by George Berkeley (1710)

                       TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
                    THOMAS, EARL OF PEMBROKE, &c.,

  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,
                                                    GEORGE BERKELEY

  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 them. It is a hard thing to suppose that right deductions
from true principles should ever end in consequences which cannot be
maintained or 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.
  6. In order to 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 hath 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. 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. 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.
  9. 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
  10. Whether 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
  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 it seems that a word becomes
general by being made the sign, not of an abstract general idea, but
of several particular ideas, 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.
  12. 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.
  13. To give 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
conveniency of communication and enlargement of knowledge, to both
which 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, equilateral,
equicrural nor scalenon, but all and none of these at once?"
  14. Much is here 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?
  15. Nor do I think them 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. But here it will be demanded, how we can know any proposition to
be true of all particular triangles, except we have first seen it
demonstrated of the abstract idea of a triangle which equally 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.
  17. 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, hath
a more wide and extended sway over the thoughts of speculative men
than this of abstract general ideas.
  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 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. 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.
  20. 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 hath 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. 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?
  21. We have, I think, shewn 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. Since
therefore words are so apt to impose on the understanding, 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 hath so strictly united with them; from
which I may expect to derive the following advantages:
  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 deliverance from the deception of words, which I dare hardly
promise 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 retain the abstract idea in the mind, which
in itself was perfectly 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 general name was a determinate abstract idea.
  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.
  25. Unless we take care to clear the First Principles of Knowledge
from 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
                              A TREATISE
                      CONCERNING THE PRINCIPLES
                          OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE

  1. 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
  2. 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. 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 exists, 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. 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 percepi, nor is
it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or
thinking things which perceive them.
  4. It is indeed 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. 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.
  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
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. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Some 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.
  10. 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
original qualities are inseparably united with the other sensible
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 else.
  11. Again, great and small, swift and slow, are allowed to exist
nowhere without the mind, being entirely 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 shewn that extension
exists not in an unthinking substance, the same must also be true of
  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, it is an abstract idea.
  14. 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 anything settled and
determinate without the mind? Again, it is proved 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. 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 shew 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?
  17. 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 in general, together with the relative notion of its
supporting 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?
  18. But, though it 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 dispute)
that it is possible we might be affected with all the ideas we have
now, though there were no bodies existing without resembling them.
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.
  19. 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 or corporeal
substances, since that is acknowledged to remain equally
inexplicable with or without this supposition. If therefore it were
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 entirely useless, and serve to no manner of purpose.
  20. 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 hath 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 farther 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 you cannot either give me
any reason why you believe it exists, or assign any use to it when
it is supposed to exist. I say, the bare possibility of your
opinions being true shall pass for an argument that it is so.
  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 yourself perceive or think of them all
the while? This therefore is nothing to the purpose; it only shews you
have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind: but it does
not shew that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought
may exist without the mind. To make out this, it is necessary that you
conceive them existing unconceived or unthought of, which is a
manifest repugnancy. When we do our utmost to 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.
  24. 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 absolute existence of sensible objects in themselves, or without
the mind. 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. 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.
  26. 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 shewn that there is no
corporeal or material substance: it remains therefore that the cause
of ideas is an incorporeal active substance or Spirit.
  27. 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 perceived, but only by the effects which it
produceth. If any man shall 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,
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.
  29. But, 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 is therefore some other Will or Spirit
that produces them.
  30. 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 wherein the Mind we depend on excites in us the ideas of
sense, are called 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.
  31. This 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 know, not by discovering any necessary
connexion between our ideas, but 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 rather sends them wandering after second causes. For,
when we perceive 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. 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 strong,
orderly, and coherent than the creatures of the mind; but this is no
argument that they exist without the mind. They are also less
dependent on the spirit, 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. 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 that is real and substantial in nature is banished out of the
world, and 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 shewn 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.
  35. 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. If any man thinks this detracts from the existence or reality of
things, he is very far from understanding what hath 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.
  37. I will 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 after all, 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 shewn 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
  39. 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 hath 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.
  40. But, say what we can, 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, as shall be hereafter clearly shewn.
  41. 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 hath 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. 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
hath 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 shewn 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 hath a necessary connexion with it; but
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
  44. The ideas of sight and touch make two species entirely
distinct and heterogeneous. The former are marks and prognostics of
the latter. That the proper objects of sight neither exist without
mind, nor are the images of external things, was shewn 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.
  45. 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. It will not be amiss to observe how far the received
principles of philosophy are themselves chargeable with those
pretended absurdities. 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? 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. Farther, a little thought will discover to us that though we
allow the existence of Matter or corporeal substance, yet it will
unavoidably follow, from the principles which are now generally
admitted, that the 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 somewhat, which hath none of
those particular qualities whereby the bodies falling under our senses
are distinguished one from another. 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 therefore, considered in itself, is
infinitely extended, and consequently 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 the mind that frames all that variety of bodies which
compose the visible world, any one whereof does not exist longer
than it is perceived.
  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 some other spirit that perceives them though we
do not. Wherever bodies 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. 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, 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. 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.
  50. Sixthly, 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 shew why, upon
such and such occasions, we are affected with such and such ideas. But
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, 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 hath
been already shewn. See sect. 25.
  51. Seventhly, it will upon this be demanded whether it does not
seem absurd to take away natural causes, and ascribe everything to the
immediate operation of Spirits? We 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.
  52. In the ordinary affairs of life, any phrases may be retained, so
long 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
  53. As to the opinion that there are no Corporeal Causes, this has
been 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. 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. 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 ideas, whereof they themselves were not
the authors- as not being excited from within nor depending on the
operation of their wills- this made them maintain those ideas, or
objects of perception had an existence independent of and without
the mind, without ever dreaming 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.
  57. But why they should suppose the ideas of sense to be excited
in us by 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, as well in supposing
things like unto our ideas existing without, as in 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
  58. 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 hath 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. 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 hath
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
  61. 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. 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
shewing the conformity any particular phenomenon hath 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 hath been shewn 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.
  66. Hence, it is evident 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. 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 hath been already proved. It remains therefore that it exists
nowhere at all.
  68. Let us 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 hath 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.
  72. If we follow the light 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 shew 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 shewn 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 shewn 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?
  75. 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.
  77. But, say you, though it be granted that there is no
thoughtless support of extension and the other qualities or
accidents which we perceive, yet there may perhaps be some inert,
unperceiving substance or substratum of some other qualities, as
incomprehensible to us as colours are to a man born blind, because
we have not a sense adapted to them. But, if we had a new sense, we
should possibly no more doubt of their existence than a blind man made
to see does of the existence of light and colours. I answer, first, if
what you mean by the word Matter be only the unknown support of
unknown qualities, it is no matter whether there is such a thing or
no, since it no way concerns us; and I do not see the advantage
there is in disputing about what we know not what, and we know not
  78. But, secondly, if we had a new sense it could only furnish us
with new ideas or sensations; and then we should have the same
reason against their existing in an unperceiving substance that has
been already offered with relation to figure, motion, colour and the
like. Qualities, as hath been shewn, are nothing else but sensations
or ideas, which exist only in a mind perceiving them; and this is true
not only of the ideas we are acquainted with at present, but
likewise of all possible ideas whatsoever.
  79. But, you will insist, what if I have no reason to believe the
existence of Matter? what if I cannot assign any use to it or
explain anything by it, or even conceive what is meant by that word?
yet still it is no contradiction to say that Matter exists, and that
this Matter is in general a substance, or occasion of ideas; though
indeed to go about to unfold the meaning or adhere to any particular
explication of those words may be attended with great difficulties.
I answer, when words are used without a meaning, you may put them
together as you please without danger of running into a contradiction.
You may say, for example, that twice two is equal to seven, so long as
you declare you do not take the words of that proposition in their
usual acceptation but for marks of you know not what. And, by the same
reason, you may say there is an inert thoughtless substance without
accidents which is the occasion of our ideas. And we shall
understand just as much by one proposition as the other.
  80. In the last place, you will say, what if we give up the cause of
material Substance, and stand to it that Matter is an unknown
somewhat- neither substance nor accident, spirit nor idea, inert,
thoughtless, indivisible, immovable, unextended, existing in no place.
For, say you, whatever may be urged against substance or occasion,
or any other positive or relative notion of Matter, hath no place at
all, so long as this negative definition of Matter is adhered to. I
answer, you may, if so it shall seem good, use the word "Matter" in
the same sense as other men use "nothing," and so make those terms
convertible in your style. For, after all, this is what appears to
me to be the result of that definition, the parts whereof when I
consider with attention, either collectively or separate from each
other, I do not find that there is any kind of effect or impression
made on my mind different from what is excited by the term nothing.
  81. You will reply, perhaps, that in the fore-said definition is
included what doth sufficiently distinguish it from nothing- the
positive abstract idea of quiddity, entity, or existence. I own,
indeed, that those who pretend to the faculty of framing abstract
general ideas do talk as if they had such an idea, which is, say they,
the most abstract and general notion of all; that is, to me, the
most incomprehensible of all others. That there are a great variety of
spirits of different orders and capacities, whose faculties both in
number and extent are far exceeding those the Author of my being has
bestowed on me, I see no reason to deny. And for me to pretend to
determine by my own few, stinted narrow inlets of perception, what
ideas the inexhaustible power of the Supreme Spirit may imprint upon
them were certainly the utmost folly and presumption- since there
may be, for aught that I know, innumerable sorts of ideas or
sensations, as different from one another, and from all that I have
perceived, as colours are from sounds. But, how ready soever I may
be to acknowledge the scantiness of my comprehension with regard to
the endless variety of spirits and ideas that may possibly exist,
yet for any one to pretend to a notion of Entity or Existence,
abstracted from spirit and idea, from perceived and being perceived,
is, I suspect, a downright repugnancy and trifling with words.- It
remains that we consider the objections which may possibly be made
on the part of Religion.
  82. Some there are who think that, though the arguments for the real
existence of bodies which are drawn from Reason be allowed not to
amount to demonstration, yet the Holy Scriptures are so clear in the
point as will sufficiently convince every good Christian that bodies
do really exist, and are something more than mere ideas; there being
in Holy Writ innumerable facts related which evidently suppose the
reality of timber and stone, mountains and rivers, and cities, and
human bodies. To which I answer that no sort of writings whatever,
sacred or profane, which use those and the like words in the vulgar
acceptation, or so as to have a meaning in them, are in danger of
having their truth called in question by our doctrine. That all
those things do really exist, that there are bodies, even corporeal
substances, when taken in the vulgar sense, has been shewn to be
agreeable to our principles; and the difference betwixt things and
ideas, realities and chimeras, has been distinctly explained. See
sect. 29, 30, 33, 36, &c. And I do not think that either what
philosophers call Matter, or the existence of objects without the
mind, is anywhere mentioned in Scripture.
  83. Again, whether there can be or be not external things, it is
agreed on all hands that the proper use of words is the marking our
conceptions, or things only as they are known and perceived by us;
whence it plainly follows that in the tenets we have laid down there
is nothing inconsistent with the right use and significancy of
language, and that discourse, of what kind soever, so far as it is
intelligible, remains undisturbed. But all this seems so manifest,
from what has been largely set forth in the premises, that it is
needless to insist any farther on it.
  84. But, it will be urged that miracles do, at least, lose much of
their stress and import by our principles. What must we think of
Moses' rod? was it not really turned into a serpent; or was there only
a change of ideas in the minds of the spectators? And, can it be
supposed that our Saviour did no more at the marriage-feast in Cana
than impose on the sight, and smell, and taste of the guests, so as to
create in them the appearance or idea only of wine? The same may be
said of all other miracles; which, in consequence of the foregoing
principles, must be looked upon only as so many cheats, or illusions
of fancy. To this I reply, that the rod was changed into a real
serpent, and the water into real wine. That this does not in the least
contradict what I have elsewhere said will be evident from sect. 34
and 35. But this business of real and imaginary has been already so
plainly and fully explained, and so often referred to, and the
difficulties about it are so easily answered from what has gone
before, that it were an affront to the reader's understanding to
resume the explication of it in its place. I shall only observe that
if at table all who were present should see, and smell, and taste, and
drink wine, and find the effects of it, with me there could be no
doubt of its reality; so that at bottom the scruple concerning real
miracles has no place at all on ours, but only on the received
principles, and consequently makes rather for than against what has
been said.
  85. Having done with the Objections, which I endeavoured to
propose in the clearest light, and gave them all the force and
weight I could, we proceed in the next place to take a view of our
tenets in their Consequences. Some of these appear at first sight-
as that several difficult and obscure questions, on which abundance of
speculation has been thrown away, are entirely banished from
philosophy. "Whether corporeal substance can think," "whether Matter
be infinitely divisible," and "how it operates on spirit"- these and
like inquiries have given infinite amusement to philosophers in all
ages; but depending on the existence of Matter, they have no longer
any place on our principles. Many other advantages there are, as
well with regard to religion as the sciences, which it is easy for any
one to deduce from what has been premised; but this will appear more
plainly in the sequel.
  86. From the principles we have laid down it follows human knowledge
may naturally be reduced to two heads- that of ideas and that of
spirits. Of each of these I shall treat in order.
  And first as to ideas or unthinking things. Our knowledge of these
hath been very much obscured and confounded, and we have been led into
very dangerous errors, by supposing a twofold existence of the objects
of sense- the one intelligible or in the mind, the other real and
without the mind; whereby unthinking things are thought to have a
natural subsistence of their own distinct from being perceived by
spirits. This, which, if I mistake not, hath been shewn to be a most
groundless and absurd notion, is the very root of Scepticism; for,
so long as men thought that real things subsisted without the mind,
and that their knowledge was only so far forth real as it was
conformable to real things, it follows they could not be certain
they had any real knowledge at all. For how can it be known that the
things which are perceived are conformable to those which are not
perceived, or exist without the mind?
  87. Colour, figure, motion, extension, and the like, considered only
as so many sensations in the mind, are perfectly known, there being
nothing in them which is not perceived. But, if they are looked on
as notes or images, referred to things or archetypes existing
without the mind, then are we involved all in scepticism. We see
only the appearances, and not the real qualities of things. What may
be the extension, figure, or motion of anything really and absolutely,
or in itself, it is impossible for us to know, but only the proportion
or relation they bear to our senses. Things remaining the same, our
ideas vary, and which of them, or even whether any of them at all,
represent the true quality really existing in the thing, it is out
of our reach to determine. So that, for aught we know, all we see,
hear, and feel may be only phantom and vain chimera, and not at all
agree with the real things existing in rerum natura. All this
scepticism follows from our supposing a difference between things
and ideas, and that the former have a subsistence without the mind
or unperceived. It were easy to dilate on this subject, and show how
the arguments urged by sceptics in all ages depend on the
supposition of external objects.
  88. So long as we attribute a real existence to unthinking things,
distinct from their being perceived, it is not only impossible for
us to know with evidence the nature of any real unthinking being,
but even that it exists. Hence it is that we see philosophers distrust
their senses, and doubt of the existence of heaven and earth, of
everything they see or feel, even of their own bodies. And, after
all their labour and struggle of thought, they are forced to own we
cannot attain to any self-evident or demonstrative knowledge of the
existence of sensible things. But, all this doubtfulness, which so
bewilders and confounds the mind and makes philosophy ridiculous in
the eyes of the world, vanishes if we annex a meaning to our words.
and not amuse ourselves with the terms "absolute," "external," "exist,
"and such-like, signifying we know not what. I can as well doubt of my
own being as of the being of those things which I actually perceive by
sense; it being a manifest contradiction that any sensible object
should be immediately perceived by sight or touch, and at the same
time have no existence in nature, since the very existence of an
unthinking being consists in being perceived.
  89. Nothing seems of more importance towards erecting a firm
system of sound and real knowledge, which may be proof against the
assaults of Scepticism, than to lay the beginning in a distinct
explication of what is meant by thing, reality, existence; for in vain
shall we dispute concerning the real existence of things, or pretend
to any knowledge thereof, so long as we have not fixed the meaning
of those words. Thing or Being is the most general name of all; it
comprehends under it two kinds entirely distinct and heterogeneous,
and which have nothing common but the name. viz. spirits and ideas.
The former are active, indivisible substances: the latter are inert,
fleeting, dependent beings, which subsist not by themselves, but are
supported by, or exist in minds or spiritual substances. We comprehend
our own existence by inward feeling or reflexion, and that of other
spirits by reason. We may be said to have some knowledge or notion
of our own minds, of spirits and active beings, whereof in a strict
sense we have not ideas. In like manner, we know and have a notion
of relations between things or ideas- which relations are distinct
from the ideas or things related, inasmuch as the latter may be
perceived by us without our perceiving the former. To me it seems that
ideas, spirits, and relations are all in their respective kinds the
object of human knowledge and subject of discourse; and that the
term idea would be improperly extended to signify everything we know
or have any notion of.
  90. Ideas imprinted on the senses are real things, or do really
exist; this we do not deny, but we deny they can subsist without the
minds which perceive them, or that they are resemblances of any
archetypes existing without the mind; since the very being of a
sensation or idea consists in being perceived, and an idea can be like
nothing but an idea. Again, the things perceived by sense may be
termed external, with regard to their origin- in that they are not
generated from within by the mind itself, but imprinted by a Spirit
distinct from that which perceives them. Sensible objects may likewise
be said to be "without the mind" in another sense, namely when they
exist in some other mind; thus, when I shut my eyes, the things I
saw may still exist, but it must be in another mind.
  91. It were a mistake to think that what is here said derogates in
the least from the reality of things. It is acknowledged, on the
received principles, that extension, motion, and in a word all
sensible qualities have need of a support, as not being able to
subsist by themselves. But the objects perceived by sense are
allowed to be nothing but combinations of those qualities, and
consequently cannot subsist by themselves. Thus far it is agreed on
all hand. So that in denying the things perceived by sense an
existence independent of a substance of support wherein they may
exist, we detract nothing from the received opinion of their
reality, and are guilty of no innovation in that respect. All the
difference is that, according to us, the unthinking beings perceived
by sense have no existence distinct from being perceived, and cannot
therefore exist in any other substance than those unextended
indivisible substances or spirits which act and think and perceive
them; whereas philosophers vulgarly hold that the sensible qualities
do exist in an inert, extended, unperceiving substance which they call
Matter, to which they attribute a natural subsistence, exterior to all
thinking beings, or distinct from being perceived by any mind
whatsoever, even the eternal mind of the Creator, wherein they suppose
only ideas of the corporeal substances created by him; if indeed
they allow them to be at all created.
  92. For, as we have shewn the doctrine of Matter or corporeal
substance to have been the main pillar and support of Scepticism, so
likewise upon the same foundation have been raised all the impious
schemes of Atheism and Irreligion. Nay, so great a difficulty has it
been thought to conceive Matter produced out of nothing, that the most
celebrated among the ancient philosophers, even of those who
maintained the being of a God, have thought Matter to be uncreated and
co-eternal with Him. How great a friend material substance has been to
Atheists in all ages were needless to relate. All their monstrous
systems have so visible and necessary a dependence on it that, when
this corner-stone is once removed, the whole fabric cannot choose
but fall to the ground, insomuch that it is no longer worth while to
bestow a particular consideration on the absurdities of every wretched
sect of Atheists.
  93. That impious and profane persons should readily fall in with
those systems which favour their inclinations, by deriding
immaterial substance, and supposing the soul to be divisible and
subject to corruption as the body; which exclude all freedom,
intelligence, and design from the formation of things, and instead
thereof make a self-existent, stupid, unthinking substance the root
and origin of all beings; that they should hearken to those who deny a
Providence, or inspection of a Superior Mind over the affairs of the
world, attributing the whole series of events either to blind chance
or fatal necessity arising from the impulse of one body or another-
all this is very natural. And, on the other hand, when men of better
principles observe the enemies of religion lay so great a stress on
unthinking Matter, and all of them use so much industry and artifice
to reduce everything to it, methinks they should rejoice to see them
deprived of their grand support, and driven from that only fortress,
without which your Epicureans, Hobbists, and the like, have not even
the shadow of a pretence, but become the most cheap and easy triumph
in the world.
  94. The existence of Matter, or bodies unperceived, has not only
been the main support of Atheists and Fatalists, but on the same
principle doth Idolatry likewise in all its various forms depend.
Did men but consider that the sun, moon, and stars, and every other
object of the senses are only so many sensations in their minds, which
have no other existence but barely being perceived, doubtless they
would never fall down and worship their own ideas, but rather
address their homage to that ETERNAL INVISIBLE MIND which produces and
sustains all things.
  95. The same absurd principle, by mingling itself with the
articles of our faith, has occasioned no small difficulties to
Christians. For example, about the Resurrection, how many scruples and
objections have been raised by Socinians and others? But do not the
most plausible of them depend on the supposition that a body is
denominated the same, with regard not to the form or that which is
perceived by sense, but the material substance, which remains the same
under several forms? Take away this material substance, about the
identity whereof all the dispute is, and mean by body what every plain
ordinary person means by that word, to wit, that which is
immediately seen and felt, which is only a combination of sensible
qualities or ideas, and then their most unanswerable objections come
to nothing.
  96. Matter being once expelled out of nature drags with it so many
sceptical and impious notions, such an incredible number of disputes
and puzzling questions, which have been thorns in the sides of divines
as well as philosophers, and made so much fruitless work for
mankind, that if the arguments we have produced against it are not
found equal to demonstration (as to me they evidently seem), yet I
am sure all friends to knowledge, peace, and religion have reason to
wish they were.
  97. Beside the external existence of the objects of perception,
another great source of errors and difficulties with regard to ideal
knowledge is the doctrine of abstract ideas, such as it hath been
set forth in the Introduction. The plainest things in the world, those
we are most intimately acquainted with and perfectly know, when they
are considered in an abstract way, appear strangely difficult and
incomprehensible. Time, place, and motion, taken in particular or
concrete, are what everybody knows, but, having passed through the
hands of a metaphysician, they become too abstract and fine to be
apprehended by men of ordinary sense. Bid your servant meet you at
such a time in such a place, and he shall never stay to deliberate
on the meaning of those words; in conceiving that particular time
and place, or the motion by which he is to get thither, he finds not
the least difficulty. But if time be taken exclusive of all those
particular actions and ideas that diversify the day, merely for the
continuation of existence or duration in abstract, then it will
perhaps gravel even a philosopher to comprehend it.
  98. For my own part, whenever I attempt to frame a simple idea of
time, abstracted from the succession of ideas in my mind, which
flows uniformly and is participated by all beings, I am lost and
embrangled in inextricable difficulties. I have no notion of it at
all, only I hear others say it is infinitely divisible, and speak of
it in such a manner as leads me to entertain odd thoughts of my
existence; since that doctrine lays one under an absolute necessity of
thinking, either that he passes away innumerable ages without a
thought, or else that he is annihilated every moment of his life, both
which seem equally absurd. Time therefore being nothing, abstracted
from the sucession of ideas in our minds, it follows that the duration
of any finite spirit must be estimated by the number of ideas or
actions succeeding each other in that same spirit or mind. Hence, it
is a plain consequence that the soul always thinks; and in truth
whoever shall go about to divide in his thoughts, or abstract the
existence of a spirit from its cogitation, will, I believe, find it no
easy task.
  99. So likewise when we attempt to abstract extension and motion
from all other qualities, and consider them by themselves, we
presently lose sight of them, and run into great extravagances. All
which depend on a twofold abstraction; first, it is supposed that
extension, for example, may be abstracted from all other sensible
qualities; and secondly, that the entity of extension may be
abstracted from its being perceived. But, whoever shall reflect, and
take care to understand what he says, will, if I mistake not,
acknowledge that all sensible qualities are alike sensations and alike
real; that where the extension is, there is the colour, too, i.e.,
in his mind, and that their archetypes can exist only in some other
mind; and that the objects of sense are nothing but those sensations
combined, blended, or (if one may so speak) concreted together; none
of all which can be supposed to exist unperceived.
  100. What it is for a man to be happy, or an object good, every
one may think he knows. But to frame an abstract idea of happiness,
prescinded from all particular pleasure, or of goodness from
everything that is good, this is what few can pretend to. So
likewise a man may be just and virtuous without having precise ideas
of justice and virtue. The opinion that those and the like words stand
for general notions, abstracted from all particular persons and
actions, seems to have rendered morality very difficult, and the study
thereof of small use to mankind. And in effect the doctrine of
abstraction has not a little contributed towards spoiling the most
useful parts of knowledge.
  101. The two great provinces of speculative science conversant about
ideas received from sense, are Natural Philosophy and Mathematics;
with regard to each of these I shall make some observations. And first
I shall say somewhat of Natural Philosophy. On this subject it is that
the sceptics triumph. All that stock of arguments they produce to
depreciate our faculties and make mankind appear ignorant and low, are
drawn principally from this head, namely, that we are under an
invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things. This
they exaggerate, and love to enlarge on. We are miserably bantered,
say they, by our senses, and amused only with the outside and show
of things. The real essence, the internal qualities and constitution
of every the meanest object, is hid from our view; something there
is in every drop of water, every grain of sand, which it is beyond the
power of human understanding to fathom or comprehend. But, it is
evident from what has been shewn that all this complaint is
groundless, and that we are influenced by false principles to that
degree as to mistrust our senses, and think we know nothing of those
things which we perfectly comprehend.
  102. One great inducement to our pronouncing ourselves ignorant of
the nature of things is the current opinion that everything includes
within itself the cause of its properties; or that there is in each
object an inward essence which is the source whence its discernible
qualities flow, and whereon they depend. Some have pretended to
account for appearances by occult qualities, but of late they are
mostly resolved into mechanical causes, to wit. the figure, motion,
weight, and suchlike qualities, of insensible particles; whereas, in
truth, there is no other agent or efficient cause than spirit, it
being evident that motion, as well as all other ideas, is perfectly
inert. See sect. 25. Hence, to endeavour to explain the production
of colours or sounds, by figure, motion, magnitude, and the like, must
needs be labour in vain. And accordingly we see the attempts of that
kind are not at all satisfactory. Which may be said in general of
those instances wherein one idea or quality is assigned for the
cause of another. I need not say how many hypotheses and
speculations are left out, and how much the study of nature is
abridged by this doctrine.
  103. The great mechanical principle now in vogue is attraction. That
a stone falls to the earth, or the sea swells towards the moon, may to
some appear sufficiently explained thereby. But how are we enlightened
by being told this is done by attraction? Is it that that word
signifies the manner of the tendency, and that it is by the mutual
drawing of bodies instead of their being impelled or protruded towards
each other? But, nothing is determined of the manner or action, and it
may as truly (for aught we know) be termed "impulse," or "protrusion,"
as "attraction." Again, the parts of steel we see cohere firmly
together, and this also is accounted for by attraction; but, in this
as in the other instances, I do not perceive that anything is
signified besides the effect itself; for as to the manner of the
action whereby it is produced, or the cause which produces it, these
are not so much as aimed at.
  104. Indeed, if we take a view of the several phenomena, and compare
them together, we may observe some likeness and conformity between
them. For example, in the falling of a stone to the ground, in the
rising of the sea towards the moon, in cohesion, crystallization, etc,
there is something alike, namely, an union or mutual approach of
bodies. So that any one of these or the like phenomena may not seem
strange or surprising to a man who has nicely observed and compared
the effects of nature. For that only is thought so which is
uncommon, or a thing by itself, and out of the ordinary course of
our observation. That bodies should tend towards the centre of the
earth is not thought strange, because it is what we perceive every
moment of our lives. But, that they should have a like gravitation
towards the centre of the moon may seem odd and unaccountable to
most men, because it is discerned only in the tides. But a
philosopher, whose thoughts take in a larger compass of nature, having
observed a certain similitude of appearances, as well in the heavens
as the earth, that argue innumerable bodies to have a mutual
tendency towards each other, which he denotes by the general name
"attraction," whatever can be reduced to that he thinks justly
accounted for. Thus he explains the tides by the attraction of the
terraqueous globe towards the moon, which to him does not appear odd
or anomalous, but only a particular example of a general rule or law
of nature.
  105. If therefore we consider the difference there is betwixt
natural philosophers and other men, with regard to their knowledge
of the phenomena, we shall find it consists not in an exacter
knowledge of the efficient cause that produces them- for that can be
no other than the will of a spirit- but only in a greater largeness of
comprehension, whereby analogies, harmonies, and agreements are
discovered in the works of nature, and the particular effects
explained, that is, reduced to general rules, see sect. 62, which
rules, grounded on the analogy and uniformness observed in the
production of natural effects, are most agreeable and sought after
by the mind; for that they extend our prospect beyond what is
present and near to us, and enable us to make very probable
conjectures touching things that may have happened at very great
distances of time and place, as well as to predict things to come;
which sort of endeavour towards omniscience is much affected by the
  106. But we should proceed warily in such things, for we are apt
to lay too great stress on analogies, and, to the prejudice of
truth, humour that eagerness of the mind whereby it is carried to
extend its knowledge into general theorems. For example, in the
business of gravitation or mutual attraction, because it appears in
many instances, some are straightway for pronouncing it universal; and
that to attract and be attracted by every other body is an essential
quality inherent in all bodies whatsoever. Whereas it is evident the
fixed stars have no such tendency towards each other; and, so far is
that gravitation from being essential to bodies that in some instances
a quite contrary principle seems to shew itself; as in the
perpendicular growth of plants, and the elasticity of the air. There
is nothing necessary or essential in the case, but it depends entirely
on the will of the Governing Spirit, who causes certain bodies to
cleave together or tend towards each other according to various
laws, whilst He keeps others at a fixed distance; and to some He gives
a quite contrary tendency to fly asunder just as He sees convenient.
  107. After what has been premised, I think we may lay down the
following conclusions. First, it is plain philosophers amuse
themselves in vain, when they inquire for any natural efficient cause,
distinct from a mind or spirit. Secondly, considering the whole
creation is the workmanship of a wise and good Agent, it should seem
to become philosophers to employ their thoughts (contrary to what some
hold) about the final causes of things; and I confess I see no
reason why pointing out the various ends to which natural things are
adapted, and for which they were originally with unspeakable wisdom
contrived, should not be thought one good way of accounting for
them, and altogether worthy a philosopher. Thirdly, from what has been
premised no reason can be drawn why the history of nature should not
still be studied, and observations and experiments made, which, that
they are of use to mankind, and enable us to draw any general
conclusions, is not the result of any immutable habitudes or relations
between things themselves, but only of God's goodness and kindness
to men in the administration of the world. See sect. 30 and 31
Fourthly, by a diligent observation of the phenomena within our
view, we may discover the general laws of nature, and from them deduce
the other phenomena; I do not say demonstrate, for all deductions of
that kind depend on a supposition that the Author of nature always
operates uniformly, and in a constant observance of those rules we
take for principles: which we cannot evidently know.
  108. Those men who frame general rules from the phenomena and
afterwards derive the phenomena from those rules, seem to consider
signs rather than causes. A man may well understand natural signs
without knowing their analogy, or being able to say by what rule a
thing is so or so. And, as it is very possible to write improperly,
through too strict an observance of general grammar rules; so, in
arguing from general laws of nature, it is not impossible we may
extend the analogy too far, and by that means run into mistakes.
  109. As in reading other books a wise man will choose to fix his
thoughts on the sense and apply it to use, rather than lay them out in
grammatical remarks on the language; so, in perusing the volume of
nature, it seems beneath the dignity of the mind to affect an
exactness in reducing each particular phenomenon to general rules,
or shewing how it follows from them. We should propose to ourselves
nobler views, namely, to recreate and exalt the mind with a prospect
of the beauty, order. extent, and variety of natural things: hence, by
proper inferences, to enlarge our notions of the grandeur, wisdom, and
beneficence of the Creator; and lastly, to make the several parts of
the creation, so far as in us lies, subservient to the ends they
were designed for, God's glory, and the sustentation and comfort of
ourselves and fellow-creatures.
  110. The best key for the aforesaid analogy or natural Science
will be easily acknowledged to be a certain celebrated Treatise of
Mechanics. In the entrance of which justly admired treatise, Time,
Space, and Motion are distinguished into absolute and relative, true
and apparent, mathematical and vulgar; which distinction, as it is
at large explained by the author, does suppose these quantities to
have an existence without the mind; and that they are ordinarily
conceived with relation to sensible things, to which nevertheless in
their own nature they bear no relation at all.
  111. As for Time, as it is there taken in an absolute or
abstracted sense, for the duration or perseverance of the existence of
things, I have nothing more to add concerning it after what has been
already said on that subject. Sect. 97 and 98. For the rest, this
celebrated author holds there is an absolute Space, which, being
unperceivable to sense, remains in itself similar and immovable; and
relative space to be the measure thereof, which, being movable and
defined by its situation in respect of sensible bodies, is vulgarly
taken for immovable space. Place he defines to be that part of space
which is occupied by any body; and according as the space is
absolute or relative so also is the place. Absolute Motion is said
to be the translation of a body from absolute place to absolute place,
as relative motion is from one relative place to another. And, because
the parts of absolute space do not fall under our senses, instead of
them we are obliged to use their sensible measures, and so define both
place and motion with respect to bodies which we regard as
immovable. But, it is said in philosophical matters we must abstract
from our senses, since it may be that none of those bodies which
seem to be quiescent are truly so, and the same thing which is moved
relatively may be really at rest; as likewise one and the same body
may be in relative rest and motion, or even moved with contrary
relative motions at the same time, according as its place is variously
defined. All which ambiguity is to be found in the apparent motions,
but not at all in the true or absolute, which should therefore be
alone regarded in philosophy. And the true as we are told are
distinguished from apparent or relative motions by the following
properties.- First, in true or absolute motion all parts which
preserve the same position with respect of the whole, partake of the
motions of the whole. Secondly, the place being moved, that which is
placed therein is also moved; so that a body moving in a place which
is in motion doth participate the motion of its place. Thirdly, true
motion is never generated or changed otherwise than by force impressed
on the body itself. Fourthly, true motion is always changed by force
impressed on the body moved. Fifthly, in circular motion barely
relative there is no centrifugal force, which, nevertheless, in that
which is true or absolute, is proportional to the quantity of motion.
  112. But, notwithstanding what has been said, I must confess it does
not appear to me that there can be any motion other than relative;
so that to conceive motion there must be at least conceived two
bodies, whereof the distance or position in regard to each other is
varied. Hence, if there was one only body in being it could not
possibly be moved. This seems evident, in that the idea I have of
motion doth necessarily include relation.
  113. But, though in every motion it be necessary to conceive more
bodies than one, yet it may be that one only is moved, namely, that on
which the force causing the change in the distance or situation of the
bodies, is impressed. For, however some may define relative motion, so
as to term that body moved which changes its distance from some
other body, whether the force or action causing that change were
impressed on it or no, yet as relative motion is that which is
perceived by sense, and regarded in the ordinary affairs of life, it
should seem that every man of common sense knows what it is as well as
the best philosopher. Now, I ask any one whether, in his sense of
motion as he walks along the streets, the stones he passes over may be
said to move, because they change distance with his feet? To me it
appears that though motion includes a relation of one thing to
another, yet it is not necessary that each term of the relation be
denominated from it. As a man may think of somewhat which does not
think, so a body may be moved to or from another body which is not
therefore itself in motion.
  114. As the place happens to be variously defined, the motion
which is related to it varies. A man in a ship may be said to be
quiescent with relation to the sides of the vessel, and yet move
with relation to the land. Or he may move eastward in respect of the
one, and westward in respect of the other. In the common affairs of
life men never go beyond the earth to define the place of any body;
and what is quiescent in respect of that is accounted absolutely to be
so. But philosophers, who have a greater extent of thought, and juster
notions of the system of things, discover even the earth itself to
be moved. In order therefore to fix their notions they seem to
conceive the corporeal world as finite, and the utmost unmoved walls
or shell thereof to be the place whereby they estimate true motions.
If we sound our own conceptions, I believe we may find all the
absolute motion we can frame an idea of to be at bottom no other
than relative motion thus defined. For, as hath been already observed,
absolute motion, exclusive of all external relation, is
incomprehensible; and to this kind of relative motion all the
above-mentioned properties, causes, and effects ascribed to absolute
motion will, if I mistake not, be found to agree. As to what is said
of the centrifugal force, that it does not at all belong to circular
relative motion, I do not see how this follows from the experiment
which is brought to prove it. See Philosophiae Naturalis Principia
Mathematica, in Schol. Def. VIII. For the water in the vessel at
that time wherein it is said to have the greatest relative circular
motion, hath, I think, no motion at all; as is plain from the
foregoing section.
  115. For, to denominate a body moved it is requisite, first, that it
change its distance or situation with regard to some other body; and
secondly, that the force occasioning that change be applied to it.
If either of these be wanting, I do not think that, agreeably to the
sense of mankind, or the propriety of language, a body can be said
to be in motion. I grant indeed that it is possible for us to think
a body which we see change its distance from some other to be moved,
though it have no force applied to it (in which sense there may be
apparent motion), but then it is because the force causing the
change of distance is imagined by us to be applied or impressed on
that body thought to move; which indeed shews we are capable of
mistaking a thing to be in motion which is not, and that is all.
  116. From what has been said it follows that the philosophic
consideration of motion does not imply the being of an absolute Space,
distinct from that which is perceived by sense and related bodies;
which that it cannot exist without the mind is clear upon the same
principles that demonstrate the like of all other objects of sense.
And perhaps, if we inquire narrowly, we shall find we cannot even
frame an idea of pure Space exclusive of all body. This I must confess
seems impossible, as being a most abstract idea. When I excite a
motion in some part of my body, if it be free or without resistance, I
say there is Space; but if I find a resistance, then I say there is
Body; and in proportion as the resistance to motion is lesser or
greater, I say the space is more or less pure. So that when I speak of
pure or empty space, it is not to be supposed that the word "space"
stands for an idea distinct from or conceivable without body and
motion- though indeed we are apt to think every noun substantive
stands for a distinct idea that may be separated from all others;
which has occasioned infinite mistakes. When, therefore, supposing all
the world to be annihilated besides my own body, I say there still
remains pure Space, thereby nothing else is meant but only that I
conceive it possible for the limbs of my body to be moved on all sides
without the least resistance, but if that, too, were annihilated
then there could be no motion, and consequently no Space. Some,
perhaps, may think the sense of seeing doth furnish them with the idea
of pure space; but it is plain from what we have elsewhere shewn, that
the ideas of space and distance are not obtained by that sense. See
the Essay concerning Vision.
  117. What is here laid down seems to put an end to all those
disputes and difficulties that have sprung up amongst the learned
concerning the nature of pure Space. But the chief advantage arising
from it is that we are freed from that dangerous dilemma, to which
several who have employed their thoughts on that subject imagine
themselves reduced, to wit, of thinking either that Real Space is God,
or else that there is something beside God which is eternal,
uncreated, infinite, indivisible, immutable. Both which may justly
be thought pernicious and absurd notions. It is certain that not a few
divines, as well as philosophers of great note, have, from the
difficulty they found in conceiving either limits or annihilation of
space, concluded it must be divine. And some of late have set
themselves particularly to shew the incommunicable attributes of God
agree to it. Which doctrine, how unworthy soever it may seem of the
Divine Nature, yet I do not see how we can get clear of it, so long as
we adhere to the received opinions.
  118. Hitherto of Natural Philosophy: we come now to make some
inquiry concerning that other great branch of speculative knowledge,
to wit, Mathematics. These, how celebrated soever they may be for
their clearness and certainty of demonstration, which is hardly
anywhere else to be found, cannot nevertheless be supposed
altogether free from mistakes, if in their principles there lurks some
secret error which is common to the professors of those sciences
with the rest of mankind. Mathematicians, though they deduce their
theorems from a great height of evidence, yet their first principles
are limited by the consideration of quantity: and they do not ascend
into any inquiry concerning those transcendental maxims which
influence all the particular sciences, each part whereof,
Mathematics not excepted, does consequently participate of the
errors involved in them. That the principles laid down by
mathematicians are true, and their way of deduction from those
principles clear and incontestible, we do not deny; but, we hold there
may be certain erroneous maxims of greater extent than the object of
Mathematics, and for that reason not expressly mentioned, though
tacitly supposed throughout the whole progress of that science; and
that the ill effects of those secret unexamined errors are diffused
through all the branches thereof. To be plain, we suspect the
mathematicians are as well as other men concerned in the errors
arising from the doctrine of abstract general ideas, and the existence
of objects without the mind.
  119. Arithmetic has been thought to have for its object abstract
ideas of Number; of which to understand the properties and mutual
habitudes, is supposed no mean part of speculative knowledge. The
opinion of the pure and intellectual nature of numbers in abstract has
made them in esteem with those philosophers who seem to have
affected an uncommon fineness and elevation of thought. It hath set
a price on the most trifling numerical speculations which in
practice are of no use, but serve only for amusement; and hath
therefore so far infected the minds of some, that they have dreamed of
mighty mysteries involved in numbers, and attempted the explication of
natural things by them. But, if we inquire into our own thoughts,
and consider what has been premised, we may perhaps entertain a low
opinion of those high flights and abstractions, and look on all
inquiries, about numbers only as so many difficiles nugae, so far as
they are not subservient to practice, and promote the benefit of life.
  120. Unity in abstract we have before considered in sect. 13, from
which and what has been said in the Introduction, it plainly follows
there is not any such idea. But, number being defined a "collection of
units," we may conclude that, if there be no such thing as unity or
unit in abstract, there are no ideas of number in abstract denoted
by the numeral names and figures. The theories therefore in
Arithmetic. if they are abstracted from the names and figures, as
likewise from all use and practice, as well as from the particular
things numbered, can be supposed to have nothing at all for their
object; hence we may see how entirely the science of numbers is
subordinate to practice, and how jejune and trifling it becomes when
considered as a matter of mere speculation.
  121. However, since there may be some who, deluded by the specious
show of discovering abstracted verities, waste their time in
arithmetical theorems and problems which have not any use, it will not
be amiss if we more fully consider and expose the vanity of that
pretence; and this will plainly appear by taking a view of
Arithmetic in its infancy, and observing what it was that originally
put men on the study of that science, and to what scope they
directed it. It is natural to think that at first, men, for ease of
memory and help of computation, made use of counters, or in writing of
single strokes, points, or the like, each whereof was made to
signify an unit, i.e., some one thing of whatever kind they had
occasion to reckon. Afterwards they found out the more compendious
ways of making one character stand in place of several strokes or
points. And, lastly, the notation of the Arabians or Indians came into
use, wherein, by the repetition of a few characters or figures, and
varying the signification of each figure according to the place it
obtains, all numbers may be most aptly expressed; which seems to
have been done in imitation of language, so that an exact analogy is
observed betwixt the notation by figures and names, the nine simple
figures answering the nine first numeral names and places in the
former, corresponding to denominations in the latter. And agreeably to
those conditions of the simple and local value of figures, were
contrived methods of finding, from the given figures or marks of the
parts, what figures and how placed are proper to denote the whole,
or vice versa. And having found the sought figures, the same rule or
analogy being observed throughout, it is easy to read them into words;
and so the number becomes perfectly known. For then the number of
any particular things is said to be known, when we know the name of
figures (with their due arrangement) that according to the standing
analogy belong to them. For, these signs being known, we can by the
operations of arithmetic know the signs of any part of the
particular sums signified by them; and, thus computing in signs
(because of the connexion established betwixt them and the distinct
multitudes of things whereof one is taken for an unit), we may be able
rightly to sum up, divide, and proportion the things themselves that
we intend to number.
  122. In Arithmetic, therefore, we regard not the things, but the
signs, which nevertheless are not regarded for their own sake, but
because they direct us how to act with relation to things, and dispose
rightly of them. Now, agreeably to what we have before observed of
words in general (sect. 19, Introd.) it happens here likewise that
abstract ideas are thought to be signified by numeral names or
characters, while they do not suggest ideas of particular things to
our minds. I shall not at present enter into a more particular
dissertation on this subject, but only observe that it is evident from
what has been said, those things which pass for abstract truths and
theorems concerning numbers, are in reality conversant about no object
distinct from particular numeral things, except only names and
characters, which originally came to be considered on no other account
but their being signs, or capable to represent aptly whatever
particular things men had need to compute. Whence it follows that to
study them for their own sake would be just as wise, and to as good
purpose as if a man, neglecting the true use or original intention and
subserviency of language, should spend his time in impertinent
criticisms upon words, or reasonings and controversies purely verbal.
  123. From numbers we proceed to speak of Extension, which,
considered as relative, is the object of Geometry. The infinite
divisibility of finite extension, though it is not expressly laid down
either as an axiom or theorem in the elements of that science, yet
is throughout the same everywhere supposed and thought to have so
inseparable and essential a connexion with the principles and
demonstrations in Geometry, that mathematicians never admit it into
doubt, or make the least question of it. And, as this notion is the
source from whence do spring all those amusing geometrical paradoxes
which have such a direct repugnancy to the plain common sense of
mankind, and are admitted with so much reluctance into a mind not
yet debauched by learning; so it is the principal occasion of all that
nice and extreme subtilty which renders the study of Mathematics so
difficult and tedious. Hence, if we can make it appear that no
finite extension contains innumerable parts, or is infinitely
divisible, it follows that we shall at once clear the science of
Geometry from a great number of difficulties and contradictions
which have ever been esteemed a reproach to human reason, and withal
make the attainment thereof a business of much less time and pains
than it hitherto has been.
  124. Every particular finite extension which may possibly be the
object of our thought is an idea existing only in the mind, and
consequently each part thereof must be perceived. If, therefore, I
cannot perceive innumerable parts in any finite extension that I
consider, it is certain they are not contained in it; but, it is
evident that I cannot distinguish innumerable parts in any
particular line, surface, or solid, which I either perceive by
sense, or figure to myself in my mind: wherefore I conclude they are
not contained in it. Nothing can be plainer to me than that the
extensions I have in view are no other than my own ideas; and it is no
less plain that I cannot resolve any one of my ideas into an
infinite number of other ideas, that is, that they are not
infinitely divisible. If by finite extension be meant something
distinct from a finite idea, I declare I do not know what that is, and
so cannot affirm or deny anything of it. But if the terms "extension,"
"parts," &c., are taken in any sense conceivable, that is, for
ideas, then to say a finite quantity or extension consists of parts
infinite in number is so manifest a contradiction, that every one at
first sight acknowledges it to be so; and it is impossible it should
ever gain the assent of any reasonable creature who is not brought
to it by gentle and slow degrees, as a converted Gentile to the belief
of transubstantiation. Ancient and rooted prejudices do often pass
into principles; and those propositions which once obtain the force
and credit of a principle, are not only themselves, but likewise
whatever is deducible from them, thought privileged from all
examination. And there is no absurdity so gross, which, by this means,
the mind of man may not be prepared to swallow.
  125. He whose understanding is possessed with the doctrine of
abstract general ideas may be persuaded that (whatever be thought of
the ideas of sense) extension in abstract is infinitely divisible. And
one who thinks the objects of sense exist without the mind will
perhaps in virtue thereof be brought to admit that a line but an
inch long may contain innumerable parts- really existing, though too
small to be discerned. These errors are grafted as well in the minds
of geometricians as of other men, and have a like influence on their
reasonings; and it were no difficult thing to shew how the arguments
from Geometry made use of to support the infinite divisibility of
extension are bottomed on them. At present we shall only observe in
general whence it is the mathematicians are all so fond and
tenacious of that doctrine.
  126. It hath been observed in another place that the theorems and
demonstrations in Geometry are conversant about universal ideas (sect.
15, Introd.); where it is explained in what sense this ought to be
understood, to wit, the particular lines and figures included in the
diagram are supposed to stand for innumerable others of different
sizes; or, in other words, the geometer considers them abstracting
from their magnitude- which does not imply that he forms an abstract
idea, but only that he cares not what the particular magnitude is,
whether great or small, but looks on that as a thing different to
the demonstration. Hence it follows that a line in the scheme but an
inch long must be spoken of as though it contained ten thousand parts,
since it is regarded not in itself, but as it is universal; and it
is universal only in its signification, whereby it represents
innumerable lines greater than itself, in which may be distinguished
ten thousand parts or more, though there may not be above an inch in
it. After this manner, the properties of the lines signified are (by a
very usual figure) transferred to the sign, and thence, through
mistake, though to appertain to it considered in its own nature.
  127. Because there is no number of parts so great but it is possible
there may be a line containing more, the inch-line is said to
contain parts more than any assignable number; which is true, not of
the inch taken absolutely, but only for the things signified by it.
But men, not retaining that distinction in their thoughts, slide
into a belief that the small particular line described on paper
contains in itself parts innumerable. There is no such thing as the
ten-thousandth part of an inch; but there is of a mile or diameter
of the earth, which may be signified by that inch. When therefore I
delineate a triangle on paper, and take one side not above an inch,
for example, in length to be the radius, this I consider as divided
into 10,000 or 100,000 parts or more; for, though the ten-thousandth
part of that line considered in itself is nothing at all, and
consequently may be neglected without an error or inconveniency, yet
these described lines, being only marks standing for greater
quantities, whereof it may be the ten-thousandth part is very
considerable, it follows that, to prevent notable errors in
practice, the radius must be taken of 10,000 parts or more.
  128. From what has been said the reason is plain why, to the end any
theorem become universal in its use, it is necessary we speak of the
lines described on paper as though they contained parts which really
they do not. In doing of which, if we examine the matter thoroughly,
we shall perhaps discover that we cannot conceive an inch itself as
consisting of, or being divisible into, a thousand parts, but only
some other line which is far greater than an inch, and represented
by it; and that when we say a line is infinitely divisible, we must
mean a line which is infinitely great. What we have here observed
seems to be the chief cause why, to suppose the infinite
divisibility of finite extension has been thought necessary in
  129. The several absurdities and contradictions which flowed from
this false principle might, one would think, have been esteemed so
many demonstrations against it. But, by I know not what logic, it is
held that proofs a posteriori are not to be admitted against
propositions relating to infinity, as though it were not impossible
even for an infinite mind to reconcile contradictions; or as if
anything absurd and repugnant could have a necessary connexion with
truth or flow from it. But, whoever considers the weakness of this
pretence will think it was contrived on purpose to humour the laziness
of the mind which had rather acquiesce in an indolent scepticism
than be at the pains to go through with a severe examination of
those principles it has ever embraced for true.
  130. Of late the speculations about Infinities have run so high, and
grown to such strange notions, as have occasioned no small scruples
and disputes among the geometers of the present age. Some there are of
great note who, not content with holding that finite lines may be
divided into an infinite number of parts, do yet farther maintain that
each of those infinitesimals is itself subdivisible into an infinity
of other parts or infinitesimals of a second order, and so on ad
infinitum. These, I say, assert there are infinitesimals of
infinitesimals of infinitesimals, &c., without ever coming to an
end; so that according to them an inch does not barely contain an
infinite number of parts, but an infinity of an infinity of an
infinity ad infinitum of parts. Others there be who hold all orders of
infinitesimals below the first to be nothing at all; thinking it
with good reason absurd to imagine there is any positive quantity or
part of extension which, though multiplied infinitely, can never equal
the smallest given extension. And yet on the other hand it seems no
less absurd to think the square, cube or other power of a positive
real root, should itself be nothing at all; which they who hold
infinitesimals of the first order, denying all of the subsequent
orders, are obliged to maintain.
  131. Have we not therefore reason to conclude they are both in the
wrong, and that there is in effect no such thing as parts infinitely
small, or an infinite number of parts contained in any finite
quantity? But you will say that if this doctrine obtains it will
follow the very foundations of Geometry are destroyed, and those great
men who have raised that science to so astonishing a height, have been
all the while building a castle in the air. To this it may be
replied that whatever is useful in geometry, and promotes the
benefit of human life, does still remain firm and unshaken on our
principles; that science considered as practical will rather receive
advantage than any prejudice from what has been said. But to set
this in a due light may be the proper business of another place. For
the rest, though it should follow that some of the more intricate
and subtle parts of Speculative Mathematics may be pared off without
any prejudice to truth, yet I do not see what damage will be thence
derived to mankind. On the contrary, I think it were highly to be
wished that men of great abilities and obstinate application would
draw off their thoughts from those amusements, and employ them in
the study of such things as lie nearer the concerns of life, or have a
more direct influence on the manners.
  132. It is be said that several theorems undoubtedly true are
discovered by methods in which infinitesimals are made use of, which
could never have been if their existence included a contradiction in
it; I answer that upon a thorough examination it will not be found
that in any instance it is necessary to make use of or conceive
infinitesimal parts of finite lines, or even quantities less than
the minimum sensible; nay, it will be evident this is never done, it
being impossible.
  133. By what we have premised, it is plain that very numerous and
important errors have taken their rise from those false Principles
which were impugned in the foregoing parts of this treatise; and the
opposites of those erroneous tenets at the same time appear to be most
fruitful Principles, from whence do flow innumerable consequences
highly advantageous to true philosophy. as well as to religion.
Particularly Matter, or the absolute existence of corporeal objects,
hath been shewn to be that wherein the most avowed and pernicious
enemies of all knowledge, whether human or divine, have ever placed
their chief strength and confidence. And surely, if by
distinguishing the real existence of unthinking things from their
being perceived, and allowing them a subsistance of their own out of
the minds of spirits, no one thing is explained in nature, but on
the contrary a great many inexplicable difficulties arise; if the
supposition of Matter is barely precarious, as not being grounded on
so much as one single reason; if its consequences cannot endure the
light of examination and free inquiry, but screen themselves under the
dark and general pretence of "infinites being incomprehensible"; if
withal the removal of this Matter be not attended with the least
evil consequence; if it be not even missed in the world, but
everything as well, nay much easier conceived without it; if,
lastly, both Sceptics and Atheists are for ever silenced upon
supposing only spirits and ideas, and this scheme of things is
perfectly agreeable both to Reason and Religion: methinks we may
expect it should be admitted and firmly embraced, though it were
proposed only as an hypothesis, and the existence of Matter had been
allowed possible, which yet I think we have evidently demonstrated
that it is not.
  134. True it is that, in consequence of the foregoing principles,
several disputes and speculations which are esteemed no mean parts
of learning, are rejected as useless. But, how great a prejudice
soever against our notions this may give to those who have already
been deeply engaged, and make large advances in studies of that
nature, yet by others we hope it will not be thought any just ground
of dislike to the principles and tenets herein laid down, that they
abridge the labour of study, and make human sciences far more clear,
compendious and attainable than they were before.
  135. Having despatched what we intended to say concerning the
knowledge of IDEAS, the method we proposed leads us in the next
place to treat of SPIRITS- with regard to which, perhaps, human
knowledge is not so deficient as is vulgarly imagined. The great
reason that is assigned for our being thought ignorant of the nature
of spirits is our not having an idea of it. But, surely it ought not
to be looked on as a defect in a human understanding that it does
not perceive the idea of spirit, if it is manifestly impossible
there should be any such idea. And this if I mistake not has been
demonstrated in section 27; to which I shall here add that a spirit
has been shewn to be the only substance or support wherein
unthinking beings or ideas can exist; but that this substance which
supports or perceives ideas should itself be an idea or like an idea
is evidently absurd.
  136. It will perhaps be said that we want a sense (as some have
imagined) proper to know substances withal, which, if we had, we might
know our own soul as we do a triangle. To this I answer, that, in case
we had a new sense bestowed upon us, we could only receive thereby
some new sensations or ideas of sense. But I believe nobody will say
that what he means by the terms soul and substance is only some
particular sort of idea or sensation. We may therefore infer that, all
things duly considered, it is not more reasonable to think our
faculties defective, in that they do not furnish us with an idea of
spirit or active thinking substance, than it would be if we should
blame them for not being able to comprehend a round square.
  137. From the opinion that spirits are to be known after the
manner of an idea or sensation have risen many absurd and heterodox
tenets, and much scepticism about the nature of the soul. It is even
probable that this opinion may have produced a doubt in some whether
they had any soul at all distinct from their body since upon inquiry
they could not find they had an idea of it. That an idea which is
inactive, and the existence whereof consists in being perceived,
should be the image or likeness of an agent subsisting by itself,
seems to need no other refutation than barely attending to what is
meant by those words. But, perhaps you will say that though an idea
cannot resemble a spirit in its thinking, acting, or subsisting by
itself, yet it may in some other respects; and it is not necessary
that an idea or image be in all respects like the original.
  138. I answer, if it does not in those mentioned, it is impossible
it should represent it in any other thing. Do but leave out the
power of willing, thinking, and perceiving ideas, and there remains
nothing else wherein the idea can be like a spirit. For, by the word
spirit we mean only that which thinks, wills, and perceives; this, and
this alone, constitutes the signification of the term. If therefore it
is impossible that any degree of those powers should be represented in
an idea, it is evident there can be no idea of a spirit.
  139. But it will be objected that, if there is no idea signified
by the terms soul, spirit, and substance, they are wholly
insignificant, or have no meaning in them. I answer, those words do
mean or signify a real thing, which is neither an idea nor like an
idea, but that which perceives ideas, and wills, and reasons about
them. What I am myself, that which I denote by the term I, is the same
with what is meant by soul or spiritual substance. If it be said
that this is only quarreling at a word, and that, since the
immediately significations of other names are by common consent called
ideas, no reason can be assigned why that which is signified by the
name spirit or soul may not partake in the same appellation. I answer,
all the unthinking objects of the mind agree in that they are entirely
passive, and their existence consists only in being perceived; whereas
a soul or spirit is an active being, whose existence consists, not
in being perceived, but in perceiving ideas and thinking. It is
therefore necessary, in order to prevent equivocation and
confounding natures perfectly disagreeing and unlike, that we
distinguish between spirit and idea. See sect. 27.
  140. In a large sense, indeed, we may be said to have an idea or
rather a notion of spirit; that is, we understand the meaning of the
word, otherwise we could not affirm or deny anything of it.
Moreover, as we conceive the ideas that are in the minds of other
spirits by means of our own, which we suppose to be resemblances of
them; so we know other spirits by means of our own soul- which in that
sense is the image or idea of them; it having a like respect to
other spirits that blueness or heat by me perceived has to those ideas
perceived by another.
  141. It must not be supposed that they who assert the natural
immortality of the soul are of opinion that it is absolutely incapable
of annihilation even by the infinite power of the Creator who first
gave it being, but only that it is not liable to be broken or
dissolved by the ordinary laws of nature or motion. They indeed who
hold the soul of man to be only a thin vital flame, or system of
animal spirits, make it perishing and corruptible as the body; since
there is nothing more easily dissipated than such a being, which it is
naturally impossible should survive the ruin of the tabernacle wherein
it is enclosed. And this notion has been greedily embraced and
cherished by the worst part of mankind, as the most effectual antidote
against all impressions of virtue and religion. But it has been made
evident that bodies, of what frame or texture soever, are barely
passive ideas in the mind, which is more distant and heterogeneous
from them than light is from darkness. We have shewn that the soul
is indivisible, incorporeal, unextended, and it is consequently
incorruptible. Nothing can be plainer than that the motions,
changes, decays, and dissolutions which we hourly see befall natural
bodies (and which is what we mean by the course of nature) cannot
possibly affect an active, simple, uncompounded substance; such a
being therefore is indissoluble by the force of nature; that is to
say, "the soul of man is naturally immortal."
  142. After what has been said, it is, I suppose, plain that our
souls are not to be known in the same manner as senseless, inactive
objects, or by way of idea. Spirits and ideas are things so wholly
different, that when we say "they exist," "they are known," or the
like, these words must not be thought to signify anything common to
both natures. There is nothing alike or common in them: and to
expect that by any multiplication or enlargement of our faculties we
may be enabled to know a spirit as we do a triangle, seems as absurd
as if we should hope to see a sound. This is inculcated because I
imagine it may be of moment towards clearing several important
questions, and preventing some very dangerous errors concerning the
nature of the soul. We may not, I think, strictly be said to have an
idea of an active being, or of an action, although we may be said to
have a notion of them. I have some knowledge or notion of my mind, and
its acts about ideas, inasmuch as I know or understand what is meant
by these words. What I know, that I have some notion of. I will not
say that the terms idea and notion may not be used convertibly, if the
world will have it so; but yet it conduceth to clearness and propriety
that we distinguish things very different by different names. It is
also to be remarked that, all relations including an act of the
mind, we cannot so properly be said to have an idea, but rather a
notion of the relations and habitudes between things. But if, in the
modern way, the word idea is extended to spirits, and relations, and
acts, this is, after all, an affair of verbal concern.
  143. It will not be amiss to add, that the doctrine of abstract
ideas has had no small share in rendering those sciences intricate and
obscure which are particularly conversant about spiritual things.
Men have imagined they could frame abstract notions of the powers
and acts of the mind, and consider them prescinded as well from the
mind or spirit itself, as from their respective objects and effects.
Hence a great number of dark and ambiguous terms, presumed to stand
for abstract notions, have been introduced into metaphysics and
morality, and from these have grown infinite distractions and disputes
amongst the learned.
  144. But, nothing seems more to have contributed towards engaging
men in controversies and mistakes with regard to the nature and
operations of the mind, than the being used to speak of those things
in terms borrowed from sensible ideas. For example, the will is termed
the motion of the soul; this infuses a belief that the mind of man
is as a ball in motion, impelled and determined by the objects of
sense, as necessarily as that is by the stroke of a racket. Hence
arise endless scruples and errors of dangerous consequence in
morality. All which, I doubt not, may be cleared, and truth appear
plain, uniform, and consistent, could but philosophers be prevailed on
to retire into themselves, and attentively consider their own meaning.
  145. From what has been said, it is plain that we cannot know the
existence of other spirits otherwise than by their operations, or
the ideas by them excited in us. I perceive several motions,
changes, and combinations of ideas, that inform me there are certain
particular agents, like myself, which accompany them and concur in
their production. Hence, the knowledge I have of other spirits is
not immediate, as is the knowledge of my ideas; but depending on the
intervention of ideas, by me referred to agents or spirits distinct
from myself, as effects or concomitant signs.
  146. But, though there be some things which convince us human agents
are concerned in producing them; yet it is evident to every one that
those things which are called the Works of Nature, that is, the far
greater part of the ideas or sensations perceived by us, are not
produced by, or dependent on, the wills of men. There is therefore
some other Spirit that causes them; since it is repugnant that they
should subsist by themselves. See sect. 29. But, if we attentively
consider the constant regularity, order, and concatenation of
natural things, the surprising magnificence, beauty, and perfection of
the larger, and the exquisite contrivance of the smaller parts of
creation, together with the exact harmony and correspondence of the
whole, but above all the never-enough-admired laws of pain and
pleasure, and the instincts or natural inclinations, appetites, and
passions of animals; I say if we consider all these things, and at the
same time attend to the meaning and import of the attributes One,
Eternal, Infinitely Wise, Good, and Perfect, we shall clearly perceive
that they belong to the aforesaid Spirit, "who works all in all,"
and "by whom all things consist."
  147. Hence, it is evident that God is known as certainly and
immediately as any other mind or spirit whatsoever distinct from
ourselves. We may even assert that the existence of God is far more
evidently perceived than the existence of men; because the effects
of nature are infinitely more numerous and considerable than those
ascribed to human agents. There is not any one mark that denotes a
man, or effect produced by him, which does not more strongly evince
the being of that Spirit who is the Author of Nature. For, it is
evident that in affecting other persons the will of man has no other
object than barely the motion of the limbs of his body; but that
such a motion should be attended by, or excite any idea in the mind of
another, depends wholly on the will of the Creator. He alone it is
who, "upholding all things by the word of His power," maintains that
intercourse between spirits whereby they are able to perceive the
existence of each other. And yet this pure and clear light which
enlightens every one is itself invisible.
  148. It seems to be a general pretence of the unthinking herd that
they cannot see God. Could we but see Him, say they, as we see a
man, we should believe that He is, and believing obey His commands.
But alas, we need only open our eyes to see the Sovereign Lord of
all things, with a more full and clear view than we do any one of
our fellow-creatures. Not that I imagine we see God (as some will have
it) by a direct and immediate view; or see corporeal things, not by
themselves, but by seeing that which represents them in the essence of
God, which doctrine is, I must confess, to me incomprehensible. But
I shall explain my meaning;- A human spirit or person is not perceived
by sense, as not being an idea; when therefore we see the colour,
size, figure, and motions of a man, we perceive only certain
sensations or ideas excited in our own minds; and these being
exhibited to our view in sundry distinct collections, serve to mark
out unto us the existence of finite and created spirits like
ourselves. Hence it is plain we do not see a man- if by man is meant
that which lives, moves, perceives, and thinks as we do- but only such
a certain collection of ideas as directs us to think there is a
distinct principle of thought and motion, like to ourselves,
accompanying and represented by it. And after the same manner we see
God; all the difference is that, whereas some one finite and narrow
assemblage of ideas denotes a particular human mind, whithersoever
we direct our view, we do at all times and in all places perceive
manifest tokens of the Divinity: everything we see, hear, feel, or
anywise perceive by sense, being a sign or effect of the power of God;
as is our perception of those very motions which are produced by men.
  149. It is therefore plain that nothing can be more evident to any
one that is capable of the least reflexion than the existence of
God, or a Spirit who is intimately present to our minds, producing
in them all that variety of ideas or sensations which continually
affect us, on whom we have an absolute and entire dependence, in short
"in whom we live, and move, and have our being." That the discovery of
this great truth, which lies so near and obvious to the mind, should
be attained to by the reason of so very few, is a sad instance of
the stupidity and inattention of men, who, though they are
surrounded with such clear manifestations of the Deity, are yet so
little affected by them that they seem, as it were, blinded with
excess of light.
  150. But you will say, Hath Nature no share in the production of
natural things, and must they be all ascribed to the immediate and
sole operation of God? I answer, if by Nature is meant only the
visible series of effects or sensations imprinted on our minds,
according to certain fixed and general laws, then it is plain that
Nature, taken in this sense, cannot produce anything at all. But, if
by Nature is meant some being distinct from God, as well as from the
laws of nature, and things perceived by sense, I must confess that
word is to me an empty sound without any intelligible meaning
annexed to it. Nature, in this acceptation, is a vain chimera,
introduced by those heathens who had not just notions of the
omnipresence and infinite perfection of God. But, it is more
unaccountable that it should be received among Christians,
professing belief in the Holy Scriptures, which constantly ascribe
those effects to the immediate hand of God that heathen philosophers
are wont to impute to Nature. "The Lord He causeth the vapours to
ascend; He maketh lightnings with rain; He bringeth forth the wind out
of his treasures." Jerem. 10. 13. "He turneth the shadow of death into
the morning, and maketh the day dark with night." Amos, 5. 8. "He
visiteth the earth, and maketh it soft with showers: He blesseth the
springing thereof, and crowneth the year with His goodness; so that
the pastures are clothed with flocks, and the valleys are covered over
with corn." See Psalm 65. But, notwithstanding that this is the
constant language of Scripture, yet we have I know not what aversion
from believing that God concerns Himself so nearly in our affairs.
Fain would we suppose Him at a great distance off, and substitute some
blind unthinking deputy in His stead, though (if we may believe
Saint Paul) "He be not far from every one of us."
  151. It will, I doubt not, be objected that the slow and gradual
methods observed in the production of natural things do not seem to
have for their cause the immediate hand of an Almighty Agent. Besides,
monsters, untimely births, fruits blasted in the blossom, rains
falling in desert places, miseries incident to human life, and the
like, are so many arguments that the whole frame of nature is not
immediately actuated and superintended by a Spirit of infinite
wisdom and goodness. But the answer to this objection is in a good
measure plain from sect. 62; it being visible that the aforesaid
methods of nature are absolutely necessary, in order to working by the
most simple and general rules, and after a steady and consistent
manner; which argues both the wisdom and goodness of God. Such is
the artificial contrivance of this mighty machine of nature that,
whilst its motions and various phenomena strike on our senses, the
hand which actuates the whole is itself unperceivable to men of
flesh and blood. "Verily" (saith the prophet) "thou art a God that
hidest thyself." Isaiah, 45. 15. But, though the Lord conceal
Himself from the eyes of the sensual and lazy, who will not be at
the least expense of thought, yet to an unbiased and attentive mind
nothing can be more plainly legible than the intimate presence of an
All-wise Spirit, who fashions, regulates and sustains the whole system
of beings. It is clear, from what we have elsewhere observed, that the
operating according to general and stated laws is so necessary for our
guidance in the affairs of life, and letting us into the secret of
nature, that without it all reach and compass of thought, all human
sagacity and design, could serve to no manner of purpose; it were even
impossible there should be any such faculties or powers in the mind.
See sect. 31. Which one consideration abundantly outbalances
whatever particular inconveniences may thence arise.
  152. We should further consider that the very blemishes and
defects of nature are not without their use, in that they make an
agreeable sort of variety, and augment the beauty of the rest of the
creation, as shades in a picture serve to set off the brighter and
more enlightened parts. We would likewise do well to examine whether
our taxing the waste of seeds and embryos, and accidental
destruction of plants and animals, before they come to full
maturity, as an imprudence in the Author of nature, be not the
effect of prejudice contracted by our familiarity with impotent and
saving mortals. In man indeed a thrifty management of those things
which he cannot procure without much pains and industry may be
esteemed wisdom. But, we must not imagine that the inexplicably fine
machine of an animal or vegetable costs the great Creator any more
pains or trouble in its production than a pebble does; nothing being
more evident than that an Omnipotent Spirit can indifferently
produce everything by a mere fiat or act of His will. Hence, it is
plain that the splendid profusion of natural things should not be
interpreted weakness or prodigality in the agent who produces them,
but rather be looked on as an argument of the riches of His power.
  153. As for the mixture of pain or uneasiness which is in the world,
pursuant to the general laws of nature, and the actions of finite,
imperfect spirits, this, in the state we are in at present, is
indispensably necessary to our well-being. But our prospects are too
narrow. We take, for instance, the idea of some one particular pain
into our thoughts, and account it evil; whereas, if we enlarge our
view, so as to comprehend the various ends, connexions, and
dependencies of things, on what occasions and in what proportions we
are affected with pain and pleasure, the nature of human freedom,
and the design with which we are put into the world; we shall be
forced to acknowledge that those particular things which, considered
in themselves, appear to be evil, have the nature of good, when
considered as linked with the whole system of beings.
  154. From what has been said, it will be manifest to any considering
person, that it is merely for want of attention and
comprehensiveness of mind that there are any favourers of Atheism or
the Manichean Heresy to be found. Little and unreflecting souls may
indeed burlesque the works of Providence, the beauty and order whereof
they have not capacity, or will not be at the pains, to comprehend;
but those who are masters of any justness and extent of thought, and
are withal used to reflect, can never sufficiently admire the divine
traces of Wisdom and Goodness that shine throughout the Economy of
Nature. But what truth is there which shineth so strongly on the
mind that by an aversion of thought, a wilful shutting of the eyes, we
may not escape seeing it? Is it therefore to be wondered at, if the
generality of men, who are ever intent on business or pleasure, and
little used to fix or open the eye of their mind, should not have
all that conviction and evidence of the Being of God which might be
expected in reasonable creatures?
  155. We should rather wonder that men can be found so stupid as to
neglect, than that neglecting they should be unconvinced of such an
evident and momentous truth. And yet it is to be feared that too
many of parts and leisure, who live in Christian countries, are,
merely through a supine and dreadful negligence, sunk into Atheism.
Since it is downright impossible that a soul pierced and enlightened
with a thorough sense of the omnipresence, holiness, and justice of
that Almighty Spirit should persist in a remorseless violation of
His laws. We ought, therefore, earnestly to meditate and dwell on
those important points; that so we may attain conviction without all
scruple "that the eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the
evil and the good; that He is with us and keepeth us in all places
whither we go, and giveth us bread to eat and raiment to put on"; that
He is present and conscious to our innermost thoughts; and that we
have a most absolute and immediate dependence on Him. A clear view
of which great truths cannot choose but fill our hearts with an
awful circumspection and holy fear, which is the strongest incentive
to Virtue, and the best guard against Vice.
  156. For, after all, what deserves the first place in our studies is
the consideration of GOD and our DUTY; which to promote, as it was the
main drift and design of my labours, so shall I esteem them altogether
useless and ineffectual if, by what I have said, I cannot inspire my
readers with a pious sense of the Presence of God; and, having shewn
the falseness or vanity of those barren speculations which make the
chief employment of learned men, the better dispose them to
reverence and embrace the salutary truths of the Gospel, which to know
and to practice is the highest perfection of human nature.

                               THE END