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Letters Between Berkeley and Johnson

Letters Between Berkeley and Johnson



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Published by: Christie on Mar 16, 2007
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Samuel Johnson to George Berkeley
Stratford, Sept. 10, 1729Rev'd Sir:The kind invitation you gave me to lay before you any difficulties thatshould occur to me in reading those excellent books which you waspleased to order into my hands, is all the apology I shall offer for thetrouble I now presume to give you. But nothing could encourage me toexpose to your view my low and mean way of thinking and writing, butmy hopes of an interest in that candour and tenderness which are soconspicuous both in your writings and conversation.These books (for which I stand humbly obliged to you) containspeculations the most surprisingly ingenious I have ever met with; andI must confess that the reading of them has almost convinced me thatmatter as it has been commonly defined for an unknown Quiddity isbut a mere non-entity. That it is a strong presumption against theexistence of it, that there never could be conceived any manner of connexion between it and our ideas. That the
of things is onlytheir
; and that the rescuing us from the absurdities of abstractideas and the gross notion of matter that have so much obtained,deserves well of the learned world, in that it clears away very manydifficulties and perplexities in the sciences.And I am of opinion that this way of thinking can't fail of prevailing inthe world, because it is likely to prevail very much among us in theseparts, several ingenious men having entirely come in to it. But thereare many others on the other hand that cannot be reconciled to it; tho'of these there are some who have a very good opinion of it and plainlysee many happy consequences attending it, on account of which theyare well inclined to embrace it, but think they find some difficulties intheir way which they can't get over, and some objections notsufficiently answered to their satisfaction. And since you havecondescended to give me leave to do so, I will make bold to lay beforeyou sundry things, which yet remain in the dark either to myself or toothers, and which I can't account for either to my own, or at least totheir satisfaction.1 The great prejudice that lies against it with some is its repugnancy toand subversion of Sir I. Newton's philosophy in sundry points; to whichthey have been so much attached that they can't suffer themselves inthe
least to call it in question in any instance, but indeed it does notappear to me so inconsistent therewith as at first blush it did, for thelaws of nature which he so happily explains are the same whethermatter be supposed or not. However, let Sir Isaac Newton, or anyother man, be heard only so far as his opinion is supported by reason:- but after all I confess I have so great a regard for the philosophy of that great man, that I would gladly see as much of it as may be, toobtain in this ideal scheme.
2 The objection, that it takes away all subordinate natural causes, andaccounts for all appearances merely by the immediate will of thesupreme spirit, does not seem to many to be answered to theirsatisfaction. It is readily granted that our ideas are inert, and can'tcause one another, and are truly only signs one of another. Forinstance my idea of fire is not the cause of my idea of burning and of ashes. But inasmuch as these ideas are so connected as that theyseem necessarily to point out to us the relations of cause and effect,we can't help thinking that our ideas are pictures of things without ourminds at least, tho' not without the Great Mind, and which are theirarchetypes, between which these relations do obtain. I kindle a fireand leave it, no created mind beholds it; I return again and find agreat alteration in the fuel; has there not been in my absence all thewhile that gradual alteration making in the archetype of my idea of wood which I should have had the idea of if I had been present? And isthere not some archetype of my idea of the fire, which under theagency of the Divine Will has gradually caused this alteration? And soin all other instances, our ideas are so connected, that they seemnecessarily to refer our minds to some originals which are properly(tho' subordinate) causes and effects one of another; insomuch thatunless they be so, we can't help thinking ourselves under a perpetualdelusion.3 That all the phenomena of nature, must ultimately be referred to thewill of the Infinite Spirit, is what must be allowed; but to suppose hisimmediate energy in the production of every effect, does not seem toimpress so lively and great a sense of his power and wisdom upon ourminds, as to suppose a subordination of causes and effects among thearchetypes of our ideas, as he that should make a watch or clock of ever so beautiful an appearance and that should measure the timeever so exactly yet if he should be obliged to stand by it and influenceand direct all its motions, he would seem but very deficient in both hisability and skill in comparison with him who should be able to makeone that would regularly keep on its motion and measure the time fora considerable while without the intervention of any immediate force of its author or anyone else impressed upon it.4 And as this tenet seems thus to abate our sense of the wisdom andpower of God, so there are some that cannot be persuaded that it issufficiently cleared from bearing hard on his holiness; those whosuppose that the corrupt affections of our souls and evil practicesconsequent to them, are occasioned by certain irregular mechanicalmotions of our bodies, and that these motions come to have anhabitual irregular bias and tendency by means of our own voluntaryindulgence to them, which we might have governed to better purpose,do in this way of thinking, sufficiently bring the guilt of those ill habitsand actions upon ourselves; but if in an habitual sinner, every objectand motion be but an idea, and every wicked appetite the effect of such a set of ideas, and these ideas, the immediate effect of theAlmighty upon his mind; it seems to follow, that the immediate causeof such ideas must be the cause of those immoral appetites andactions; because he is borne down before them seemingly, even inspite of himself. At first indeed they were only occasions, which might
be withstood, and so, proper means of trial, but now they becomecauses of his immoralities. When therefore a person is under thepower of a vicious habit, and it can't but be foreseen that thesuggestion of such and such ideas will unavoidably produce thoseimmoralities, how can it consist with the holiness of God to suggestthem?5 It is, after all that has been said on that head, still somethingshocking to many to think that there should be nothing but a mereshow in an the art and contrivance appearing in the structure (forinstance) of a human body, particularly of the organs of sense. Thecurious structure of the eye, what can it be more than merely a fineshow, if there be no connection more than you admit of, between thatand vision? It seems from the make of it to be designed for aninstrument or means of conveying the images of external things to theperceptive faculty within; and if it be not so, if it be really of no use inconveying visible objects to our minds, and if our visible ideas areimmediately created in them by the will of the Almighty, why should itbe made to seem to be an instrument or medium as much as if indeedit really were so? It is evident, from the conveying of images into adark room thro' a lens, that the eye is a lens, and that the images of things are painted on the bottom of it. But to what purpose is all this,if there be no connection between this fine apparatus and the act of vision; can it be thought a sufficient argument that there is noconnection between them because we can't discover it, or conceivehow it should be?6 There are some who say, that if our sensations don't depend on anybodily organs - they don't see how death can be supposed to makeany alteration in the manner of our perception, or indeed how thereshould be (properly speaking) any separate state of the soul at all. Forif our bodies are nothing but ideas, and if our having ideas in thispresent state does not depend on what are thought to be the organs of sense, and lastly, if we are supposed (as doubtless we must) to haveideas in that state; it should seem that immediately upon our removefrom our present situation, we should still be attended with the sameideas of bodies as we have now, and consequently with the samebodies or at least with bodies however different, and if so, what roomis there left for any resurrection, properly so-called? So that while thistenet delivers us from the embarrassments that attend the doctrine of a material resurrection, it seems to have no place for any resurrectionat all, at least in the sense that word seems to bear in St. John 5; 28,29.7 Some of us are at a loss to understand your meaning when youspeak of archetypes. You say the being of things consists in their beingperceived. And that things are nothing but ideas, that our ideas haveno unperceived archetypes, but yet you allow archetypes to our ideaswhen things are not perceived by our minds; they exist in,
areperceived by, some other mind. Now I understand you, that there is atwo-fold existence of things or ideas, one in the divine mind, and theother in created minds; the one archetypal, and the other ectypal;

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