Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

You may say for example that twice two is equal to

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Unformatted text preview: d a new sense, perhaps we would no more doubt of their existence than a blind man doubts the existence of light and colours when he becomes able to see. I answer first that if what you mean by ‘matter’ is only the unknown support of unknown qualities, it doesn’t matter whether there is such a thing or not, since it no way concerns us; and I don’t see what good it will do us to dispute about we know not what, and we know not why. 78. But secondly, if we had a new sense it could only furnish us with new ideas or sensations; and then we should have the same reason against their existing in an unperceiving substance that I have already offered with relation to shape, motion, colour, and the like. Qualities, as I have shown, are nothing but sensations or ideas, which exist 33 only in a mind perceiving them; and this is true not only of the ideas we are acquainted with at present but likewise of all possible ideas whatsoever. 79. You will insist: What if I have no reason to believe in the existence of matter? What if I cannot find any use for it, or explain anything by it, or even conceive what is meant by that word? It is still not a contradiction to say ‘Matter exists, and it is in general a substance, or occasion of ideas’; though admittedly there may be great difficulties in unfolding the meaning of those words, or standing by any particular account of what they mean. I answer that when words are used without a meaning you may put them together as you please without danger of running into a contradiction. You may say, for example, that ‘Twice two is equal to seven’, so long as you declare that you don’t intend those words in their usual meanings, but for marks of you know not what. And by the same reason you may say ‘There is an inert thoughtless substance without qualities, which is the occasion of our ideas’. We shall understand just as much by one proposition as by the other. 80. In the last place, you will say: What if we give up the cause of material substance, and say only that matter is an unknown something, neither substance nor quality, neither spirit nor idea, inert, thoughtless, indivisible, immovable, unextended, existing in no place? Whatever arguments may be brought against substance or occasion, or any other positive notion of matter, are of no effect so long as this negative definition of ‘matter’ is kept to. I answer that you may, if you see fit, use ‘matter’ in the same sense that other men use ‘nothing’, thus making those terms equivalent. For, after all, this is what appears to me to be the result of that definition: when I attentively consider its parts, either all together or one at a time, I do not find there is any kind of effect or impression made on my mind different from what is caused by the term ‘nothing’. 81. You may reply that this definition includes something that sufficiently distinguishes it from ‘nothing’, namely the positive, abstract idea of quiddity [= ‘being-the-kind-of-thingit-is’], entity, or existence. I admit that those who claim to be able to form abstract general ideas do talk as if they had such an idea; they call it the most abstract and general notion of all, while I call it the most incomprehensible. I see no reason to deny that there is a great variety of spirits, of different orders and capacities, whose abilities are far greater and more numerous than those the author of my being has bestowed on me. And for me to claim, on the basis of my own few, niggardly, narrow inlets of perception, what ideas the inexhaustible power of the supreme spirit may imprint upon them would certainly be the utmost folly and presumption. For all I know, there may be innumerable sorts of ideas or sensations that differ from one another, and from any that I have perceived, as much as colours differ from sounds. But however ready I am to acknowledge how little I grasp of the endless variety of spirits and ideas that might possibly exist, when someone claims to have a notion of entity or existence - abstracted from spirit and idea, from perceiving and being perceived - I suspect him of a downright inconsistency and of trifling with words. And now we should consider the objections that may be made on religious grounds. 82. Some people think this: 34 Although the arguments for the real existence of bodies that are drawn from reason do not amount to demonstrations, yet the Holy Scriptures are so clear about this that they will sufficiently convince every good Christian that bodies do really exist and are something more than mere ideas. Holy Writ relates innumerable facts that obviously involve the reality of timber, stone, mountains, rivers, cities, and human bodies. I answer that any writing at all, religious or secular, which uses ‘timber’, ‘stone’ and such words in their common meanings, or so as to have some meaning, runs no risk of having its truth called into question by my doctrine. That all those things really exist, that there are bodi...
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