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A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley

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A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
by George Berkeley (1685-1753)



To the Right Honourable
Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter and one of
the Lords of Her Majesty's most honourable privy council.

My Lord,

You will perhaps wonder that an obscure person, who has not the honour to
be known to your lordship, should presume to address you in this manner.
But that a man who has written something with a design to promote Useful
Knowledge and Religion in the world should make choice of your lordship
for his patron, will not be thought strange by any one that is not
altogether unacquainted with the present state of the church and
learning, and consequently ignorant how great an ornament and support you
are to both. Yet, nothing could have induced me to make you this present
of my poor endeavours, were I not encouraged by that candour and native
goodness which is so bright a part in your lordship's character. I might
add, my lord, that the extraordinary favour and bounty you have been
pleased to show towards our Society gave me hopes you would not be
unwilling to countenance the studies of one of its members. These
considerations determined me to lay this treatise at your lordship's
feet, and the rather because I was ambitious to have it known that I am
with the truest and most profound respect, on account of that learning
and virtue which the world so justly admires in your lordship, MY LORD,
Your lordship's most humble and most devoted servant,


* * * *


What I here make public has, after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed
to me evidently true and not unuseful to be known--particularly to those
who are tainted with Scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence
and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul. Whether
it be so or no I am content the reader should impartially examine; since
I do not think myself any farther concerned for the success of what I
have written than as it is agreeable to truth. But, to the end this may
not suffer, I make it my request that the reader suspend his judgment
till he has once at least read the whole through with that degree of
attention and thought which the subject-matter shall seem to deserve.
For, as there are some passages that, taken by themselves, are very
liable (nor could it be remedied) to gross misinterpretation, and to be
charged with most absurd consequences, which, nevertheless, upon an
entire perusal will appear not to follow from them; so likewise, though
the whole should be read over, yet, if this be done transiently, it is
very probable my sense may be mistaken; but to a thinking reader, I
flatter myself it will be throughout clear and obvious. As for the
characters of novelty and singularity which some of the following notions
may seem to bear, it is, I hope, needless to make any apology on that
account. He must surely be either very weak, or very little acquainted
with the sciences, who shall reject a truth that is capable of
demonstration, for no other reason but because it is newly known, and
contrary to the prejudices of mankind. Thus much I thought fit to
premise, in order to prevent, if possible, the hasty censures of a sort
of men who are too apt to condemn an opinion before they rightly
comprehend it.


1. Philosophy being nothing else but THE STUDY OF WISDOM AND TRUTH, it
may with reason be expected that those who have spent most time and pains
in it should enjoy a greater calm and serenity of mind, a greater
clearness and evidence of knowledge, and be less disturbed with doubts
and difficulties than other men. Yet so it is, we see the illiterate bulk
of mankind that walk the high-road of plain common sense, and are
governed by the dictates of nature, for the most part easy and
undisturbed. To them nothing THAT IS FAMILIAR appears unaccountable or
difficult to comprehend. They complain not of any want of evidence in
their senses, and are out of all danger of becoming SCEPTICS. But no
sooner do we depart from sense and instinct to follow the light of a
superior principle, to reason, meditate, and reflect on the nature of
things, but a thousand scruples spring up in our minds concerning those
things which before we seemed fully to comprehend. Prejudices and errors
of sense do from all parts discover themselves to our view; and,
endeavouring to correct these by reason, we are insensibly drawn into
uncouth paradoxes, difficulties, and inconsistencies, which multiply and
grow upon us as we advance in speculation, till at length, having
wandered through many intricate mazes, we find ourselves just where we
were, or, which is worse, sit down in a forlorn Scepticism.

2. The cause of this is thought to be the obscurity of things, or the
natural weakness and imperfection of our understandings. It is said, the
faculties we have are few, and those designed by nature for the SUPPORT
and comfort of life, and not to penetrate into the INWARD ESSENCE and
constitution of things. Besides, the mind of man being finite, when it
treats of things which partake of infinity, it is not to be wondered at
if it run into absurdities and contradictions, out of which it is
impossible it should ever extricate itself, it being of the nature of
infinite not to be comprehended by that which is finite.

3. But, perhaps, we may be too partial to ourselves in placing the fault
originally in our faculties, and not rather in the wrong use we make of
made consistent. We should believe that God has dealt more bountifully
with the sons of men than to give them a strong desire for that knowledge
which he had placed quite out of their reach. This were not agreeable to
the wonted indulgent methods of Providence, which, whatever appetites it
may have implanted in the creatures, doth usually furnish them with such
means as, if rightly made use of, will not fail to satisfy them. Upon the
whole, I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all, of
those difficulties which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked
up the way to knowledge, are entirely owing to ourselves--that we have
first raised a dust and then complain we cannot see.

4. My purpose therefore is, to try if I can discover what those
Principles are which have introduced all that doubtfulness and
uncertainty, those absurdities and contradictions, into the several sects
of philosophy; insomuch that the wisest men have thought our ignorance
incurable, conceiving it to arise from the natural dulness and limitation
of our faculties. And surely it is a work well deserving our pains to
make a strict inquiry concerning the First Principles of Human Knowledge,
to sift and examine them on all sides, especially since there may be some
grounds to suspect that those lets and difficulties, which stay and
embarrass the mind in its search after truth, do not spring from any
darkness and intricacy in the objects, or natural defect in the
understanding, so much as from false Principles which have been insisted
on, and might have been avoided.

5. How difficult and discouraging soever this attempt may seem, when I
consider how many great and extraordinary men have gone before me in the
like designs, yet I am not without some hopes--upon the consideration
that the largest views are not always the clearest, and that he who is
short--sighted will be obliged to draw the object nearer, and may,
perhaps, by a close and narrow survey, discern that which had escaped far
better eyes.

prepare the mind of the reader for the easier conceiving what
follows, it is proper to premise somewhat, by way of Introduction,
concerning the nature and abuse of Language. But the unravelling this
matter leads me in some measure to anticipate my design, by taking notice
of what seems to have had a chief part in rendering speculation intricate
and perplexed, and to have occasioned innumerable errors and difficulties
in almost all parts of knowledge. And that is the opinion that the mind
has a power of framing ABSTRACT IDEAS or notions of things. He who is
not a perfect stranger to the writings and disputes of philosophers must
needs acknowledge that no small part of them are spent about abstract
ideas. These are in a more especial manner thought to be the object of
those sciences which go by the name of LOGIC and METAPHYSICS, and of all
that which passes under the notion of the most abstracted and sublime
learning, in all which one shall scarce find any question handled in such
a manner as does not suppose their existence in the mind, and that it is
well acquainted with them.

7. PROPER ACCEPTATION OF ABSTRACTION.--It is agreed on all hands that the
qualities or modes of things do never REALLY EXIST EACH OF THEM APART BY
ITSELF, and separated from all others, but are mixed, as it were, and
blended together, several in the same object. But, we are told, the mind
being able to consider each quality singly, or abstracted from those other
qualities with which it is united, does by that means frame to itself
abstract ideas. For example, there is perceived by sight an object
extended, coloured, and moved: this mixed or compound idea the mind
resolving into its simple, constituent parts, and viewing each by itself,
exclusive of the rest, does frame the abstract ideas of extension, colour,
and motion. Not that it is possible for colour or motion to exist without
extension; but only that the mind can frame to itself by ABSTRACTION the
idea of colour exclusive of extension, and of motion exclusive of both
colour and extension.

8. OF GENERALIZING [Note].--Again, the mind having observed that in the
particular extensions perceived by sense there is something COMMON and
alike IN ALL, and some other things peculiar, as this or that figure or
magnitude, which distinguish them one from another; it considers apart or
singles out by itself that which is common, making thereof a most abstract
idea of extension, which is neither line, surface, nor solid, nor has any
figure or magnitude, but is an idea entirely prescinded from all these. So
likewise the mind, by leaving out of the particular colours perceived by
sense that which distinguishes them one from another, and retaining that
only which is COMMON TO ALL, makes an idea of colour in abstract which is
neither red, nor blue, nor white, nor any other determinate colour. And,
in like manner, by considering motion abstractedly not only from the body
moved, but likewise from the figure it describes, and all particular
directions and velocities, the abstract idea of motion is framed; which
equally corresponds to all particular motions whatsoever that may be
perceived by sense.

[Note: Vide Reid, on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Essay V,
chap iii. sec. 1, edit. 1843]

9. OF COMPOUNDING.--And as the mind frames to itself abstract ideas of
qualities or MODES, so does it, by the same precision or mental
separation, attain abstract ideas of the more compounded BEINGS
which include several coexistent qualities. For example, the mind
having observed that Peter, James, and John resemble each other
in certain common agreements of shape and other qualities, leaves
out of the complex or compounded idea it has of Peter, James, and
any other particular man, that which is peculiar to each, retaining
only what is common to all, and so makes an abstract idea wherein
all the particulars equally partake--abstracting entirely from
and cutting off all those circumstances and differences which might
determine it to any particular existence. And after this manner it is
said we come by the abstract idea of MAN, or, if you please, humanity, or
human nature; wherein it is true there is included colour, because there
is no man but has some colour, but then it can be neither white, nor
black, nor any particular colour, because there is no one particular
colour wherein all men partake. So likewise there is included stature,
but then it is neither tall stature, nor low stature, nor yet middle
stature, but something abstracted from all these. And so of the rest.
Moreover, their being a great variety of other creatures that partake in
some parts, but not all, of the complex idea of MAN, the mind, leaving
out those parts which are peculiar to men, and retaining those only which
are common to all the living creatures, frames the idea of ANIMAL, which
abstracts not only from all particular men, but also all birds, beasts,
fishes, and insects. The constituent parts of the abstract idea of animal
are body, life, sense, and spontaneous motion. By BODY is meant body
without any particular shape or figure, there being no one shape or
figure common to all animals, without covering, either of hair, or
feathers, or scales, &c., nor yet naked: hair, feathers, scales, and
nakedness being the distinguishing properties of particular animals, and
for that reason left out of the ABSTRACT IDEA. Upon the same account the
spontaneous motion must be neither walking, nor flying, nor creeping; it
is nevertheless a motion, but what that motion is it is not easy to
conceive[Note.]. [Note: Vide Hobbes' Tripos, ch. v. sect. 6.]

others have this wonderful faculty of ABSTRACTING THEIR IDEAS,
they best can tell: for myself, I find indeed I have a faculty of
imagining, or representing to myself, the ideas of those particular
things I have perceived, and of variously compounding and dividing them.
I can imagine a man with two heads, or the upper parts of a man joined to
the body of a horse. I can consider the hand, the eye, the nose, each by
itself abstracted or separated from the rest of the body. But then
whatever hand or eye I imagine, it must have some particular shape and
colour. Likewise the idea of man that I frame to myself must be either of
a white, or a black, or a tawny, a straight, or a crooked, a tall, or a
low, or a middle-sized man. I cannot by any effort of thought conceive
the abstract idea above described. And it is equally impossible for me to
form the abstract idea of motion distinct from the body moving, and which
is neither swift nor slow, curvilinear nor rectilinear; and the like may
be said of all other abstract general ideas whatsoever. To be plain, I
own myself able to abstract IN ONE SENSE, as when I consider some
particular parts or qualities separated from others, with which, though
they are united in some object, yet it is possible they may really exist
without them. But I deny that I can abstract from one another, or
conceive separately, those qualities which it is impossible should exist
so separated; or that I can frame a general notion, by abstracting from
particulars in the manner aforesaid--which last are the two proper
acceptations of ABSTRACTION. And there are grounds to think most men will
acknowledge themselves to be in my case. The generality of men which are
simple and illiterate never pretend to ABSTRACT NOTIONS. It is said
they are difficult and not to be attained without pains and study; we may
therefore reasonably conclude that, if such there be, they are confined
only to the learned.

11. I proceed to examine what can be alleged in DEFENCE OF THE DOCTRINE
OF ABSTRACTION, and try if I can discover what it is that inclines the
men of speculation to embrace an opinion so remote from common sense as
that seems to be. There has been a late deservedly esteemed philosopher
who, no doubt, has given it very much countenance, by seeming to think
the having abstract general ideas is what puts the widest difference in
point of understanding betwixt man and beast. "The having of general
ideas," saith he, "is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man
and brutes, and is an excellency which the faculties of brutes do by no
means attain unto. For, it is evident we observe no foot-steps in them of
making use of general signs for universal ideas; from which we have
reason to imagine that they have not the FACULTY OF ABSTRACTING, or
making general ideas, since they have no use of words or any other
general signs." And a little after: "Therefore, I think, we may suppose
that it is in this that the species of brutes are discriminated from men,
and it is that proper difference wherein they are wholly separated, and
which at last widens to so wide a distance. For, if they have any ideas
at all, and are not bare machines (as some would have them), we cannot
deny them to have some reason. It seems as evident to me that they do,
some of them, in certain instances reason as that they have sense; but it
is only in particular ideas, just as they receive them from their senses.
They are the best of them tied up within those narrow bounds, and have
not (as I think) the faculty to enlarge them by any kind of
ABSTRACTION." Essay on Human Understanding, II. xi. 10 and 11. I readily
agree with this learned author, that the faculties of brutes can by no
means attain to ABSTRACTION. But then if this be made the distinguishing
property of that sort of animals, I fear a great many of those that pass
for men must be reckoned into their number. The reason that is here
assigned why we have no grounds to think brutes have abstract general
ideas is, that we observe in them no use of words or any other general
signs; which is built on this supposition--that the making use of words
implies the having general ideas. From which it follows that men who use
language are able to ABSTRACT or GENERALIZE their ideas. That this is the
sense and arguing of the author will further appear by his answering the
question he in another place puts: "Since all things that exist are only
particulars, how come we by general terms?" His answer is: "Words become
general by being made the signs of general ideas."--Essay on Human
Understanding, IV. iii. 6. But [Note. 1] it seems that a word becomes
general by being made the sign, not of an ABSTRACT general idea, but of
several particular ideas [Note. 2], any one of which it indifferently
suggests to the mind. For example, when it is said "the change of motion
is proportional to the impressed force," or that "whatever has extension
is divisible," these propositions are to be understood of motion
and extension in general; and nevertheless it will not follow that
they suggest to my thoughts an idea of motion without a body moved,
or any determinate direction and velocity, or that I must conceive
an abstract general idea of extension, which is neither line, surface,
nor solid, neither great nor small, black, white, nor red, nor of any
other determinate colour. It is only implied that whatever particular
motion I consider, whether it be swift or slow, perpendicular,
horizontal, or oblique, or in whatever object, the axiom concerning
it holds equally true. As does the other of every particular extension,
it matters not whether line, surface, or solid, whether of this or
that magnitude or figure.

[Note 1: "TO THIS I CANNOT ASSENT, BEING OF OPINION," edit of 1710.]
[Note 2: Of the same sort.]

12. EXISTENCE OF GENERAL IDEAS ADMITTED.--By observing how ideas
become general we may the better judge how words are made so.
And here it is to be noted that I do not deny absolutely there
are general ideas, but only that there are any ABSTRACT GENERAL
IDEAS; for, in the passages we have quoted wherein there is
mention of general ideas, it is always supposed that they are formed by
ABSTRACTION, after the manner set forth in sections 8 and 9. Now, if we
will annex a meaning to our words, and speak only of what we can
conceive, I believe we shall acknowledge that an idea which, considered
in itself, is particular, becomes general by being made to represent or
stand for all other particular ideas of the SAME SORT. To make this plain
by an example, suppose a geometrician is demonstrating the method of
cutting a line in two equal parts. He draws, for instance, a black line
of an inch in length: this, which in itself is a particular line, is
nevertheless with regard to its signification general, since, as it is
there used, it represents all particular lines whatsoever; so that what
is demonstrated of it is demonstrated of all lines, or, in other words,
of a line in general. And, as that particular line becomes general by
being made a sign, so the name LINE, which taken absolutely is
PARTICULAR, by being a sign is made GENERAL. And as the former owes its
generality not to its being the sign of an abstract or general line, but
of ALL PARTICULAR right lines that may possibly exist, so the latter must
be thought to derive its generality from the same cause, namely, the
VARIOUS PARTICULAR lines which it indifferently denotes. [Note.]

[Note: "I look upon this (doctrine) to be one of the greatest and most
valuable discoveries that have been made of late years in the republic
of letters."--Treatise of Human Nature, book i, part i, sect. 7. Also
Stewart's Philosophy of the Mind, part i, chapt. iv. sect. iii. p. 99.]

the reader a yet clearer view of the nature of abstract ideas,
and the uses they are thought necessary to, I shall add one more
passage out of the Essay on Human Understanding, (IV. vii. 9) which is as
follows: "ABSTRACT IDEAS are not so obvious or easy to children or the
yet unexercised mind as particular ones. If they seem so to grown men it
is only because by constant and familiar use they are made so. For, when
we nicely reflect upon them, we shall find that general ideas are
fictions and contrivances of the mind, that carry difficulty with them,
and do not so easily offer themselves as we are apt to imagine. For
example, does it not require some pains and skill to form the general
idea of a triangle (which is yet none of the most abstract,
comprehensive, and difficult); for it must be neither oblique nor
rectangle, neither equilateral, equicrural, nor scalenon, but ALL AND
NONE of these at once? In effect, it is something imperfect that cannot
exist, an idea wherein some parts of several different and INCONSISTENT
ideas are put together. It is true the mind in this imperfect state has
need of such ideas, and makes all the haste to them it can, for the
it is naturally very much inclined. But yet one has reason to suspect
such ideas are marks of our imperfection. At least this is enough to show
that the most abstract and general ideas are not those that the mind is
first and most easily acquainted with, nor such as its earliest knowledge
is conversant about."--If any man has the faculty of framing in his mind
such an idea of a triangle as is here described, it is in vain to pretend
to dispute him out of it, nor would I go about it. All I desire is that
the reader would fully and certainly inform himself whether he has such
an idea or no. And this, methinks, can be no hard task for anyone to
perform. What more easy than for anyone to look a little into his own
thoughts, and there try whether he has, or can attain to have, an idea
that shall correspond with the description that is here given of the
general idea of a triangle, which is NEITHER OBLIQUE NOR RECTANGLE,

said of the difficulty that abstract ideas carry with them, and
the pains and skill requisite to the forming them. And it is on
all hands agreed that there is need of great toil and labour of the mind,
to emancipate our thoughts from particular objects, and raise them to
those sublime speculations that are conversant about abstract ideas. From
all which the natural consequence should seem to be, that so DIFFICULT a
thing as the forming abstract ideas was not necessary for COMMUNICATION,
which is so EASY and familiar to ALL SORTS OF MEN. But, we are told, if
they seem obvious and easy to grown men, IT IS ONLY BECAUSE BY CONSTANT
AND FAMILIAR USE THEY ARE MADE SO. Now, I would fain know at what time it
is men are employed in surmounting that difficulty, and furnishing
themselves with those necessary helps for discourse. It cannot be when
they are grown up, for then it seems they are not conscious of any such
painstaking; it remains therefore to be the business of their childhood.
And surely the great and multiplied labour of framing abstract notions
will be found a hard task for that tender age. Is it not a hard thing to
imagine that a couple of children cannot prate together of their
sugar-plums and rattles and the rest of their little trinkets, till they
have first tacked together numberless inconsistencies, and so framed in
their minds ABSTRACT GENERAL IDEAS, and annexed them to every common name
they make use of?

a whit more needful for the ENLARGEMENT OF KNOWLEDGE than for
COMMUNICATION. It is, I know, a point much insisted on, that
all knowledge and demonstration are about universal notions, to
which I fully agree: but then it doth not appear to me that those notions
are formed by ABSTRACTION in the manner PREMISED--UNIVERSALITY, so far as
I can comprehend, not consisting in the absolute, POSITIVE nature or
conception of anything, but in the RELATION it bears to the particulars
signified or represented by it; by virtue whereof it is that things,
names, or notions, being in their own nature PARTICULAR, are rendered
UNIVERSAL. Thus, when I demonstrate any proposition concerning triangles,
it is to be supposed that I have in view the universal idea of a
triangle; which ought not to be understood as if I could frame an idea of
a triangle which was neither equilateral, nor scalenon, nor equicrural;
but only that the particular triangle I consider, whether of this or that
sort it matters not, doth equally stand for and represent all rectilinear
triangles whatsoever, and is in that sense UNIVERSAL. All which seems
very plain and not to include any difficulty in it.

16. OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--But here it will be demanded, HOW WE CAN KNOW ANY
agrees to all? For, because a property may be demonstrated to agree to
some one particular triangle, it will not thence follow that it equally
belongs to any other triangle, which in all respects is not the same with
it. For example, having demonstrated that the three angles of an isosceles
rectangular triangle are equal to two right ones, I cannot therefore
conclude this affection agrees to all other triangles which have neither
a right angle nor two equal sides. It seems therefore that, to be certain
this proposition is universally true, we must either make a particular
demonstration for every particular triangle, which is impossible, or once
for all demonstrate it of the ABSTRACT IDEA OF A TRIANGLE, in which all
the particulars do indifferently partake and by which they are all
equally represented. To which I answer, that, though the idea I have in
view whilst I make the demonstration be, for instance, that of an
isosceles rectangular triangle whose sides are of a determinate length, I
may nevertheless be certain it extends to all other rectilinear
triangles, of what sort or bigness soever. And that because neither the
right angle, nor the equality, nor determinate length of the sides are at
all concerned in the demonstration. It is true the diagram I have in view
includes all these particulars, but then there is not the least mention
made of them in the proof of the proposition. It is not said the three
angles are equal to two right ones, because one of them is a right angle,
or because the sides comprehending it are of the same length. Which
sufficiently shows that the right angle might have been oblique, and the
sides unequal, and for all that the demonstration have held good. And for
this reason it is that I conclude that to be true of any obliquangular or
scalenon which I had demonstrated of a particular right--angled
equicrural triangle, and not because I demonstrated the proposition of
the abstract idea of a triangle And here it must be acknowledged that a
man may consider a figure merely as triangular, without attending to the
particular qualities of the angles, or relations of the sides. So far he
may abstract; but this will never prove that he can frame an abstract,
general, inconsistent idea of a triangle. In like manner we may consider
Peter so far forth as man, or so far forth as animal without framing the
fore-mentioned abstract idea, either of man or of animal, inasmuch as all
that is perceived is not considered.

It were an endless as well as an useless thing to trace the
SCHOOLMEN, those great masters of abstraction, through all the manifold
inextricable labyrinths of error and dispute which their doctrine of
abstract natures and notions seems to have led them into. What bickerings
and controversies, and what a learned dust have been raised about those
matters, and what mighty advantage has been from thence derived to
mankind, are things at this day too clearly known to need being insisted
on. And it had been well if the ill effects of that doctrine were
confined to those only who make the most avowed profession of it. When
men consider the great pains, industry, and parts that have for so many
ages been laid out on the cultivation and advancement of the sciences,
and that notwithstanding all this the far greater part of them remains
full of darkness and uncertainty, and disputes that are like never to
have an end, and even those that are thought to be supported by the most
clear and cogent demonstrations contain in them paradoxes which are
perfectly irreconcilable to the understandings of men, and that, taking
all together, a very small portion of them does supply any real benefit
to mankind, otherwise than by being an innocent diversion and
amusement--I say the consideration of all this is apt to throw them into
a despondency and perfect contempt of all study. But this may perhaps
cease upon a view of the false principles that have obtained in the
world, amongst all which there is none, methinks, has a more wide and
extended sway over the thoughts of speculative men than [Note.] this of
abstract general ideas.

[Note: "That we have been endeavouring to overthrow."--Edit 1710.]

18. I come now to consider the SOURCE OF THIS PREVAILING NOTION, and that
seems to me to be LANGUAGE. And surely nothing of less extent than reason
itself could have been the source of an opinion so universally received.
The truth of this appears as from other reasons so also from the plain
confession of the ablest patrons of abstract ideas, who acknowledge that
they are made in order to naming; from which it is a clear consequence
that if there had been no such things as speech or universal signs there
never had been any thought of abstraction. See III. vi. 39, and elsewhere
of the Essay on Human Understanding. Let us examine the manner wherein
words have contributed to the origin of that mistake.--First
[Vide sect. xix.] then, it is thought that every name has, or
ought to have, ONE ONLY precise and settled signification, which
inclines men to think there are certain ABSTRACT, DETERMINATE IDEAS
that constitute the true and only immediate signification of each
general name; and that it is by the mediation of these abstract
ideas that a general name comes to signify any particular thing.
Whereas, in truth, there is no such thing as one precise and definite
signification annexed to any general name, they all signifying
indifferently a great number of particular ideas. All which doth
evidently follow from what has been already said, and will clearly appear
to anyone by a little reflexion. To this it will be OBJECTED that every
name that has a definition is thereby restrained to one certain
signification. For example, a TRIANGLE is defined to be A PLAIN SURFACE
COMPREHENDED BY THREE RIGHT LINES, by which that name is limited to
denote one certain idea and no other. To which I answer, that in the
definition it is not said whether the surface be great or small, black or
white, nor whether the sides are long or short, equal or unequal, nor
with what angles they are inclined to each other; in all which there may
be great variety, and consequently there is NO ONE SETTLED IDEA which
limits the signification of the word TRIANGLE. It is one thing for to
keep a name constantly to the same definition, and another to make it
stand everywhere for the same idea; the one is necessary, the other
useless and impracticable.

19. SECONDLY, But, to give a farther account how WORDS came to PRODUCE THE
DOCTRINE OF ABSTRACT IDEAS, it must be observed that it is a received
opinion that language has NO OTHER END but the communicating our ideas,
and that every significant name stands for an idea. This being so, and it
being withal certain that names which yet are not thought altogether
insignificant do not always mark out PARTICULAR conceivable ideas, it is
straightway concluded that THEY STAND FOR ABSTRACT NOTIONS. That there are
many names in use amongst speculative men which do not always suggest to
others determinate, particular ideas, or in truth anything at all, is what
nobody will deny. And a little attention will discover that it is not
necessary (even in the strictest reasonings) significant names which
stand for ideas should, every time they are used, excite in the
understanding the ideas they are made to stand for--in reading and
discoursing, names being for the most part used as letters are in
ALGEBRA, in which, though a particular quantity be marked by each letter,
yet to proceed right it is not requisite that in every step each letter
suggest to your thoughts that particular quantity it was appointed to
stand for.[Note.]

[Note: Language has become the source or origin of abstract general ideas
on account of a twofold error.--(1.) That every word has only one
signification. (2.) That the only end of language is the communication
of our ideas--Ed.]

20. SOME OF THE ENDS OF LANGUAGE.--Besides, the communicating of ideas
marked by words is not the chief and only end of language, as is
commonly supposed. There are other ends, as the raising of some
passion, the exciting to or deterring from an action, the putting
the mind in some particular disposition--to which the former is
in many cases barely subservient, and sometimes entirely omitted,
when these can be obtained without it, as I think does not unfrequently
happen in the familiar use of language. I entreat the reader to
reflect with himself, and see if it doth not often happen, either in
hearing or reading a discourse, that the passions of fear, love, hatred,
admiration, disdain, and the like, arise immediately in his mind upon the
perception of certain words, without any ideas coming between. At first,
indeed, the words might have occasioned ideas that were fitting to
produce those emotions; but, if I mistake not, it will be found that,
when language is once grown familiar, the hearing of the sounds or sight
of the characters is oft immediately attended with those passions which
at first were wont to be produced by the intervention of ideas that are
now quite omitted. May we not, for example, be affected with the promise
of a GOOD THING, though we have not an idea of what it is? Or is not the
being threatened with danger sufficient to excite a dread, though we
think not of any particular evil likely to befal us, nor yet frame to
ourselves an idea of danger in abstract? If any one shall join ever so
little reflexion of his own to what has been said, I believe that it will
evidently appear to him that general names are often used in the
propriety of language without the speaker's designing them for marks of
ideas in his own, which he would have them raise in the mind of the
hearer. Even proper names themselves do not seem always spoken with a
design to bring into our view the ideas of those individuals that are
supposed to be marked by them. For example, when a schoolman tells me
"Aristotle has said it," all I conceive he means by it is to dispose me
to embrace his opinion with the deference and submission which custom has
annexed to that name. And this effect is often so instantly produced in
the minds of those who are accustomed to resign their judgment to
authority of that philosopher, as it is impossible any idea either of his
person, writings, or reputation should go before [Note.]. Innumerable
examples of this kind may be given, but why should I insist on those
things which every one's experience will, I doubt not, plentifully
suggest unto him?

[Note: "So close and immediate a connection may custom establish betwixt
the very word ARISTOTLE, and the motions of assent and reverence
in the minds of some men."--Edit 1710.]

shown the impossibility of ABSTRACT IDEAS. We have considered
what has been said for them by their ablest patrons; and endeavored
to show they are of no use for those ends to which they are thought
necessary. And lastly, we have traced them to the source from
whence they flow, which appears evidently to be language.--It cannot be
denied that words are of excellent use, in that by their means all that
stock of knowledge which has been purchased by the joint labours of
inquisitive men in all ages and nations may be drawn into the view and
made the possession of one single person. But at the same time it must be
owned that most parts of knowledge have been strangely perplexed and
darkened by the abuse of words, and general ways of speech wherein they
are delivered.[Note 1.] Since therefore words are so apt to impose on the
understanding[Note 2.], whatever ideas I consider, I shall endeavour to
take them bare and naked into my view, keeping out of my thoughts so far
as I am able, those names which long and constant use has so strictly
united with them; from which I may expect to derive the following

[Note 1: "That it may almost be made a question, whether language
has contributed more to the hindrance or advancement of the
sciences."--Edit 1710.]
[Note 2: "I am resolved in my inquiries to make as little use of them
as possibly I can."--Edit 1710.]

22. FIRST, I shall be sure to get clear of all controversies PURELY
VERBAL--the springing up of which weeds in almost all the sciences has
been a main hindrance to the growth of true and sound knowledge.
SECONDLY, this seems to be a sure way to extricate myself out of that
fine and subtle net of ABSTRACT IDEAS which has so miserably perplexed
and entangled the minds of men; and that with this peculiar circumstance,
that by how much the finer and more curious was the wit of any man, by so
much the deeper was he likely to be ensnared and faster held therein.
THIRDLY, so long as I confine my thoughts to my own ideas divested of
words, I do not see how I can easily be mistaken. The objects I consider,
I clearly and adequately know. I cannot be deceived in thinking I have an
idea which I have not. It is not possible for me to imagine that any of
my own ideas are alike or unlike that are not truly so. To discern the
agreements or disagreements there are between my ideas, to see what ideas
are included in any compound idea and what not, there is nothing more
requisite than an attentive perception of what passes in my own

23. But the attainment of all THESE ADVANTAGES doth PRESUPPOSE AN ENTIRE
myself; so difficult a thing it is to dissolve an union so early begun,
and confirmed by so long a habit as that betwixt words and ideas. Which
difficulty seems to have been very much increased by the doctrine of
ABSTRACTION. For, so long as men thought abstract ideas were annexed to
their words, it doth not seem strange that they should use words for
ideas--it being found an impracticable thing to lay aside the word, and
INCONCEIVABLE. This seems to me the principal cause why those men who
have so emphatically recommended to others the laying aside all use of
words in their meditations, and contemplating their bare ideas, have yet
failed to perform it themselves. Of late many have been very sensible of
the absurd opinions and insignificant disputes which grow out of the
abuse of words. And, in order to remedy these evils, they advise well,
that we attend to the ideas signified, and draw off our attention from
the words which signify them. But, how good soever this advice may be
they have given others, it is plain they could not have a due regard to
it themselves, so long as they thought the only immediate use of words
was to signify ideas, and that the immediate signification of every

24. But, THESE BEING KNOWN TO BE MISTAKES, A MAN MAY with greater ease
PREVENT HIS BEING IMPOSED ON BY WORDS. He that knows he has no other than
particular ideas, will not puzzle himself in vain to find out and
conceive the abstract idea annexed to any name. And he that knows names
do not always stand for ideas will spare himself the labour of looking
for ideas where there are none to be had. It were, therefore, to be
wished that everyone would use his utmost endeavours to obtain a clear
view of the ideas he would consider, separating from them all that dress
and incumbrance of words which so much contribute to blind the judgment
and divide the attention. In vain do we extend our view into the heavens
and pry into the entrails of the earth, in vain do we consult the
writings of learned men and trace the dark footsteps of antiquity--we
need only draw the curtain of words, to hold the fairest tree of
knowledge, whose fruit is excellent, and within the reach of our hand.

THE embarras and DELUSION OF WORDS, we may make infinite reasonings upon
them to no purpose; we may draw consequences from consequences, and be
never the wiser. The farther we go, we shall only lose ourselves the more
irrecoverably, and be the deeper entangled in difficulties and mistakes.
Whoever therefore designs to read the following sheets, I entreat him to
make my words the occasion of his own thinking, and endeavour to attain
the same train of thoughts in reading that I had in writing them. By this
means it will be easy for him to discover the truth or falsity of what I
say. He will be out of all danger of being deceived by my words, and I do
not see how he can be led into an error by considering his own naked,
undisguised ideas.


1. OBJECTS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE.--It is evident to any one who takes a
survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either IDEAS
actually imprinted on the senses; or else such as are perceived by
attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly, ideas
formed by help of memory and imagination--either compounding, dividing,
or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways.
By sight I have the ideas of light and colours, with their several degrees
and variations. By touch I perceive hard and soft, heat and cold, motion
and resistance, and of all these more and less either as to quantity or
degree. Smelling furnishes me with odours; the palate with tastes; and
hearing conveys sounds to the mind in all their variety of tone and
composition. And as several of these are observed to accompany each
other, they come to be marked by one name, and so to be reputed as one
thing. Thus, for example a certain colour, taste, smell, figure and
consistence having been observed to go together, are accounted one
distinct thing, signified by the name APPLE. Other collections of ideas
constitute a stone, a tree, a book, and the like sensible things--which
as they are pleasing or disagreeable excite the passions of love,
hatred, joy, grief, and so forth.

2. MIND--SPIRIT--SOUL.--But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or
objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives
them, and exercises divers operations, as willing, imagining, remembering,
about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call MIND, SPIRIT,
SOUL, or MYSELF. By which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a
thing entirely distinct from them, WHEREIN THEY EXIST, or, which is the
same thing, whereby they are perceived--for the existence of an idea
consists in being perceived.

3. HOW FAR THE ASSENT OF THE VULGAR CONCEDED.--That neither our thoughts,
nor passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist WITHOUT the mind,
is what EVERYBODY WILL ALLOW. And it seems no less evident that the
various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended
or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose),
cannot exist otherwise than IN a mind perceiving them. I think an
intuitive knowledge may be obtained of this by any one that shall
attend to WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM EXIST, when applied to sensible
things. The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel
it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed--meaning
thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other
spirit actually does perceive it.[Note.] There was an odour, that is, it
was smelt; there was a sound, that is, it was heard; a colour or figure,
and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all that I can understand
by these and the like expressions. For as to what is said of the absolute
existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being
perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their ESSE is PERCIPI,
nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or
thinking things which perceive them.

[Note: First argument in support of the author's theory.]

an opinion STRANGELY prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains,
rivers, and in a word all sensible objects, have an existence,
natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the
understanding. But, with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever
this principle may be entertained in the world, yet whoever shall find in
his heart to call it in question may, if I mistake not, perceive it to
involve a manifest contradiction. For, what are the fore-mentioned
objects but the things we perceive by sense? and what do we PERCEIVE
BESIDES OUR OWN IDEAS OR SENSATIONS? and is it not plainly repugnant that
any one of these, or any combination of them, should exist unperceived?

5. CAUSE OF THIS PREVALENT ERROR.--If we thoroughly examine this
tenet it will, perhaps, be found at bottom to depend on the doctrine
of ABSTRACT IDEAS. For can there be a nicer strain of abstraction
than to distinguish the existence of sensible objects from their
being perceived, so as to conceive them existing unperceived?
Light and colours, heat and cold, extension and figures--in a
word the things we see and feel--what are they but so many sensations,
notions, ideas, or impressions on the sense? and is it possible to
separate, even in thought, any of these from perception? For my part, I
might as easily divide a thing from itself. I may, indeed, divide in my
thoughts, or conceive apart from each other, those things which, perhaps
I never perceived by sense so divided. Thus, I imagine the trunk of a
human body without the limbs, or conceive the smell of a rose without
thinking on the rose itself. So far, I will not deny, I can abstract--if
that may properly be called ABSTRACTION which extends only to the
conceiving separately such objects as it is possible may really exist or
be actually perceived asunder. But my conceiving or imagining power does
not extend beyond the possibility of real existence or perception. Hence,
as it is impossible for me to see or feel anything without an actual
sensation of that thing, so is it impossible for me to conceive in my
thoughts any sensible thing or object distinct from the sensation or
perception of it.[Note.]

[Note: "In truth the object and the sensation are the same thing, and
cannot therefore be abstracted from each other--Edit 1710."]

6. Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind that a man need
only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be,
viz., that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word
all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not
any subsistence without a mind, that their BEING (ESSE) is to be perceived
or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by
me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other CREATED SPIRIT, they
must either have no existence at all, OR ELSE SUBSIST IN THE MIND OF SOME
ETERNAL SPIRIT--it being perfectly unintelligible, and involving all the
absurdity of abstraction, to attribute to any single part of them an
existence independent of a spirit [Note.]. To be convinced of which, the
reader need only reflect, and try to separate in his own thoughts the
being of a sensible thing from its being perceived.

[Note: "To make this appear with all the light and evidence of an axiom,
it seems sufficient if I can but awaken the reflection of the reader,
that he may take an impartial view of his own meaning, and in turn his
thoughts upon the subject itself, free and disengaged from all embarrass
of words and prepossession in favour of received mistakes."--Edit 1710]

7. SECOND ARGUMENT.[Note.]--From what has been said it follows there is
NOT ANY OTHER SUBSTANCE THAN SPIRIT, or that which perceives. But, for the
fuller proof of this point, let it be considered the sensible qualities
are colour, figure, motion, smell, taste, etc., i.e. the ideas perceived
by sense. Now, for an idea to exist in an unperceiving thing is a
manifest contradiction, for TO HAVE AN IDEA IS ALL ONE AS TO PERCEIVE;
that therefore wherein colour, figure, and the like qualities exist must
perceive them; hence it is clear there can be no UNTHINKING substance or
SUBSTRATUM of those ideas.

[Note: Vide sect. iii. and xxv.]

8. OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--But, say you, though the ideas themselves do not
exist without the mind, yet there may be things LIKE them, whereof they
are copies or resemblances, which things exist without the mind in an
unthinking substance. I ANSWER, an idea can be like nothing but an idea; a
colour or figure can be like nothing but another colour or figure. If we
look but never so little into our thoughts, we shall find it impossible
for us to conceive a likeness except only between our ideas. Again, I ask
whether those supposed originals or external things, of which our ideas
are the pictures or representations, be themselves perceivable or no? If
they are, THEN THEY ARE IDEAS and we have gained our point; but if you say
they are not, I appeal to any one whether it be sense to assert a colour
is like something which is invisible; hard or soft, like something which
is intangible; and so of the rest.

there are who make a DISTINCTION betwixt PRIMARY and SECONDARY
qualities. By the former they mean extension, figure, motion, rest,
solidity or impenetrability, and number; by the latter they denote all
other sensible qualities, as colours, sounds, tastes, and so forth. The
ideas we have of these they acknowledge not to be the resemblances of
anything existing without the mind, or unperceived, but they will have
our ideas of the primary qualities to be patterns or images of things
which exist without the mind, in an unthinking substance which they call
MATTER. By MATTER, therefore, we are to understand an inert, senseless
substance, in which extension, figure, and motion DO ACTUALLY SUBSIST.
But it is evident from what we have already shown, that extension,
figure, and motion are ONLY IDEAS EXISTING IN THE MIND, and that an idea
can be like nothing but another idea, and that consequently neither they
nor their archetypes can exist in an UNPERCEIVING substance. Hence, it is
plain that that the very notion of what is called MATTER or CORPOREAL
SUBSTANCE, involves a contradiction in it.[Note.]

[Note: "Insomuch that I should not think it necessary to spend more time
in exposing its absurdity. But because the tenet of the existence of
matter seems to have taken so deep a root in the minds of philosophers,
and draws after it so many ill consequences, I choose rather to be
thought prolix and tedious, than omit anything that might conduce to
the full discovery and extirpation of the prejudice."--Edit 1710.]

10. ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM.--They who assert that figure, motion, and the
rest of the primary or original qualities do exist without the mind in
unthinking substances, do at the same time acknowledge that colours,
sounds, heat cold, and suchlike secondary qualities, do not--which they
tell us are sensations existing IN THE MIND ALONE, that depend on and are
occasioned by the different size, texture, and motion of the minute
particles of matter. This they take for an undoubted truth, which they can
demonstrate beyond all exception. Now, if it be certain that those
QUALITIES, and not, even in thought, capable of being abstracted
from them, it plainly follows that they exist only in the mind.
But I desire any one to reflect and try whether he can, by any
abstraction of thought, conceive the extension and motion of a
body without all other sensible qualities. For my own part, I see
evidently that it is not in my power to frame an idea of a body
extended and moving, but I must withal give it some colour or other
sensible quality which is ACKNOWLEDGED to exist only in the mind. In
short, extension, figure, and motion, abstracted from all other
qualities, are inconceivable. Where therefore the other sensible
qualities are, there must these be also, to wit, in the mind and nowhere

RELATIVE, and changing as the frame or position of the organs of
sense varies. The extension therefore which exists without the
mind is neither great nor small, the motion neither swift nor slow,
that is, they are nothing at all. But, say you, they are extension
in general, and motion in general: thus we see how much the tenet
of extended movable substances existing without the mind depends on
the strange doctrine of ABSTRACT IDEAS. And here I cannot but remark how
nearly the vague and indeterminate description of Matter or corporeal
substance, which the modern philosophers are run into by their own
principles, resembles that antiquated and so much ridiculed notion of
MATERIA PRIMA, to be met with in Aristotle and his followers. Without
extension solidity cannot be conceived; since therefore it has been shown
that extension exists not in an unthinking substance, the same must also
be true of solidity.

12. That NUMBER is entirely THE CREATURE OF THE MIND, even though the
other qualities be allowed to exist without, will be evident to whoever
considers that the same thing bears a different denomination of number as
the mind views it with different respects. Thus, the same extension is
one, or three, or thirty-six, according as the mind considers it with
reference to a yard, a foot, or an inch. Number is so visibly relative,
and dependent on men's understanding, that it is strange to think how any
one should give it an absolute existence without the mind. We say one
book, one page, one line, etc.; all these are equally units, though some
contain several of the others. And in each instance, it is plain, the
unit relates to some particular combination of ideas arbitrarily put
together by the mind.

13. UNITY I know some will have to be A SIMPLE OR UNCOMPOUNDED IDEA,
accompanying all other ideas into the mind. That I have any such idea
answering the word UNITY I do not find; and if I had, methinks I could
not miss finding it: on the contrary, it should be the most familiar to
my understanding, since it is said to accompany all other ideas, and to
be perceived by all the ways of sensation and reflexion. To say no more,

14. A THIRD ARGUMENT AD HOMINEM.--I shall farther add, that, after
the same manner as modern philosophers prove certain sensible
qualities to have no existence in Matter, or without the mind,
the same thing may be likewise proved of all other sensible qualities
whatsoever. Thus, for instance, it is said that heat and cold are
affections only of the mind, and not at all patterns of real beings,
existing in the corporeal substances which excite them, for that
the same body which appears cold to one hand seems warm to another.
Now, why may we not as well argue that figure and extension are not
patterns or resemblances of qualities existing in Matter, because to the
same eye at different stations, or eyes of a different texture at the
same station, they appear various, and cannot therefore be the images of
that SWEETNESS is not really in the sapid thing, because the thing
remaining unaltered the sweetness is changed into bitter, as in case of a
fever or otherwise vitiated palate. Is it not as reasonable to say that
MOTION is not without the mind, since if the succession of ideas in the
mind become swifter, the motion, it is acknowledged, shall appear slower
without any alteration in any external object?

15. NOT CONCLUSIVE AS TO EXTENSION.--In short, let any one consider
those arguments which are thought manifestly to prove that colours
and taste exist only in the mind, and he shall find they may with
equal force be brought to prove the same thing of extension, figure,
and motion. Though it must be confessed this method of arguing
does not so much prove that there is no extension or colour in
an outward object, as that we do not know by SENSE which is the TRUE
extension or colour of the object. But the arguments foregoing plainly
show it to be impossible that any colour or extension at all, or other
sensible quality whatsoever, should exist in an UNTHINKING subject
without the mind, or in truth, that there should be any such thing as an
outward object.

16. But let us examine a little the received opinion.--It is said
EXTENSION is a MODE or accident OF MATTER, and that Matter is the
SUBSTRATUM that supports it. Now I desire that you would explain to me
what is meant by Matter's SUPPORTING extension. Say you, I have no idea
of Matter and therefore cannot explain it. I answer, though you have no
positive, yet, if you have any meaning at all, you must at least have a
relative idea of Matter; though you know not what it is, yet you must be
supposed to know what relation it bears to accidents, and what is meant
by its supporting them. It is evident SUPPORT cannot here be taken in
its usual or literal sense--as when we say that pillars support a
building; in what sense therefore must it be taken? [Note.]

[Note: "For my part, I am not able to discover any sense at all that can
be applicable to it."--Edit 1710.]

PARTS.--If we inquire into what the most accurate philosophers declare
themselves to mean by MATERIAL SUBSTANCE, we shall find them acknowledge
they have no other meaning annexed to those sounds but the idea of BEING
ACCIDENTS. The general idea of Being appeareth to me the most abstract
and incomprehensible of all other; and as for its supporting accidents,
this, as we have just now observed, cannot be understood in the common
sense of those words; it must therefore be taken in some other sense, but
what that is they do not explain. So that when I consider the TWO PARTS
or branches which make the signification of the words MATERIAL SUBSTANCE,
I am convinced there is no distinct meaning annexed to them. But why
should we trouble ourselves any farther, in discussing this material
SUBSTRATUM or support of figure and motion, and other sensible qualities?
Does it not suppose they have an existence without the mind? And is not
this a direct repugnancy, and altogether inconceivable?

were possible that solid, figured, movable substances may exist
without the mind, corresponding to the ideas we have of bodies,
yet HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR US TO KNOW THIS? Either we must know it by
sense or by reason. As for our senses, by them we have the knowledge ONLY
OF OUR SENSATIONS, ideas, or those things that are immediately perceived
by sense, call them what you will: but they do not inform us that things
exist without the mind, or unperceived, like to those which are
perceived. This the materialists themselves acknowledge. It remains
therefore that if we have any knowledge at all of external things, it
must be by REASON, inferring their existence from what is immediately
perceived by sense. But what reason can induce us to believe the
existence of bodies without the mind, from what we perceive, since the
very patrons of Matter themselves do not pretend there is ANY NECESSARY
CONNEXION BETWIXT THEM AND OUR IDEAS? I say it is granted on all hands
(and what happens in dreams, phrensies, and the like, puts it beyond
Hence, it is evident the supposition of external bodies is not necessary
for the producing our ideas; since it is granted they are produced
sometimes, and might possibly be produced always in the same order, we
see them in at present, without their concurrence.

IN WHICH OUR IDEAS ARE PROCUCED.--But, though we might possibly
have all our sensations without them, yet perhaps it may be thought
EASIER to conceive and explain the MANNER of their production,
by supposing external bodies in their likeness rather than otherwise;
and so it might be at least probable there are such things as bodies
that excite their ideas in our minds. But neither can this be said;
for, though we give the materialists their external bodies, they
by their own confession are never the nearer knowing how our ideas
are produced; since they own themselves unable to comprehend in
what manner BODY CAN ACT UPON SPIRIT, or how it is possible it should
imprint any idea in the mind. Hence it is evident the production of ideas
or sensations in our minds can be no reason why we should suppose Matter
possible for bodies to exist without the mind, yet to hold they do so,
must needs be a very precarious opinion; since it is to suppose, without
any reason at all, that God has created innumerable beings THAT ARE

20. DILEMMA.--In short, if there were external bodies, it is impossible we
should ever come to know it; and if there were not, we might have the very
same reasons to think there were that we have now. Suppose--what no one
can deny possible--an intelligence without the help of external bodies, to
be affected with the same train of sensations or ideas that you are,
imprinted in the same order and with like vividness in his mind. I ask
whether that intelligence has not all the reason to believe the
existence of corporeal substances, represented by his ideas, and exciting
them in his mind, that you can possibly have for believing the same
thing? Of this there can be no question--which one consideration were
enough to make any reasonable person suspect the strength of whatever
arguments be may think himself to have, for the existence of bodies
without the mind.

21. Were it necessary to add any FURTHER PROOF AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF
MATTER after what has been said, I could instance several of those errors
and difficulties (not to mention impieties) which have sprung from that
tenet. It has occasioned numberless controversies and disputes in
philosophy, and not a few of far greater moment in religion. But I shall
not enter into the detail of them in this place, as well because I think
arguments A POSTERIORI are unnecessary for confirming what has been, if I
mistake not, sufficiently demonstrated A PRIORI, as because I shall
hereafter find occasion to speak somewhat of them.

22. I am afraid I have given cause to think I am needlessly prolix in
handling this subject. For, to what purpose is it to dilate on that which
may be demonstrated with the utmost evidence in a line or two, to any one
that is capable of the least reflexion? It is but looking into your own
thoughts, and so trying whether you can conceive it possible for a sound,
or figure, or motion, or colour to exist without the mind or unperceived.
This easy trial may perhaps make you see that what you contend for is a
downright contradiction. Insomuch that I am content to put the whole upon
this issue:--If you can but CONCEIVE it possible for one extended movable
substance, or, in general, for any one idea, or anything like an idea, to
exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving it, I shall readily give up the
cause. And, as for all that COMPAGES of external bodies you contend for,
I shall grant you its existence, THOUGH (1.) YOU CANNOT EITHER GIVE ME ANY
USE TO IT WHEN IT IS SUPPOSED TO EXIST [Vide sect. lx.]. I say, the bare
possibility of your opinions being true shall pass for an argument that
it is so. [Note: i.e. although your argument be deficient in the two
requisites of an hypothesis.--Ed.]

23. But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine
trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody
by to perceive them. I answer, you may so, there is no difficulty in it;
but what is all this, I beseech you, more than framing in your mind
certain ideas which you call BOOKS and TREES, and the same time omitting
to frame the idea of any one that may perceive them? BUT DO NOT YOU
nothing to the purpose; it only shows you have the power of imagining or
forming ideas in your mind: but it does not show that you can conceive it
possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind. To make
conceive the existence of external bodies, we are all the while only
contemplating our own ideas. But the mind taking no notice of itself, is
deluded to think it can and does conceive bodies existing unthought of or
without the mind, though at the same time they are apprehended by or
exist in itself. A little attention will discover to any one the truth
and evidence of what is here said, and make it unnecessary to insist on
any other proofs against the existence of material substance.

A MEANING.--It is very obvious, upon the least inquiry into our thoughts,
to know whether it is possible for us to understand what is meant by the
To me it is evident those words mark out either a direct contradiction, or
else nothing at all. And to convince others of this, I know no readier or
fairer way than to entreat they would calmly attend to their own
thoughts; and if by this attention the emptiness or repugnancy of those
expressions does appear, surely nothing more is requisite for the
conviction. It is on this therefore that I insist, to wit, that the
ABSOLUTE existence of unthinking things are words without a meaning, or
which include a contradiction. This is what I repeat and inculcate, and
earnestly recommend to the attentive thoughts of the reader.

25. THIRD ARGUMENT.[Note: Vide sect. iii. and vii.]--REFUTATION
OF LOCKE.--All our ideas, sensations, notions, or the things which we
perceive, by whatsoever names they may be distinguished, are visibly
inactive--there is nothing of power or agency included in them. So that
ONE IDEA or object of thought CANNOT PRODUCE or make ANY ALTERATION IN
ANOTHER. To be satisfied of the truth of this, there is nothing else
requisite but a bare observation of our ideas. For, since they and every
part of them exist only in the mind, it follows that there is nothing in
them but what is perceived: but whoever shall attend to his ideas, whether
of sense or reflexion, will not perceive in them any power or activity;
there is, therefore, no such thing contained in them. A little
attention will discover to us that the very being of an idea implies
passiveness and inertness in it, insomuch that it is impossible for an
idea to do anything, or, strictly speaking, to be the cause of anything:
neither can it be the resemblance or pattern of any active being, as is
evident from sect. 8. Whence it plainly follows that extension,
figure, and motion cannot be the cause of our sensations. To say,
therefore, that these are the effects of powers resulting from the
configuration, number, motion, and size of corpuscles, must certainly
be false. [Note: Vide sect. cii.]

26. CAUSE OF IDEAS.--We perceive a continual succession of ideas, some are
anew excited, others are changed or totally disappear. There is therefore
some cause of these ideas, whereon they depend, and which produces and
changes them. That this cause cannot be any quality or idea or combination
of ideas, is clear from the preceding section. I must therefore be a
substance; but it has been shown that there is no corporeal or material
substance: it remains therefore that the CAUSE OF IDEAS is an incorporeal
active substance or Spirit.

27. NO IDEA OF SPIRIT.--A spirit is one simple, undivided, active
being--as it perceives ideas it is called the UNDERSTANDING, and as it
produces or otherwise operates about them it is called the WILL. Hence
there can be no idea formed of a soul or spirit; for all ideas whatever,
being passive and inert (vide sect. 25), they cannot represent unto us,
by way of image or LIKENESS, that which acts. A little attention will make
it plain to any one, that to have an idea which shall be like that active
principle of motion and change of ideas is absolutely impossible. Such is
the nature of SPIRIT, or that which acts, that it cannot be of itself
doubt of the truth of what is here delivered, let him but reflect and try
if he can frame the idea of any power or active being, and whether he has
ideas of two principal powers, marked by the names WILL and UNDERSTANDING,
distinct from each other as well as from a third idea of Substance or
Being in general, with a relative notion of its supporting or being the
subject of the aforesaid powers--which is signified by the name SOUL or
SPIRIT. This is what some hold; but, so far as I can see, the words
WILL [Note: "Understanding, mind."--Edit 1710.], SOUL, SPIRIT, do not stand
for different ideas, or, in truth, for any idea at all, but for something
which is very different from ideas, and which, being an agent, cannot be
like unto, or represented by, any idea whatsoever. Though it must be owned
at the same time that we have some notion of soul, spirit, and the
operations of the mind: such as willing, loving, hating--inasmuch as we
know or understand the meaning of these words.

28. I find I can excite ideas in my mind at pleasure, and vary and shift
the scene as oft as I think fit. It is no more than willing, and
straightway this or that idea arises in my fancy; and by the same power
it is obliterated and makes way for another. This making and unmaking of
ideas doth very properly denominate the mind active. Thus much is certain
and grounded on experience; but when we think of unthinking agents or of
exciting ideas exclusive of volition, we only amuse ourselves with words.

whatever power I may have over MY OWN thoughts, I find the ideas
actually perceived by Sense have not a like dependence on my will. When
in broad daylight I open my eyes, it is not in my power to choose whether
I shall see or no, or to determine what particular objects shall present
themselves to my view; and so likewise as to the hearing and other
senses; the ideas imprinted on them are not creatures of my will. There

30. LAWS OF NATURE.--The ideas of Sense are more strong, lively, and
DISTINCT than those of the imagination; they have likewise a steadiness,
order, and coherence, and are not excited at random, as those which are
the effects of human wills often are, but in a regular train or series,
the admirable connexion whereof sufficiently testifies the wisdom and
benevolence of its Author. Now THE SET RULES OR ESTABLISHED METHODS
THE LAWS OF NATURE; and these we learn by experience, which teaches us
that such and such ideas are attended with such and such other ideas, in
the ordinary course of things.

gives us a sort of foresight which enables us to regulate our
actions for the benefit of life. And without this we should be eternally
at a loss; we could not know how to act anything that might procure us
the least pleasure, or remove the least pain of sense. That food
nourishes, sleep refreshes, and fire warms us; that to sow in the
seed-time is the way to reap in the harvest; and in general that to
obtain such or such ends, such or such means are conducive--all this we
only by the observation of the settled laws of nature, without which we
should be all in uncertainty and confusion, and a grown man no more know
how to manage himself in the affairs of life than an infant just born.

32. And yet THIS consistent UNIFORM WORKING, which so evidently displays
the goodness and wisdom of that Governing Spirit whose Will constitutes
the laws of nature, is so far from leading our thoughts to Him, that it
certain ideas of Sense constantly followed by other ideas and WE KNOW
THIS IS NOT OF OUR OWN DOING, we forthwith attribute power and agency to
the ideas themselves, and make one the cause of another, than which
nothing can be more absurd and unintelligible. Thus, for example, having
observed that when we perceive by sight a certain round luminous figure
we at the same time perceive by touch the idea or sensation called HEAT,
we do from thence conclude the sun to be the cause of heat. And in like
manner perceiving the motion and collision of bodies to be attended with
sound, we are inclined to think the latter the effect of the former.

33. OF REAL THINGS AND IDEAS OR CHIMERAS.--The ideas imprinted on the
Senses by the Author of nature are called REAL THINGS; and those
excited in the imagination being less regular, vivid, and constant,
are more properly termed IDEAS, or IMAGES OF THINGS, which they
copy and represent. But then our sensations, be they never so vivid
and distinct, are nevertheless IDEAS, that is, they exist in the
mind, or are perceived by it, as truly as the ideas of its own framing.
The ideas of Sense are allowed to have more reality in them, that is, to
be more (1)STRONG, (2)ORDERLY, and (3)COHERENT than the creatures of the
mind; but this is no argument that they exist without the mind. They are
also (4)LESS DEPENDENT ON THE SPIRIT [Note: Vide sect. xxix.--Note.],
or thinking substance which perceives them, in that they are excited by
the will of another and more powerful spirit; yet still they are IDEAS,
and certainly no IDEA, whether faint or strong, can exist otherwise than
in a mind perceiving it.

34. FIRST GENERAL OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Before we proceed any farther
it is necessary we spend some time in answering objections which
may probably be made against the principles we have hitherto laid
down. In doing of which, if I seem too prolix to those of quick
apprehensions, I hope it may be pardoned, since all men do not
equally apprehend things of this nature, and I am willing to be
understood by every one.

FIRST, then, it will be objected that by the foregoing principles ALL
instead thereof a chimerical scheme of ideas takes place. All things that
exist, exist only in the mind, that is, they are purely notional. What
therefore becomes of the sun, moon and stars? What must we think of
houses, rivers, mountains, trees, stones; nay, even of our own bodies?
Are all these but so many chimeras and illusions on the fancy? To all
which, and whatever else of the same sort may be objected, I ANSWER, that
by the principles premised we are not deprived of any one thing in
nature. Whatever we see, feel, hear, or anywise conceive or understand
remains as secure as ever, and is as real as ever. There is a RERUM
NATURA, and the distinction between realities and chimeras retains its
full force. This is evident from sect. 29, 30, and 33, where we have
shown what is meant by REAL THINGS in opposition to CHIMERAS or ideas of
our own framing; but then they both equally exist in the mind, and in
that sense they are alike IDEAS.

DENIED.[Vide sect. lxxxiv.]--I do not argue against the existence of
any one thing that we can apprehend either by sense or reflexion.
That the things I see with my eyes and touch with my hands do exist,
really exist, I make not the least question. The only thing whose
existence we deny IS THAT WHICH PHILOSOPHERS CALL MATTER or corporeal
substance. And in doing of this there is no damage done to the rest
of mankind, who, I dare say, will never miss it. The Atheist indeed
will want the colour of an empty name to support his impiety; and
the Philosophers may possibly find they have lost a great handle for
trifling and disputation.

36. READILY EXPLAINED.--If any man thinks this detracts from the existence
or reality of things, he is very far from understanding what has been
premised in the plainest terms I could think of. Take here an
abstract of what has been said:--There are spiritual substances,
minds, or human souls, which will or excite ideas in themselves at
pleasure; but these are faint, weak, and unsteady in respect of
others they perceive by sense--which, being impressed upon them
according to certain rules or laws of nature, speak themselves the
effects of a mind more powerful and wise than human spirits. These
latter are said to have more REALITY in them than the former:--by
which is meant that they are more affecting, orderly, and distinct,
and that they are not fictions of the mind perceiving them. And
in this sense the sun that I see by day is the real sun, and that which I
imagine by night is the idea of the former. In the sense here given of
REALITY it is evident that every vegetable, star, mineral, and in general
each part of the mundane system, is as much a REAL BEING by our
principles as by any other. Whether others mean anything by the term
REALITY different from what I do, I entreat them to look into their own
thoughts and see.

be urged that thus much at least is true, to wit, that we take
away all corporeal substances. To this my answer is, that if the word
SUBSTANCE be taken in the vulgar sense--for a combination of sensible
qualities, such as extension, solidity, weight, and the like--this we
cannot be accused of taking away: but if it be taken in a philosophic
sense--for the SUPPORT of accidents or QUALITIES WITHOUT THE MIND--then
indeed I acknowledge that we take it away, if one may be said to take
away that which never had any existence, not even in the imagination.

38. But, say you, it sounds very harsh to say we eat and drink
ideas, and are clothed with ideas. I acknowledge it does so--the word
IDEA not being used in common discourse to signify the several
combinations of sensible qualities which are called THINGS; and it is
certain that any expression which varies from the familiar use of
language will seem harsh and ridiculous. But this doth not concern the
truth of the proposition, which in other words is no more than to say, we
are fed and clothed with those things which we perceive immediately by
our senses. The hardness or softness, the colour, taste, warmth, figure,
or suchlike qualities, which combined together constitute the several
sorts of victuals and apparel, have been shown to exist only in the mind
that perceives them; and this is all that is meant by calling them IDEAS;
which word if it was as ordinarily used as THING, would sound no harsher
nor more ridiculous than it. I am not for disputing about the propriety,
but the truth of the expression. If therefore you agree with me that we
eat and drink and are clad with the immediate objects of sense, which
cannot exist unperceived or without the mind, I shall readily grant it is
more proper or conformable to custom that they should be called things
rather than ideas.

39. THE TERM IDEA PREFERABLE TO THING.--If it be demanded why I make
use of the word IDEA, and do not rather in compliance with custom
call them THINGS. I answer, I do it for two reasons:--first, because
the term THING in contra-distinction to IDEA, is generally supposed
to denote somewhat existing without the mind; secondly, because
THING has a more comprehensive signification than IDEA, including
SPIRIT or thinking things as well as IDEAS. Since therefore the
objects of sense exist only in the mind, and are withal thoughtless
and inactive, I chose to mark them by the word IDEA, which implies
those properties.

some one perhaps may be apt to reply, he will still believe his
senses, and never suffer any arguments, how plausible soever,
to prevail over the certainty of them. Be it so; assert the evidence
of sense as high as you please, we are willing to do the same.
That what I see, hear, and feel DOTH EXIST, THAT IS to say, IS PERCEIVED
BY ME, I no more doubt than I do of my own being. But I do not see how
the testimony of sense can be alleged as a proof for the existence of
anything which is not perceived by sense. We are not for having any man
turn SCEPTIC and disbelieve his senses; on the contrary, we give them all
the stress and assurance imaginable; nor are there any principles more
opposite to Scepticism than those we have laid down [Note.], as shall be
hereafter clearly shown.

[Note: They extirpate the very root of scepticism, "the fallacy
of the senses."--Ed.]

41. SECOND OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Secondly, it will be OBJECTED
that there is a great difference betwixt real fire for instance,
and the idea of fire, betwixt dreaming or imagining oneself burnt,
and actually being so: if you suspect it to be only the idea of
fire which you see, do but put your hand into it and you will be
convinced with a witness. This and the like may be urged in opposition
to our tenets. To all which the ANSWER is evident from what has
been already said; and I shall only add in this place, that if real
fire be very different from the idea of fire, so also is the real pain
that it occasions very different from the idea of the same pain, and yet
nobody will pretend that real pain either is, or can possibly be, in an
unperceiving thing, or without the mind, any more than its idea.

42. THIRD OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Thirdly, it will be objected that
we see things actually without or at distance from us, and which
consequently do not exist in the mind; it being absurd that those
things which are seen at the distance of several miles should be
as near to us as our own thoughts. In answer to this, I desire it
may be considered that in a DREAM we do oft perceive things as
existing at a great distance off, and yet for all that, those things
are acknowledged to have their existence only in the mind.

43. But, for the fuller clearing of this point, it may be worth while to
consider how it is that we perceive distance and things placed at a
distance by sight. For, that we should in truth see EXTERNAL space, and
bodies actually existing in it, some nearer, others farther off, seems to
carry with it some opposition to what has been said of their existing
nowhere without the mind. The consideration of this difficulty it was
that gave birth to my "Essay towards a New Theory of Vision," which was
published not long since, wherein it is shown (1) that DISTANCE or outness
is NEITHER IMMEDIATELY of itself PERCEIVED by sight, nor yet apprehended
or judged of by lines and angles, or anything that has a necessary
connexion with it; but (2) that it is ONLY SUGGESTED to our thoughts by
certain visible ideas and sensations attending vision, which in their own
nature have no manner of similitude or relation either with distance or
things placed at a distance; but, by a connexion taught us BY EXPERIENCE,
they come to signify and suggest them to us, after the same manner that
WORDS of any language suggest the ideas they are made to stand for;
insomuch that a man BORN blind and afterwards made to see, would not, at
first sight, think the things he saw to be without his mind, or at any
distance from him. See sect. 41 of the fore-mentioned treatise.

44. The ideas of sight and touch make two species entirely distinct and
the proper objects of sight neither exist without mind, nor are the
images of external things, was shown even in that treatise. Though
throughout the same the contrary be supposed true of tangible
objects--not that to suppose that vulgar error was necessary for
establishing the notion therein laid down, but because it was beside my
purpose to examine and refute it in a discourse concerning VISION. So
that in strict truth the ideas of sight, when we apprehend by them
distance and things placed at a distance, do not suggest or mark out to
us things ACTUALLY existing at a distance, but only admonish us what
ideas of touch will be imprinted in our minds at such and such distances
of time, and in consequence of such or such actions. It is, I say,
evident from what has been said in the foregoing parts of this Treatise,
and in sect. 147 and elsewhere of the Essay concerning Vision, that
visible ideas are the Language whereby the governing Spirit on whom we
depend informs us what tangible ideas he is about to imprint upon us, in
case we excite this or that motion in our own bodies. But for a fuller
information in this point I refer to the Essay itself.

Fourthly, it will be objected that from the foregoing principles it
follows things are every moment annihilated and created anew. The objects
of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in
the garden, or the chairs in the parlour, no longer than while there is
somebody by to perceive them. Upon SHUTTING MY EYES all the furniture in
the room is reduced to nothing, and barely upon opening them it is again
created. In ANSWER to all which, I refer the reader to what has been said
in sect. 3, 4, &c., and desire he will consider whether he means anything
by the actual existence of an idea distinct from its being perceived. For
my part, after the nicest inquiry I could make, I am not able to discover
that anything else is meant by those words; and I once more entreat the
reader to sound his own thoughts, and not suffer himself to be imposed on
by words. If he can conceive it possible either for his ideas or their
archetypes to exist without being perceived, then I give up the cause;
but if he cannot, he will acknowledge it is unreasonable for him to stand
up in defence of he knows not what, and pretend to charge on me as an
absurdity the not assenting to those propositions which at bottom have no
meaning in them.

46. ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM.--It will not be amiss to observe how far
the received principles of philosophy are themselves chargeable
with those pretended absurdities. (1) It is thought strangely absurd
that upon closing my eyelids all the visible objects around me
should be reduced to nothing; and yet is not this what philosophers
commonly acknowledge, when they agree on all hands that light and
colours, which alone are the proper and immediate objects of sight,
are mere sensations that exist no longer than they are perceived?
(2)Again, it may to some perhaps seem very incredible that things should
be every moment creating, yet this very notion is commonly taught in the
schools. For the SCHOOLMEN, though they acknowledge the existence of
Matter, and that the whole mundane fabric is framed out of it, are
nevertheless of opinion that it cannot subsist without the divine
conservation, which by them is expounded to be a continual creation.

47. (3) Further, a little thought will discover to us that though we allow
the existence of Matter or corporeal substance, yet it will unavoidably
PARTICULAR bodies, of what kind soever, do none of them exist whilst they
are not perceived. For, it is evident from sect. II and the following
sections, that the Matter philosophers contend for is an incomprehensible
(2) But, to make this more plain, it must be remarked that the infinite
divisibility of Matter is now universally allowed, at least by the most
approved and considerable philosophers, who on the received principles
demonstrate it beyond all exception. Hence, it follows there is an
infinite number of parts in each particle of Matter which are not
perceived by sense. The reason therefore that any particular body seems
to be of a finite magnitude, or exhibits only a finite number of parts to
sense, is, not because it contains no more, since in itself it contains
an infinite number of parts, BUT BECAUSE THE SENSE IS NOT ACUTE ENOUGH TO
DISCERN THEM. In proportion therefore as the sense is rendered more
acute, it perceives a greater number of parts in the object, that is, the
object appears greater, and its figure varies, those parts in its
extremities which were before unperceivable appearing now to bound it in
very different lines and angles from those perceived by an obtuser sense.
And at length, after various changes of size and shape, when the sense
becomes infinitely acute the body shall seem infinite. During all which
there is no alteration in the body, but only in the sense. EACH BODY
VOID OF ALL SHAPE OR FIGURE. From which it follows that, though we should
grant the existence of Matter to be never so certain, yet it is withal as
certain, the materialists themselves are by their own principles forced
to acknowledge, that neither the particular bodies perceived by sense,
nor anything like them, exists without the mind. Matter, I say, and each
particle thereof, is according to them infinite and shapeless, AND IT IS

48. If we consider it, the objection proposed in sect. 45 will not be
found reasonably charged on the principles we have premised, so as in
truth to make any objection at all against our notions. For, though we
hold indeed the objects of sense to be nothing else but ideas which
cannot exist unperceived; yet we may not hence conclude they have no
existence except only while they are perceived by US, since THERE MAY BE
are said to have no existence without the mind, I would not be understood
to mean this or that particular mind, but ALL MINDS WHATSOEVER. It does
not therefore follow from the foregoing principles that bodies are
annihilated and created every moment, or exist not at all during the
intervals between our perception of them.

49. FIFTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Fifthly, it may perhaps be OBJECTED
that if extension and figure exist only in the mind, it follows
that the mind is extended and figured; since extension is a mode or
attribute which (to speak with the schools) is predicated of the
subject in which it exists. I ANSWER, (1) Those qualities are in the
mind ONLY AS THEY ARE PERCEIVED BY IT--that is, not by way of MODE
or ATTRIBUTE, but only by way of IDEA; and it no more follows the
soul or mind is extended, because extension exists in it alone,
than it does that it is red or blue, because those colours are ON
ALL HANDS acknowledged to exist in it, and nowhere else. (2) As to what
philosophers say of subject and mode, that seems very groundless and
unintelligible. For instance, in this proposition "a die is hard,
extended, and square," they will have it that the word die denotes a
subject or substance, distinct from the hardness, extension, and figure
which are predicated of it, and in which they exist. This I cannot
comprehend: to me a die seems to be nothing distinct from those things
which are termed its modes or accidents. And, to say a die is hard,
extended, and square is not to attribute those qualities to a subject
distinct from and supporting them, but only an explication of the meaning
of the word DIE.

you will say there have been a great many things explained by
matter and motion; take away these and you destroy the whole
corpuscular philosophy, and undermine those mechanical principles which
have been applied with so much success to account for the PHENOMENA. In
short, whatever advances have been made, either by ancient or modern
philosophers, in the study of nature do all proceed on the supposition
that corporeal substance or Matter doth really exist. To this I ANSWER
that there is not any one PHENOMENON explained on that supposition which
may not as well be explained without it, as might easily be made appear
by an INDUCTION OF PARTICULARS. To explain the PHENOMENA, is all one as
to show why, upon such and such occasions, we are affected with such and
such ideas. But (1) how Matter should operate on a Spirit, or produce any
idea in it, is what no philosopher will pretend to explain; it is
therefore evident there can be no use of Matter in natural philosophy.
Besides, (2) they who attempt to account for things do it not by CORPOREAL
SUBSTANCE, but by figure, motion, and other qualities, which are in truth
no more than mere ideas, and, therefore, cannot be the cause of anything,
as has been already shown. See sect. 25.

51. SEVENTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Seventhly, it will upon this be
demanded whether it does not seem ABSURD TO TAKE AWAY NATURAL CAUSES,
must no longer say upon these principles that fire heats, or water
cools, but that a Spirit heats, and so forth. Would not a man be
deservedly laughed at, who should talk after this manner? I ANSWER,
he would so; in such things we ought to THINK WITH THE LEARNED,
AND SPEAK WITH THE VULGAR. They who to demonstration are convinced
of the truth of the Copernican system do nevertheless say "the sun
rises," "the sun sets," or "comes to the meridian"; and if they
affected a contrary style in common talk it would without doubt appear
very ridiculous. A little reflexion on what is here said will make it
manifest that the common use of language would receive no manner of
alteration or disturbance from the admission of our tenets.

as they excite in us proper sentiments, or dispositions to act in such a
manner as is necessary for our WELL-BEING, how false soever they may be
if taken in a strict and SPECULATIVE SENSE. Nay, this is unavoidable,
since, propriety being regulated by CUSTOM, language is suited to the
RECEIVED opinions, which are not always the truest. Hence it is
impossible, even in the most rigid, philosophic reasonings, so far to
alter the bent and genius of the tongue we speak, as never to give a
handle for cavillers to pretend difficulties and inconsistencies. But, a
fair and ingenuous reader will collect the sense from the scope and tenor
and connexion of a discourse, making allowances for those inaccurate
modes of speech which use has made inevitable.

heretofore maintained by some of the Schoolmen, as it is of late by
others among the modern philosophers, who though they allow Matter to
exist, yet will have God alone to be the immediate efficient cause of all
things. These men saw that amongst all the objects of sense there was
none which had any power or activity included in it; and that by
consequence this was likewise true of whatever bodies they supposed to
exist without the mind, like unto the immediate objects of sense. But
then, that they should suppose an innumerable multitude of created
beings, which they acknowledge are not capable of producing any one
effect in nature, and which therefore are made to no manner of purpose,
since God might have done everything as well without them: this I say,
though we should allow it possible, must yet be a very unaccountable and
extravagant supposition.

54. EIGHTH OBJECTION.--TWOFOLD ANSWER.--In the eighth place, the
universal concurrent assent of mankind may be thought by some
an invincible argument in behalf of Matter, or the existence of
external things. Must we suppose the whole world to be mistaken?
And if so, what cause can be assigned of so widespread and predominant
an error? I answer, FIRST, that, upon a narrow inquiry, it will
not perhaps be found so many as is imagined do really believe the
existence of Matter or things without the mind. Strictly speaking, to
believe that which involves a contradiction, or has no meaning in it, is
impossible; and whether the foregoing expressions are not of that sort, I
refer it to the impartial examination of the reader. In one sense,
indeed, men may be said to believe that Matter exists, that is, they ACT
as if the immediate cause of their sensations, which affects them every
moment, and is so nearly present to them, were some senseless unthinking
being. But, that they should clearly apprehend any meaning marked by
those words, and form thereof a settled SPECULATIVE opinion, is what I am
not able to conceive. This is not the only instance wherein men impose
upon themselves, by imagining they believe those propositions which they
have often heard, though at bottom they have no meaning in them.

55. But SECONDLY, though we should grant a notion to be never so
universally and steadfastly adhered to, yet this is weak argument of its
truth to whoever considers what a vast number of prejudices and false
opinions are everywhere embraced with the utmost tenaciousness, by the
unreflecting (which are the far greater) part of mankind. There was a
time when the antipodes and motion of the earth were looked upon as
monstrous absurdities even by men of learning: and if it be considered
what a small proportion they bear to the rest of mankind, we shall find
that at this day those notions have gained but a very inconsiderable
footing in the world.

56. NINTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--But it is demanded that we assign
A CAUSE OF THIS PREJUDICE, and account for its obtaining in the
world. To this I ANSWER, that men knowing they perceived several
excited from within nor depending on the operation of their wills--this
made them maintain those ideas, or objects of perception had an
that a contradiction was involved in those words. But, philosophers
having plainly seen that the immediate objects of perception do
not exist without the mind, THEY IN SOME DEGREE CORRECTED the
mistake of the vulgar; but at the same time run into another which
seems no less absurd, to wit, that there are certain objects really
existing without the mind, or having a subsistence distinct from being
perceived, OF WHICH OUR IDEAS ARE ONLY IMAGES or resemblances, imprinted
by those objects on the mind. And this notion of the philosophers owes
its origin to the same cause with the former, namely, their being
conscious that they were not the authors of their own sensations, which
they evidently knew were imprinted from without, and which therefore must
have some cause distinct from the minds on which they are imprinted.

THINGS IN THEIR LIKENESS, and not rather have recourse to SPIRIT which
alone can act, may be accounted for, FIRST, because they were not aware
of the repugnancy there is, (1) as well in supposing things like unto our
ideas existing without, as in (2) attributing to them POWER OR ACTIVITY.
SECONDLY, because the Supreme Spirit which excites those ideas in our
minds, is not marked out and limited to our view by any particular finite
collection of sensible ideas, as human agents are by their size,
complexion, limbs, and motions. And thirdly, because His operations are
regular and uniform. Whenever the course of nature is interrupted by a
miracle, men are ready to own the presence of a superior agent. But, when
we see things go on in the ordinary course they do not excite in us any
reflexion; their order and concatenation, though it be an argument of the
greatest wisdom, power, and goodness in their creator, is yet so constant
and familiar to us that we do not think them the immediate effects of a
Free Spirit; especially since inconsistency and mutability in acting,
though it be an imperfection, is looked on as a mark of freedom.

58. TENTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Tenthly, it will be objected that
the notions we advance are inconsistent with several sound truths
in philosophy and mathematics. For example, the motion of the earth
is now universally admitted by astronomers as a truth grounded on
the clearest and most convincing reasons. But, on the foregoing
principles, there can be no such thing. For, motion being only an
idea, it follows that if it be not perceived it exists not; but the
motion of the earth is not perceived by sense. I answer, that tenet,
if rightly understood, will be found to agree with the principles
we have premised; for, the question whether the earth moves or no
amounts in reality to no more than this, to wit, whether we have
reason to conclude, from what has been observed by astronomers, that
if we were placed in such and such circumstances, and such or such a
position and distance both from the earth and sun, we should perceive the
former to move among the choir of the planets, and appearing in all
respects like one of them; and this, by the established rules of nature
which we have no reason to mistrust, is reasonably collected from the

59. We may, from the experience we have had of the train and succession
of ideas in our minds, often make, I will not say uncertain conjectures,
but sure and well--grounded predictions concerning the ideas we shall be
affected with pursuant to a great train of actions, and be enabled to
pass a right judgment of what would have appeared to us, in case we were
placed in circumstances very different from those we are in at present.
Herein consists the knowledge of nature, which may preserve its use and
certainty very consistently with what has been said. It will be easy to
apply this to whatever objections of the like sort may be drawn from the
magnitude of the stars, or any other discoveries in astronomy or nature.

60. ELEVENTH OBJECTION.--In the eleventh place, it will be demanded
to what purpose serves that curious organization of plants, and the
animal mechanism in the parts of animals; might not vegetables grow,
and shoot forth leaves of blossoms, and animals perform all their
motions as well without as with all that variety of internal parts
so elegantly contrived and put together; which, being ideas, have
nothing powerful or operative in them, nor have any necessary connexion
with the effects ascribed to them? If it be a Spirit that immediately
produces every effect by a fiat or act of his will, we must think all
that is fine and artificial in the works, whether of man or nature,
to be made in vain. By this doctrine, though an artist has made the
spring and wheels, and every movement of a watch, and adjusted them
in such a manner as he knew would produce the motions he designed,
yet he must think all this done to no purpose, and that it is an
Intelligence which directs the index, and points to the hour of the
day. If so, why may not the Intelligence do it, without his being at the
pains of making the movements and putting them together? Why does not an
empty case serve as well as another? And how comes it to pass that
whenever there is any fault in the going of a watch, there is some
corresponding disorder to be found in the movements, which being mended
by a skilful hand all is right again? The like may be said of all the
clockwork of nature, great part whereof is so wonderfully fine and subtle
as scarce to be discerned by the best microscope. In short, it will be
asked, how, upon our principles, any tolerable account can be given, or
any final cause assigned of an innumerable multitude of bodies and
machines, framed with the most exquisite art, which in the common
philosophy have very apposite uses assigned them, and serve to explain
abundance of phenomena?

61. ANSWER.--To all which I answer, first, that though there were some
difficulties relating to the administration of Providence, and the uses
by it assigned to the several parts of nature, which I could not solve by
the foregoing principles, yet this objection could be of small weight
against the truth and certainty of those things which may be proved a
priori, with the utmost evidence and rigor of demonstration. Secondly,
but neither are the received principles free from the like difficulties;
for, it may still be demanded to what end God should take those
roundabout methods of effecting things by instruments and machines, which
no one can deny might have been effected by the mere command of His will
without all that apparatus; nay, if we narrowly consider it, we shall
find the objection may be retorted with greater force on those who hold
the existence of those machines without of mind; for it has been made
evident that solidity, bulk, figure, motion, and the like have no
activity or efficacy in them, so as to be capable of producing any one
effect in nature. See sect. 25. Whoever therefore supposes them to exist
(allowing the supposition possible) when they are not perceived does it
manifestly to no purpose; since the only use that is assigned to them, as
they exist unperceived, is that they produce those perceivable effects
which in truth cannot be ascribed to anything but Spirit.

62. (FOURTHLY.)--But, to come nigher the difficulty, it must be observed
that though the fabrication of all those parts and organs be not
absolutely necessary to the producing any effect, yet it is necessary
to the producing of things in a constant regular way according to
the laws of nature. There are certain general laws that run through
the whole chain of natural effects; these are learned by the observation
and study of nature, and are by men applied as well to the framing
artificial things for the use and ornament of life as to the
explaining various phenomena--which explication consists only in
showing the conformity any particular phenomenon has to the general
laws of nature, or, which is the same thing, in discovering the
uniformity there is in the production of natural effects; as will
be evident to whoever shall attend to the several instances wherein
philosophers pretend to account for appearances. That there is a
great and conspicuous use in these regular constant methods of
working observed by the Supreme Agent has been shown in sect. 31.
And it is no less visible that a particular size, figure, motion,
and disposition of parts are necessary, though not absolutely to
the producing any effect, yet to the producing it according to the
standing mechanical laws of nature. Thus, for instance, it cannot be
denied that God, or the Intelligence that sustains and rules the ordinary
course of things, might if He were minded to produce a miracle, cause all
the motions on the dial-plate of a watch, though nobody had ever made the
movements and put them in it: but yet, if He will act agreeably to the
rules of mechanism, by Him for wise ends established and maintained in
the creation, it is necessary that those actions of the watchmaker,
whereby he makes the movements and rightly adjusts them, precede the
production of the aforesaid motions; as also that any disorder in them be
attended with the perception of some corresponding disorder in the
movements, which being once corrected all is right again.

63. It may indeed on some occasions be necessary that the Author of
nature display His overruling power in producing some appearance out of
the ordinary series of things. Such exceptions from the general rules of
nature are proper to surprise and awe men into an acknowledgement of the
Divine Being; but then they are to be used but seldom, otherwise there is
a plain reason why they should fail of that effect. Besides, God seems to
choose the convincing our reason of His attributes by the works of
nature, which discover so much harmony and contrivance in their make, and
are such plain indications of wisdom and beneficence in their Author,
rather than to astonish us into a belief of His Being by anomalous and
surprising events.

64. To set this matter in a yet clearer light, I shall observe that what
has been objected in sect. 60 amounts in reality to no more than
this:--ideas are not anyhow and at random produced, there being a certain
order and connexion between them, like to that of cause and effect; there
are also several combinations of them made in a very regular and
artificial manner, which seem like so many instruments in the hand of
nature that, being hid as it were behind the scenes, have a secret
operation in producing those appearances which are seen on the theatre of
the world, being themselves discernible only to the curious eye of the
philosopher. But, since one idea cannot be the cause of another, to what
purpose is that connexion? And, since those instruments, being barely
inefficacious perceptions in the mind, are not subservient to the
production of natural effects, it is demanded why they are made; or, in
other words, what reason can be assigned why God should make us, upon a
close inspection into His works, behold so great variety of ideas so
artfully laid together, and so much according to rule; it not being
credible that He would be at the expense (if one may so speak) of all
that art and regularity to no purpose.

65. To all which my answer is, first, that the connexion of ideas does
not imply the relation of cause and effect, but only of a mark or sign
with the thing signified. The fire which I see is not the cause of the
pain I suffer upon my approaching it, but the mark that forewarns me of
it. In like manner the noise that I hear is not the effect of this or
that motion or collision of the ambient bodies, but the sign thereof.
Secondly, the reason why ideas are formed into machines, that is,
artificial and regular combinations, is the same with that for combining
letters into words. That a few original ideas may be made to signify a
great number of effects and actions, it is necessary they be variously
combined together. And, to the end their use be permanent and universal,
these combinations must be made by rule, and with wise contrivance. By
this means abundance of information is conveyed unto us, concerning what
we are to expect from such and such actions and what methods are proper
to be taken for the exciting such and such ideas; which in effect is all
that I conceive to be distinctly meant when it is said that, by
discerning a figure, texture, and mechanism of the inward parts of
bodies, whether natural or artificial, we may attain to know the several
uses and properties depending thereon, or the nature of the thing.

that those things which, under the notion of a cause co-operating
or concurring to the production of effects, are altogether inexplicable,
and run us into great absurdities, may be very naturally explained,
and have a proper and obvious use assigned to them, when they are
considered only as marks or signs for our information. And it is
the searching after and endeavouring to understand those signs
instituted by the Author of Nature, that ought to be the employment of
the natural philosopher; and not the pretending to explain things by
corporeal causes, which doctrine seems to have too much estranged the
minds of men from that active principle, that supreme and wise Spirit "in
whom we live, move, and have our being."

67. TWELFTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--In the twelfth place, it may perhaps
be objected that--though it be clear from what has been said that
there can be no such thing as an inert, senseless, extended, solid,
figured, movable substance existing without the mind, such as
philosophers describe Matter--yet, if any man shall leave out of
his idea of matter the positive ideas of extension, figure, solidity
and motion, and say that he means only by that word an inert,
senseless substance, that exists without the mind or unperceived,
which is the occasion of our ideas, or at the presence whereof God is
pleased to excite ideas in us: it doth not appear but that Matter taken
in this sense may possibly exist. In answer to which I say, first, that
it seems no less absurd to suppose a substance without accidents, than it
is to suppose accidents without a substance. But secondly, though we
should grant this unknown substance may possibly exist, yet where can it
be supposed to be? That it exists not in the mind is agreed; and that it
exists not in place is no less certain--since all place or extension
exists only in the mind, as has been already proved. It remains
therefore that it exists nowhere at all.

examine a little the description that is here given us of
matter. It neither acts, nor perceives, nor is perceived; for this is all
that is meant by saying it is an inert, senseless, unknown substance;
which is a definition entirely made up of negatives, excepting only the
relative notion of its standing under or supporting. But then it must be
observed that it supports nothing at all, and how nearly this comes to
the description of a nonentity I desire may be considered. But, say you,
it is the unknown occasion, at the presence of which ideas are excited in
us by the will of God. Now, I would fain know how anything can be present
to us, which is neither perceivable by sense nor reflexion, nor capable
of producing any idea in our minds, nor is at all extended, nor has any
form, nor exists in any place. The words "to be present," when thus
applied, must needs be taken in some abstract and strange meaning, and
which I am not able to comprehend.

69. Again, let us examine what is meant by occasion. So far as I can
gather from the common use of language, that word signifies either the
agent which produces any effect, or else something that is observed to
accompany or go before it in the ordinary course of things. But when it
is applied to Matter as above described, it can be taken in neither of
those senses; for Matter is said to be passive and inert, and so cannot
be an agent or efficient cause. It is also unperceivable, as being devoid
of all sensible qualities, and so cannot be the occasion of our
perceptions in the latter sense: as when the burning my finger is said to
be the occasion of the pain that attends it. What therefore can be meant
by calling matter an occasion? The term is either used in no sense at
all, or else in some very distant from its received signification.

70. You will Perhaps say that Matter, though it be not perceived by us,
is nevertheless perceived by God, to whom it is the occasion of exciting
ideas in our minds. For, say you, since we observe our sensations to be
imprinted in an orderly and constant manner, it is but reasonable to
suppose there are certain constant and regular occasions of their being
produced. That is to say, that there are certain permanent and distinct
parcels of Matter, corresponding to our ideas, which, though they do not
excite them in our minds, or anywise immediately affect us, as being
altogether passive and unperceivable to us, they are nevertheless to God,
by whom they art perceived, as it were so many occasions to remind Him
when and what ideas to imprint on our minds; that so things may go on in
a constant uniform manner.

71. In answer to this, I observe that, as the notion of Matter is here
stated, the question is no longer concerning the existence of a thing
distinct from Spirit and idea, from perceiving and being perceived; but
whether there are not certain ideas of I know not what sort, in the mind
of God which are so many marks or notes that direct Him how to produce
sensations in our minds in a constant and regular method--much after the
same manner as a musician is directed by the notes of music to produce
that harmonious train and composition of sound which is called a tune,
though they who hear the music do not perceive the notes, and may be
entirely ignorant of them. But, this notion of Matter seems too
extravagant to deserve a confutation. Besides, it is in effect no
objection against what we have advanced, viz. that there is no senseless
unperceived substance.

of reason, we shall, from the constant uniform method of our
sensations, collect the goodness and wisdom of the Spirit who
excites them in our minds; but this is all that I can see reasonably
concluded from thence. To me, I say, it is evident that the being of a
spirit infinitely wise, good, and powerful is abundantly sufficient to
explain all the appearances of nature. But, as for inert, senseless
Matter, nothing that I perceive has any the least connexion with it, or
leads to the thoughts of it. And I would fain see any one explain any the
meanest phenomenon in nature by it, or show any manner of reason, though
in the lowest rank of probability, that he can have for its existence, or
even make any tolerable sense or meaning of that supposition. For, as to
its being an occasion, we have, I think, evidently shown that with regard
to us it is no occasion. It remains therefore that it must be, if at all,
the occasion to God of exciting ideas in us; and what this amounts to we
have just now seen.

73. It is worth while to reflect a little on the motives which induced
men to suppose the existence of material substance; that so having
observed the gradual ceasing and expiration of those motives or reasons,
we may proportionably withdraw the assent that was grounded on them.
First, therefore, it was thought that colour, figure, motion, and the
rest of the sensible qualities or accidents, did really exist without the
mind; and for this reason it seemed needful to suppose some unthinking
substratum or substance wherein they did exist, since they could not be
conceived to exist by themselves. Afterwards, in process of time, men
being convinced that colours, sounds, and the rest of the sensible,
secondary qualities had no existence without the mind, they stripped this
substratum or material substance of those qualities, leaving only the
primary ones, figure, motion, and suchlike, which they still conceived to
exist without the mind, and consequently to stand in need of a material
support. But, it having been shown that none even of these can possibly
exist otherwise than in a Spirit or Mind which perceives them it follows
that we have no longer any reason to suppose the being of Matter; nay,
that it is utterly impossible there should be any such thing, so long as
that word is taken to denote an unthinking substratum of qualities or
accidents wherein they exist without the mind.

74. But though it be allowed by the materialists themselves that Matter
was thought of only for the sake of supporting accidents, and, the reason
entirely ceasing, one might expect the mind should naturally, and without
any reluctance at all, quit the belief of what was solely grounded
thereon; yet the prejudice is riveted so deeply in our thoughts, that we
can scarce tell how to part with it, and are therefore inclined, since
the thing itself is indefensible, at least to retain the name, which we
apply to I know not what abstracted and indefinite notions of being, or
occasion, though without any show of reason, at least so far as I can
see. For, what is there on our part, or what do we perceive, amongst all
the ideas, sensations, notions which are imprinted on our minds, either
by sense or reflexion, from whence may be inferred the existence of an
inert, thoughtless, unperceived occasion? and, on the other hand, on the
part of an All-sufficient Spirit, what can there be that should make us
believe or even suspect He is directed by an inert occasion to excite
ideas in our minds?

OF IDEAS.--It is a very extraordinary instance of the force of prejudice,
and much to be lamented, that the mind of man retains so great a fondness,
against all the evidence of reason, for a stupid thoughtless somewhat, by
the interposition whereof it would as it were screen itself from the
Providence of God, and remove it farther off from the affairs of the
world. But, though we do the utmost we can to secure the belief of
Matter, though, when reason forsakes us, we endeavour to support our
opinion on the bare possibility of the thing, and though we indulge
ourselves in the full scope of an imagination not regulated by reason to
make out that poor possibility, yet the upshot of all is, that there are
certain unknown Ideas in the mind of God; for this, if anything, is all
that I conceive to be meant by occasion with regard to God. And this at
the bottom is no longer contending for the thing, but for the name.

76. Whether therefore there are such Ideas in the mind of God, and
whether they may be called by the name Matter, I shall not dispute. But,
if you stick to the notion of an unthinking substance or support of
extension, motion, and other sensible qualities, then to me it is most
evidently impossible there should be any such thing, since it is a plain
repugnancy that those qualities should exist in or be supported by an
unperceiving substance.


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