Unit 3: Epistemology
The First Dialogue
Philonous Good morrow, Hylas: I did not expect to find you abroad so early.
Hylas It is indeed something unusual; but my thoughts were so taken up with a subject I was discoursing of last night, that finding I could not sleep, I resolved to rise and take a turn in the garden.
Philonous It happened well, to let you see what innocent and agreeable pleasures you lose every morning. Can there be a pleasanter time of the day, or a more delightful season of the year? That purple sky, those wild but sweet notes of birds, the fragrant bloom upon the trees and flowers, the gentle influence of the rising sun, these and a thousand nameless beauties of nature inspire the soul with secret transports; its faculties too being at this time fresh and lively, are fit for those meditations, which the solitude of a garden and tranquillity of the morning naturally dispose us to. But I am afraid I interrupt your thoughts: for you seemed very intent on something.
Hylas It is true, I was, and shall be obliged to you if you will permit me to go on in the same vein; not that I would by any means deprive myself of your company, for my thoughts always flow more easily in conversation with a friend, than when I am alone: but my request is, that you would suffer me to impart my reflexions to you.
Philonous With all my heart, it is what I should have requested myself if you had not prevented me.
Hylas I was considering the odd fate of those men who have in all ages, through an affectation of being distinguished from the vulgar, or some unaccountable turn of thought, pretended either to believe nothing at all, or to believe the most extravagant things in the world. This however might be borne, if their paradoxes and scepticism did not draw after them some consequences of general disadvantage to mankind. But the mischief lieth here; that when men of less leisure see them who are supposed to have spent their whole time in the pursuits of knowledge professing an entire ignorance of all things, or advancing such notions as are repugnant to plain and commonly received principles, they will be tempted to entertain suspicions concerning the most important truths, which they had hitherto held sacred and unquestionable.
Philonous I entirely agree with you, as to the ill tendency of the affected doubts of some philosophers, and fantastical conceits of others. I am even so far gone of late in this way of thinking, that I have quitted several of the sublime notions I had got in their schools for vulgar opinions. And I give it you on my word; since this revolt from metaphysical notions to the plain dictates of nature and common sense, I find my understanding strangely enlightened, so that I can now easily comprehend a great many things which before were all mystery and riddle.
Hylas I am glad to find there was nothing in the accounts I heard of you.
Philonous Pray, what were those?
Hylas You were represented, in last night’s conversation, as one who maintained the most extravagant opinion that ever entered into the mind of man, to wit, that there is no such thing as MATERIAL SUBSTANCE in the world.
Philonous That there is no such thing as what PHILOSOPHERS CALL MATERIAL SUBSTANCE, I am seriously persuaded: but, if I were made to see anything absurd or sceptical in this, I should then have the same reason to renounce this that I imagine I have now to reject the contrary opinion.
Hylas What I can anything be more fantastical, more repugnant to Common Sense, or a more manifest piece of Scepticism, than to believe there is no such thing as MATTER?
Philonous Softly, good Hylas. What if it should prove that you, who hold there is, are, by virtue of that opinion, a greater sceptic, and maintain more paradoxes and repugnances to Common Sense, than I who believe no such thing?
Hylas You may as soon persuade me, the part is greater than the whole, as that, in order to avoid absurdity and Scepticism, I should ever be obliged to give up my opinion in this point.
Philonous Well then, are you content to admit that opinion for true, which upon examination shall appear most agreeable to Common Sense, and remote from Scepticism?
Hylas With all my heart. Since you are for raising disputes about the plainest things in nature, I am content for once to hear what you have to say.
Philonous Pray, Hylas, what do you mean by a SCEPTIC?
Hylas I mean what all men mean–one that doubts of everything.
Philonous He then who entertains no doubts concerning some particular point, with regard to that point cannot be thought a sceptic.
Hylas I agree with you.
Philonous Whether doth doubting consist in embracing the affirmative or negative side of a question?
Hylas In neither; for whoever understands English cannot but know that DOUBTING signifies a suspense between both.
Philonous He then that denies any point, can no more be said to doubt of it, than he who affirmeth it with the same degree of assurance.
Philonous And, consequently, for such his denial is no more to be esteemed a sceptic than the other.
Hylas I acknowledge it.
Philonous How cometh it to pass then, Hylas, that you pronounce me A SCEPTIC, because I deny what you affirm, to wit, the existence of Matter? Since, for aught you can tell, I am as peremptory in my denial, as you in your affirmation.
Hylas Hold, Philonous, I have been a little out in my definition; but every false step a man makes in discourse is not to be insisted on. I said indeed that a SCEPTIC was one who doubted of everything; but I should have added, or who denies the reality and truth of things.
Philonous What things? Do you mean the principles and theorems of sciences? But these you know are universal intellectual notions, and consequently independent of Matter. The denial therefore of this doth not imply the denying them.
Hylas I grant it. But are there no other things? What think you of distrusting the senses, of denying the real existence of sensible things, or pretending to know nothing of them. Is not this sufficient to denominate a man a SCEPTIC?
Philonous Shall we therefore examine which of us it is that denies the reality of sensible things, or professes the greatest ignorance of them; since, if I take you rightly, he is to be esteemed the greatest SCEPTIC?
Hylas That is what I desire.
Philonous What mean you by Sensible Things?
Hylas Those things which are perceived by the senses. Can you imagine that I mean anything else?
Philonous Pardon me, Hylas, if I am desirous clearly to apprehend your notions, since this may much shorten our inquiry. Suffer me then to ask you this farther question. Are those things only perceived by the senses which are perceived immediately? Or, may those things properly be said to be SENSIBLE which are perceived mediately, or not without the intervention of others?
Hylas I do not sufficiently understand you.
Philonous In reading a book, what I immediately perceive are the letters; but mediately, or by means of these, are suggested to my mind the notions of God, virtue, truth, &c. Now, that the letters are truly sensible things, or perceived by sense, there is no doubt: but I would know whether you take the things suggested by them to be so too.
Hylas No, certainly: it were absurd to think GOD or VIRTUE sensible things; though they may be signified and suggested to the mind by sensible marks, with which they have an arbitrary connexion.
Philonous It seems then, that by SENSIBLE THINGS you mean those only which can be perceived IMMEDIATELY by sense?
Philonous Doth it not follow from this, that though I see one part of the sky red, and another blue, and that my reason doth thence evidently conclude there must be some cause of that diversity of colors, yet that cause cannot be said to be a sensible thing, or perceived by the sense of seeing?
Hylas It doth.
Philonous In like manner, though I hear variety of sounds, yet I cannot be said to hear the causes of those sounds?
Hylas You cannot.
Philonous And when by my touch I perceive a thing to be hot and heavy, I cannot say, with any truth or propriety, that I feel the cause of its heat or weight?
Hylas To prevent any more questions of this kind, I tell you once for all, that by SENSIBLE THINGS I mean those only which are perceived by sense; and that in truth the senses perceive nothing which they do not perceive IMMEDIATELY: for they make no inferences. The deducing therefore of causes or occasions from effects and appearances, which alone are perceived by sense, entirely relates to reason.
Philonous This point then is agreed between us–That SENSIBLE THINGS ARE THOSE ONLY WHICH ARE IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVED BY SENSE. You will farther inform me, whether we immediately perceive by sight anything beside light, and colors, and figures; or by hearing, anything but sounds; by the palate, anything beside tastes; by the smell, beside odours; or by the touch, more than tangible qualities.
Hylas We do not.
Philonous It seems, therefore, that if you take away all sensible qualities, there remains nothing sensible?
Hylas I grant it.
Philonous Sensible things therefore are nothing else but so many sensible qualities, or combinations of sensible qualities?
Hylas Nothing else.
Philonous HEAT then is a sensible thing?
Philonous Doth the REALITY of sensible things consist in being perceived? or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears no relation to the mind?
Hylas To EXIST is one thing, and to be PERCEIVED is another.
Philonous I speak with regard to sensible things only. And of these I ask, whether by their real existence you mean a subsistence exterior to the mind, and distinct from their being perceived?
Hylas I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and without any relation to, their being perceived.
Philonous Heat therefore, if it be allowed a real being, must exist without the mind?
Hylas It must.
Philonous Tell me, Hylas, is this real existence equally compatible to all degrees of heat, which we perceive; or is there any reason why we should attribute it to some, and deny it to others? And if there be, pray let me know that reason.
Hylas Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be sure the same exists in the object that occasions it.
Philonous What! the greatest as well as the least?
Hylas _I_ tell you, the reason is plainly the same in respect of both. They are both perceived by sense; nay, the greater degree of heat is more sensibly perceived; and consequently, if there is any difference, we are more certain of its real existence than we can be of the reality of a lesser degree.
Philonous But is not the most vehement and intense degree of heat a very great pain?
Hylas No one can deny it.
Philonous And is any unperceiving thing capable of pain or pleasure?
Hylas No, certainly.
Philonous Is your material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed with sense and perception?
Hylas It is senseless without doubt.
Philonous It cannot therefore be the subject of pain?
Hylas By no means.
Philonous Nor consequently of the greatest heat perceived by sense, since you acknowledge this to be no small pain?
Hylas I grant it.
Philonous What shall we say then of your external object; is it a material Substance, or no?
Hylas It is a material substance with the sensible qualities inhering in it.
Philonous How then can a great heat exist in it, since you own it cannot in a material substance? I desire you would clear this point.
Hylas Hold, Philonous, I fear I was out in yielding intense heat to be a pain. It should seem rather, that pain is something distinct from heat, and the consequence or effect of it.
Philonous Upon putting your hand near the fire, do you perceive one simple uniform sensation, or two distinct sensations?
Hylas But one simple sensation.
Philonous Is not the heat immediately perceived?
Hylas It is.
Philonous And the pain?
Philonous Seeing therefore they are both immediately perceived at the same time, and the fire affects you only with one simple or uncompounded idea, it follows that this same simple idea is both the intense heat immediately perceived, and the pain; and, consequently, that the intense heat immediately perceived is nothing distinct from a particular sort of pain.
Hylas It seems so.
Philonous Again, try in your thoughts, Hylas, if you can conceive a vehement sensation to be without pain or pleasure.
Hylas I cannot.
Philonous Or can you frame to yourself an idea of sensible pain or pleasure in general, abstracted from every particular idea of heat, cold, tastes, smells? &c.
Hylas I do not find that I can.
Philonous Doth it not therefore follow, that sensible pain is nothing distinct from those sensations or ideas, in an intense degree?
Hylas It is undeniable; and, to speak the truth, I begin to suspect a very great heat cannot exist but in a mind perceiving it.
Philonous What! are you then in that sceptical state of suspense, between affirming and denying?
Hylas I think I may be positive in the point. A very violent and painful heat cannot exist without the mind.
Philonous It hath not therefore according to you, any REAL being?
Hylas I own it.
Philonous Is it therefore certain, that there is no body in nature really hot?
Hylas I have not denied there is any real heat in bodies. I only say, there is no such thing as an intense real heat.
Philonous But, did you not say before that all degrees of heat were equally real; or, if there was any difference, that the greater were more undoubtedly real than the lesser?
Hylas True: but it was because I did not then consider the ground there is for distinguishing between them, which I now plainly see. And it is this: because intense heat is nothing else but a particular kind of painful sensation; and pain cannot exist but in a perceiving being; it follows that no intense heat can really exist in an unperceiving corporeal substance. But this is no reason why we should deny heat in an inferior degree to exist in such a substance.
Philonous But how shall we be able to discern those degrees of heat which exist only in the mind from those which exist without it?
Hylas That is no difficult matter. You know the least pain cannot exist unperceived; whatever, therefore, degree of heat is a pain exists only in the mind. But, as for all other degrees of heat, nothing obliges us to think the same of them.
Philonous I think you granted before that no unperceiving being was capable of pleasure, any more than of pain.
Hylas I did.
Philonous And is not warmth, or a more gentle degree of heat than what causes uneasiness, a pleasure?
Hylas What then?
Philonous Consequently, it cannot exist without the mind in an unperceiving substance, or body.
Hylas So it seems.
Philonous Since, therefore, as well those degrees of heat that are not painful, as those that are, can exist only in a thinking substance; may we not conclude that external bodies are absolutely incapable of any degree of heat whatsoever?
Hylas On second thoughts, I do not think it so evident that warmth is a pleasure as that a great degree of heat is a pain.
Philonous _I_ do not pretend that warmth is as great a pleasure as heat is a pain. But, if you grant it to be even a small pleasure, it serves to make good my conclusion.
Hylas I could rather call it an INDOLENCE. It seems to be nothing more than a privation of both pain and pleasure. And that such a quality or state as this may agree to an unthinking substance, I hope you will not deny.
Philonous If you are resolved to maintain that warmth, or a gentle degree of heat, is no pleasure, I know not how to convince you otherwise than by appealing to your own sense. But what think you of cold?
Hylas The same that I do of heat. An intense degree of cold is a pain; for to feel a very great cold, is to perceive a great uneasiness: it cannot therefore exist without the mind; but a lesser degree of cold may, as well as a lesser degree of heat.
Philonous Those bodies, therefore, upon whose application to our own, we perceive a moderate degree of heat, must be concluded to have a moderate degree of heat or warmth in them; and those, upon whose application we feel a like degree of cold, must be thought to have cold in them.
Hylas They must.
Philonous Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man into an absurdity?
Hylas Without doubt it cannot.
Philonous Is it not an absurdity to think that the same thing should be at the same time both cold and warm?
Hylas It is.
Philonous Suppose now one of your hands hot, and the other cold, and that they are both at once put into the same vessel of water, in an intermediate state; will not the water seem cold to one hand, and warm to the other?
Hylas It will.
Philonous Ought we not therefore, by your principles, to conclude it is really both cold and warm at the same time, that is, according to your own concession, to believe an absurdity?
Hylas I confess it seems so.
Philonous Consequently, the principles themselves are false, since you have granted that no true principle leads to an absurdity.
Hylas But, after all, can anything be more absurd than to say, THERE IS NO HEAT IN THE FIRE?
Philonous To make the point still clearer; tell me whether, in two cases exactly alike, we ought not to make the same judgment?
Hylas We ought.
Philonous When a pin pricks your finger, doth it not rend and divide the fibres of your flesh?
Hylas It doth.
Philonous And when a coal burns your finger, doth it any more?
Hylas It doth not.
Philonous Since, therefore, you neither judge the sensation itself occasioned by the pin, nor anything like it to be in the pin; you should not, conformably to what you have now granted, judge the sensation occasioned by the fire, or anything like it, to be in the fire.
Hylas Well, since it must be so, I am content to yield this point, and acknowledge that heat and cold are only sensations existing in our minds. But there still remain qualities enough to secure the reality of external things.
Philonous But what will you say, Hylas, if it shall appear that the case is the same with regard to all other sensible qualities, and that they can no more be supposed to exist without the mind, than heat and cold?
Hylas Then indeed you will have done something to the purpose; but that is what I despair of seeing proved.
Philonous Let us examine them in order. What think you of TASTES, do they exist without the mind, or no?
Hylas Can any man in his senses doubt whether sugar is sweet, or wormwood bitter?
Philonous Inform me, Hylas. Is a sweet taste a particular kind of pleasure or pleasant sensation, or is it not?
Hylas It is.
Philonous And is not bitterness some kind of uneasiness or pain?
Hylas I grant it.
Philonous If therefore sugar and wormwood are unthinking corporeal substances existing without the mind, how can sweetness and bitterness, that is, Pleasure and pain, agree to them?
Hylas Hold, Philonous, I now see what it was delude time. You asked whether heat and cold, sweetness at were not particular sorts of pleasure and pain; to which simply, that they were. Whereas I should have thus distinguished: those qualities, as perceived by us, are pleasures or pair existing in the external objects. We must not therefore conclude absolutely, that there is no heat in the fire, or sweetness in the sugar, but only that heat or sweetness, as perceived by us, are not in the fire or sugar. What say you to this?
Philonous I say it is nothing to the purpose. Our discourse proceeded altogether concerning sensible things, which you defined to be, THE THINGS WE IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVE BY OUR SENSES. Whatever other qualities, therefore, you speak of as distinct from these, I know nothing of them, neither do they at all belong to the point in dispute. You may, indeed, pretend to have discovered certain qualities which you do not perceive, and assert those insensible qualities exist in fire and sugar. But what use can be made of this to your present purpose, I am at a loss to conceive. Tell me then once more, do you acknowledge that heat and cold, sweetness and bitterness (meaning those qualities which are perceived by the senses), do not exist without the mind?
Hylas I see it is to no purpose to hold out, so I give up the cause as to those mentioned qualities. Though I profess it sounds oddly, to say that sugar is not sweet.
Philonous But, for your farther satisfaction, take this along with you: that which at other times seems sweet, shall, to a distempered palate, appear bitter. And, nothing can be plainer than that divers persons perceive different tastes in the same food; since that which one man delights in, another abhors. And how could this be, if the taste was something really inherent in the food?
Hylas I acknowledge I know not how.
Philonous In the next place, ODOURS are to be considered. And, with regard to these, I would fain know whether what hath been said of tastes doth not exactly agree to them? Are they not so many pleasing or displeasing sensations?
Hylas They are.
Philonous Can you then conceive it possible that they should exist in an unperceiving thing?
Hylas I cannot.
Philonous Or, can you imagine that filth and ordure affect those brute animals that feed on them out of choice, with the same smells which we perceive in them?
Hylas By no means.
Philonous May we not therefore conclude of smells, as of the other forementioned qualities, that they cannot exist in any but a perceiving substance or mind?
Hylas I think so.
Philonous Then as to SOUNDS, what must we think of them: are they accidents really inherent in external bodies, or not?
Hylas That they inhere not in the sonorous bodies is plain from hence: because a bell struck in the exhausted receiver of an air-pump sends forth no sound. The air, therefore, must be thought the subject of sound.
Philonous What reason is there for that, Hylas?
Hylas Because, when any motion is raised in the air, we perceive a sound greater or lesser, according to the air’s motion; but without some motion in the air, we never hear any sound at all.
Philonous And granting that we never hear a sound but when some motion is produced in the air, yet I do not see how you can infer from thence, that the sound itself is in the air.
Hylas It is this very motion in the external air that produces in the mind the sensation of SOUND. For, striking on the drum of the ear, it causeth a vibration, which by the auditory nerves being communicated to the brain, the soul is thereupon affected with the sensation called SOUND.
Philonous What! is sound then a sensation?
Hylas I tell you, as perceived by us, it is a particular sensation in the mind.
Philonous And can any sensation exist without the mind?
Hylas No, certainly.
Philonous How then can sound, being a sensation, exist in the air, if by the AIR you mean a senseless substance existing without the mind?
Hylas You must distinguish, Philonous, between sound as it is perceived by us, and as it is in itself; or (which is the same thing) between the sound we immediately perceive, and that which exists without us. The former, indeed, is a particular kind of sensation, but the latter is merely a vibrative or undulatory motion the air.
Philonous I thought I had already obviated that distinction, by answer I gave when you were applying it in a like case before. But, to say no more of that, are you sure then that sound is really nothing but motion?
Hylas I am.
Philonous Whatever therefore agrees to real sound, may with truth be attributed to motion?
Hylas It may.
Philonous It is then good sense to speak of MOTION as of a thing that is LOUD, SWEET, ACUTE, or GRAVE.
Hylas _I_ see you are resolved not to understand me. Is it not evident those accidents or modes belong only to sensible sound, or SOUND in the common acceptation of the word, but not to sound in the real and philosophic sense; which, as I just now told you, is nothing but a certain motion of the air?
Philonous It seems then there are two sorts of sound–the one vulgar, or that which is heard, the other philosophical and real?
Hylas Even so.
Philonous And the latter consists in motion?
Hylas I told you so before.
Philonous Tell me, Hylas, to which of the senses, think you, the idea of motion belongs? to the hearing?
Hylas No, certainly; but to the sight and touch.
Philonous It should follow then, that, according to you, real sounds may possibly be SEEN OR FELT, but never HEARD.
Hylas Look you, Philonous, you may, if you please, make a jest of my opinion, but that will not alter the truth of things. I own, indeed, the inferences you draw me into sound something oddly; but common language, you know, is framed by, and for the use of the vulgar: we must not therefore wonder if expressions adapted to exact philosophic notions seem uncouth and out of the way.
Philonous Is it come to that? I assure you, I imagine myself to have gained no small point, since you make so light of departing from common phrases and opinions; it being a main part of our inquiry, to examine whose notions are widest of the common road, and most repugnant to the general sense of the world. But, can you think it no more than a philosophical paradox, to say that REAL SOUNDS ARE NEVER HEARD, and that the idea of them is obtained by some other sense? And is there nothing in this contrary to nature and the truth of things?
Hylas To deal ingenuously, I do not like it. And, after the concessions already made, I had as well grant that sounds too have no real being without the mind.
Philonous And I hope you will make no difficulty to acknowledge the same of colorS.
Hylas Pardon me: the case of colors is very different. Can anything be plainer than that we see them on the objects?
Philonous The objects you speak of are, I suppose, corporeal Substances existing without the mind?
Hylas They are.
Philonous And have true and real colors inhering in them?
Hylas Each visible object hath that color which we see in it.
Philonous How! is there anything visible but what we perceive by sight?
Hylas There is not.
Philonous And, do we perceive anything by sense which we do not perceive immediately?
Hylas How often must I be obliged to repeat the same thing? I tell you, we do not.
Philonous Have patience, good Hylas; and tell me once more, whether there is anything immediately perceived by the senses, except sensible qualities. I know you asserted there was not; but I would now be informed, whether you still persist in the same opinion.
Hylas I do.
Philonous Pray, is your corporeal substance either a sensible quality, or made up of sensible qualities?
Hylas What a question that is! who ever thought it was?
Philonous My reason for asking was, because in saying, EACH VISIBLE OBJECT HATH THAT color WHICH WE SEE IN IT, you make visible objects to be corporeal substances; which implies either that corporeal substances are sensible qualities, or else that there is something besides sensible qualities perceived by sight: but, as this point was formerly agreed between us, and is still maintained by you, it is a clear consequence, that your CORPOREAL SUBSTANCE is nothing distinct from SENSIBLE QUALITIES.
Hylas You may draw as many absurd consequences as you please, and endeavour to perplex the plainest things; but you shall never persuade me out of my senses. I clearly understand my own meaning.
Philonous I wish you would make me understand it too. But, since you are unwilling to have your notion of corporeal substance examined, I shall urge that point no farther. Only be pleased to let me know, whether the same colors which we see exist in external bodies, or some other.
Hylas The very same.
Philonous What! are then the beautiful red and purple we see on yonder clouds really in them? Or do you imagine they have in themselves any other form than that of a dark mist or vapour?
Hylas I must own, Philonous, those colors are not really in the clouds as they seem to be at this distance. They are only apparent colors.
Philonous APPARENT call you them? how shall we distinguish these apparent colors from real?
Hylas Very easily. Those are to be thought apparent which, appearing only at a distance, vanish upon a nearer approach.
Philonous And those, I suppose, are to be thought real which are discovered by the most near and exact survey.
Philonous Is the nearest and exactest survey made by the help of a microscope, or by the naked eye?
Hylas By a microscope, doubtless.
Philonous But a microscope often discovers colors in an object different from those perceived by the unassisted sight. And, in case we had microscopes magnifying to any assigned degree, it is certain that no object whatsoever, viewed through them, would appear in the same color which it exhibits to the naked eye.
Hylas And what will you conclude from all this? You cannot argue that there are really and naturally no colors on objects: because by artificial managements they may be altered, or made to vanish.
Philonous I think it may evidently be concluded from your own concessions, that all the colors we see with our naked eyes are only apparent as those on the clouds, since they vanish upon a more close and accurate inspection which is afforded us by a microscope. Then’ as to what you say by way of prevention: I ask you whether the real and natural state of an object is better discovered by a very sharp and piercing sight, or by one which is less sharp?
Hylas By the former without doubt.
Philonous Is it not plain from DIOPTRICS that microscopes make the sight more penetrating, and represent objects as they would appear to the eye in case it were naturally endowed with a most exquisite sharpness?
Hylas It is.
Philonous Consequently the microscopical representation is to be thought that which best sets forth the real nature of the thing, or what it is in itself. The colors, therefore, by it perceived are more genuine and real than those perceived otherwise.
Hylas I confess there is something in what you say.
Philonous Besides, it is not only possible but manifest, that there actually are animals whose eyes are by nature framed to perceive those things which by reason of their minuteness escape our sight. What think you of those inconceivably small animals perceived by glasses? must we suppose they are all stark blind? Or, in case they see, can it be imagined their sight hath not the same use in preserving their bodies from injuries, which appears in that of all other animals? And if it hath, is it not evident they must see particles less than their own bodies; which will present them with a far different view in each object from that which strikes our senses? Even our own eyes do not always represent objects to us after the same manner. In the jaundice every one knows that all things seem yellow. Is it not therefore highly probable those animals in whose eyes we discern a very different texture from that of ours, and whose bodies abound with different humours, do not see the same colors in every object that we do? From all which, should it not seem to follow that all colors are equally apparent, and that none of those which we perceive are really inherent in any outward object?
Hylas It should.
Philonous The point will be past all doubt, if you consider that, in case colors were real properties or affections inherent in external bodies, they could admit of no alteration without some change wrought in the very bodies themselves: but, is it not evident from what hath been said that, upon the use of microscopes, upon a change happening in the burnouts of the eye, or a variation of distance, without any manner of real alteration in the thing itself, the colors of any object are either changed, or totally disappear? Nay, all other circumstances remaining the same, change but the situation of some objects, and they shall present different colors to the eye. The same thing happens upon viewing an object in various degrees of light. And what is more known than that the same bodies appear differently colored by candle-light from what they do in the open day? Add to these the experiment of a prism which, separating the heterogeneous rays of light, alters the color of any object, and will cause the whitest to appear of a deep blue or red to the naked eye. And now tell me whether you are still of opinion that every body hath its true real color inhering in it; and, if you think it hath, I would fain know farther from you, what certain distance and position of the object, what peculiar texture and formation of the eye, what degree or kind of light is necessary for ascertaining that true color, and distinguishing it from apparent ones.
Hylas I own myself entirely satisfied, that they are all equally apparent, and that there is no such thing as color really inhering in external bodies, but that it is altogether in the light. And what confirms me in this opinion is, that in proportion to the light colors are still more or less vivid; and if there be no light, then are there no colors perceived. Besides, allowing there are colors on external objects, yet, how is it possible for us to perceive them? For no external body affects the mind, unless it acts first on our organs of sense. But the only action of bodies is motion; and motion cannot be communicated otherwise than by impulse. A distant object therefore cannot act on the eye; nor consequently make itself or its properties perceivable to the soul. Whence it plainly follows that it is immediately some contiguous substance, which, operating on the eye, occasions a perception of colors: and such is light.
Philonous Howl is light then a substance?
Hylas . I tell you, Philonous, external light is nothing but a thin fluid substance, whose minute particles being agitated with a brisk motion, and in various manners reflected from the different surfaces of outward objects to the eyes, communicate different motions to the optic nerves; which, being propagated to the brain, cause therein various impressions; and these are attended with the sensations of red, blue, yellow, &c.
Philonous It seems then the light doth no more than shake the optic nerves.
Hylas Nothing else.
Philonous And consequent to each particular motion of the nerves, the mind is affected with a sensation, which is some particular color.
Philonous And these sensations have no existence without the mind.
Hylas They have not.
Philonous How then do you affirm that colors are in the light; since by LIGHT you understand a corporeal substance external to the mind?
Hylas Light and colors, as immediately perceived by us, I grant cannot exist without the mind. But in themselves they are only the motions and configurations of certain insensible particles of matter.
Philonous colors then, in the vulgar sense, or taken for the immediate objects of sight, cannot agree to any but a perceiving substance.
Hylas That is what I say.
Philonous Well then, since you give up the point as to those sensible qualities which are alone thought colors by all mankind beside, you may hold what you please with regard to those invisible ones of the philosophers. It is not my business to dispute about THEM; only I would advise you to bethink yourself, whether, considering the inquiry we are upon, it be prudent for you to affirm–THE RED AND BLUE WHICH WE SEE ARE NOT REAL colorS, BUT CERTAIN UNKNOWN MOTIONS AND FIGURES WHICH NO MAN EVER DID OR CAN SEE ARE TRULY SO. Are not these shocking notions, and are not they subject to as many ridiculous inferences, as those you were obliged to renounce before in the case of sounds?
Hylas I frankly own, Philonous, that it is in vain to longer. colors, sounds, tastes, in a word all those termed SECONDARY QUALITIES, have certainly no existence without the mind. But by this acknowledgment I must not be supposed to derogate, the reality of Matter, or external objects; seeing it is no more than several philosophers maintain, who nevertheless are the farthest imaginable from denying Matter. For the clearer understanding of this, you must know sensible qualities are by philosophers divided into PRIMARY and SECONDARY. The former are Extension, Figure, Solidity, Gravity, Motion, and Rest; and these they hold exist really in bodies. The latter are those above enumerated; or, briefly, ALL SENSIBLE QUALITIES BESIDE THE PRIMARY; which they assert are only so many sensations or ideas existing nowhere but in the mind. But all this, I doubt not, you are apprised of. For my part, I have been a long time sensible there was such an opinion current among philosophers, but was never thoroughly convinced of its truth until now.
Philonous You are still then of opinion that EXTENSION and FIGURES are inherent in external unthinking substances?
Hylas I am.
Philonous But what if the same arguments which are brought against Secondary Qualities will hold good against these also?
Hylas Why then I shall be obliged to think, they too exist only in the mind.
Philonous Is it your opinion the very figure and extension which you perceive by sense exist in the outward object or material substance?
Hylas It is.
Philonous Have all other animals as good grounds to think the same of the figure and extension which they see and feel?
Hylas Without doubt, if they have any thought at all.
Philonous Answer me, Hylas. Think you the senses were bestowed upon all animals for their preservation and well-being in life? or were they given to men alone for this end?
Hylas I make no question but they have the same use in all other animals.
Philonous If so, is it not necessary they should be enabled by them to perceive their own limbs, and those bodies which are capable of harming them?
Philonous A mite therefore must be supposed to see his own foot, and things equal or even less than it, as bodies of some considerable dimension; though at the same time they appear to you scarce discernible, or at best as so many visible points?
Hylas I cannot deny it.
Philonous And to creatures less than the mite they will seem yet larger?
Hylas They will.
Philonous Insomuch that what you can hardly discern will to another extremely minute animal appear as some huge mountain?
Hylas All this I grant.
Philonous Can one and the same thing be at the same time in itself of different dimensions?
Hylas That were absurd to imagine.
Philonous But, from what you have laid down it follows that both the extension by you perceived, and that perceived by the mite itself, as likewise all those perceived by lesser animals, are each of them the true extension of the mite’s foot; that is to say, by your own principles you are led into an absurdity.
Hylas There seems to be some difficulty in the point.
Philonous Again, have you not acknowledged that no real inherent property of any object can be changed without some change in the thing itself?
Hylas I have.
Philonous But, as we approach to or recede from an object, the visible extension varies, being at one distance ten or a hundred times greater than another. Doth it not therefore follow from hence likewise that it is not really inherent in the object?
Hylas I own I am at a loss what to think.
Philonous Your judgment will soon be determined, if you will venture to think as freely concerning this quality as you have done concerning the rest. Was it not admitted as a good argument, that neither heat nor cold was in the water, because it seemed warm to one hand and cold to the other?
Hylas It was.
Philonous Is it not the very same reasoning to conclude, there is no extension or figure in an object, because to one eye it shall seem little, smooth, and round, when at the same time it appears to the other, great, uneven, and regular?
Hylas The very same. But does this latter fact ever happen?
Philonous You may at any time make the experiment, by looking with one eye bare, and with the other through a microscope.
Hylas I know not how to maintain it; and yet I am loath to give up EXTENSION, I see so many odd consequences following upon such a concession.
Philonous Odd, say you? After the concessions already made, I hope you will stick at nothing for its oddness. But, on the other hand, should it not seem very odd, if the general reasoning which includes all other sensible qualities did not also include extension? If it be allowed that no idea, nor anything like an idea, can exist in an unperceiving substance, then surely it follows that no figure, or mode of extension, which we can either perceive, or imagine, or have any idea of, can be really inherent in Matter; not to mention the peculiar difficulty there must be in conceiving a material substance, prior to and distinct from extension to be the SUBSTRATUM of extension. Be the sensible quality what it will–figure, or sound, or color, it seems alike impossible it should subsist in that which doth not perceive it.
Hylas I give up the point for the present, reserving still a right to retract my opinion, in case I shall hereafter discover any false step in my progress to it.
Philonous That is a right you cannot be denied. Figures and extension being despatched, we proceed next to MOTION. Can a real motion in any external body be at the same time very swift and very slow?
Hylas It cannot.
Philonous Is not the motion of a body swift in a reciprocal proportion to the time it takes up in describing any given space? Thus a body that describes a mile in an hour moves three times faster than it would in case it described only a mile in three hours.
Hylas I agree with you.
Philonous And is not time measured by the succession of ideas in our minds?
Hylas It is.
Philonous And is it not possible ideas should succeed one another twice as fast in your mind as they do in mine, or in that of some spirit of another kind?
Hylas I own it.
Philonous Consequently the same body may to another seem to perform its motion over any space in half the time that it doth to you. And the same reasoning will hold as to any other proportion: that is to say, according to your principles (since the motions perceived are both really in the object) it is possible one and the same body shall be really moved the same way at once, both very swift and very slow. How is this consistent either with common sense, or with what you just now granted?
Hylas I have nothing to say to it.
Philonous Then as for SOLIDITY; either you do not mean any sensible quality by that word, and so it is beside our inquiry: or if you do, it must be either hardness or resistance. But both the one and the other are plainly relative to our senses: it being evident that what seems hard to one animal may appear soft to another, who hath greater force and firmness of limbs. Nor is it less plain that the resistance I feel is not in the body.
Hylas I own the very SENSATION of resistance, which is all you immediately perceive, is not in the body; but the CAUSE of that sensation is.
Philonous But the causes of our sensations are not things immediately perceived, and therefore are not sensible. This point I thought had been already determined.
Hylas I own it was; but you will pardon me if I seem a little embarrassed: I know not how to quit my old notions.
Philonous To help you out, do but consider that if EXTENSION be once acknowledged to have no existence without the mind, the same must necessarily be granted of motion, solidity, and gravity; since they all evidently suppose extension. It is therefore superfluous to inquire particularly concerning each of them. In denying extension, you have denied them all to have any real existence.
Hylas I wonder, Philonous, if what you say be true, why those philosophers who deny the Secondary Qualities any real existence should yet attribute it to the Primary. If there is no difference between them, how can this be accounted for?
Philonous It is not my business to account for every opinion of the philosophers. But, among other reasons which may be assigned for this, it seems probable that pleasure and pain being rather annexed to the former than the latter may be one. Heat and cold, tastes and smells, have something more vividly pleasing or disagreeable than the ideas of extension, figure, and motion affect us with. And, it being too visibly absurd to hold that pain or pleasure can be in an unperceiving substance, men are more easily weaned from believing the external existence of the Secondary than the Primary Qualities. You will be satisfied there is something in this, if you recollect the difference you made between an intense and more moderate degree of heat; allowing the one a real existence, while you denied it to the other. But, after all, there is no rational ground for that distinction; for, surely an indifferent sensation is as truly a SENSATION as one more pleasing or painful; and consequently should not any more than they be supposed to exist in an unthinking subject.
Hylas It is just come into my head, Philonous, that I have somewhere heard of a distinction between absolute and sensible extension. Now, though it be acknowledged that GREAT and SMALL, consisting merely in the relation which other extended beings have to the parts of our own bodies, do not really inhere in the substances themselves; yet nothing obliges us to hold the same with regard to ABSOLUTE EXTENSION, which is something abstracted from GREAT and SMALL, from this or that particular magnitude or figure. So likewise as to motion; SWIFT and SLOW are altogether relative to the succession of ideas in our own minds. But, it doth not follow, because those modifications of motion exist not without the mind, that therefore absolute motion abstracted from them doth not.
Philonous Pray what is it that distinguishes one motion, or one part of extension, from another? Is it not something sensible, as some degree of swiftness or slowness, some certain magnitude or figure peculiar to each?
Hylas I think so.
Philonous These qualities, therefore, stripped of all sensible properties, are without all specific and numerical differences, as the schools call them.
Hylas They are.
Philonous That is to say, they are extension in general, and motion in general.
Hylas Let it be so.
Philonous But it is a universally received maxim that EVERYTHING WHICH EXISTS IS PARTICULAR. How then can motion in general, or extension in general, exist in any corporeal substance?
Hylas I will take time to solve your difficulty.
Philonous But I think the point may be speedily decided. Without doubt you can tell whether you are able to frame this or that idea. Now I am content to put our dispute on this issue. If you can frame in your thoughts a distinct ABSTRACT IDEA of motion or extension, divested of all those sensible modes, as swift and slow, great and small, round and square, and the like, which are acknowledged to exist only in the mind, I will then yield the point you contend for. But if you cannot, it will be unreasonable on your side to insist any longer upon what you have no notion of.
Hylas To confess ingenuously, I cannot.
Philonous Can you even separate the ideas of extension and motion from the ideas of all those qualities which they who make the distinction term SECONDARY?
Hylas What! is it not an easy matter to consider extension and motion by themselves, abstracted from all other sensible qualities? Pray how do the mathematicians treat of them?
Philonous I acknowledge, Hylas, it is not difficult to form general propositions and reasonings about those qualities, without mentioning any other; and, in this sense, to consider or treat of them abstractedly. But, how doth it follow that, because I can pronounce the word MOTION by itself, I can form the idea of it in my mind exclusive of body? or, because theorems may be made of extension and figures, without any mention of GREAT or SMALL, or any other sensible mode or quality, that therefore it is possible such an abstract idea of extension, without any particular size or figure, or sensible quality, should be distinctly formed, and apprehended by the mind? Mathematicians treat of quantity, without regarding what other sensible. qualities it is attended with, as being altogether indifferent to their demonstrations. But, when laying aside the words, they contemplate the bare ideas, I believe you will find, they are not the pure abstracted ideas of extension.
Hylas But what say you to PURE INTELLECT? May not abstracted ideas be framed by that faculty?
Philonous Since I cannot frame abstract ideas at all, it is plain I cannot frame them by the help of PURE INTELLECT; whatsoever faculty you understand by those words. Besides, not to inquire into the nature of pure intellect and its spiritual objects, as VIRTUE, REASON, GOD, or the like, thus much seems manifest–that sensible things are only to be perceived by sense, or represented by the imagination. Figures, therefore, and extension, being originally perceived by sense, do not belong to pure intellect: but, for your farther satisfaction, try if you can frame the idea of any figure, abstracted from all particularities of size, or even from other sensible qualities.
Hylas Let me think a little–I do not find that I can.
Philonous And can you think it possible that should really exist in nature which implies a repugnancy in its conception?
Hylas By no means.
Philonous Since therefore it is impossible even for the mind to disunite the ideas of extension and motion from all other sensible qualities, doth it not follow, that where the one exist there necessarily the other exist likewise?
Hylas It should seem so.
Philonous Consequently, the very same arguments which you admitted as conclusive against the Secondary Qualities are, without any farther application of force, against the Primary too. Besides, if you will trust your senses, is it not plain all sensible qualities coexist, or to them appear as being in the same place? Do they ever represent a motion, or figure, as being divested of all other visible and tangible qualities?
Hylas You need say no more on this head. I am free to own, if there be no secret error or oversight in our proceedings hitherto, that all sensible qualities are alike to be denied existence without the mind. But, my fear is that I have been too liberal in my former concessions, or overlooked some fallacy or other. In short, I did not take time to think.
Philonous For that matter, Hylas, you may take what time you please in reviewing the progress of our inquiry. You are at liberty to recover any slips you might have made, or offer whatever you have omitted which makes for your first opinion.
Hylas One great oversight I take to be this–that I did not sufficiently distinguish the OBJECT from the SENSATION. Now, though this latter may not exist without the mind, yet it will not thence follow that the former cannot.
Philonous What object do you mean? the object of the senses?
Hylas The same.
Philonous It is then immediately perceived?
Philonous Make me to understand the difference between what is immediately perceived and a sensation.
Hylas The sensation I take to be an act of the mind perceiving; besides which, there is something perceived; and this I call the OBJECT. For example, there is red and yellow on that tulip. But then the act of perceiving those colors is in me only, and not in the tulip.
Philonous What tulip do you speak of? Is it that which you see?
Hylas The same.
Philonous And what do you see beside color, figure, and extension?
Philonous What you would say then is that the red and yellow are coexistent with the extension; is it not?
Hylas That is not all; I would say they have a real existence without the mind, in some unthinking substance.
Philonous That the colors are really in the tulip which I see is manifest. Neither can it be denied that this tulip may exist independent of your mind or mine; but, that any immediate object of the senses,–that is, any idea, or combination of ideas– should exist in an unthinking substance, or exterior to ALL minds, is in itself an evident contradiction. Nor can I imagine how this follows from what you said just now, to wit, that the red and yellow were on the tulip you SAW, since you do not pretend to SEE that unthinking substance.
Hylas You have an artful way, Philonous, of diverting our inquiry from the subject.
Philonous I see you have no mind to be pressed that way. To return then to your distinction between SENSATION and OBJECT; if I take you right, you distinguish in every perception two things, the one an action of the mind, the other not.
Philonous And this action cannot exist in, or belong to, any unthinking thing; but, whatever beside is implied in a perception may?
Hylas That is my meaning.
Philonous So that if there was a perception without any act of the mind, it were possible such a perception should exist in an unthinking substance?
Hylas I grant it. But it is impossible there should be such a perception.
Philonous When is the mind said to be active?
Hylas When it produces, puts an end to, or changes, anything.
Philonous Can the mind produce, discontinue, or change anything, but by an act of the will?
Hylas It cannot.
Philonous The mind therefore is to be accounted ACTIVE in its perceptions so far forth as VOLITION is included in them?
Hylas It is.
Philonous In plucking this flower I am active; because I do it by the motion of my hand, which was consequent upon my volition; so likewise in applying it to my nose. But is either of these smelling?
Philonous I act too in drawing the air through my nose; because my breathing so rather than otherwise is the effect of my volition. But neither can this be called SMELLING: for, if it were, I should smell every time I breathed in that manner?
Philonous Smelling then is somewhat consequent to all this?
Hylas It is.
Philonous But I do not find my will concerned any farther. Whatever more there is–as that I perceive such a particular smell, or any smell at all–this is independent of my will, and therein I am altogether passive. Do you find it otherwise with you, Hylas?
Hylas No, the very same.
Philonous Then, as to seeing, is it not in your power to open your eyes, or keep them shut; to turn them this or that way?
Hylas Without doubt.
Philonous But, doth it in like manner depend on YOUR will that in looking on this flower you perceive WHITE rather than any other color? Or, directing your open eyes towards yonder part of the heaven, can you avoid seeing the sun? Or is light or darkness the effect of your volition?
Hylas No, certainly.
Philonous You are then in these respects altogether passive?
Hylas I am.
Philonous Tell me now, whether SEEING consists in perceiving light and colors, or in opening and turning the eyes?
Hylas Without doubt, in the former.
Philonous Since therefore you are in the very perception of light and colors altogether passive, what is become of that action you were speaking of as an ingredient in every sensation? And, doth it not follow from your own concessions, that the perception of light and colors, including no action in it, may exist in an unperceiving substance? And is not this a plain contradiction?
Hylas I know not what to think of it.
Philonous Besides, since you distinguish the ACTIVE and PASSIVE in every perception, you must do it in that of pain. But how is it possible that pain, be it as little active as you please, should exist in an unperceiving substance? In short, do but consider the point, and then confess ingenuously, whether light and colors, tastes, sounds, &c. are not all equally passions or sensations in the soul. You may indeed call them EXTERNAL OBJECTS, and give them in words what subsistence you please. But, examine your own thoughts, and then tell me whether it be not as I say?
Hylas I acknowledge, Philonous, that, upon a fair observation of what passes in my mind, I can discover nothing else but that I am a thinking being, affected with variety of sensations; neither is it possible to conceive how a sensation should exist in an unperceiving substance. But then, on the other hand, when I look on sensible things in a different view, considering them as so many modes and qualities, I find it necessary to suppose a MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM, without which they cannot be conceived to exist.
Philonous MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM call you it? Pray, by which of your senses came you acquainted with that being?
Hylas It is not itself sensible; its modes and qualities only being perceived by the senses.
Philonous I presume then it was by reflexion and reason you obtained the idea of it?
Hylas I do not pretend to any proper positive IDEA of it. However, I conclude it exists, because qualities cannot be conceived to exist without a support.
Philonous It seems then you have only a relative NOTION of it, or that you conceive it not otherwise than by conceiving the relation it bears to sensible qualities?
Philonous Be pleased therefore to let me know wherein that relation consists.
Hylas Is it not sufficiently expressed in the term SUBSTRATUM, or SUBSTANCE?
Philonous If so, the word SUBSTRATUM should import that it is spread under the sensible qualities or accidents?
Philonous And consequently under extension?
Hylas I own it.
Philonous It is therefore somewhat in its own nature entirely distinct from extension?
Hylas I tell you, extension is only a mode, and Matter is something that supports modes. And is it not evident the thing supported is different from the thing supporting?
Philonous So that something distinct from, and exclusive of, extension is supposed to be the SUBSTRATUM of extension?
Hylas Just so.
Philonous Answer me, Hylas. Can a thing be spread without extension? or is not the idea of extension necessarily included in SPREADING?
Hylas It is.
Philonous Whatsoever therefore you suppose spread under anything must have in itself an extension distinct from the extension of that thing under which it is spread?
Hylas It must.
Philonous Consequently, every corporeal substance, being the SUBSTRATUM of extension, must have in itself another extension, by which it is qualified to be a SUBSTRATUM: and so on to infinity. And I ask whether this be not absurd in itself, and repugnant to what you granted just now, to wit, that the SUBSTRATUM was something distinct from and exclusive of extension?
Hylas Aye but, Philonous, you take me wrong. I do not mean that Matter is SPREAD in a gross literal sense under extension. The word SUBSTRATUM is used only to express in general the same thing with SUBSTANCE.
Philonous Well then, let us examine the relation implied in the term SUBSTANCE. Is it not that it stands under accidents?
Hylas The very same.
Philonous But, that one thing may stand under or support another, must it not be extended?
Hylas It must.
Philonous Is not therefore this supposition liable to the same absurdity with the former?
Hylas You still take things in a strict literal sense. That is not fair, Philonous.
Philonous I am not for imposing any sense on your words: you are at liberty to explain them as you please. Only, I beseech you, make me understand something by them. You tell me Matter supports or stands under accidents. How! is it as your legs support your body?
Hylas No; that is the literal sense.
Philonous Pray let me know any sense, literal or not literal, that you understand it in.–How long must I wait for an answer, Hylas?
Hylas I declare I know not what to say. I once thought I understood well enough what was meant by Matter’s supporting accidents. But now, the more I think on it the less can I comprehend it: in short I find that I know nothing of it.
Philonous It seems then you have no idea at all, neither relative nor positive, of Matter; you know neither what it is in itself, nor what relation it bears to accidents?
Hylas I acknowledge it.
Philonous And yet you asserted that you could not conceive how qualities or accidents should really exist, without conceiving at the same time a material support of them?
Hylas I did.
Philonous That is to say, when you conceive the real existence of qualities, you do withal conceive Something which you cannot conceive?
Hylas It was wrong, I own. But still I fear there is some fallacy or other. Pray what think you of this? It is just come into my head that the ground of all our mistake lies in your treating of each quality by itself. Now, I grant that each quality cannot singly subsist without the mind. color cannot without extension, neither can figure without some other sensible quality. But, as the several qualities united or blended together form entire sensible things, nothing hinders why such things may not be supposed to exist without the mind.
Philonous Either, Hylas, you are jesting, or have a very bad memory. Though indeed we went through all the qualities by name one after another, yet my arguments or rather your concessions, nowhere tended to prove that the Secondary Qualities did not subsist each alone by itself; but, that they were not AT ALL without the mind. Indeed, in treating of figure and motion we concluded they could not exist without the mind, because it was impossible even in thought to separate them from all secondary qualities, so as to conceive them existing by themselves. But then this was not the only argument made use of upon that occasion. But (to pass by all that hath been hitherto said, and reckon it for nothing, if you will have it so) I am content to put the whole upon this issue. If you can conceive it possible for any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object whatever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so.
Hylas If it comes to that the point will soon be decided. What more easy than to conceive a tree or house existing by itself, independent of, and unperceived by, any mind whatsoever? I do at this present time conceive them existing after that manner.
Philonous How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time unseen?
Hylas No, that were a contradiction.
Philonous Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of CONCEIVING a thing which is UNCONCEIVED?
Hylas It is.
Philonous The, tree or house therefore which you think of is conceived by you?
Hylas How should it be otherwise?
Philonous And what is conceived is surely in the mind?
Hylas Without question, that which is conceived is in the mind.
Philonous How then came you to say, you conceived a house or tree existing independent and out of all minds whatsoever?
Hylas That was I own an oversight; but stay, let me consider what led me into it.–It is a pleasant mistake enough. As I was thinking of a tree in a solitary place, where no one was present to see it, methought that was to conceive a tree as existing unperceived or unthought of; not considering that I myself conceived it all the while. But now I plainly see that all I can do is to frame ideas in my own mind. I may indeed conceive in my own thoughts the idea of a tree, or a house, or a mountain, but that is all. And this is far from proving that I can conceive them EXISTING OUT OF THE MINDS OF ALL SPIRITS.
Philonous You acknowledge then that you cannot possibly conceive how any one corporeal sensible thing should exist otherwise than in the mind?
Hylas I do.
Philonous And yet you will earnestly contend for the truth of that which you cannot so much as conceive?
Hylas I profess I know not what to think; but still there are some scruples remain with me. Is it not certain I SEE THINGS at a distance? Do we not perceive the stars and moon, for example, to be a great way off? Is not this, I say, manifest to the senses?
Philonous Do you not in a dream too perceive those or the like objects?
Hylas I do.
Philonous And have they not then the same appearance of being distant?
Hylas They have.
Philonous But you do not thence conclude the apparitions in a dream to be without the mind?
Hylas By no means.
Philonous You ought not therefore to conclude that sensible objects are without the mind, from their appearance, or manner wherein they are perceived.
Hylas I acknowledge it. But doth not my sense deceive me in those cases?
Philonous By no means. The idea or thing which you immediately perceive, neither sense nor reason informs you that it actually exists without the mind. By sense you only know that you are affected with such certain sensations of light and colors, &c. And these you will not say are without the mind.
Hylas True: but, beside all that, do you not think the sight suggests something of OUTNESS OR DISTANCE?
Philonous Upon approaching a distant object, do the visible size and figure change perpetually, or do they appear the same at all distances?
Hylas They are in a continual change.
Philonous Sight therefore doth not suggest, or any way inform you, that the visible object you immediately perceive exists at a distance, or will be perceived when you advance farther onward; there being a continued series of visible objects succeeding each other during the whole time of your approach.
Hylas It doth not; but still I know, upon seeing an object, what object I shall perceive after having passed over a certain distance: no matter whether it be exactly the same or no: there is still something of distance suggested in the case.
Philonous Good Hylas, do but reflect a little on the point, and then tell me whether there be any more in it than this: from the ideas you actually perceive by sight, you have by experience learned to collect what other ideas you will (according to the standing order of nature) be affected with, after such a certain succession of time and motion.
Hylas Upon the whole, I take it to be nothing else.
Philonous Now, is it not plain that if we suppose a man born blind was on a sudden made to see, he could at first have no experience of what may be SUGGESTED by sight?
Hylas It is.
Philonous He would not then, according to you, have any notion of distance annexed to the things he saw; but would take them for a new set of sensations, existing only in his mind?
Hylas It is undeniable.
Philonous But, to make it still more plain: is not DISTANCE a line turned endwise to the eye?
Hylas It is.
Philonous And can a line so situated be perceived by sight?
Hylas It cannot.
Philonous Doth it not therefore follow that distance is not properly and immediately perceived by sight?
Hylas It should seem so.
Philonous Again, is it your opinion that colors are at a distance?
Hylas It must be acknowledged they are only in the mind.
Philonous But do not colors appear to the eye as coexisting in the same place with extension and figures?
Hylas They do.
Philonous How can you then conclude from sight that figures exist without, when you acknowledge colors do not; the sensible appearance being the very same with regard to both?
Hylas I know not what to answer.
Philonous But, allowing that distance was truly and immediately perceived by the mind, yet it would not thence follow it existed out of the mind. For, whatever is immediately perceived is an idea: and can any idea exist out of the mind?
Hylas To suppose that were absurd: but, inform me, Philonous, can we perceive or know nothing beside our ideas?
Philonous As for the rational deducing of causes from effects, that is beside our inquiry. And, by the senses you can best tell whether you perceive anything which is not immediately perceived. And I ask you, whether the things immediately perceived are other than your own sensations or ideas? You have indeed more than once, in the course of this conversation, declared yourself on those points; but you seem, by this last question, to have departed from what you then thought.
Hylas To speak the truth, Philonous, I think there are two kinds of objects:–the one perceived immediately, which are likewise called IDEAS; the other are real things or external objects, perceived by the mediation of ideas, which are their images and representations. Now, I own ideas do not exist without the mind; but the latter sort of objects do. I am sorry I did not think of this distinction sooner; it would probably have cut short your discourse.
Philonous Are those external objects perceived by sense or by some other faculty?
Hylas They are perceived by sense.
Philonous Howl Is there any thing perceived by sense which is not immediately perceived?
Hylas Yes, Philonous, in some sort there is. For example, when I look on a picture or statue of Julius Caesar, I may be said after a manner to perceive him (though not immediately) by my senses.
Philonous It seems then you will have our ideas, which alone are immediately perceived, to be pictures of external things: and that these also are perceived by sense, inasmuch as they have a conformity or resemblance to our ideas?
Hylas That is my meaning.
Philonous And, in the same way that Julius Caesar, in himself invisible, is nevertheless perceived by sight; real things, in themselves imperceptible, are perceived by sense.
Hylas In the very same.
Philonous Tell me, Hylas, when you behold the picture of Julius Caesar, do you see with your eyes any more than some colors and figures, with a certain symmetry and composition of the whole?
Hylas Nothing else.
Philonous And would not a man who had never known anything of Julius Caesar see as much?
Hylas He would.
Philonous Consequently he hath his sight, and the use of it, in as perfect a degree as you?
Hylas I agree with you.
Philonous Whence comes it then that your thoughts are directed to the Roman emperor, and his are not? This cannot proceed from the sensations or ideas of sense by you then perceived; since you acknowledge you have no advantage over him in that respect. It should seem therefore to proceed from reason and memory: should it not?
Hylas It should.
Philonous Consequently, it will not follow from that instance that anything is perceived by sense which is not, immediately perceived. Though I grant we may, in one acceptation, be said to perceive sensible things mediately by sense: that is, when, from a frequently perceived connexion, the immediate perception of ideas by one sense SUGGESTS to the mind others, perhaps belonging to another sense, which are wont to be connected with them. For instance, when I hear a coach drive along the streets, immediately I perceive only the sound; but, from the experience I have had that such a sound is connected with a coach, I am said to hear the coach. It is nevertheless evident that, in truth and strictness, nothing can be HEARD BUT SOUND; and the coach is not then properly perceived by sense, but suggested from experience. So likewise when we are said to see a red-hot bar of iron; the solidity and heat of the iron are not the objects of sight, but suggested to the imagination by the color and figure which are properly perceived by that sense. In short, those things alone are actually and strictly perceived by any sense, which would have been perceived in case that same sense had then been first conferred on us. As for other things, it is plain they are only suggested to the mind by experience, grounded on former perceptions. But, to return to your comparison of Caesar’s picture, it is plain, if you keep to that, you must hold the real things, or archetypes of our ideas, are not perceived by sense, but by some internal faculty of the soul, as reason or memory. I would therefore fain know what arguments you can draw from reason for the existence of what you call REAL THINGS OR MATERIAL OBJECTS. Or, whether you remember to have seen them formerly as they are in themselves; or, if you have heard or read of any one that did.
Hylas I see, Philonous, you are disposed to raillery; but that will never convince me.
Philonous My aim is only to learn from you the way to come at the knowledge of MATERIAL BEINGS. Whatever we perceive is perceived immediately or mediately: by sense, or by reason and reflexion. But, as you have excluded sense, pray shew me what reason you have to believe their existence; or what MEDIUM you can possibly make use of to prove it, either to mine or your own understanding.
Hylas To deal ingenuously, Philonous, now I consider the point, I do not find I can give you any good reason for it. But, thus much seems pretty plain, that it is at least possible such things may really exist. And, as long as there is no absurdity in supposing them, I am resolved to believe as I did, till you bring good reasons to the contrary.
Philonous What! Is it come to this, that you only BELIEVE the existence of material objects, and that your belief is founded barely on the possibility of its being true? Then you will have me bring reasons against it: though another would think it reasonable the proof should lie on him who holds the affirmative. And, after all, this very point which you are now resolved to maintain, without any reason, is in effect what you have more than once during this discourse seen good reason to give up. But, to pass over all this; if I understand you rightly, you say our ideas do not exist without the mind, but that they are copies, images, or representations, of certain originals that do?
Hylas You take me right.
Philonous They are then like external things?
Hylas They are.
Philonous Have those things a stable and permanent nature, independent of our senses; or are they in a perpetual change, upon our producing any motions in our bodies–suspending, exerting, or altering, our faculties or organs of sense?
Hylas Real things, it is plain, have a fixed and real nature, which remains the same notwithstanding any change in our senses, or in the posture and motion of our bodies; which indeed may affect the ideas in our minds, but it were absurd to think they had the same effect on things existing without the mind.
Philonous How then is it possible that things perpetually fleeting and variable as our ideas should be copies or images of anything fixed and constant? Or, in other words, since all sensible qualities, as size, figure, color, &c., that is, our ideas, are continually changing, upon every alteration in the distance, medium, or instruments of sensation; how can any determinate material objects be properly represented or painted forth by several distinct things, each of which is so different from and unlike the rest? Or, if you say it resembles some one only of our ideas, how shall we be able to distinguish the true copy from all the false ones?
Hylas I profess, Philonous, I am at a loss. I know not what to say to this.
Philonous But neither is this all. Which are material objects in themselves–perceptible or imperceptible?
Hylas Properly and immediately nothing can be perceived but ideas. All material things, therefore, are in themselves insensible, and to be perceived only by our ideas.
Philonous Ideas then are sensible, and their archetypes or originals insensible?
Philonous But how can that which is sensible be like that which is insensible? Can a real thing, in itself INVISIBLE, be like a color; or a real thing, which is not AUDIBLE, be like a SOUND? In a word, can anything be like a sensation or idea, but another sensation or idea?
Hylas I must own, I think not.
Philonous Is it possible there should be any doubt on the point? Do. you not perfectly know your own ideas?
Hylas I know them perfectly; since what I do not perceive or know can be no part of my idea.
Philonous Consider, therefore, and examine them, and then tell me if there be anything in them which can exist without the mind: or if you can conceive anything like them existing without the mind.
Hylas Upon inquiry, I find it is impossible for me to conceive or understand how anything but an idea can be like an idea. And it is most evident that NO IDEA CAN EXIST WITHOUT THE MIND.
Philonous You are therefore, by your principles, forced to deny the REALITY of sensible things; since you made it to consist in an absolute existence exterior to the mind. That is to say, you are a downright sceptic. So I have gained my point, which was to shew your principles led to Scepticism.
Hylas For the present I am, if not entirely convinced, at least silenced.
Philonous I would fain know what more you would require in order to a perfect conviction. Have you not had the liberty of explaining yourself all manner of ways? Were any little slips in discourse laid hold and insisted on? Or were you not allowed to retract or reinforce anything you had offered, as best served your purpose? Hath not everything you could say been heard and examined with all the fairness imaginable? In a word have you not in every point been convinced out of your own mouth? And, if you can at present discover any flaw in any of your former concessions, or think of any remaining subterfuge, any new distinction, color, or comment whatsoever, why do you not produce it?
Hylas A little patience, Philonous. I am at present so amazed to see myself ensnared, and as it were imprisoned in the labyrinths you have drawn me into, that on the sudden it cannot be expected I should find my way out. You must give me time to look about me and recollect myself.
Philonous Hark; is not this the college bell?
Hylas It rings for prayers.
Philonous We will go in then, if you please, and meet here again tomorrow morning. In the meantime, you may employ your thoughts on this morning’s discourse, and try if you can find any fallacy in it, or invent any new means to extricate yourself.
The Second Dialogue
Hylas I beg your pardon, Philonous, for not meeting you sooner. All this morning my head was so filled with our late conversation that I had not leisure to think of the time of the day, or indeed of anything else.
PHILONOUS. I am glad you were so intent upon it, in hopes if there were any mistakes in your concessions, or fallacies in my reasonings from them, you will now discover them to me.
Hylas I assure you I have done nothing ever since I saw you but search after mistakes and fallacies, and, with that view, have minutely examined the whole series of yesterday’s discourse: but all in vain, for the notions it led me into, upon review, appear still more clear and evident; and, the more I consider them, the more irresistibly do they force my assent.
Philonous And is not this, think you, a sign that they are genuine, that they proceed from nature, and are conformable to right reason? Truth and beauty are in this alike, that the strictest survey sets them both off to advantage; while the false lustre of error and disguise cannot endure being reviewed, or too nearly inspected.
Hylas I own there is a great deal in what you say. Nor can any one be more entirely satisfied of the truth of those odd consequences, so long as I have in view the reasonings that lead to them. But, when these are out of my thoughts, there seems, on the other hand, something so satisfactory, so natural and intelligible, in the modern way of explaining things that, I profess, I know not how to reject it.
Philonous I know not what way you mean.
Hylas I mean the way of accounting for our sensations or ideas.
Philonous How is that?
Hylas It is supposed the soul makes her residence in some part of the brain, from which the nerves take their rise, and are thence extended to all parts of the body; and that outward objects, by the different impressions they make on the organs of sense, communicate certain vibrative motions to the nerves; and these being filled with spirits propagate them to the brain or seat of the soul, which, according to the various impressions or traces thereby made in the brain, is variously affected with ideas.
Philonous And call you this an explication of the manner whereby we are affected with ideas?
Hylas Why not, Philonous? Have you anything to object against it?
Philonous I would first know whether I rightly understand your hypothesis. You make certain traces in the brain to be the causes or occasions of our ideas. Pray tell me whether by the BRAIN you mean any sensible thing.
Hylas What else think you I could mean?
Philonous Sensible things are all immediately perceivable; and those things which are immediately perceivable are ideas; and these exist only in the mind. Thus much you have, if I mistake not, long since agreed to.
Hylas I do not deny it.
Philonous The brain therefore you speak of, being a sensible thing, exists only in the mind. Now, I would fain know whether you think it reasonable to suppose that one idea or thing existing in the mind occasions all other ideas. And, if you think so, pray how do you account for the origin of that primary idea or brain itself?
Hylas I do not explain the origin of our ideas by that brain which is perceivable to sense–this being itself only a combination of sensible ideas–but by another which I imagine.
Philonous But are not things imagined as truly IN THE MIND as things perceived?
Hylas I must confess they are.
Philonous It comes, therefore, to the same thing; and you have been all this while accounting for ideas by certain motions or impressions of the brain; that is, by some alterations in an idea, whether sensible or imaginable it matters not.
Hylas I begin to suspect my hypothesis.
Philonous Besides spirits, all that we know or conceive are our own ideas. When, therefore, you say all ideas are occasioned by impressions in the brain, do you conceive this brain or no? If you do, then you talk of ideas imprinted in an idea causing that same idea, which is absurd. If you do not conceive it, you talk unintelligibly, instead of forming a reasonable hypothesis.
Hylas I now clearly see it was a mere dream. There is nothing in it.
Philonous You need not be much concerned at it; for after all, this way of explaining things, as you called it, could never have satisfied any reasonable man. What connexion is there between a motion in the nerves, and the sensations of sound or color in the mind? Or how is it possible these should be the effect of that?
Hylas But I could never think it had so little in it as now it seems to have.
Philonous Well then, are you at length satisfied that no sensible things have a real existence; and that you are in truth an arrant sceptic?
Hylas It is too plain to be denied.
Philonous Look! are not the fields covered with a delightful verdure? Is there not something in the woods and groves, in the rivers and clear springs, that soothes, that delights, that transports the soul? At the prospect of the wide and deep ocean, or some huge mountain whose top is lost in the clouds, or of an old gloomy forest, are not our minds filled with a pleasing horror? Even in rocks and deserts is there not an agreeable wildness? How sincere a pleasure is it to behold the natural beauties of the earth! To preserve and renew our, relish for them, is not the veil of night alternately drawn over her face, and doth she not change her dress with the seasons? How aptly are the elements disposed! What variety and use in the meanest productions of nature! What delicacy, what beauty, what contrivance, in animal and vegetable bodies I How exquisitely are all things suited, as well to their particular ends, as to constitute opposite parts of the whole I And, while they mutually aid and support, do they not also set off and illustrate each other? Raise now your thoughts from this ball of earth to all those glorious luminaries that adorn the high arch of heaven. The motion and situation of the planets, are they not admirable for use and order? Were those (miscalled ERRATIC) globes once known to stray, in their repeated journeys through the pathless void? Do they not measure areas round the sun ever proportioned to the times? So fixed, so immutable are the laws by which the unseen Author of nature actuates the universe. How vivid and radiant is the lustre of the fixed stars! How magnificent and rich that negligent profusion with which they appear to be scattered throughout the whole azure vault! Yet, if you take the telescope, it brings into your sight a new host of stars that escape the naked eye. Here they seem contiguous and minute, but to a nearer view immense orbs of fight at various distances, far sunk in the abyss of space. Now you must call imagination to your aid. The feeble narrow sense cannot descry innumerable worlds revolving round the central fires; and in those worlds the energy of an all-perfect Mind displayed in endless forms. But, neither sense nor imagination are big enough to comprehend the boundless extent, with all its glittering furniture. Though the labouring mind exert and strain each power to its utmost reach, there still stands out ungrasped a surplusage immeasurable. Yet all the vast bodies that compose this mighty frame, how distant and remote soever, are by some secret mechanism, some Divine art and force, linked in a mutual dependence and intercourse with each other; even with this earth, which was almost slipt from my thoughts and lost in the crowd of worlds. Is not the whole system immense, beautiful, glorious beyond expression and beyond thought! What treatment, then, do those philosophers deserve, who would deprive these noble and delightful scenes of all REALITY? How should those Principles be entertained that lead us to think all the visible beauty of the creation a false imaginary glare? To be plain, can you expect this Scepticism of yours will not be thought extravagantly absurd by all men of sense?
Hylas Other men may think as they please; but for your part you have nothing to reproach me with. My comfort is, you are as much a sceptic as I am.
Philonous There, Hylas, I must beg leave to differ from you.
Hylas What! Have you all along agreed to the premises, and do you now deny the conclusion, and leave me to maintain those paradoxes by myself which you led me into? This surely is not fair.
Philonous _I_ deny that I agreed with you in those notions that led to Scepticism. You indeed said the REALITY of sensible things consisted in AN ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE OUT OF THE MINDS OF SPIRITS, or distinct from their being perceived. And pursuant to this notion of reality, YOU are obliged to deny sensible things any real existence: that is, according to your own definition, you profess yourself a sceptic. But I neither said nor thought the reality of sensible things was to be defined after that manner. To me it is evident for the reasons you allow of, that sensible things cannot exist otherwise than in a mind or spirit. Whence I conclude, not that they have no real existence, but that, seeing they depend not on my thought, and have all existence distinct from being perceived by me, THERE MUST BE SOME OTHER MIND WHEREIN THEY EXIST. As sure, therefore, as the sensible world really exists, so sure is there an infinite omnipresent Spirit who contains and supports it.
Hylas What! This is no more than I and all Christians hold; nay, and all others too who believe there is a God, and that He knows and comprehends all things.
Philonous Aye, but here lies the difference. Men commonly believe that all things are known or perceived by God, because they believe the being of a God; whereas I, on the other side, immediately and necessarily conclude the being of a God, because all sensible things must be perceived by Him.
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The text was taken from the following work.
George Berkeley, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists (Urbana, IL: Project Gutenberg, 2009), http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4724/pg4724.txt.
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