through which we do this do not Ÿsuggest or mark out to us things actually existing at a distance, but only Ÿwarn us about what ideas of touch will be imprinted in our minds if we act in such and such ways for such and such a length of time. On the basis of what I have already said in the present work, and of section 147 and other parts of the New Theory, it is evident that visible ideas are the language in which the governing Spirit on whom we depend - ·God· - tells us what tangible ideas he is about to imprint upon us if we bring about this or that motion in our own bodies. For a fuller treatment of this point, I refer you to the New Theory itself. 45. Fourthly, this will be objected: It follows from your principles that things are at every moment annihilated...
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