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Unformatted text preview: of them in advance of
being acquainted with them. But if
Ÿthis picture, or rather this formal intuition, comes from the essential nature of our
sensibility, through which objects must be given to us,
Ÿwhat this sensibility represents are not things in themselves but only their
it then becomes conceivable - indeed undeniable - that
Ÿall outer objects of the world of the senses must agree exactly with the propositions
It is a remarkable fact that at one time mathematicians who were also philosophers began
to have doubts about their geometrical propositions - not about whether they were true of
space, but about they held good in application to nature, that is to things in space. They
feared that a line in nature might consist of physical points, in which case the space of the
natural object would consists of simple parts, although the space the geometer thinks
about cannot be like that. ·That is, they feared that the space of natural objects might not
be infinitely divisible, and might instead be made up of atoms of space, so to speak;
whereas geometrical space is infinitely divisible·. They didn’t realize that the spatiality of
outer things must exactly conform to the space the geometer thinks about, because: 23
Ÿall objects in space are mere appearances, i.e. not things in themselves but
representations of our sensible intuition; and
Ÿthe space the geometer thinks about - space in thought, we might call it - is just a
form of our faculty of sensible representation.
·Putting these two together: an outer thing must be given to us through our sensibility, so
it must conform to the form - the essential nature - of our sensibility, so it must obey the
propositions of geometry·. This is the only way to defend the objective validity of
geometrical propositions against shallow metaphysical attacks. . . .
Anything that is to be presented to us as an object must be given in intuition. But all our
intuition happens through the senses - the understanding doesn’t intuit anything. Now, we
have just seen that the senses never ever enable us to know things as they are in
themselves; all we encounter through the senses are the appearances of things; and these
appearances are mere representations of sensibility. What follows is this: All bodies, along
with the space that contains them, are merely representations in us, and exist only in our
Isn’t this blatant idealism? ·No, it is not, and I now explain why·. Idealism says this:
Only minds exist , and the other things we t hink we perceive are only
representations in us, with no external object corresponding to them.
I say the contrary:
Things are given to us as objects of our senses, existing outside us, but we know
nothing of what they are in themselves; all we know are their appearances, that is,
the representations they cause in us by affecting our senses.
So I say that there are bodies outside us - that is, things of whose nature in themselves we
know nothing, knowing them only through our representations of them. We call such a
thing a ‘body’, meaning ‘the appearance to us of an unknown thing which is nevertheless
real’. Can this be called idealism? It is the very opposite of it!
Long before Locke’s time, but more so afterwards, it was generally accepted that
although outer things are perfectly real, many of their properties belong not to things in
hemselves but only to their appearances. These properties, including heat, colour, taste,
etc., were agreed to have no existence of their own outside our representations. I go
further. I count also as mere appearances the remaining qualities of bodies - the ‘primary’
qualities of extension, place, and space in general with all that depends on it
(impenetrability or materiality, shape, etc.). I have weighty reasons for this view, and there
is not the slightest reason to reject it. A man who holds that Ÿcolours are aspects of the
sense of sight and not qualities of the object in itself should not on that account be called
an idealist. So I should not be called idealist either, merely because I hold that Ÿall the
qualities that make up the intuition of a body belong merely to its appearance. This
doctrine of mine doesn’t destroy the existence of the thing that appears, as genuine
idealism does; it merely says that we can’t through our senses know the thing as it is in
What would I have to say to stop people from accusing me of idealism? It wouldn’t
be enough for me to say:
Our representations of outer objects are perfectly appropriate, given how our
sensibility relates to those objects; 24
for that is what I have said ·and still the accusations continue·. I would also have to say:
Our representations of outer objects are exactly like the objects themselves.
But that, to me, makes as little sense as the assertion that the sensation of red is like the
property of the pigment that causes this sensation in me.
‘When you admit the ideality of space and time, you turn the whole world o...
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