in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, by George Berkeley
#3 in our series by George Berkeley
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Title: Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,
in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists
Author: George Berkeley
Release Date: Secember, 2003 [Etext #4724]
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THREE DIALOGUES BETWEEN HYLAS AND PHILONOUS,
IN OPPOSITION TO SCEPTICS AND ATHEISTS
by George Berkeley (1685-1753)
THE FIRST DIALOGUE
PHILONOUS. Good morrow, Hylas: I did not expect to find you abroad so
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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. With all my heart, it is what I should have requested myself if
you had not prevented me.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I am glad to find there was nothing in the accounts I heard of you.
PHIL. Pray, what were those?
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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?
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Well then, are you content to admit that opinion for true, which
upon examination shall appear most agreeable to Common Sense, and remote
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, what do you mean by a SCEPTIC?
HYL. I mean what all men mean--one that doubts of everything.
PHIL. He then who entertains no doubts concerning some particular
point, with regard to that point cannot be thought a sceptic.
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. Whether doth doubting consist in embracing the affirmative or
negative side of a question?
HYL. In neither; for whoever understands English cannot but know that
DOUBTING signifies a suspense between both.
PHIL. 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.
PHIL. And, consequently, for such his denial is no more to be esteemed
a sceptic than the other.
HYL. I acknowledge it.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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?
PHIL. 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
HYL. That is what I desire.
PHIL. What mean you by Sensible Things?
HYL. Those things which are perceived by the senses. Can you imagine
that I mean anything else?
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I do not sufficiently understand you.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. It seems then, that by SENSIBLE THINGS you mean those only
which can be perceived IMMEDIATELY by sense?
PHIL. 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 colours, yet that
cause cannot be said to be a sensible thing, or perceived by the sense of
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. In like manner, though I hear variety of sounds, yet I cannot be
said to hear the causes of those sounds?
HYL. You cannot.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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 colours, 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.
HYL. We do not.
PHIL. It seems, therefore, that if you take away all sensible
qualities, there remains nothing sensible?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. Sensible things therefore are nothing else but so many
sensible qualities, or combinations of sensible qualities?
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. HEAT then is a sensible thing?
PHIL. 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?
HYL. To EXIST is one thing, and to be PERCEIVED is another.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and without any
relation to, their being perceived.
PHIL. Heat therefore, if it be allowed a real being, must exist without
HYL. It must.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be sure the
same exists in the object that occasions it.
PHIL. What! the greatest as well as the least?
HYL. _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.
PHIL. But is not the most vehement and intense degree of heat a very
HYL. No one can deny it.
PHIL. And is any unperceiving thing capable of pain or pleasure?
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. Is your material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed
with sense and perception?
HYL. It is senseless without doubt.
PHIL. It cannot therefore be the subject of pain?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. Nor consequently of the greatest heat perceived by sense, since
you acknowledge this to be no small pain?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. What shall we say then of your external object; is it a material
Substance, or no?
HYL. It is a material substance with the sensible qualities inhering in
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Upon putting your hand near the fire, do you perceive one simple
uniform sensation, or two distinct sensations?
HYL. But one simple sensation.
PHIL. Is not the heat immediately perceived?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And the pain?
PHIL. 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
HYL. It seems so.
PHIL. Again, try in your thoughts, Hylas, if you can conceive a
vehement sensation to be without pain or pleasure.
HYL. I cannot.
PHIL. Or can you frame to yourself an idea of sensible pain or pleasure
in general, abstracted from every particular idea of heat, cold, tastes,
HYL. I do not find that I can.
PHIL. Doth it not therefore follow, that sensible pain is nothing
distinct from those sensations or ideas, in an intense degree?
HYL. It is undeniable; and, to speak the truth, I begin to suspect a
very great heat cannot exist but in a mind perceiving it.
PHIL. What! are you then in that sceptical state of suspense, between
affirming and denying?
HYL. I think I may be positive in the point. A very violent and painful
heat cannot exist without the mind.
PHIL. It hath not therefore according to you, any REAL being?
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. Is it therefore certain, that there is no body in nature really
HYL. I have not denied there is any real heat in bodies. I only say,
there is no such thing as an intense real heat.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. But how shall we be able to discern those degrees of heat which
exist only in the mind from those which exist without it?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. I think you granted before that no unperceiving being was capable
of pleasure, any more than of pain.
HYL. I did.
PHIL. And is not warmth, or a more gentle degree of heat than what
causes uneasiness, a pleasure?
HYL. What then?
PHIL. Consequently, it cannot exist without the mind in an unperceiving
substance, or body.
HYL. So it seems.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. _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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. They must.
PHIL. Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man into an
HYL. Without doubt it cannot.
PHIL. Is it not an absurdity to think that the same thing should be at
the same time both cold and warm?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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
HYL. It will.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I confess it seems so.
PHIL. Consequently, the principles themselves are false, since you have
granted that no true principle leads to an absurdity.
HYL. But, after all, can anything be more absurd than to say, THERE IS
NO HEAT IN THE FIRE?
PHIL. To make the point still clearer; tell me whether, in two cases
exactly alike, we ought not to make the same judgment?
HYL. We ought.
PHIL. When a pin pricks your finger, doth it not rend and divide the
fibres of your flesh?
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. And when a coal burns your finger, doth it any more?
HYL. It doth not.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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?
HYL. Then indeed you will have done something to the purpose; but that
is what I despair of seeing proved.
PHIL. Let us examine them in order. What think you of TASTES, do they
exist without the mind, or no?
HYL. Can any man in his senses doubt whether sugar is sweet, or
PHIL. Inform me, Hylas. Is a sweet taste a particular kind of pleasure
or pleasant sensation, or is it not?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And is not bitterness some kind of uneasiness or pain?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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?
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I acknowledge I know not how.
PHIL. 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
HYL. They are.
PHIL. Can you then conceive it possible that they should exist in an
HYL. I cannot.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I think so.
PHIL. Then as to SOUNDS, what must we think of them: are they
accidents really inherent in external bodies, or not?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. What reason is there for that, Hylas?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. What! is sound then a sensation?
HYL. I tell you, as perceived by us, it is a particular sensation in
PHIL. And can any sensation exist without the mind?
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. How then can sound, being a sensation, exist in the air, if by
the AIR you mean a senseless substance existing without the mind?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I am.
PHIL. Whatever therefore agrees to real sound, may with truth be
attributed to motion?
HYL. It may.
PHIL. It is then good sense to speak of MOTION as of a thing that is
LOUD, SWEET, ACUTE, or GRAVE.
HYL. _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?
PHIL. It seems then there are two sorts of sound--the one vulgar, or
that which is heard, the other philosophical and real?
HYL. Even so.
PHIL. And the latter consists in motion?
HYL. I told you so before.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, to which of the senses, think you, the idea of
motion belongs? to the hearing?
HYL. No, certainly; but to the sight and touch.
PHIL. It should follow then, that, according to you, real sounds may
possibly be SEEN OR FELT, but never HEARD.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. And I hope you will make no difficulty to acknowledge the same of
HYL. Pardon me: the case of colours is very different. Can anything be
plainer than that we see them on the objects?
PHIL. The objects you speak of are, I suppose, corporeal Substances
existing without the mind?
HYL. They are.
PHIL. And have true and real colours inhering in them?
HYL. Each visible object hath that colour which we see in it.
PHIL. How! is there anything visible but what we perceive by sight?
HYL. There is not.
PHIL. And, do we perceive anything by sense which we do not perceive
HYL. How often must I be obliged to repeat the same thing? I tell you,
we do not.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I do.
PHIL. Pray, is your corporeal substance either a sensible quality, or
made up of sensible qualities?
HYL. What a question that is! who ever thought it was?
PHIL. My reason for asking was, because in saying, EACH VISIBLE OBJECT
HATH THAT COLOUR 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
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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 colours which we see exist in external bodies, or some other.
HYL. The very same.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I must own, Philonous, those colours are not really in the clouds
as they seem to be at this distance. They are only apparent colours.
PHIL. APPARENT call you them? how shall we distinguish these apparent
colours from real?
HYL. Very easily. Those are to be thought apparent which, appearing
only at a distance, vanish upon a nearer approach.
PHIL. And those, I suppose, are to be thought real which are discovered
by the most near and exact survey.
PHIL. Is the nearest and exactest survey made by the help of a
microscope, or by the naked eye?
HYL. By a microscope, doubtless.
PHIL. But a microscope often discovers colours 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 colour
which it exhibits to the naked eye.
HYL. And what will you conclude from all this? You cannot argue that
there are really and naturally no colours on objects: because by
artificial managements they may be altered, or made to vanish.
PHIL. I think it may evidently be concluded from your own concessions,
that all the colours 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?
HYL. By the former without doubt.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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 colours, therefore, by it perceived are more genuine and real
than those perceived otherwise.
HYL. I confess there is something in what you say.
PHIL. 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 colours in every object that we do? From all which, should it not
seem to follow that all colours are equally apparent, and that none of
those which we perceive are really inherent in any outward object?
HYL. It should.
PHIL. The point will be past all doubt, if you consider that, in case
colours 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 colours 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 colours 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 coloured 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 colour 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 colour 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
colour, and distinguishing it from apparent ones.
HYL. I own myself entirely satisfied, that they are all equally
apparent, and that there is no such thing as colour 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 colours
are still more or less vivid; and if there be no light, then are there no
colours perceived. Besides, allowing there are colours 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
colours: and such is light.
PHIL. Howl is light then a substance?
HYL. . 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.
PHIL. It seems then the light doth no more than shake the optic nerves.
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. And consequent to each particular motion of the nerves, the mind
is affected with a sensation, which is some particular colour.
PHIL. And these sensations have no existence without the mind.
HYL. They have not.
PHIL. How then do you affirm that colours are in the light; since by
LIGHT you understand a corporeal substance external to the mind?
HYL. Light and colours, 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.
PHIL. Colours then, in the vulgar sense, or taken for the immediate
objects of sight, cannot agree to any but a perceiving substance.
HYL. That is what I say.
PHIL. Well then, since you give up the point as to those sensible
qualities which are alone thought colours 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 COLOURS, 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?
HYL. I frankly own, Philonous, that it is in vain to longer. Colours,
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.
PHIL. You are still then of opinion that EXTENSION and FIGURES are
inherent in external unthinking substances?
HYL. I am.
PHIL. But what if the same arguments which are brought against
Secondary Qualities will hold good against these also?
HYL. Why then I shall be obliged to think, they too exist only in the
PHIL. Is it your opinion the very figure and extension which you
perceive by sense exist in the outward object or material substance?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Have all other animals as good grounds to think the same of the
figure and extension which they see and feel?
HYL. Without doubt, if they have any thought at all.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I make no question but they have the same use in all other
PHIL. 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
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I cannot deny it.
PHIL. And to creatures less than the mite they will seem yet larger?
HYL. They will.
PHIL. Insomuch that what you can hardly discern will to another
extremely minute animal appear as some huge mountain?
HYL. All this I grant.
PHIL. Can one and the same thing be at the same time in itself of
HYL. That were absurd to imagine.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. There seems to be some difficulty in the point.
PHIL. Again, have you not acknowledged that no real inherent property
of any object can be changed without some change in the thing itself?
HYL. I have.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I own I am at a loss what to think.
PHIL. 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
HYL. It was.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. The very same. But does this latter fact ever happen?
PHIL. You may at any time make the experiment, by looking with one eye
bare, and with the other through a microscope.
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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 colour, it seems alike impossible it
should subsist in that which doth not perceive it.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. And is not time measured by the succession of ideas in our minds?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I have nothing to say to it.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I own the very SENSATION of resistance, which is all you
immediately perceive, is not in the body; but the CAUSE of that
PHIL. But the causes of our sensations are not things immediately
perceived, and therefore are not sensible. This point I thought had been
HYL. I own it was; but you will pardon me if I seem a little
embarrassed: I know not how to quit my old notions.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I think so.
PHIL. These qualities, therefore, stripped of all sensible properties,
are without all specific and numerical differences, as the schools call
HYL. They are.
PHIL. That is to say, they are extension in general, and motion in
HYL. Let it be so.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I will take time to solve your difficulty.
PHIL. 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
HYL. To confess ingenuously, I cannot.
PHIL. Can you even separate the ideas of extension and motion from the
ideas of all those qualities which they who make the distinction term
HYL. 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?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. But what say you to PURE INTELLECT? May not abstracted ideas be
framed by that faculty?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. Let me think a little--I do not find that I can.
PHIL. And can you think it possible that should really exist in nature
which implies a repugnancy in its conception?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. 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
HYL. It should seem so.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. What object do you mean? the object of the senses?
HYL. The same.
PHIL. It is then immediately perceived?
PHIL. Make me to understand the difference between what is immediately
perceived and a sensation.
HYL. 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 colours is in me only, and not in the tulip.
PHIL. What tulip do you speak of? Is it that which you see?
HYL. The same.
PHIL. And what do you see beside colour, figure, and extension?
PHIL. What you would say then is that the red and yellow are coexistent
with the extension; is it not?
HYL. That is not all; I would say they have a real existence without
the mind, in some unthinking substance.
PHIL. That the colours 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.
HYL. You have an artful way, Philonous, of diverting our inquiry from
PHIL. 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.
PHIL. And this action cannot exist in, or belong to, any unthinking
thing; but, whatever beside is implied in a perception may?
HYL. That is my meaning.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I grant it. But it is impossible there should be such a
PHIL. When is the mind said to be active?
HYL. When it produces, puts an end to, or changes, anything.
PHIL. Can the mind produce, discontinue, or change anything, but by an
act of the will?
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. The mind therefore is to be accounted ACTIVE in its perceptions
so far forth as VOLITION is included in them?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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?
PHIL. 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?
PHIL. Smelling then is somewhat consequent to all this?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. No, the very same.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. Without doubt.
PHIL. But, doth it in like manner depend on YOUR will that in looking
on this flower you perceive WHITE rather than any other colour? 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?
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. You are then in these respects altogether passive? HYL.
PHIL. Tell me now, whether SEEING consists in perceiving light and
colours, or in opening and turning the eyes?
HYL. Without doubt, in the former.
PHIL. Since therefore you are in the very perception of light and
colours 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 colours,
including no action in it, may exist in an unperceiving substance? And is
not this a plain contradiction?
HYL. I know not what to think of it.
PHIL. 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 colours, 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM call you it? Pray, by which of your senses
came you acquainted with that being?
HYL. It is not itself sensible; its modes and qualities only being
perceived by the senses.
PHIL. I presume then it was by reflexion and reason you obtained
the idea of it?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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
PHIL. Be pleased therefore to let me know wherein that relation
HYL. Is it not sufficiently expressed in the term SUBSTRATUM, or
PHIL. If so, the word SUBSTRATUM should import that it is spread
under the sensible qualities or accidents?
PHIL. And consequently under extension?
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. It is therefore somewhat in its own nature entirely distinct
HYL. 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?
PHIL. So that something distinct from, and exclusive of, extension is
supposed to be the SUBSTRATUM of extension?
HYL. Just so.
PHIL. Answer me, Hylas. Can a thing be spread without extension? or is
not the idea of extension necessarily included in SPREADING?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It must.
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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
PHIL. Well then, let us examine the relation implied in the term
SUBSTANCE. Is it not that it stands under accidents?
HYL. The very same.
PHIL. But, that one thing may stand under or support another, must it
not be extended?
HYL. It must.
PHIL. Is not therefore this supposition liable to the same absurdity
with the former?
HYL. You still take things in a strict literal sense. That is not fair,
PHIL. 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?
HYL. No; that is the literal sense.
PHIL. Pray let me know any sense, literal or not literal, that you
understand it in.--How long must I wait for an answer, Hylas?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I acknowledge it.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. I did.
PHIL. That is to say, when you conceive the real existence of
qualities, you do withal conceive Something which you cannot conceive?
HYL. 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. Colour 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at the same time
HYL. No, that were a contradiction.
PHIL. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of CONCEIVING a
thing which is UNCONCEIVED?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. The, tree or house therefore which you think of is conceived by
HYL. How should it be otherwise?
PHIL. And what is conceived is surely in the mind?
HYL. Without question, that which is conceived is in the mind.
PHIL. How then came you to say, you conceived a house or tree existing
independent and out of all minds whatsoever?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. You acknowledge then that you cannot possibly conceive how any
one corporeal sensible thing should exist otherwise than in the mind?
HYL. I do.
PHIL. And yet you will earnestly contend for the truth of that which
you cannot so much as conceive?
HYL. 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?
PHIL. Do you not in a dream too perceive those or the like objects?
HYL. I do.
PHIL. And have they not then the same appearance of being distant?
HYL. They have.
PHIL. But you do not thence conclude the apparitions in a dream to be
without the mind?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. You ought not therefore to conclude that sensible objects are
without the mind, from their appearance, or manner wherein they are
HYL. I acknowledge it. But doth not my sense deceive me in those cases?
PHIL. 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 colours, &c. And these you will not say are
without the mind.
HYL. True: but, beside all that, do you not think the sight suggests
something of OUTNESS OR DISTANCE?
PHIL. Upon approaching a distant object, do the visible size and figure
change perpetually, or do they appear the same at all distances?
HYL. They are in a continual change.
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. Upon the whole, I take it to be nothing else.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It is undeniable.
PHIL. But, to make it still more plain: is not DISTANCE a line turned
endwise to the eye?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And can a line so situated be perceived by sight?
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. Doth it not therefore follow that distance is not properly and
immediately perceived by sight?
HYL. It should seem so.
PHIL. Again, is it your opinion that colours are at a distance?
HYL. It must be acknowledged they are only in the mind.
PHIL. But do not colours appear to the eye as coexisting in the same
place with extension and figures?
HYL. They do.
PHIL. How can you then conclude from sight that figures exist without,
when you acknowledge colours do not; the sensible appearance being the
very same with regard to both?
HYL. I know not what to answer.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. To suppose that were absurd: but, inform me, Philonous, can we
perceive or know nothing beside our ideas?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Are those external objects perceived by sense or by some other
HYL. They are perceived by sense.
PHIL. Howl Is there any thing perceived by sense which is not
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. That is my meaning.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. In the very same.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, when you behold the picture of Julius Caesar, do
you see with your eyes any more than some colours and figures, with a
certain symmetry and composition of the whole?
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. And would not a man who had never known anything of Julius Caesar
see as much?
HYL. He would.
PHIL. Consequently he hath his sight, and the use of it, in as perfect
a degree as you?
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. It should.
PHIL. 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 colour 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.
HYL. I see, Philonous, you are disposed to raillery; but that will
never convince me.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. You take me right.
PHIL. They are then like external things?
HYL. They are.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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, colour, &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?
HYL. I profess, Philonous, I am at a loss. I know not what to say to
PHIL. But neither is this all. Which are material objects in
themselves--perceptible or imperceptible?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Ideas then are sensible, and their archetypes or originals
PHIL. But how can that which is sensible be like that which is
insensible? Can a real thing, in itself INVISIBLE, be like a COLOUR;
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?
HYL. I must own, I think not.
PHIL. Is it possible there should be any doubt on the point? Do. you
not perfectly know your own ideas?
HYL. I know them perfectly; since what I do not perceive or know can be
no part of my idea.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. 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
HYL. For the present I am, if not entirely convinced, at least
PHIL. 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, colour, or
comment whatsoever, why do you not produce it?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. Hark; is not this the college bell?
HYL. It rings for prayers.
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. I know not what way you mean.
HYL. I mean the way of accounting for our sensations or ideas.
PHIL. How is that?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. And call you this an explication of the manner whereby we are
affected with ideas?
HYL. Why not, Philonous? Have you anything to object against it?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. What else think you I could mean?
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I do not deny it.
PHIL. 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?
HYL. 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.
PHIL. But are not things imagined as truly IN THE MIND as things
HYL. I must confess they are.
PHIL. 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.
HYL. I begin to suspect my hypothesis.
PHIL. 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
HYL. I now clearly see it was a mere dream. There is nothing in it.
PHIL. 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 colour in the mind? Or how is it possible
these should be the effect of that?
HYL. But I could never think it had so little in it as now it seems to
PHIL. Well then, are you at length satisfied that no sensible things
have a real existence; and that you are in truth an arrant sceptic?
HYL. It is too plain to be denied.
PHIL. 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
HYL. 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
PHIL. There, Hylas, I must beg leave to differ from you.
HYL. 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.
PHIL. _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.
HYL. 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
PHIL. 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.
HYL. But, so long as we all believe the same thing, what matter is it
how we come by that belief?
PHIL. But neither do we agree in the same opinion. For philosophers,
though they acknowledge all corporeal beings to be perceived by God, yet
they attribute to them an absolute subsistence distinct from their being
perceived by any mind whatever; which I do not. Besides, is there no
difference between saying, THERE IS A GOD, THEREFORE HE PERCEIVES ALL
THINGS; and saying, SENSIBLE THINGS DO REALLY EXIST; AND, IF THEY
REALLY EXIST, THEY ARE NECESSARILY PERCEIVED BY AN INFINITE MIND:
THEREFORE THERE IS AN INFINITE MIND OR GOD? This furnishes you with a
direct and immediate demonstration, from a most evident principle, of the
BEING OF A GOD. Divines and philosophers had proved beyond all
controversy, from the beauty and usefulness of the several parts of the
creation, that it was the workmanship of God. But that--setting aside all
help of astronomy and natural philosophy, all contemplation of the
contrivance, order, and adjustment of things--an infinite Mind should be
necessarily inferred from the bare EXISTENCE OF THE SENSIBLE WORLD, is
an advantage to them only who have made this easy reflexion: that the
sensible world is that which we perceive by our several senses; and that
nothing is perceived by the senses beside ideas; and that no idea
or archetype of an idea can exist otherwise than in a mind. You may now,
without any laborious search into the sciences, without any subtlety of
reason, or tedious length of discourse, oppose and baffle the most
strenuous advocate for Atheism. Those miserable refuges, whether in an
eternal succession of unthinking causes and effects, or in a fortuitous
concourse of atoms; those wild imaginations of Vanini, Hobbes, and
Spinoza: in a word, the whole system of Atheism, is it not entirely
overthrown, by this single reflexion on the repugnancy included in
supposing the whole, or any part, even the most rude and shapeless, of
the visible world, to exist without a mind? Let any one of those abettors
of impiety but look into his own thoughts, and there try if he can
conceive how so much as a rock, a desert, a chaos, or confused jumble of
atoms; how anything at all, either sensible or imaginable, can exist
independent of a Mind, and he need go no farther to be convinced of his
folly. Can anything be fairer than to put a dispute on such an issue, and
leave it to a man himself to see if he can conceive, even in thought,
what he holds to be true in fact, and from a notional to allow it a real
HYL. It cannot be denied there is something highly serviceable to
religion in what you advance. But do you not think it looks very like a
notion entertained by some eminent moderns, of SEEING ALL THINGS IN
PHIL. I would gladly know that opinion: pray explain it to me.
HYL. They conceive that the soul, being immaterial, is incapable of
being united with material things, so as to perceive them in themselves;
but that she perceives them by her union with the substance of God,
which, being spiritual, is therefore purely intelligible, or capable of
being the immediate object of a spirit's thought. Besides the Divine
essence contains in it perfections correspondent to each created being;
and which are, for that reason, proper to exhibit or represent them to
PHIL. I do not understand how our ideas, which are things altogether
passive and inert, can be the essence, or any part (or like any part) of
the essence or substance of God, who is an impassive, indivisible,
pure, active being. Many more difficulties and objections there are which
occur at first view against this hypothesis; but I shall only add that it
is liable to all the absurdities of the common hypothesis, in making a
created world exist otherwise than in the mind of a Spirit. Besides all
which it hath this peculiar to itself; that it makes that material world
serve to no purpose. And, if it pass for a good argument against other
hypotheses in the sciences, that they suppose Nature, or the Divine
wisdom, to make something in vain, or do that by tedious roundabout
methods which might have been performed in a much more easy and
compendious way, what shall we think of that hypothesis which supposes
the whole world made in vain?
HYL. But what say you? Are not you too of opinion that we see all
things in God? If I mistake not, what you advance comes near it.
PHIL. Few men think; yet all have opinions. Hence men's opinions are
superficial and confused. It is nothing strange that tenets which in
themselves are ever so different, should nevertheless be confounded with
each other, by those who do not consider them attentively. I shall not
therefore be surprised if some men imagine that I run into the enthusiasm
of Malebranche; though in truth I am very remote from it. He builds on
the most abstract general ideas, which I entirely disclaim. He asserts an
absolute external world, which I deny. He maintains that we are deceived
by our senses, and, know not the real natures or the true forms and
figures of extended beings; of all which I hold the direct contrary. So
that upon the whole there are no Principles more fundamentally opposite
than his and mine. It must be owned that I entirely agree with what
the holy Scripture saith, "That in God we live and move and have our
being." But that we see things in His essence, after the manner above set
forth, I am far from believing. Take here in brief my meaning:--It is
evident that the things I perceive are my own ideas, and that no idea can
exist unless it be in a mind: nor is it less plain that these ideas or
things by me perceived, either themselves or their archetypes, exist
independently of my mind, since I know myself not to be their author, it
being out of my power to determine at pleasure what particular ideas I
shall be affected with upon opening my eyes or ears: they must therefore
exist in some other Mind, whose Will it is they should be exhibited
to me. The things, I say, immediately perceived are ideas or sensations,
call them which you will. But how can any idea or sensation exist in, or
be produced by, anything but a mind or spirit? This indeed is
inconceivable. And to assert that which is inconceivable is to talk
nonsense: is it not?
HYL. Without doubt.
PHIL. But, on the other hand, it is very conceivable that they should
exist in and be produced by a spirit; since this is no more than I daily
experience in myself, inasmuch as I perceive numberless ideas; and, by an
act of my will, can form a great variety of them, and raise them up in my
imagination: though, it must be confessed, these creatures of the fancy
are not altogether so distinct, so strong, vivid, and permanent, as those
perceived by my senses--which latter are called RED THINGS. From all
which I conclude, THERE IS A MIND WHICH AFFECTS ME EVERY MOMENT WITH ALL
THE SENSIBLE IMPRESSIONS I PERCEIVE. AND, from the variety, order, and
manner of these, I conclude THE AUTHOR OF THEM TO BE WISE, POWERFUL,
AND GOOD, BEYOND COMPREHENSION. MARK it well; I do not say, I see
things by perceiving that which represents them in the intelligible
Substance of God. This I do not understand; but I say, the things by me
perceived are known by the understanding, and produced by the will of an
infinite Spirit. And is not all this most plain and evident? Is there any
more in it than what a little observation in our own minds, and that
which passeth in them, not only enables us to conceive, but also obliges
us to acknowledge.
HYL. I think I understand you very clearly; and own the proof you give
of a Deity seems no less evident than it is surprising. But, allowing
that God is the supreme and universal Cause of an things, yet, may there
not be still a Third Nature besides Spirits and Ideas? May we not admit a
subordinate and limited cause of our ideas? In a word, may there not for
all that be MATTER?
PHIL. How often must I inculcate the same thing? You allow the things
immediately perceived by sense to exist nowhere without the mind; but
there is nothing perceived by sense which is not perceived immediately:
therefore there is nothing sensible that exists without the mind. The
Matter, therefore, which you still insist on is something intelligible, I
suppose; something that may be discovered by reason, and not by sense.
HYL. You are in the right.
PHIL. Pray let me know what reasoning your belief of Matter is grounded
on; and what this Matter is, in your present sense of it.
HYL. I find myself affected with various ideas, whereof I know I am not
the cause; neither are they the cause of themselves, or of one another,
or capable of subsisting by themselves, as being altogether inactive,
fleeting, dependent beings. They have therefore SOME cause distinct
from me and them: of which I pretend to know no more than that it is THE
CAUSE OF MY IDEAS. And this thing, whatever it be, I call Matter.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, hath every one a liberty to change the current
proper signification attached to a common name in any language? For
example, suppose a traveller should tell you that in a certain country
men pass unhurt through the fire; and, upon explaining himself, you found
he meant by the word fire that which others call WATER. Or, if he
should assert that there are trees that walk upon two legs, meaning men
by the term TREES. Would you think this reasonable?
HYL. No; I should think it very absurd. Common custom is the standard
of propriety in language. And for any man to affect speaking improperly
is to pervert the use of speech, and can never serve to a better purpose
than to protract and multiply disputes, where there is no difference in
PHIL. And doth not MATTER, in the common current acceptation of the
word, signify an extended, solid, moveable, unthinking, inactive
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. And, hath it not been made evident that no SUCH substance can
possibly exist? And, though it should be allowed to exist, yet how can
that which is INACTIVE be a CAUSE; or that which is UNTHINKING be a
CAUSE OF THOUGHT? You may, indeed, if you please, annex to the word
MATTER a contrary meaning to what is vulgarly received; and tell me you
understand by it, an unextended, thinking, active being, which is the
cause of our ideas. But what else is this than to play with words, and
run into that very fault you just now condemned with so much reason? I do
by no means find fault with your reasoning, in that you collect a cause
from the PHENOMENA: BUT I deny that THE cause deducible by reason
can properly be termed Matter.
HYL. There is indeed something in what you say. But I am afraid
you do not thoroughly comprehend my meaning. I would by no means be
thought to deny that God, or an infinite Spirit, is the Supreme Cause of
all things. All I contend for is, that, subordinate to the Supreme Agent,
there is a cause of a limited and inferior nature, which CONCURS in the
production of our ideas, not by any act of will, or spiritual efficiency,
but by that kind of action which belongs to Matter, viz. MOTION.
PHIL. I find you are at every turn relapsing into your old exploded
conceit, of a moveable, and consequently an extended, substance, existing
without the mind. What! Have you already forgotten you were convinced; or
are you willing I should repeat what has been said on that head? In truth
this is not fair dealing in you, still to suppose the being of that which
you have so often acknowledged to have no being. But, not to insist
farther on what has been so largely handled, I ask whether all your ideas
are not perfectly passive and inert, including nothing of action in them.
HYL. They are.
PHIL. And are sensible qualities anything else but ideas?
HYL. How often have I acknowledged that they are not.
PHIL. But is not MOTION a sensible quality?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Consequently it is no action?
HYL. I agree with you. And indeed it is very plain that when I stir my
finger, it remains passive; but my will which produced the motion is
PHIL. Now, I desire to know, in the first place, whether, motion being
allowed to be no action, you can conceive any action besides volition:
and, in the second place, whether to say something and conceive nothing
be not to talk nonsense: and, lastly, whether, having considered the
premises, you do not perceive that to suppose any efficient or active
Cause of our ideas, other than SPIRIT, is highly absurd and
HYL. I give up the point entirely. But, though Matter may not be a
cause, yet what hinders its being an INSTRUMENT, subservient to the
supreme Agent in the production of our ideas?
PHIL. An instrument say you; pray what may be the figure, springs,
wheels, and motions, of that instrument?
HYL. Those I pretend to determine nothing of, both the substance and
its qualities being entirely unknown to me.
PHIL. What? You are then of opinion it is made up of unknown
parts, that it hath unknown motions, and an unknown shape?
HYL. I do not believe that it hath any figure or motion at all, being
already convinced, that no sensible qualities can exist in an
PHIL. But what notion is it possible to frame of an instrument void of
all sensible qualities, even extension itself?
HYL. I do not pretend to have any notion of it.
PHIL. And what reason have you to think this unknown, this
inconceivable Somewhat doth exist? Is it that you imagine God cannot act
as well without it; or that you find by experience the use of some such
thing, when you form ideas in your own mind?
HYL. You are always teasing me for reasons of my belief. Pray what
reasons have you not to believe it?
PHIL. It is to me a sufficient reason not to believe the existence of
anything, if I see no reason for believing it. But, not to insist on
reasons for believing, you will not so much as let me know WHAT IT IS
you would have me believe; since you say you have no manner of notion of
it. After all, let me entreat you to consider whether it be like a
philosopher, or even like a man of common sense, to pretend to believe
you know not what and you know not why.
HYL. Hold, Philonous. When I tell you Matter is an INSTRUMENT, I do
not mean altogether nothing. It is true I know not the particular kind of
instrument; but, however, I have some notion of INSTRUMENT IN GENERAL,
which I apply to it.
PHIL. But what if it should prove that there is something, even in the
most general notion of INSTRUMENT, as taken in a distinct sense from
CAUSE, which makes the use of it inconsistent with the Divine
HYL. Make that appear and I shall give up the point.
PHIL. What mean you by the general nature or notion of INSTRUMENT?
HYL. That which is common to all particular instruments composeth the
PHIL. Is it not common to all instruments, that they are applied to the
doing those things only which cannot be performed by the mere act of our
wills? Thus, for instance, I never use an instrument to move my finger,
because it is done by a volition. But I should use one if I were to
remove part of a rock, or tear up a tree by the roots. Are you of the
same mind? Or, can you shew any example where an instrument is made
use of in producing an effect IMMEDIATELY depending on the will of the
HYL. I own I cannot.
PHIL. How therefore can you suppose that an All-perfect Spirit, on
whose Will all things have an absolute and immediate dependence, should
need an instrument in his operations, or, not needing it, make use of it?
Thus it seems to me that you are obliged to own the use of a lifeless
inactive instrument to be incompatible with the infinite perfection of
God; that is, by your own confession, to give up the point.
HYL. It doth not readily occur what I can answer you.
PHIL. But, methinks you should be ready to own the truth, when it has
been fairly proved to you. We indeed, who are beings of finite powers,
are forced to make use of instruments. And the use of an instrument
sheweth the agent to be limited by rules of another's prescription, and
that he cannot obtain his end but in such a way, and by such conditions.
Whence it seems a clear consequence, that the supreme unlimited agent
useth no tool or instrument at all. The will of an Omnipotent Spirit is
no sooner exerted than executed, without the application of means; which,
if they are employed by inferior agents, it is not upon account of any
real efficacy that is in them, or necessary aptitude to produce any
effect, but merely in compliance with the laws of nature, or those
conditions prescribed to them by the First Cause, who is Himself above
all limitation or prescription whatsoever.
HYL. I will no longer maintain that Matter is an instrument. However, I
would not be understood to give up its existence neither; since,
notwithstanding what hath been said, it may still be an OCCASION.
PHIL. How many shapes is your Matter to take? Or, how often must it be
proved not to exist, before you are content to part with it? But, to say
no more of this (though by all the laws of disputation I may justly blame
you for so frequently changing the signification of the principal
term)--I would fain know what you mean by affirming that matter is an
occasion, having already denied it to be a cause. And, when you have
shewn in what sense you understand OCCASION, pray, in the next place,
be pleased to shew me what reason induceth you to believe there is such
an occasion of our ideas?
HYL. As to the first point: by OCCASION I mean an inactive
unthinking being, at the presence whereof God excites ideas in our minds.
PHIL. And what may be the nature of that inactive unthinking being?
HYL. I know nothing of its nature.
PHIL. Proceed then to the second point, and assign some reason why we
should allow an existence to this inactive, unthinking, unknown thing.
HYL. When we see ideas produced in our minds, after an orderly and
constant manner, it is natural to think they have some fixed and regular
occasions, at the presence of which they are excited.
PHIL. You acknowledge then God alone to be the cause of our ideas, and
that He causes them at the presence of those occasions.
HYL. That is my opinion.
PHIL. Those things which you say are present to God, without doubt He
HYL. Certainly; otherwise they could not be to Him an occasion of acting.
PHIL. Not to insist now on your making sense of this hypothesis, or
answering all the puzzling questions and difficulties it is liable to: I
only ask whether the order and regularity observable in the series of our
ideas, or the course of nature, be not sufficiently accounted for by the
wisdom and power of God; and whether it doth not derogate from those
attributes, to suppose He is influenced, directed, or put in mind, when
and what He is to act, by an unthinking substance? And, lastly, whether,
in case I granted all you contend for, it would make anything to your
purpose; it not being easy to conceive how the external or absolute
existence of an unthinking substance, distinct from its being perceived,
can be inferred from my allowing that there are certain things perceived
by the mind of God, which are to Him the occasion of producing ideas in
HYL. I am perfectly at a loss what to think, this notion of OCCASION
seeming now altogether as groundless as the rest.
PHIL. Do you not at length perceive that in all these different
acceptations of MATTER, you have been only supposing you know not what,
for no manner of reason, and to no kind of use?
HYL. I freely own myself less fond of my notions since they have been
so accurately examined. But still, methinks, I have some confused
perception that there is such a thing as MATTER.
PHIL. Either you perceive the being of Matter immediately or mediately.
If immediately, pray inform me by which of the senses you perceive it. If
mediately, let me know by what reasoning it is inferred from those things
which you perceive immediately. So much for the perception. Then for the
Matter itself, I ask whether it is object, SUBSTRATUM, cause,
instrument, or occasion? You have already pleaded for each of these,
shifting your notions, and making Matter to appear sometimes in one
shape, then in another. And what you have offered hath been disapproved
and rejected by yourself. If you have anything new to advance I would
gladly bear it.
HYL. I think I have already offered all I had to say on those heads. I
am at a loss what more to urge.
PHIL. And yet you are loath to part with your old prejudice. But, to
make you quit it more easily, I desire that, beside what has been
hitherto suggested, you will farther consider whether, upon. supposition
that Matter exists, you can possibly conceive how you should be affected
by it. Or, supposing it did not exist, whether it be not evident you
might for all that be affected with the same ideas you now are, and
consequently have the very same reasons to believe its existence that you
now can have.
HYL. I acknowledge it is possible we might perceive all things just as
we do now, though there was no Matter in the world; neither can I
conceive, if there be Matter, how it should produce' any idea in our
minds. And, I do farther grant you have entirely satisfied me that it is
impossible there should be such a thing as matter in any of the foregoing
acceptations. But still I cannot help supposing that there is MATTER in
some sense or other. WHAT THAT IS I do not indeed pretend to determine.
PHIL. I do not expect you should define exactly the nature of that
unknown being. Only be pleased to tell me whether it is a Substance; and
if so, whether you can suppose a Substance without accidents; or, in case
you suppose it to have accidents or qualities, I desire you will let me
know what those qualities are, at least what is meant by Matter's
HYL. We have already argued on those points. I have no more to say to
them. But, to prevent any farther questions, let me tell you I at present
understand by MATTER neither substance nor accident, thinking nor
extended being, neither cause, instrument, nor occasion, but Something
entirely unknown, distinct from all these.
PHIL. It seems then you include in your present notion of Matter
nothing but the general abstract idea of ENTITY.
HYL. Nothing else; save only that I super-add to this general idea the
negation of all those particular things, qualities, or ideas, that I
perceive, imagine, or in anywise apprehend.
PHIL. Pray where do you suppose this unknown Matter to exist?
HYL. Oh Philonous! now you think you have entangled me; for, if I say
it exists in place, then you will infer that it exists in the mind, since
it is agreed that place or extension exists only in the mind. But I am
not ashamed to own my ignorance. I know not where it exists; only I am
sure it exists not in place. There is a negative answer for you. And you
must expect no other to all the questions you put for the future about
PHIL. Since you will not tell me where it exists, be pleased to inform
me after what manner you suppose it to exist, or what you mean by its
HYL. It neither thinks nor acts, neither perceives nor is perceived.
PHIL. But what is there positive in your abstracted notion of its
HYL. Upon a nice observation, I do not find I have any positive notion
or meaning at all. I tell you again, I am not ashamed to own my
ignorance. I know not what is meant by its EXISTENCE, or how it exists.
PHIL. Continue, good Hylas, to act the same ingenuous part, and tell me
sincerely whether you can frame a distinct idea of Entity in general,
prescinded from and exclusive of all thinking and corporeal beings, all
particular things whatsoever.
HYL. Hold, let me think a little--I profess, Philonous, I do not find
that I can. At first glance, methought I had some dilute and airy notion
of Pure Entity in abstract; but, upon closer attention, it hath quite
vanished out of sight. The more I think on it, the more am I confirmed in
my prudent resolution of giving none but negative answers, and not
pretending to the least degree of any positive knowledge or conception of
Matter, its WHERE, its HOW, its ENTITY, or anything belonging to
PHIL. When, therefore, you speak of the existence of Matter, you have
not any notion in your mind?
HYL. None at all.
PHIL. Pray tell me if the case stands not thus--At first, from a belief
of material substance, you would have it that the immediate objects
existed without the mind; then that they are archetypes; then causes;
next instruments; then occasions: lastly SOMETHING IN GENERAL, which
being interpreted proves NOTHING. So Matter comes to nothing. What
think you, Hylas, is not this a fair summary of your whole proceeding?
HYL. Be that as it will, yet I still insist upon it, that our not being
able to conceive a thing is no argument against its existence.
PHIL. That from a cause, effect, operation, sign, or other
circumstance, there may reasonably be inferred the existence of a thing
not immediately perceived; and that it were absurd for any man to argue
against the existence of that thing, from his having no direct and
positive notion of it, I freely own. But, where there is nothing of all
this; where neither reason nor revelation induces us to believe the
existence of a thing; where we have not even a relative notion of it;
where an abstraction is made from perceiving and being perceived, from
Spirit and idea: lastly, where there is not so much as the most
inadequate or faint idea pretended to--I will not indeed thence conclude
against the reality of any notion, or existence of anything; but my
inference shall be, that you mean nothing at all; that you employ words
to no manner of purpose, without any design or signification whatsoever.
And I leave it to you to consider how mere jargon should be treated.
HYL. To deal frankly with you, Philonous, your arguments seem in
themselves unanswerable; but they have not so great an effect on me as to
produce that entire conviction, that hearty acquiescence, which attends
demonstration. I find myself relapsing into an obscure surmise of I know
not what, MATTER.
PHIL. But, are you not sensible, Hylas, that two things must concur to
take away all scruple, and work a plenary assent in the mind? Let a
visible object be set in never so clear a light, yet, if there is any
imperfection in the sight, or if the eye is not directed towards it, it
will not be distinctly seen. And though a demonstration be never so well
grounded and fairly proposed, yet, if there is withal a stain of
prejudice, or a wrong bias on the understanding, can it be expected on a
sudden to perceive clearly, and adhere firmly to the truth? No; there is
need of time and pains: the attention must be awakened and detained by a
frequent repetition of the same thing placed oft in the same, oft in
different lights. I have said it already, and find I must still repeat
and inculcate, that it is an unaccountable licence you take, in
pretending to maintain you know not what, for you know not what reason,
to you know not what purpose. Can this be paralleled in any art or
science, any sect or profession of men? Or is there anything so
barefacedly groundless and unreasonable to be met with even in the lowest
of common conversation? But, perhaps you will still say, Matter may
exist; though at the same time you neither know WHAT IS MEANT by
MATTER, or by its EXISTENCE. This indeed is surprising, and the more
so because it is altogether voluntary and of your own head, you not
being led to it by any one reason; for I challenge you to shew me that
thing in nature which needs Matter to explain or account for it.
HYL. THE REALITY of things cannot be maintained without supposing the
existence of Matter. And is not this, think you, a good reason why I
should be earnest in its defence?
PHIL. The reality of things! What things? sensible or intelligible?
HYL. Sensible things.
PHIL. My glove for example?
HYL. That, or any other thing perceived by the senses.
PHIL. But to fix on some particular thing. Is it not a sufficient
evidence to me of the existence of this GLOVE, that I see it, and feel
it, and wear it? Or, if this will not do, how is it possible I should be
assured of the reality of this thing, which I actually see in this place,
by supposing that some unknown thing, which I never did or can see,
exists after an unknown manner, in an unknown place, or in no place at
all? How can the supposed reality of that which is intangible be a proof
that anything tangible really exists? Or, of that which is invisible,
that any visible thing, or, in general of anything which is
imperceptible, that a perceptible exists? Do but explain this and I shall
think nothing too hard for you.
HYL. Upon the whole, I am content to own the existence of matter is
highly improbable; but the direct and absolute impossibility of it does
not appear to me.
PHIL. But granting Matter to be possible, yet, upon that account
merely, it can have no more claim to existence than a golden mountain, or
HYL. I acknowledge it; but still you do not deny it is possible; and
that which is possible, for aught you know, may actually exist.
PHIL. I deny it to be possible; and have, if I mistake not,
evidently proved, from your own concessions, that it is not. In the
common sense of the word MATTER, is there any more implied than an
extended, solid, figured, moveable substance, existing without the mind?
And have not you acknowledged, over and over, that you have seen evident
reason for denying the possibility of such a substance?
HYL. True, but that is only one sense of the term MATTER.
PHIL. But is it not the only proper genuine received sense? And, if
Matter, in such a sense, be proved impossible, may it not be thought with
good grounds absolutely impossible? Else how could anything be proved
impossible? Or, indeed, how could there be any proof at all one way or
other, to a man who takes the liberty to unsettle and change the common
signification of words?
HYL. I thought philosophers might be allowed to speak more accurately
than the vulgar, and were not always confined to the common acceptation
of a term.
PHIL. But this now mentioned is the common received sense among
philosophers themselves. But, not to insist on that, have you not been
allowed to take Matter in what sense you pleased? And have you not used
this privilege in the utmost extent; sometimes entirely changing, at
others leaving out, or putting into the definition of it whatever, for
the present, best served your design, contrary to all the known rules of
reason and logic? And hath not this shifting, unfair method of yours spun
out our dispute to an unnecessary length; Matter having been particularly
examined, and by your own confession refuted in each of those senses? And
can any more be required to prove the absolute impossibility of a thing,
than the proving it impossible in every particular sense that either you
or any one else understands it in?
HYL. But I am not so thoroughly satisfied that you have proved the
impossibility of Matter, in the last most obscure abstracted and
PHIL. . When is a thing shewn to be impossible?
HYL. When a repugnancy is demonstrated between the ideas comprehended
in its definition.
PHIL. But where there are no ideas, there no repugnancy can be
demonstrated between ideas?
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. Now, in that which you call the obscure indefinite sense of the
word MATTER, it is plain, by your own confession, there was
included no idea at all, no sense except an unknown sense; which is the
same thing as none. You are not, therefore, to expect I should prove a
repugnancy between ideas, where there are no ideas; or the impossibility
of Matter taken in an UNKNOWN sense, that is, no sense at all. My
business was only to shew you meant NOTHING; and this you were brought
to own. So that, in all your various senses, you have been shewed either
to mean nothing at all, or, if anything, an absurdity. And if this be not
sufficient to prove the impossibility of a thing, I desire you will let
me know what is.
HYL. I acknowledge you have proved that Matter is impossible; nor do I
see what more can be said in defence of it. But, at the same time that I
give up this, I suspect all my other notions. For surely none could be
more seemingly evident than this once was: and yet it now seems as false
and absurd as ever it did true before. But I think we have discussed the
point sufficiently for the present. The remaining part of the day I would
willingly spend in running over in my thoughts the several heads of this
morning's conversation, and tomorrow shall be glad to meet you here again
about the same time.
PHIL. I will not fail to attend you.
THE THIRD DIALOGUE
PHILONOUS. Tell me, Hylas, what are the fruits of yesterday's
meditation? Has it confirmed you in the same mind you were in at parting?
or have you since seen cause to change your opinion?
HYLAS. Truly my opinion is that all our opinions are alike vain and
uncertain. What we approve to-day, we condemn to-morrow. We keep a stir
about knowledge, and spend our lives in the pursuit of it, when, alas I
we know nothing all the while: nor do I think it possible for us ever to
know anything in this life. Our faculties are too narrow and too few.
Nature certainly never intended us for speculation.
PHIL. What! Say you we can know nothing, Hylas?
HYL. There is not that single thing in the world whereof we can know
the real nature, or what it is in itself.
PHIL. Will you tell me I do not really know what fire or water is?
HYL. You may indeed know that fire appears hot, and water fluid; but
this is no more than knowing what sensations are produced in your own
mind, upon the application of fire and water to your organs of sense.
Their internal constitution, their true and real nature, you are utterly
in the dark as to THAT.
PHIL. Do I not know this to be a real stone that I stand on, and that
which I see before my eyes to be a real tree?
HYL. KNOW? No, it is impossible you or any man alive should know it.
All you know is, that you have such a certain idea or appearance in your
own mind. But what is this to the real tree or stone? I tell you that
colour, figure, and hardness, which you perceive, are not the real
natures of those things, or in the least like them. The same may be said
of all other real things, or corporeal substances, which compose the
world. They have none of them anything of themselves, like those sensible
qualities by us perceived. We should not therefore pretend to affirm or
know anything of them, as they are in their own nature.
PHIL. But surely, Hylas, I can distinguish gold, for example,
from iron: and how could this be, if I knew not what either truly was?
HYL. Believe me, Philonous, you can only distinguish between your own
ideas. That yellowness, that weight, and other sensible qualities, think
you they are really in the gold? They are only relative to the senses,
and have no absolute existence in nature. And in pretending to
distinguish the species of real things, by the appearances in your mind,
you may perhaps act as wisely as he that should conclude two men were of
a different species, because their clothes were not of the same colour.
PHIL. It seems, then, we are altogether put off with the appearances of
things, and those false ones too. The very meat I eat, and the cloth I
wear, have nothing in them like what I see and feel.
HYL. Even so.
PHIL. But is it not strange the whole world should be thus imposed on,
and so foolish as to believe their senses? And yet I know not how it is,
but men eat, and drink, and sleep, and perform all the offices of life,
as comfortably and conveniently as if they really knew the things they
are conversant about.
HYL. They do so: but you know ordinary practice does not require a
nicety of speculative knowledge. Hence the vulgar retain their mistakes,
and for all that make a shift to bustle through the affairs of life. But
philosophers know better things.
PHIL. You mean, they KNOW that they KNOW NOTHING.
HYL. That is the very top and perfection of human knowledge.
PHIL. But are you all this while in earnest, Hylas; and are you
seriously persuaded that you know nothing real in the world? Suppose you
are going to write, would you not call for pen, ink, and paper, like
another man; and do you not know what it is you call for?
HYL. How often must I tell you, that I know not the real nature of any
one thing in the universe? I may indeed upon occasion make use of pen,
ink, and paper. But what any one of them is in its own true nature, I
declare positively I know not. And the same is true with regard to every,
other corporeal thing. And, what is more, we are not only ignorant of the
true and real nature of things, but even of their existence. It cannot be
denied that we perceive such certain appearances or ideas; but it cannot
be concluded from thence that bodies really exist. Nay, now I think
on it, I must, agreeably to my former concessions, farther declare that
it is impossible any REAL corporeal thing should exist in nature.
PHIL. You amaze me. Was ever anything more wild and extravagant than
the notions you now maintain: and is it not evident you are led into all
these extravagances by the belief of MATERIAL SUBSTANCE? This makes you
dream of those unknown natures in everything. It is this occasions your
distinguishing between the reality and sensible appearances of things. It
is to this you are indebted for being ignorant of what everybody else
knows perfectly well. Nor is this all: you are not only ignorant of the
true nature of everything, but you know not whether anything really
exists, or whether there are any true natures at all; forasmuch as you
attribute to your material beings an absolute or external existence,
wherein you suppose their reality consists. And, as you are forced in the
end to acknowledge such an existence means either a direct repugnancy, or
nothing at all, it follows that you are obliged to pull down your own
hypothesis of material Substance, and positively to deny the real
existence of any part of the universe. And so you are plunged into the
deepest and most deplorable scepticism that ever man was. Tell me, Hylas,
is it not as I say?
HYL. I agree with you. MATERIAL SUBSTANCE was no more than an
hypothesis; and a false and groundless one too. I will no longer spend my
breath in defence of it. But whatever hypothesis you advance, or
whatsoever scheme of things you introduce in its stead, I doubt not it
will appear every whit as false: let me but be allowed to question you
upon it. That is, suffer me to serve you in your own kind, and I warrant
it shall conduct you through as many perplexities and contradictions, to
the very same state of scepticism that I myself am in at present.
PHIL. I assure you, Hylas, I do not pretend to frame any hypothesis at
all. I am of a vulgar cast, simple enough to believe my senses, and leave
things as I find them. To be plain, it is my opinion that the real things
are those very things I see, and feel, and perceive by my senses. These I
know; and, finding they answer all the necessities and purposes of life,
have no reason to be solicitous about any other unknown beings. A piece
of sensible bread, for instance, would stay my stomach better than ten
thousand times as much of that insensible, unintelligible, real bread you
speak of. It is likewise my opinion that colours and other sensible
qualities are on the objects. I cannot for my life help thinking
that snow is white, and fire hot. You indeed, who by SNOW and fire mean
certain external, unperceived, unperceiving substances, are in the right
to deny whiteness or heat to be affections inherent in THEM. But I, who
understand by those words the things I see and feel, am obliged to think
like other folks. And, as I am no sceptic with regard to the nature of
things, so neither am I as to their existence. That a thing should be
really perceived by my senses, and at the same time not really exist, is
to me a plain contradiction; since I cannot prescind or abstract, even in
thought, the existence of a sensible thing from its being perceived.
Wood, stones, fire, water, flesh, iron, and the like things, which I name
and discourse of, are things that I know. And I should not have known
them but that I perceived them by my senses; and things perceived by the
senses are immediately perceived; and things immediately perceived are
ideas; and ideas cannot exist without the mind; their existence therefore
consists in being perceived; when, therefore, they are actually perceived
there can be no doubt of their existence. Away then with all that
scepticism, all those ridiculous philosophical doubts. What a jest is it
for a philosopher to question the existence of sensible things, till he
hath it proved to him from the veracity of God; or to pretend our
knowledge in this point falls short of intuition or demonstration! I
might as well doubt of my own being, as of the being of those things I
actually see and feel.
HYL. Not so fast, Philonous: you say you cannot conceive how sensible
things should exist without the mind. Do you not?
PHIL. I do.
HYL. Supposing you were annihilated, cannot you conceive it possible
that things perceivable by sense may still exist?
PHIL. _I_ can; but then it must be in another mind. When I deny
sensible things an existence out of the mind, I do not mean my mind in
particular, but all minds. Now, it is plain they have an existence
exterior to my mind; since I find them by experience to be independent of
it. There is therefore some other Mind wherein they exist, during the
intervals between the times of my perceiving them: as likewise they
did before my birth, and would do after my supposed annihilation. And, as
the same is true with regard to all other finite created spirits, it
necessarily follows there is an OMNIPRESENT ETERNAL MIND, which knows
and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view in such a
manner, and according to such rules, as He Himself hath ordained, and are
by us termed the LAWS OF NATURE.
HYL. Answer me, Philonous. Are all our ideas perfectly inert beings? Or
have they any agency included in them?
PHIL. They are altogether passive and inert.
HYL. And is not God an agent, a being purely active?
PHIL. I acknowledge it.
HYL. No idea therefore can be like unto, or represent the nature of
PHIL. It cannot.
HYL. Since therefore you have no IDEA of the mind of God, how can you
conceive it possible that things should exist in His mind? Or, if you can
conceive the mind of God, without having an idea of it, why may not I be
allowed to conceive the existence of Matter, notwithstanding I have no
idea of it?
PHIL. As to your first question: I own I have properly no IDEA,
either of God or any other spirit; for these being active, cannot be
represented by things perfectly inert, as our ideas are. I do
nevertheless know that I, who am a spirit or thinking substance, exist as
certainly as I know my ideas exist. Farther, I know what I mean by the
terms I AND MYSELF; and I know this immediately or intuitively, though
I do not perceive it as I perceive a triangle, a colour, or a sound. The
Mind, Spirit, or Soul is that indivisible unextended thing which thinks,
acts, and perceives. I say INDIVISIBLE, because unextended; and
UNEXTENDED, because extended, figured, moveable things are ideas; and
that which perceives ideas, which thinks and wills, is plainly itself no
idea, nor like an idea. Ideas are things inactive, and perceived. And
Spirits a sort of beings altogether different from them. I do not
therefore say my soul is an idea, or like an idea. However, taking the
word IDEA in a large sense, my soul may be said to furnish me with an
idea, that is, an image or likeness of God--though indeed extremely
inadequate. For, all the notion I have of God is obtained by reflecting
on my own soul, heightening its powers, and removing its
imperfections. I have, therefore, though not an inactive idea, yet in
MYSELF some sort of an active thinking image of the Deity. And, though
I perceive Him not by sense, yet I have a notion of Him, or know Him by
reflexion and reasoning. My own mind and my own ideas I have an immediate
knowledge of; and, by the help of these, do mediately apprehend the
possibility of the existence of other spirits and ideas. Farther, from my
own being, and from the dependency I find in myself and my ideas, I do,
by an act of reason, necessarily infer the existence of a God, and of all
created things in the mind of God. So much for your first question. For
the second: I suppose by this time you can answer it yourself. For you
neither perceive Matter objectively, as you do an inactive being or idea;
nor know it, as you do yourself, by a reflex act, neither do you
mediately apprehend it by similitude of the one or the other; nor yet
collect it by reasoning from that which you know immediately. All which
makes the case of MATTER widely different from that of the DEITY.
HYL. You say your own soul supplies you with some sort of an idea or
image of God. But, at the same time, you acknowledge you have, properly
speaking, no IDEA of your own soul. You even affirm that spirits are a
sort of beings altogether different from ideas. Consequently that no idea
can be like a spirit. We have therefore no idea of any spirit. You admit
nevertheless that there is spiritual Substance, although you have no idea
of it; while you deny there can be such a thing as material Substance,
because you have no notion or idea of it. Is this fair dealing? To act
consistently, you must either admit Matter or reject Spirit. What say you
PHIL. _I_ say, in the first place, that I do not deny the existence of
material substance, merely because I have no notion of it' but because
the notion of it is inconsistent; or, in other words, because it is
repugnant that there should be a notion of it. Many things, for aught I
know, may exist, whereof neither I nor any other man hath or can have any
idea or notion whatsoever. But then those things must be possible, that
is, nothing inconsistent must be included in their definition. I
say, secondly, that, although we believe things to exist which we do not
perceive, yet we may not believe that any particular thing exists,
without some reason for such belief: but I have no reason for believing
the existence of Matter. I have no immediate intuition thereof: neither
can I immediately from my sensations, ideas, notions, actions, or
passions, infer an unthinking, unperceiving, inactive Substance--either
by probable deduction, or necessary consequence. Whereas the being of my
Self, that is, my own soul, mind, or thinking principle, I evidently know
by reflexion. You will forgive me if I repeat the same things in answer
to the same objections. In the very notion or definition of MATERIAL
SUBSTANCE, there is included a manifest repugnance and inconsistency.
But this cannot be said of the notion of Spirit. That ideas should exist
in what doth not perceive, or be produced by what doth not act, is
repugnant. But, it is no repugnancy to say that a perceiving thing should
be the subject of ideas, or an active thing the cause of them. It is
granted we have neither an immediate evidence nor a demonstrative
knowledge of the existence of other finite spirits; but it will not
thence follow that such spirits are on a foot with material substances:
if to suppose the one be inconsistent, and it be not inconsistent to
suppose the other; if the one can be inferred by no argument, and there
is a probability for the other; if we see signs and effects indicating
distinct finite agents like ourselves, and see no sign or symptom
whatever that leads to a rational belief of Matter. I say, lastly, that I
have a notion of Spirit, though I have not, strictly speaking, an idea of
it. I do not perceive it as an idea, or by means of an idea, but know it
HYL. Notwithstanding all you have said, to me it seems that, according
to your own way of thinking, and in consequence of your own principles,
it should follow that YOU are only a system of floating ideas, without
any substance to support them. Words are not to be used without a
meaning. And, as there is no more meaning in SPIRITUAL SUBSTANCE than
in MATERIAL SUBSTANCE, the one is to be exploded as well as the other.
PHIL. How often must I repeat, that I know or am conscious of my own
being; and that _I_ MYSELF am not my ideas, but somewhat else, a
thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wifls, and operates
about ideas. I know that I, one and the same self, perceive both
colours and sounds: that a colour cannot perceive a sound, nor a sound a
colour: that I am therefore one individual principle, distinct from
colour and sound; and, for the same reason, from aft other sensible
things and inert ideas. But, I am not in like manner conscious either of
the existence or essence of Matter. On the contrary, I know that nothing
inconsistent can exist, and that the existence of Matter implies an
inconsistency. Farther, I know what I mean when I affirm that there is a
spiritual substance or support of ideas, that is, that a spirit knows and
perceives ideas. But, I do not know what is meant when it is said that an
unperceiving substance hath inherent in it and supports either ideas or
the archetypes of ideas. There is therefore upon the whole no parity of
case between Spirit and Matter.
HYL. I own myself satisfied in this point. But, do you in earnest think
the real existence of sensible things consists in their being actually
perceived? If so; how comes it that all mankind distinguish between them?
Ask the first man you meet, and he shall tell you, TO BE PERCEIVED is
one thing, and TO EXIST is another.
PHIL. _I_ am content, Hylas, to appeal to the common sense of the world
for the truth of my notion. Ask the gardener why he thinks yonder
cherry-tree exists in the garden, and he shall tell you, because he sees
and feels it; in a word, because he perceives it by his senses. Ask him
why he thinks an orange-tree not to be there, and he shall tell you,
because he does not perceive it. What he perceives by sense, that he
terms a real, being, and saith it IS OR EXISTS; but, that which is not
perceivable, the same, he saith, hath no being.
HYL. Yes, Philonous, I grant the existence of a sensible thing consists
in being perceivable, but not in being actually perceived.
PHIL. And what is perceivable but an idea? And can an idea exist
without being actually perceived? These are points long since agreed
HYL. But, be your opinion never so true, yet surely you will not deny
it is shocking, and contrary to the common sense of men. Ask the
fellow whether yonder tree hath an existence out of his mind: what answer
think you he would make?
PHIL. The same that I should myself, to wit, that it doth exist out of
his mind. But then to a Christian it cannot surely be shocking to say,
the real tree, existing without his mind, is truly known and comprehended
by (that is EXISTS IN) the infinite mind of God. Probably he may not at
first glance be aware of the direct and immediate proof there is of this;
inasmuch as the very being of a tree, or any other sensible thing,
implies a mind wherein it is. But the point itself he cannot deny. The
question between the Materialists and me is not, whether things have a
REAL existence out of the mind of this or that person, but whether they
have an ABSOLUTE existence, distinct from being perceived by God, and
exterior to all minds. This indeed some heathens and philosophers have
affirmed, but whoever entertains notions of the Deity suitable to the
Holy Scriptures will be of another opinion.
HYL. But, according to your notions, what difference is there between
real things, and chimeras formed by the imagination, or the visions of a
dream--since they are all equally in the mind?
PHIL. The ideas formed by the imagination are faint and indistinct;
they have, besides, an entire dependence on the will. But the ideas
perceived by sense, that is, real things, are more vivid and clear; and,
being imprinted on the mind by a spirit distinct from us, have not the
like dependence on our will. There is therefore no danger of confounding
these with the foregoing: and there is as little of confounding them with
the visions of a dream, which are dim, irregular, and confused. And,
though they should happen to be never so lively and natural, yet, by
their not being connected, and of a piece with the preceding and
subsequent transactions of our lives, they might easily be distinguished
from realities. In short, by whatever method you distinguish THINGS FROM
CHIMERAS on your scheme, the same, it is evident, will hold also upon
mine. For, it must be, I presume, by some perceived difference; and I am
not for depriving you of any one thing that you perceive.
HYL. But still, Philonous, you hold, there is nothing in the world but
spirits and ideas. And this, you must needs acknowledge, sounds very
PHIL. I own the word IDEA, not being commonly used for THING,
sounds something out of the way. My reason for using it was, because a
necessary relation to the mind is understood to be implied by that
term; and it is now commonly used by philosophers to denote the immediate
objects of the understanding. But, however oddly the proposition may
sound in words, yet it includes nothing so very strange or shocking in
its sense; which in effect amounts to no more than this, to wit, that
there are only things perceiving, and things perceived; or that every
unthinking being is necessarily, and from the very nature of its
existence, perceived by some mind; if not by a finite created mind, yet
certainly by the infinite mind of God, in whom "we five, and move, and
have our being." Is this as strange as to say, the sensible qualities are
not on the objects: or that we cannot be sure of the existence of things,
or know any thing of their real natures--though we both see and feel
them, and perceive them by all our senses?
HYL. And, in consequence of this, must we not think there are no such
things as physical or corporeal causes; but that a Spirit is the
immediate cause of all the phenomena in nature? Can there be anything
more extravagant than this?
PHIL. Yes, it is infinitely more extravagant to say--a thing which is
inert operates on the mind, and which is unperceiving is the cause of our
perceptions, without any regard either to consistency, or the old known
axiom, NOTHING CAN GIVE TO ANOTHER THAT WHICH IT HATH NOT ITSELF.
Besides, that which to you, I know not for what reason, seems so
extravagant is no more than the Holy Scriptures assert in a hundred
places. In them God is represented as the sole and immediate Author of
all those effects which some heathens and philosophers are wont to
ascribe to Nature, Matter, Fate, or the like unthinking principle. This
is so much the constant language of Scripture that it were needless to
confirm it by citations.
HYL. You are not aware, Philonous, that in making God the immediate
Author of all the motions in nature, you make Him the Author of murder,
sacrilege, adultery, and the like heinous sins.
PHIL. In answer to that, I observe, first, that the imputation of guilt
is the same, whether a person commits an action with or without an
instrument. In case therefore you suppose God to act by the mediation of
an instrument or occasion, called MATTER, you as truly make Him the
author of sin as I, who think Him the immediate agent in all those
operations vulgarly ascribed to Nature. I farther observe that sin or
moral turpitude doth not consist in the outward physical action or
motion, but in the internal deviation of the will from the laws of reason
and religion. This is plain, in that the killing an enemy in a battle, or
putting a criminal legally to death, is not thought sinful; though the
outward act be the very same with that in the case of murder. Since,
therefore, sin doth not consist in the physical action, the making God an
immediate cause of all such actions is not making Him the Author of sin.
Lastly, I have nowhere said that God is the only agent who produces all
the motions in bodies. It is true I have denied there are any other
agents besides spirits; but this is very consistent with allowing to
thinking rational beings, in the production of motions, the use of
limited powers, ultimately indeed derived from God, but immediately under
the direction of their own wills, which is sufficient to entitle them to
all the guilt of their actions.
HYL. But the denying Matter, Philonous, or corporeal Substance; there
is the point. You can never persuade me that this is not repugnant to the
universal sense of mankind. Were our dispute to be determined by most
voices, I am confident you would give up the point, without gathering the
PHIL. I wish both our opinions were fairly stated and submitted to the
judgment of men who had plain common sense, without the prejudices of a
learned education. Let me be represented as one who trusts his senses,
who thinks he knows the things he sees and feels, and entertains no
doubts of their existence; and you fairly set forth with all your doubts,
your paradoxes, and your scepticism about you, and I shall willingly
acquiesce in the determination of any indifferent person. That there is
no substance wherein ideas can exist beside spirit is to me evident. And
that the objects immediately perceived are ideas, is on all hands agreed.
And that sensible qualities are objects immediately perceived no one can
deny. It is therefore evident there can be no SUBSTRATUM of those
qualities but spirit; in which they exist, not by way of mode or
property, but as a thing perceived in that which perceives it. I deny
therefore that there is ANY UNTHINKING-SUBSTRATUM of the objects of
sense, and IN THAT ACCEPTATION that there is any material substance.
But if by MATERIAL SUBSTANCE is meant only SENSIBLE BODY, THAT
which is seen and felt (and the unphilosophical part of the world, I dare
say, mean no more)--then I am more certain of matter's existence than you
or any other philosopher pretend to be. If there be anything which makes
the generality of mankind averse from the notions I espouse, it is
a misapprehension that I deny the reality of sensible things. But, as it
is you who are guilty of that, and not I, it follows that in truth their
aversion is against your notions and not mine. I do therefore assert that
I am as certain as of my own being, that there are bodies or corporeal
substances (meaning the things I perceive by my senses); and that,
granting this, the bulk of mankind will take no thought about, nor think
themselves at all concerned in the fate of those unknown natures, and
philosophical quiddities, which some men are so fond of.
HYL. What say you to this? Since, according to you, men judge of the
reality of things by their senses, how can a man be mistaken in thinking
the moon a plain lucid surface, about a foot in diameter; or a square
tower, seen at a distance, round; or an oar, with one end in the water,
PHIL. He is not mistaken with regard to the ideas he actually
perceives, but in the inference he makes from his present perceptions.
Thus, in the case of the oar, what he immediately perceives by sight is
certainly crooked; and so far he is in the right. But if he thence
conclude that upon taking the oar out of the water he shall perceive the
same crookedness; or that it would affect his touch as crooked things are
wont to do: in that he is mistaken. In like manner, if he shall conclude
from what he perceives in one station, that, in case he advances towards
the moon or tower, he should still be affected with the like ideas, he is
mistaken. But his mistake lies not in what he perceives immediately, and
at present, (it being a manifest contradiction to suppose he should err
in respect of that) but in the wrong judgment he makes concerning the
ideas he apprehends to be connected with those immediately perceived: or,
concerning the ideas that, from what he perceives at present, he imagines
would be perceived in other circumstances. The case is the same with
regard to the Copernican system. We do not here perceive any motion of
the earth: but it were erroneous thence to conclude, that, in case we
were placed at as great a distance from that as we are now from the other
planets, we should not then perceive its motion.
HYL. I understand you; and must needs own you say things plausible
enough. But, give me leave to put you in mind of one thing. Pray,
Philonous, were you not formerly as positive that Matter existed, as you
are now that it does not?
PHIL. I was. But here lies the difference. Before, my positiveness was
founded, without examination, upon prejudice; but now, after inquiry,
HYL. After all, it seems our dispute is rather about words than things.
We agree in the thing, but differ in the name. That we are affected with
ideas FROM WITHOUT is evident; and it is no less evident that there
must be (I will not say archetypes, but) Powers without the mind,
corresponding to those ideas. And, as these Powers cannot subsist by
themselves, there is some subject of them necessarily to be admitted;
which I call MATTER, and you call SPIRIT. This is all the difference.
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, is that powerful Being, or subject of powers,
HYL. It hath not extension; but it hath the power to raise in you the
idea of extension.
PHIL. It is therefore itself unextended?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. Is it not also active?
HYL. Without doubt. Otherwise, how could we attribute powers to it?
PHIL. Now let me ask you two questions: FIRST, Whether it be
agreeable to the usage either of philosophers or others to give the name
MATTER to an unextended active being? And, SECONDLY, Whether it be
not ridiculously absurd to misapply names contrary to the common use of
HYL. Well then, let it not be called Matter, since you will have it so,
but some THIRD NATURE distinct from Matter and Spirit. For what reason
is there why you should call it Spirit? Does not the notion of spirit
imply that it is thinking, as well as active and unextended?
PHIL. My reason is this: because I have a mind to have some notion of
meaning in what I say: but I have no notion of any action distinct from
volition, neither. can I conceive volition to be anywhere but in a
spirit: therefore, when I speak of an active being, I am obliged to mean
a Spirit. Beside, what can be plainer than that a thing which hath no
ideas in itself cannot impart them to me; and, if it hath ideas, surely
it must be a Spirit. To make you comprehend the point still more
clearly if it be possible, I assert as well as you that, since we are
affected from without, we must allow Powers to be without, in a Being
distinct from ourselves. So far we are agreed. But then we differ as to
the kind of this powerful Being. I will have it to be Spirit, you Matter,
or I know not what (I may add too, you know not what) Third Nature. Thus,
I prove it to be Spirit. From the effects I see produced, I conclude
there are actions; and, because actions, volitions; and, because there
are volitions, there must be a WILL. Again, the things I perceive must
have an existence, they or their archetypes, out of MY mind: but, being
ideas, neither they nor their archetypes can exist otherwise than in an
understanding; there is therefore an UNDERSTANDING. But will and
understanding constitute in the strictest sense a mind or spirit. The
powerful cause, therefore, of my ideas is in strict propriety of speech a
HYL. And now I warrant you think you have made the point very clear,
little suspecting that what you advance leads directly to a
contradiction. Is it not an absurdity to imagine any imperfection in God?
PHIL. Without a doubt.
HYL. To suffer pain is an imperfection?
PHIL. It is.
HYL. Are we not sometimes affected with pain and uneasiness by some
PHIL. We are.
HYL. And have you not said that Being is a Spirit, and is not that
PHIL. I grant it.
HYL. But you have asserted that whatever ideas we perceive from without
are in the mind which affects us. The ideas, therefore, of pain and
uneasiness are in God; or, in other words, God suffers pain: that is to
say, there is an imperfection in the Divine nature: which, you
acknowledged, was absurd. So you are caught in a plain contradiction.
PHIL. That God knows or understands all things, and that He knows,
among other things, what pain is, even every sort of painful sensation,
and what it is for His creatures to suffer pain, I make no question. But,
that God, though He knows and sometimes causes painful sensations in us,
can Himself suffer pain, I positively deny. We, who are limited and
dependent spirits, are liable to impressions of sense, the effects of an
external Agent, which, being produced against our wills, are
sometimes painful and uneasy. But God, whom no external being can affect,
who perceives nothing by sense as we do; whose will is absolute and
independent, causing all things, and liable to be thwarted or resisted by
nothing: it is evident, such a Being as this can suffer nothing, nor be
affected with any painful sensation, or indeed any sensation at all. We
are chained to a body: that is to say, our perceptions are connected with
corporeal motions. By the law of our nature, we are affected upon every
alteration in the nervous parts of our sensible body; which sensible
body, rightly considered, is nothing but a complexion of such qualities
or ideas as have no existence distinct from being perceived by a mind. So
that this connexion of sensations with corporeal motions means no more
than a correspondence in the order of nature, between two sets of ideas,
or things immediately perceivable. But God is a Pure Spirit, disengaged
from all such sympathy, or natural ties. No corporeal motions are
attended with the sensations of pain or pleasure in His mind. To know
everything knowable, is certainly a perfection; but to endure, or suffer,
or feel anything by sense, is an imperfection. The former, I say, agrees
to God, but not the latter. God knows, or hath ideas; but His ideas are
not conveyed to Him by sense, as ours are. Your not distinguishing, where
there is so manifest a difference, makes you fancy you see an absurdity
where there is none.
HYL. But, all this while you have not considered that the quantity of
Matter has been demonstrated to be proportioned to the gravity of bodies.
And what can withstand demonstration?
PHIL. Let me see how you demonstrate that point.
HYL. I lay it down for a principle, that the moments or quantities of
motion in bodies are in a direct compounded reason of the velocities and
quantities of Matter contained in them. Hence, where the velocities are
equal, it follows the moments are directly as the quantity of Matter in
each. But it is found by experience that all bodies (bating the small
inequalities, arising from the resistance of the air) descend with an
equal velocity; the motion therefore of descending bodies, and
consequently their gravity, which is the cause or principle of that
motion, is proportional to the quantity of Matter; which was to be
PHIL. You lay it down as a self-evident principle that the quantity of
motion in any body is proportional to the velocity and MATTER
taken together; and this is made use of to prove a proposition from
whence the existence of CARTER is inferred. Pray is not this arguing in
HYL. In the premise I only mean that the motion is proportional to the
velocity, jointly with the extension and solidity.
PHIL. But, allowing this to be true, yet it will not thence follow that
gravity is proportional to MATTER, in your philosophic sense of the
word; except you take it for granted that unknown SUBSTRATUM, or
whatever else you call it, is proportional to those sensible qualities;
which to suppose is plainly begging the question. That there is magnitude
and solidity, or resistance, perceived by sense, I readily grant; as
likewise, that gravity may be proportional to those qualities I will not
dispute. But that either these qualities as perceived by us, or the
powers producing them, do exist in a MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM; this is what
I deny, and you indeed affirm, but, notwithstanding your demonstration,
have not yet proved.
HYL. I shall insist no longer on that point. Do you think, however, you
shall persuade me that the natural philosophers have been dreaming all
this while? Pray what becomes of all their hypotheses and explications of
the phenomena, which suppose the existence of Matter?
PHIL. What mean you, Hylas, by the PHENOMENA?
HYL. I mean the appearances which I perceive by my senses.
PHIL. And the appearances perceived by sense, are they not ideas?
HYL. I have told you so a hundred times.
PHIL. Therefore, to explain the phenomena, is, to shew how we come to
be affected with ideas, in that manner and order wherein they are
imprinted on our senses. Is it not?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Now, if you can prove that any philosopher has explained the
production of any one idea in our minds by the help of MATTER, I shall
for ever acquiesce, and look on all that hath been said against it as
nothing; but, if you cannot, it is vain to urge the explication of
phenomena. That a Being endowed with knowledge and will should produce or
exhibit ideas is easily understood. But that a Being which is utterly
destitute of these faculties should be able to produce ideas, or in any
sort to affect an intelligence, this I can never understand. This I say,
though we had some positive conception of Matter, though we knew
its qualities, and could comprehend its existence, would yet be so far
from explaining things, that it is itself the most inexplicable thing in
the world. And yet, for all this, it will not follow that philosophers
have been doing nothing; for, by observing and reasoning upon the
connexion of ideas, they discover the laws and methods of nature, which
is a part of knowledge both useful and entertaining.
HYL. After all, can it be supposed God would deceive all mankind? Do
you imagine He would have induced the whole world to believe the being of
Matter, if there was no such thing?
PHIL. That every epidemical opinion, arising from prejudice, or
passion, or thoughtlessness, may be imputed to God, as the Author of it,
I believe you will not affirm. Whatsoever opinion we father on Him, it
must be either because He has discovered it to us by supernatural
revelation; or because it is so evident to our natural faculties, which
were framed and given us by God, that it is impossible we should withhold
our assent from it. But where is the revelation? or where is the evidence
that extorts the belief of Matter? Nay, how does it appear, that Matter,
TAKEN FOR SOMETHING DISTINCT FROM WHAT WE PERCEIVE BY OUR SENSES, is
thought to exist by all mankind; or indeed, by any except a few
philosophers, who do not know what they would be at? Your question
supposes these points are clear; and, when you have cleared them, I shall
think myself obliged to give you another answer. In the meantime, let it
suffice that I tell you, I do not suppose God has deceived mankind at
HYL. But the novelty, Philonous, the novelty! There lies the danger.
New notions should always be discountenanced; they unsettle men's minds,
and nobody knows where they will end.
PHIL. Why the rejecting a notion that has no foundation, either in
sense, or in reason, or in Divine authority, should be thought to
unsettle the belief of such opinions as are grounded on all or any of
these, I cannot imagine. That innovations in government and religion are
dangerous, and ought to be discountenanced, I freely own. But is there
the like reason why they should be discouraged in philosophy? The making
anything known which was unknown before is an innovation in knowledge:
and, if all such innovations had been forbidden, men would have
made a notable progress in the arts and sciences. But it is none of my
business to plead for novelties and paradoxes. That the qualities we
perceive are not on the objects: that we must not believe our senses:
that we know nothing of the real nature of things, and can never be
assured even of their existence: that real colours and sounds are nothing
but certain unknown figures and motions: that motions are in themselves
neither swift nor slow: that there are in bodies absolute extensions,
without any particular magnitude or figure: that a thing stupid,
thoughtless, and inactive, operates on a spirit: that the least particle
of a body contains innumerable extended parts:--these are the novelties,
these are the strange notions which shock the genuine uncorrupted
judgment of all mankind; and being once admitted, embarrass the mind with
endless doubts and difficulties. And it is against these and the like
innovations I endeavour to vindicate Common Sense. It is true, in doing
this, I may perhaps be obliged to use some AMBAGES, and ways of speech
not common. But, if my notions are once thoroughly understood, that which
is most singular in them will, in effect, be found to amount to no more
than this.--that it is absolutely impossible, and a plain contradiction,
to suppose any unthinking Being should exist without being perceived by a
Mind. And, if this notion be singular, it is a shame it should be so, at
this time of day, and in a Christian country.
HYL. As for the difficulties other opinions may be liable to, those
are out of the question. It is your business to defend your own opinion.
Can anything be plainer than that you are for changing all things into
ideas? You, I say, who are not ashamed to charge me WITH SCEPTICISM.
This is so plain, there is no denying it.
PHIL. You mistake me. I am not for changing things into ideas, but
rather ideas into things; since those immediate objects of perception,
which, according to you, are only appearances of things, I take to be the
real things themselves.
HYL. Things! You may pretend what you please; but it is certain you
leave us nothing but the empty forms of things, the outside only which
strikes the senses.
PHIL. What you call the empty forms and outside of things seem to me
the very things themselves. Nor are they empty or incomplete, otherwise
than upon your supposition--that Matter is an essential part of all
corporeal things. We both, therefore, agree in this, that we perceive
only sensible forms: but herein we differ--you will have them to be empty
appearances, I, real beings. In short, you do not trust your senses, I
HYL. You say you believe your senses; and seem to applaud yourself that
in this you agree with the vulgar. According to you, therefore, the true
nature of a thing is discovered by the senses. If so, whence comes that
disagreement? Why is not the same figure, and other sensible qualities,
perceived all manner of ways? and why should we use a microscope the
better to discover the true nature of a body, if it were discoverable to
the naked eye?
PHIL. Strictly speaking, Hylas, we do not see the same object that we
feel; neither is the same object perceived by the microscope which was by
the naked eye. But, in case every variation was thought sufficient to
constitute a new kind of individual, the endless number of confusion of
names would render language impracticable. Therefore, to avoid this, as
well as other inconveniences which are obvious upon a little thought, men
combine together several ideas, apprehended by divers senses, or by the
same sense at different times, or in different circumstances, but
observed, however, to have some connexion in nature, either with respect
to co-existence or succession; all which they refer to one name, and
consider as one thing. Hence it follows that when I examine, by my other
senses, a thing I have seen, it is not in order to understand better the
same object which I had perceived by sight, the object of one sense not
being perceived by the other senses. And, when I look through a
microscope, it is not that I may perceive more clearly what I perceived
already with my bare eyes; the object perceived by the glass being quite
different from the former. But, in both cases, my aim is only to know
what ideas are connected together; and the more a man knows of the
connexion of ideas, the more he is said to know of the nature of things.
What, therefore, if our ideas are variable; what if our senses are not in
all circumstances affected with the same appearances. It will not thence
follow they are not to be trusted; or that they are inconsistent either
with themselves or anything else: except it be with your preconceived
notion of (I know not what) one single, unchanged, unperceivable, real
Nature, marked by each name. Which prejudice seems to have taken its rise
from not rightly understanding the common language of men, speaking
of several distinct ideas as united into one thing by the mind. And,
indeed, there is cause to suspect several erroneous conceits of the
philosophers are owing to the same original: while they began to build
their schemes not so much on notions as on words, which were framed by
the vulgar, merely for conveniency and dispatch in the common actions of
life, without any regard to speculation.
HYL. Methinks I apprehend your meaning.
PHIL. It is your opinion the ideas we perceive by our senses are not
real things, but images or copies of them. Our knowledge, therefore, is
no farther real than as our ideas are the true REPRESENTATIONS OF THOSE
ORIGINALS. But, as these supposed originals are in themselves unknown,
it is impossible to know how far our ideas resemble them; or whether they
resemble them at all. We cannot, therefore, be sure we have any real
knowledge. Farther, as our ideas are perpetually varied, without any
change in the supposed real things, it necessarily follows they cannot
all be true copies of them: or, if some are and others are not, it is
impossible to distinguish the former from the latter. And this plunges us
yet deeper in uncertainty. Again, when we consider the point, we cannot
conceive how any idea, or anything like an idea, should have an absolute
existence out of a mind: nor consequently, according to you, how there
should be any real thing in nature. The result of all which is that we
are thrown into the most hopeless and abandoned scepticism. Now, give me
leave to ask you, First, Whether your referring ideas to certain
absolutely existing unperceived substances, as their originals, be not
the source of all this scepticism? Secondly, whether you are informed,
either by sense or reason, of the existence of those unknown originals?
And, in case you are not, whether it be not absurd to suppose them?
Thirdly, Whether, upon inquiry, you find there is anything distinctly
conceived or meant by the ABSOLUTE OR EXTERNAL EXISTENCE OF UNPERCEIVING
SUBSTANCES? Lastly, Whether, the premises considered, it be not the
wisest way to follow nature, trust your senses, and, laying aside all
anxious thought about unknown natures or substances, admit with the
vulgar those for real things which are perceived by the senses?
HYL. For the present, I have no inclination to the answering part. I
would much rather see how you can get over what follows. Pray are not the
objects perceived by the SENSES of one, likewise perceivable to
others present? If there were a hundred more here, they would all see the
garden, the trees, and flowers, as I see them. But they are not in the
same manner affected with the ideas I frame in my IMAGINATION. Does not
this make a difference between the former sort of objects and the latter?
PHIL. I grant it does. Nor have I ever denied a difference between the
objects of sense and those of imagination. But what would you infer from
thence? You cannot say that sensible objects exist unperceived, because
they are perceived by many.
HYL. I own I can make nothing of that objection: but it hath led me
into another. Is it not your opinion that by our senses we perceive only
the ideas existing in our minds?
PHIL. It is.
HYL. But the SAME idea which is in my mind cannot be in yours, or in
any other mind. Doth it not therefore follow, from your principles, that
no two can see the same thing? And is not this highly, absurd?
PHIL. If the term SAME be taken in the vulgar acceptation, it is
certain (and not at all repugnant to the principles I maintain) that
different persons may perceive the same thing; or the same thing or idea
exist in different minds. Words are of arbitrary imposition; and, since
men are used to apply the word SAME where no distinction or variety is
perceived, and I do not pretend to alter their perceptions, it follows
that, as men have said before, SEVERAL SAW THE SAME THING, so they may,
upon like occasions, still continue to use the same phrase, without any
deviation either from propriety of language, or the truth of things. But,
if the term SAME be used in the acceptation of philosophers, who
pretend to an abstracted notion of identity, then, according to their
sundry definitions of this notion (for it is not yet agreed wherein that
philosophic identity consists), it may or may not be possible for divers
persons to perceive the same thing. But whether philosophers shall think
fit to CALL a thing the SAME or no, is, I conceive, of small
importance. Let us suppose several men together, all endued with the same
faculties, and consequently affected in like sort by their senses, and
who had yet never known the use of language; they would, without
question, agree in their perceptions. Though perhaps, when they came to
the use of speech, some regarding the uniformness of what was perceived,
might call it the SAME thing: others, especially regarding the
diversity of persons who perceived, might choose the denomination of
DIFFERENT things. But who sees not that all the dispute is about a
word? to wit, whether. what is perceived by different persons may yet
have the term SAME applied to it? Or, suppose a house, whose walls or
outward shell remaining unaltered, the chambers are all pulled down, and
new ones built in their place; and that you should call this the SAME,
and I should say it was not the SAME house.--would we not, for all
this, perfectly agree in our thoughts of the house, considered in itself?
And would not all the difference consist in a sound? If you should say,
We differed in our notions; for that you super-added to your idea of the
house the simple abstracted idea of identity, whereas I did not; I would
tell you, I know not what you mean by THE ABSTRACTED IDEA OF IDENTITY;
and should desire you to look into your own thoughts, and be sure you
understood yourself.--Why so silent, Hylas? Are you not yet satisfied men
may dispute about identity and diversity, without any real difference in
their thoughts and opinions, abstracted from names? Take this farther
reflexion with you: that whether Matter be allowed to exist or no, the
case is exactly the same as to the point in hand. For the Materialists
themselves acknowledge what we immediately perceive by our senses to be
our own ideas. Your difficulty, therefore, that no two see the same
thing, makes equally against the Materialists and me.
HYL. Ay, Philonous, but they suppose an external archetype, to
which referring their several ideas they may truly be said to perceive
the same thing.
PHIL. And (not to mention your having discarded those archetypes) so
may you suppose an external archetype on my principles;--EXTERNAL, _I_
MEAN, TO YOUR OWN MIND: though indeed it must be' supposed to exist in
that Mind which comprehends all things; but then, this serves all the
ends of IDENTITY, as well as if it existed out of a mind. And I am sure
you yourself will not say it is less intelligible.
HYL. You have indeed clearly satisfied me--either that there is no
difficulty at bottom in this point; or, if there be, that it makes
equally against both opinions.
PHIL. But that which makes equally against two contradictory opinions
can be a proof against neither.
HYL. I acknowledge it. But, after all, Philonous, when I consider
the substance of what you advance against SCEPTICISM, it amounts to no
more than this: We are sure that we really see, hear, feel; in a word,
that we are affected with sensible impressions.
PHIL. And how are WE concerned any farther? I see this cherry, I feel
it, I taste it: and I am sure NOTHING cannot be seen, or felt, or.
tasted: it is therefore red. Take away the sensations of softness,
moisture, redness, tartness, and you take away the cherry, since it is
not a being distinct from sensations. A cherry, I say, is nothing but a
congeries of sensible impressions, or ideas perceived by various senses:
which ideas are united into one thing (or have one name given them) by
the mind, because they are observed to attend each other. Thus, when the
palate is affected with such a particular taste, the sight is affected
with a red colour, the touch with roundness, softness, &c. Hence, when I
see, and feel, and taste, in such sundry certain manners, I am sure the
cherry exists, or is real; its reality being in my opinion nothing
abstracted from those sensations. But if by the word CHERRY you, mean
an unknown nature, distinct from all those sensible qualities, and by its
EXISTENCE something distinct from its being perceived; then, indeed, I
own, neither you nor I, nor any one else, can be sure it exists.
HYL. But, what would you say, Philonous, if I should bring the very
same reasons against the existence of sensible things IN A MIND, which
you have offered against their existing IN A MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM?
PHIL. When I see your reasons, you shall hear what I have to say to
HYL. Is the mind extended or unextended?
PHIL. Unextended, without doubt.
HYL. Do you say the things you perceive are in your mind?
PHIL. They are.
HYL. Again, have I not heard you speak of sensible impressions?
PHIL. I believe you may.
HYL. Explain to me now, O Philonous! how it is possible there should be
room for all those trees and houses to exist in your mind. Can extended
things be contained in that which is unextended? Or, are we to imagine
impressions made on a thing void of all solidity? You cannot say objects
are in your mind, as books in your study: or that things are imprinted on
it, as the figure of a seal upon wax. In what sense, therefore, are we to
understand those expressions? Explain me this if you can: and I shall
then be able to answer all those queries you formerly put to me about my
PHIL. Look you, Hylas, when I speak of objects as existing in the mind,
or imprinted on the senses, I would not be understood in the gross
literal sense; as when bodies are said to exist in a place, or a seal to
make an impression upon wax. My meaning is only that the mind comprehends
or perceives them; and that it is affected from without, or by some being
distinct from itself. This is my explication of your difficulty; and how
it can serve to make your tenet of an unperceiving material SUBSTRATUM
intelligible, I would fain know.
HYL. Nay, if that be all, I confess I do not see what use can be made
of it. But are you not guilty of some abuse of language in this?
PHIL. None at all. It is no more than common custom, which you know is
the rule of language, hath authorised: nothing being more usual, than for
philosophers to speak of the immediate objects of the understanding as
things existing in the mind. 'Nor is there anything in this but what is
conformable to the general analogy of language; most part of the mental
operations being signified by words borrowed from sensible things; as is
plain in the terms COMPREHEND, reflect, DISCOURSE, &C., which,
being applied to the mind, must not be taken in their gross, original
HYL. You have, I own, satisfied me in this point. But there still
remains one great difficulty, which I know not how you will get over.
And, indeed, it is of such importance that if you could solve all others,
without being able to find a solution for this, you must never expect to
make me a proselyte to your principles.
PHIL. Let me know this mighty difficulty.
HYL. The Scripture account of the creation is what appears to me
utterly irreconcilable with your notions. Moses tells us of a creation: a
creation of what? of ideas? No, certainly, but of things, of real things,
solid corporeal substances. Bring your principles to agree with this, and
I shall perhaps agree with you.
PHIL. Moses mentions the sun, moon, and stars, earth and sea, plants
and animals. That all these do really exist, and were in the beginning
created by God, I make no question. If by IDEAS you mean fictions
and fancies of the mind, then these are no ideas. If by IDEAS you mean
immediate objects of the understanding, or sensible things, which cannot
exist unperceived, or out of a mind, then these things are ideas. But
whether you do or do not call them IDEAS, IT matters little. The
difference is only about a name. And, whether that name be retained or
rejected, the sense, the truth, and reality of things continues the same.
In common talk, the objects of our senses are not termed IDEAS, but
THINGS. Call them so still: provided you do not attribute to them any
absolute external existence, and I shall never quarrel with you for a
word. The creation, therefore, I allow to have been a creation of things,
of RED things. Neither is this in the least inconsistent with my
principles, as is evident from what I have now said; and would have been
evident to you without this, if you had not forgotten what had been so
often said before. But as for solid corporeal substances, I desire you to
show where Moses makes any mention of them; and, if they should be
mentioned by him, or any other inspired writer, it would still be
incumbent on you to shew those words were not taken in the vulgar
acceptation, for things falling under our senses, but in the philosophic
acceptation, for Matter, or AN UNKNOWN QUIDDITY, WITH AN ABSOLUTE
EXISTENCE. When you have proved these points, then (and not till then)
may you bring the authority of Moses into our dispute.
HYL. It is in vain to dispute about a point so clear. I am content to
refer it to your own conscience. Are you not satisfied there is some
peculiar repugnancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and your
PHIL. If all possible sense which can be put on the first chapter of
Genesis may be conceived as consistently with my principles as any other,
then it has no peculiar repugnancy with them. But there is no sense you
may not as well conceive, believing as I do. Since, besides spirits, all
you conceive are ideas; and the existence of these I do not deny. Neither
do you pretend they exist without the mind.
HYL. Pray let me see any sense you can understand it in.
PHIL. Why, I imagine that if I had been present at the creation, I
should have seen things produced into being--that is become
perceptible--in the order prescribed by the sacred historian. I ever
before believed the Mosaic account of the creation, and now find no
alteration in my manner of believing it. When things are said to begin or
end their existence, we do not mean this with regard to God, but
His creatures. All objects are eternally known by God, or, which is the
same thing, have an eternal existence in His mind: but when things,
before imperceptible to creatures, are, by a decree of God, perceptible
to them, then are they said to begin a relative existence, with respect
to created minds. Upon reading therefore the Mosaic account of the
creation, I understand that the several parts of the world became
gradually perceivable to finite spirits, endowed with proper faculties;
so that, whoever such were present, they were in truth perceived by them.
This is the literal obvious sense suggested to me by the words of the
Holy Scripture: in which is included no mention, or no thought, either of
SUBSTRATUM, INSTRUMENT, OCCASION, or ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. And, upon
inquiry, I doubt not it will be found that most plain honest men, who
believe the creation, never think of those things any more than I. What
metaphysical sense you may understand it in, you only can tell.
HYL. But, Philonous, you do not seem to be aware that you allow created
things, in the beginning, only a relative, and consequently hypothetical
being: that is to say, upon supposition there were MEN to perceive
them; without which they have no actuality of absolute existence, wherein
creation might terminate. Is it not, therefore, according to you, plainly
impossible the creation of any inanimate creatures should precede that of
man? And is not this directly contrary to the Mosaic account?
PHIL. In answer to that, I say, first, created beings might begin to
exist in the mind of other created intelligences, beside men. You will
not therefore be able to prove any contradiction between Moses and my
notions, unless you first shew there was no other order of finite created
spirits in being, before man. I say farther, in case we conceive the
creation, as we should at this time, a parcel of plants or vegetables of
all sorts produced, by an invisible Power, in a desert where nobody was
present--that this way of explaining or conceiving it is consistent with
my principles, since they deprive you of nothing, either sensible or
imaginable; that it exactly suits with the common, natural, and
undebauched notions of mankind; that it manifests the dependence of all
things on God; and consequently hath all the good effect or influence,
which it is possible that important article of our faith should have in
making men humble, thankful, and resigned to their great Creator. I
say, moreover, that, in this naked conception of things, divested
of words, there will not be found any notion of what you call the
ACTUALITY OF ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. You may indeed raise a dust with those
terms, and so lengthen our dispute to no purpose. But I entreat you
calmly to look into your own thoughts, and then tell me if they are not a
useless and unintelligible jargon.
HYL. I own I have no very clear notion annexed to them. But what say
you to this? Do you not make the existence of sensible things consist in
their being in a mind? And were not all things eternally in the mind of
God? Did they not therefore exist from all eternity, according to you?
And how could that which was eternal be created in time? Can anything be
clearer or better connected than this?
PHIL. And are not you too of opinion, that God knew all things from
HYL. I am.
PHIL. Consequently they always had a being in the Divine intellect.
HYL. This I acknowledge.
PHIL. By your own confession, therefore, nothing is new, or begins to
be, in respect of the mind of God. So we are agreed in that point.
HYL. What shall we make then of the creation?
PHIL. May we not understand it to have been entirely in respect of
finite spirits; so that things, with regard to us, may properly be said
to begin their existence, or be created, when God decreed they should
become perceptible to intelligent creatures, in that order and manner
which He then established, and we now call the laws of nature? You may
call this a RELATIVE, or HYPOTHETICAL EXISTENCE if you please. But,
so long as it supplies us with the most natural, obvious, and literal
sense of the Mosaic history of the creation; so long as it answers all
the religious ends of that great article; in a word, so long as you can
assign no other sense or meaning in its stead; why should we reject this?
Is it to comply with a ridiculous sceptical humour of making everything
nonsense and unintelligible? I am sure you cannot say it is for the glory
of God. For, allowing it to be a thing possible and conceivable that the
corporeal world should have an absolute existence extrinsical to the mind
of God, as well as to the minds of all created spirits; yet how could
this set forth either the immensity or omniscience of the Deity, or the
necessary and immediate dependence of all things on Him? Nay, would
it not rather seem to derogate from those attributes?
HYL. Well, but as to this decree of God's, for making things
perceptible, what say you, Philonous? Is it not plain, God did either
execute that decree from all eternity, or at some certain time began to
will what He had not actually willed before, but only designed to will?
If the former, then there could be no creation, or beginning of
existence, in finite things. If the latter, then we must acknowledge
something new to befall the Deity; which implies a sort of change: and
all change argues imperfection.
PHIL. Pray consider what you are doing. Is it not evident this
objection concludes equally against a creation in any sense; nay, against
every other act of the Deity, discoverable by the light of nature? None
of which can WE conceive, otherwise than as performed in time, and
having a beginning. God is a Being of transcerident and unlimited
perfections: His nature, therefore, is incomprehensible to finite
spirits. It is not, therefore, to be expected, that any man, whether
Materialist or Immaterialist, should have exactly just notions of the
Deity, His attributes, and ways of operation. If then you would infer
anything against me, your difficulty must not be drawn from the
inadequateness of our conceptions of the Divine nature, which is
unavoidable on any scheme; but from the denial of Matter, of which there
is not one word, directly or indirectly, in what you have now objected.
HYL. I must acknowledge the difficulties you are concerned to clear are
such only as arise from the non-existence of Matter, and are peculiar to
that notion. So far you are in the right. But I cannot by any means bring
myself to think there is no such peculiar repugnancy between the creation
and your opinion; though indeed where to fix it, I do not distinctly
PHIL. What would you have? Do I not acknowledge a twofold state of
things--the one ectypal or natural, the other archetypal and eternal? The
former was created in time; the latter existed from everlasting in the
mind of God. Is not this agreeable to the common notions of divines? or,
is any more than this necessary in order to conceive the creation? But
you suspect some peculiar repugnancy, though you know not where it lies.
To take away all possibility of scruple in the case, do but consider this
one point. Either you are not able to conceive the Creation on any
hypothesis whatsoever; and, if so, there is no ground for dislike or
complaint against any particular opinion on that score: or you are able
to conceive it; and, if so, why not on my Principles, since thereby
nothing conceivable is taken away? You have all along been allowed the
full scope of sense, imagination, and reason. Whatever, therefore, you
could before apprehend, either immediately or mediately by your senses,
or by ratiocination from your senses; whatever you could perceive,
imagine, or understand, remains still with you. If, therefore, the notion
you have of the creation by other Principles be intelligible, you have it
still upon mine; if it be not intelligible, I conceive it to be no notion
at all; and so there is no loss of it. And indeed it seems to me very
plain that the supposition of Matter, that is a thing perfectly unknown
and inconceivable, cannot serve to make us conceive anything. And, I hope
it need not be proved to you that if the existence of Matter doth not
make the creation conceivable, the creation's being without it
inconceivable can be no objection against its non-existence.
HYL. I confess, Philonous, you have almost satisfied me in this point
of the creation.
PHIL. I would fain know why you are not quite satisfied. You tell me
indeed of a repugnancy between the Mosaic history and Immaterialism: but
you know not where it lies. Is this reasonable, Hylas? Can you expect I
should solve a difficulty without knowing what it is? But, to pass by all
that, would not a man think you were assured there is no repugnancy
between the received notions of Materialists and the inspired writings?
HYL. And so I am.
PHIL. Ought the historical part of Scripture to be understood in a
plain obvious sense, or in a sense which is metaphysical and out of the
HYL. In the plain sense, doubtless.
PHIL. When Moses speaks of herbs, earth, water, &c. as having been
created by God; think you not the sensible things commonly signified by
those words are suggested to every unphilosophical reader?
HYL. I cannot help thinking so.
PHIL. And are not all ideas, or things perceived by sense, to be denied
a real existence by the doctrine of the Materialist?
HYL. This I have already acknowledged.
PHIL. The creation, therefore, according to them, was not the
creation of things sensible, which have only a relative being, but of
certain unknown natures, which have an absolute being, wherein creation
PHIL. Is it not therefore evident the assertors of Matter destroy the
plain obvious sense of Moses, with which their notions are utterly
inconsistent; and instead of it obtrude on us I know not what; something
equally unintelligible to themselves and me?
HYL. I cannot contradict you.
PHIL. Moses tells us of a creation. A creation of what? of unknown
quiddities, of occasions, or SUBSTRATUM? No, certainly; but of things
obvious to the senses. You must first reconcile this with your notions,
if you expect I should be reconciled to them.
HYL. I see you can assault me with my own weapons.
PHIL. Then as to ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE; was there ever known a more
jejune notion than that? Something it is so abstracted and unintelligible
that you have frankly owned you could not conceive it, much less explain
anything by it. But allowing Matter to exist, and the notion of absolute
existence to be clear as light; yet, was this ever known to make the
creation more credible? Nay, hath it not furnished the atheists and
infidels of all ages with the most plausible arguments against a
creation? That a corporeal substance, which hath an absolute existence
without the minds of spirits, should be produced out of nothing, by the
mere will of a Spirit, hath been looked upon as a thing so contrary to
all reason, so impossible and absurd! that not only the most celebrated
among the ancients, but even divers modern and Christian philosophers
have thought Matter co-eternal with the Deity. Lay these things together,
and then judge you whether Materialism disposes men to believe the
creation of things.
HYL. I own, Philonous, I think it does not. This of the CREATION is
the last objection I can think of; and I must needs own it hath been
sufficiently answered as well as the rest. Nothing now remains to be
overcome but a sort of unaccountable backwardness that I find in myself
towards your notions.
PHIL. When a man is swayed, he knows not why, to one side of' the
question, can this, think you, be anything else but the effect of
prejudice, which never fails to attend old and rooted notions? And
indeed in this respect I cannot deny the belief of Matter to have very
much the advantage over the contrary opinion, with men of a learned,
HYL. I confess it seems to be as you say.
PHIL. As a balance, therefore, to this weight of prejudice, let us
throw into the scale the great advantages that arise from the belief of
Immaterialism, both in regard to religion and human learning. The being
of a God, and incorruptibility of the soul, those great articles of
religion, are they not proved with the clearest and most immediate
evidence? When I say the being of a God, I do not mean an obscure general
Cause of things, whereof we have no conception, but God, in the strict
and proper sense of the word. A Being whose spirituality, omnipresence,
providence, omniscience, infinite power and goodness, are as conspicuous
as the existence of sensible things, of which (notwithstanding the
fallacious pretences and affected scruples of Sceptics) there is no more
reason to doubt than of our own being.--Then, with relation to human
sciences. In Natural Philosophy, what intricacies, what obscurities, what
contradictions hath the belief of Matter led men into! To say nothing of
the numberless disputes about its extent, continuity, homogeneity,
gravity, divisibility, &c.--do they not pretend to explain all things by
bodies operating on bodies, according to the laws of motion? and yet, are
they able to comprehend how one body should move another? Nay, admitting
there was no difficulty in reconciling the notion of an inert being with
a cause, or in conceiving how an accident might pass from one body to
another; yet, by all their strained thoughts and extravagant
suppositions, have they been able to reach the MECHANICAL production of
any one animal or vegetable body? Can they account, by the laws of
motion, for sounds, tastes, smells, or colours; or for the regular course
of things? Have they accounted, by physical principles, for the aptitude
and contrivance even of the most inconsiderable parts of the universe?
But, laying aside Matter and corporeal, causes, and admitting only the
efficiency of an All-perfect Mind, are not all the effects of nature easy
and intelligible? If the PHENOMENA are nothing else but IDEAS; God is
a SPIRIT, but Matter an unintelligent, unperceiving being. If they
demonstrate an unlimited power in their cause; God is active and
omnipotent, but Matter an inert mass. If the order, regularity, and
usefulness of them can never be sufficiently admired; God is
infinitely wise and provident, but Matter destitute of all contrivance
and design. These surely are great advantages in PHYSICS. Not to
mention that the apprehension of a distant Deity naturally disposes men
to a negligence in their moral actions; which they would be more cautious
of, in case they thought Him immediately present, and acting on their
minds, without the interposition of Matter, or unthinking second
causes.--Then in METAPHYSICS: what difficulties concerning entity in
abstract, substantial forms, hylarchic principles, plastic natures,
substance and accident, principle of individuation, possibility of
Matter's thinking, origin of ideas, the manner how two independent
substances so widely different as SPIRIT AND MATTER, should mutually
operate on each other? what difficulties, I say, and endless
disquisitions, concerning these and innumerable other the like points, do
we escape, by supposing only Spirits and ideas?--Even the MATHEMATICS
themselves, if we take away the absolute existence of extended things,
become much more clear and easy; the most shocking paradoxes and
intricate speculations in those sciences depending on the. infinite
divisibility of finite extension; which depends on that supposition--But
what need is there to insist on the particular sciences? Is not that
opposition to all science whatsoever, that frenzy of the ancient and
modern Sceptics, built on the same foundation? Or can you produce so much
as one argument against the reality of corporeal things, or in behalf of
that avowed utter ignorance of their natures, which doth not suppose
their reality to consist in an external absolute existence? Upon this
supposition, indeed, the objections from the change of colours in a
pigeon's neck, or the appearance of the broken oar in the water, must be
allowed to have weight. But these and the like objections vanish, if we
do not maintain the being of absolute external originals, but place the
reality of things in ideas, fleeting indeed, and changeable;--however,
not changed at random, but according to the fixed order of nature. For,
herein consists that constancy and truth of things which secures all the
concerns of life, and distinguishes that which is real from the
IRREGULAR VISIONS of the fancy.
HYL. I agree to all you have now said, and must own that nothing can
incline me to embrace your opinion more than the advantages I see it is
attended with. I am by nature lazy; and this would be a mighty abridgment
in knowledge. What doubts, what hypotheses, what labyrinths of amusement,
what fields of disputation, what an ocean of false learning, may be
avoided by that single notion of IMMATERIALISM!
PHIL. After all, is there anything farther remaining to be done? You
may remember you promised to embrace that opinion which upon examination
should appear most agreeable to Common Sense and remote from Scepticism.
This, by your own confession, is that which denies Matter, or the
ABSOLUTE existence of corporeal things. Nor is this all; the same
notion has been proved several ways, viewed in different lights, pursued
in its consequences, and all objections against it cleared. Can there be
a greater evidence of its truth? or is it possible it should have all the
marks of a true opinion and yet be false?
HYL. I own myself entirely satisfied for the present in all respects.
But, what security can I have that I shall still continue the same full
assent to your opinion, and that no unthought-of objection or difficulty
will occur hereafter?
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, do you in other cases, when a point is once
evidently proved, withhold your consent on account of objections or
difficulties it may be liable to? Are the difficulties that attend the
doctrine of incommensurable quantities, of the angle of contact, of the
asymptotes to curves, or the like, sufficient to make you hold out
against mathematical demonstration? Or will you disbelieve the Providence
of God, because there may be some particular things which you know not
how to reconcile with it? If there are difficulties ATTENDING
IMMATERIALISM, there are at the same time direct and evident proofs of
it. But for the existence of Matter there is not one proof, and far more
numerous and insurmountable objections lie against it. But where are
those mighty difficulties you insist on? Alas! you know not where or what
they are; something which may possibly occur hereafter. If this be a
sufficient pretence for withholding your full assent, you should never
yield it to any proposition, how free soever from exceptions, how clearly
and solidly soever demonstrated.
HYL. You have satisfied me, Philonous.
PHIL. But, to arm you against all future objections, do but consider:
That which bears equally hard on two contradictory opinions can be
proof against neither. Whenever, therefore, any difficulty occurs, try if
you can find a solution for it on the hypothesis of the MATERIALISTS.
Be not deceived by words; but sound your own thoughts. And in case you
cannot conceive it easier by the help of MATERIALISM, it is plain it
can be no objection against IMMATERIALISM. Had you proceeded all along
by this rule, you would probably have spared yourself abundance of
trouble in objecting; since of all your difficulties I challenge you to
shew one that is explained by Matter: nay, which is not more
unintelligible with than without that supposition; and consequently makes
rather AGAINST than FOR it. You should consider, in each particular,
whether the difficulty arises from the NON-EXISTENCE OF MATTER. If it
doth not, you might as well argue from the infinite divisibility of
extension against the Divine prescience, as from such a difficulty
against IMMATERIALISM. And yet, upon recollection, I believe you will
find this to have been often, if not always, the case. You should
likewise take heed not to argue on a PETITIO PRINCIPII. One is apt to
say--The unknown substances ought to be esteemed real things, rather than
the ideas in our minds: and who can tell but the unthinking external
substance may concur, as a cause or instrument, in the productions of our
ideas? But is not this proceeding on a supposition that there are such
external substances? And to suppose this, is it not begging the question?
But, above all things, you should beware of imposing on yourself by that
vulgar sophism which is called IGNORATIO ELENCHI. You talked often as
if you thought I maintained the non-existence of Sensible Things. Whereas
in truth no one can be more thoroughly assured of their existence than I
am. And it is you who doubt; I should have said, positively deny it.
Everything that is seen, felt, heard, or any way perceived by the senses,
is, on the principles I embrace, a real being; but not on yours.
Remember, the Matter you contend for is an Unknown Somewhat (if indeed it
may be termed SOMEWHAT), which is quite stripped of all sensible
qualities, and can neither be perceived by sense, nor apprehended by the
mind. Remember I say, that it is not any object which is hard or soft,
hot or cold, blue or white, round or square, &c. For all these things I
affirm do exist. Though indeed I deny they have an existence distinct
from being perceived; or that they exist out of all minds whatsoever.
Think on these points; let them be attentively considered and still kept
in view. Otherwise you will not comprehend the state of the question;
without which your objections will always be wide of the mark, and,
instead of mine, may possibly be directed (as more than once they have
been) against your own notions.
HYL. I must needs own, Philonous, nothing seems to have kept me from
agreeing with you more than this same MISTAKING THE QUESTION. In
denying Matter, at first glimpse I am tempted to imagine you deny the
things we see and feel: but, upon reflexion, find there is no ground for
it. What think you, therefore, of retaining the name MATTER, and
applying it to SENSIBLE THINGS? This may be done without any change in
your sentiments: and, believe me, it would be a means of reconciling them
to some persons who may be more shocked at an innovation in words than in
PHIL. With all my heart: retain the word MATTER, and apply it to the
objects of sense, if you please; provided you do not attribute to them
any subsistence distinct from their being perceived. I shall never
quarrel with you for an expression. MATTER, or MATERIAL SUBSTANCE,
are terms introduced by philosophers; and, as used by them, imply a sort
of independency, or a subsistence distinct from being perceived by a
mind: but are never used by common people; or, if ever, it is to signify
the immediate objects of sense. One would think, therefore, so long as
the names of all particular things, with the TERMS SENSIBLE,
SUBSTANCE, BODY, STUFF, and the like, are retained, the word
MATTER should be never missed in common talk. And in philosophical
discourses it seems the best way to leave it quite out: since there is
not, perhaps, any one thing that hath more favoured and strengthened the
depraved bent of the mind towards Atheism than the use of that general
HYL. Well but, Philonous, since I am content to give up the notion of
an unthinking substance exterior to the mind, I think you ought not to
deny me the privilege of using the word MATTER as I please, and
annexing it to a collection of sensible qualities subsisting only in the
mind. I freely own there is no other substance, in a strict sense, than
SPIRIT. But I have been so long accustomed to the term MATTER that I
know not how to part with it: to say, there is no MATTER in the world,
is still shocking to me. Whereas to say--There is no MATTER, if by that
term be meant an unthinking substance existing without the mind; but if
by MATTER is meant some sensible thing, whose existence consists in
being perceived, then there is MATTER:--THIS distinction gives it
quite another turn; and men will come into your notions with small
difficulty, when they are proposed in that manner. For, after all, the
controversy about MATTER in the strict acceptation of it, lies
altogether between you and the philosophers: whose principles, I
acknowledge, are not near so natural, or so agreeable to the common sense
of mankind, and Holy Scripture, as yours. There is nothing we either
desire or shun but as it makes, or is apprehended to make, some part of
our happiness or misery. But what hath happiness or misery, joy or grief,
pleasure or pain, to do with Absolute Existence; or with unknown
entities, ABSTRACTED FROM ALL RELATION TO US? It is evident, things
regard us only as they are pleasing or displeasing: and they can please
or displease only so far forth as they are perceived. Farther, therefore,
we are not concerned; and thus far you leave things as you found them.
Yet still there is something new in this doctrine. It is plain, I do not
now think with the Philosophers; nor yet altogether with the vulgar. I
would know how the case stands in that respect; precisely, what you have
added to, or altered in my former notions.
PHIL. I do not pretend to be a setter-up of new notions. My endeavours
tend only to unite, and place in a clearer light, that truth which was
before shared between the vulgar and the philosophers:--the former being
of opinion, that THOSE THINGS THEY IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVE ARE THE REAL
THINGS; and the latter, that THE THINGS IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVED ARE
IDEAS, WHICH EXIST ONLY IN THE MIND. Which two notions put together,
do, in effect, constitute the substance of what I advance.
HYL. I have been a long time distrusting my senses: methought I saw
things by a dim light and through false glasses. Now the glasses are
removed and a new light breaks in upon my under standing. I am clearly
convinced that I see things in their native forms, and am no longer in
pain about their UNKNOWN NATURES OR ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. This is the
state I find myself in at present; though, indeed, the course that
brought me to it I do not yet thoroughly comprehend. You set out upon the
same principles that Academics, Cartesians, and the like sects usually
do; and for a long time it looked as if you were advancing their
philosophical Scepticism: but, in the end, your conclusions are directly
opposite to theirs.
PHIL. You see, Hylas, the water of yonder fountain, how it is forced
upwards, in a round column, to a certain height; at which it
breaks, and falls back into the basin from whence it rose: its ascent, as
well as descent, proceeding from the same uniform law or principle of
GRAVITATION. just so, the same Principles which, at first view, lead to
Scepticism, pursued to a certain point, bring men back to Common Sense.
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