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Unformatted text preview: abilities and tenacious minds should turn their thoughts away from those
distractions and employ them in studying things that lie nearer to the concerns of life, or
have a more direct influence on how we live.
132. It may be said that several undoubtedly true theorems have been discovered by
methods in which infinitesimals were used, which couldn’t have happened if the existence
of infinitesimals included a contradiction in it. I answer that when you look into this
thoroughly you will not find in any instance that you need to use or conceive infinitesimal
parts of finite lines, or even quantities smaller than the smallest you can perceive. Indeed,
you will find that this is never done, because it is impossible. ·This brings to an end my
discussion of infinite divisibility·.
133. What I have said makes it clear that very numerous and important errors have arisen
from the false principles that I have criticized in the earlier parts of this work. And the
opposites of those erroneous tenets seem to be very fruitful principles that have
innumerable consequences that are highly advantageous to true philosophy as well as to
religion. I have shown in detail that matter, or the absolute existence of corporeal objects,
has always been the chief source of the strength and confidence of the most openly
declared and pernicious enemies of all knowledge, human and divine. And, surely, if Ÿby
distinguishing the real existence of unthinking things from their being perceived, and
allowing them a substance of their own out of the minds of spirits, no one thing is
explained in nature, but on the contrary many inexplicable difficulties arise; if Ÿthe
supposition of matter is shaky at best, because there is not so much as one single reason to
support it; if Ÿits consequences cannot survive the light of examination and free enquiry,
but screen themselves under the dark and general pretence that infinites cannot be
understood; if furthermore Ÿthe removal of this matter doesn’t bring the slightest bad
consequence, if it is not even missed in the world, but everything is conceived just as well
- indeed better - without it; if, lastly, Ÿboth sceptics and atheists are forever silenced by the
doctrine that there are only spirits and ideas, and this philosophy is perfectly agreeable
both to reason and religion; we might expect that it - ·my philosophy· - would be admitted
and firmly embraced, even if it were offered only as an hypothesis, and the existence of
matter were allowed as possible, which I have clearly shown that it is not.
134. It is true that my principles reject as useless various disputes and speculations that are
widely thought to be important parts of learning. But however great a prejudice against
my notions this may give to those who have already been deeply engaged ·in such
speculations· and made large advances in studies of that nature, I hope that others will not
hold it against my principles and tenets that they shorten the labour of study, and make
human sciences more clear, wide-ranging, and manageable than they were before.
135. Having completed what I planned to say about the knowledge of ideas, my next topic
is spirits. We have more knowledge of these than we are commonly thought to have. We
do not know the nature of spirits, people think, because we have no ideas of spirits. But I
have shown in section 27 that it is plainly impossible for there to be an idea of a spirit; so 50
surely it ought not to be regarded as a defect in our understanding that it does not have
any such idea. To the arguments of section 27 I shall add one more. I have shown that a
spirit is the only substance or support in which ideas can exist; and it is obviously absurd
to suppose that this support of ideas should itself be an idea, or be like an idea.
136. It may be said - and some have said - that we lack a sense that would enable us to
know substances, and that if we had such a sense we would know our own soul as we do
a triangle. ·Our inability to perceive substances, on this view, is like the blind person’s
inability to see things·. To this I answer that if we did have a new sense, all it could
present us with would be some new sensations or ideas of sense, ·just as happens when
someone is cured of blindness·. But nobody, I think, will say that what he means by ‘soul’
and ‘substance’ is only some particular sort of idea or sensation! So when you think it
through you can see that regarding our faculties as defective because they give us no idea
of spirit or active thinking substance is as unreasonable as criticizing them because they
don’t enable us to comprehend a round square.
137. The opinion that spirits are to be known in the way that ideas and sensations are
known has given rise to many absurd doctrines and much scepticism about the nature of
the soul. It has probably led some people to doubt whether they had a soul, as distinct
from their body, since they couldn’t find that they had an idea of it. In fact, the mere
meanings of the words are enough to refute the proposition that an idea (meaning:
something inactive, whose exist...
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- Spring '13