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UNIT 2: EMPIRICISM

HANDOUT 4: BERKELEYS THREE DIALOGUES, FIRST DIALOGUE


1: DIALOGUE SETUP
The next empiricist we will cover in this class is George Berkeley. Berkeley is most famous for being
an idealist monist and denying the reality of the material world. Recall the definition of idealist
monist.
Idealist Monism The view that the only substance in the universe is mind.
The work we will read in this class is a dialogue between two characters Hylas and Philonous. Hylas
translates from ancient Greek as matter and Philonous translates to love of mind. So, Hylas
represents Berkeleys own views while Hylas represents those who would argue against him.
1.1 THE PREFACE
Both Descartes and Locke, different in many other respects, held to the idea of the veil of
perception. All our sense experience gives us are ideas of objects, but not knowledge of the objects
themselves. We are, then, essentially cut off from the real world, from the world of things in
themselves. Descartes tried to circumvent this problem by saying that we can have knowledge
(guaranteed by God) through the pure intellect alone. Of course, such a strategy is not available to
an empiricist like Locke. Therefore, Locke must simply rest content with the idea that we can never
actually know things as they are.
Berkeley is also an empiricist. However, he does not ascribe to the view that perception creates a veil
between ourselves and the real world. He believes that this view leads to skepticism and causes us to
reject common sense. We can see this from the following passage from the preface.
Upon the common principles of philosophers, we are not assured of the existence of
things from their being perceived. And we are taught to distinguish their real nature
from that which falls under our senses. Hence arise scepticism and paradoxes. It is
not enough, that we see and feel, that we taste and smell a thing. Its true nature, its
absolute external entity, is still concealed. For, though it be the fiction of our own
brain, we have made it inaccessible to all our faculties. Sense is fallacious, reason
defective. We spend our lives doubting of those things which other men evidently
know, and believing those things which they laugh at, and despise (3).
The concern that Berkeley expresses here is also expressed later by another early modern
philosopher Thomas Reid. Reid called the view of perception held by those such as Locke and
Descartes (and most prominently Hume who we will discuss next) lead directly to skepticism. Reids
solution was to get rid of ideas. Our perception of external objects is direct and not mediated by
representations in the mind. Berkeley takes a different route. Instead of getting rid of ideas, Berkeley
instead elects to get rid of material objects, the things which Descartes and Locke suppose that our
ideas are representing.

While this might seem like a quite skeptical position to hold, Berkeley actually holds that disabusing
ourselves of the idea of the existence of matter will actually eradicate skepticism and render our
perceptions more real.
If the principles, which I here endeavour to propogate, are admitted for true; the
consequences which, I think, evidently flow from thence, are, that atheism and
scepticism will be utterly destroyed, many intricate points made plain, great
difficulties solved, several useless parts of science retrenched, speculation referred to
practice, and men reduced from paradoxes to common sense (4).
The philosophical journey we are about to undertake is like coming home from a long voyage: a
man reflects with pleasure on the many difficulties and perplexities he has passed through, sets his
heart at ease, and enjoys himself with more satisfaction for the future (4). While denying the
existence of matter might seem radical, Berkeley believes that it will ultimately return us to common
sense.

2: DEFINING SKEPTICISM AND SENSIBLE THINGS


At the outset of the First Dialogue Berkeley defines the notions of skeptic and sensible things. These
definitions are important because Berkeley believes that his ideas do not lead to skepticism and
because the purpose of this work is to discover the nature of sensible things.
2.1 SKEPTIC
Hylas begins by decrying those skeptics who pretended either to believe nothing at all, or to believe
the most extravagant things in the world (8). Philonous agrees and tells Hylas that he has rejected
certain philosophical notions that he believes leads to such skepticism.
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 (8).
Hylas is relieved to hear this because he states that the previous night people had accused Philonous
of denying the existence of material substance (8). Philonous affirms that this is his view, but
states that there is nothing skeptical about it.
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 (8).
This brings up the issue of what exactly it means to be a skeptic. After some clarification the
following definition is accepted.

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 (9).
Specifically, one who denies the reality of sensible things would have to be termed a skeptic.
Shall we therefore examine which of us it is that denies the reality of sensible things,
or professes the greatest ignorance of them; since, if I take you rightly, he is to be
esteemed the greatest sceptic (10)?
From this definition we see, given Philonous does not believe he is a skeptic, that he denies the
existence of material substance, but does not deny the reality of sensible things.
2.2 SENSIBLE THINGS
The next task undertaken is to provide a definition of the term sensible things.
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 usThat sensible things are those only which are
perceived by sense (11).
Sensible things are only those things which are immediately perceived by the senses. This means that
what causes our perceptions (i.e. what caused us to hear a certain sound, or see a certain color) is not
a sensible thing. Consequently, if you removed all the sensible qualities from an object nothing
sensible would be left.
Phil. 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 (11).
Thus, sensible things are simply a concatenation of certain sensible qualities.

3: SECONDARY QUALITIES ARE NOT REAL PROPERTIES OF OBJECTS


Having defined sensible things solely in terms of their sensible qualities, Philonous next seeks to
show that these sensible qualities are not independent of the mind. If all sensible qualities only exist
insofar as there is some mind that perceives them, then there is no need to posit to posit anything
external to the mind (such as material substance) to account for them. From pg. 11 to pg. 23
Philonous uses many of the same arguments that were employed by Locke to show that secondary
qualities are not inherent in objects. Recall that, for Locke, the criterion for a secondary quality is
that it can produce conflicting ideas in us (i.e. the water feels warm to one hand and cold to another
hand). By using these Lockean arguments, Philonous aims undermine the following statement made
by Hylas.
To exist is one thing, and to be perceived is another (11).
Hylas puts for the idea that sensible qualities are real aspects of external objects that would exist
regardless of whether anyone was there to observe them. By contrast, Berkeley held that there is no
difference between existing and being perceived, or to be is to be perceived. To this end he begins
with a Lockean attack on the reality of secondary qualities.
3.1 HEAT AND COLD
In order to show that our feelings of heat and cold are not real qualities of external objects,
Philonous explicitly employs one of Lockes examples.
Phil. Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man into an absurdity?
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 the other?
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 (14).
The same body of water can make one hand feel warm and the other feel cold. Thus, heat and cold
do not really exist in the object itself.
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3.2 TASTES
Earlier Hylas agreed that very extreme heat cannot be a real aspect of objects because it produces
pain and nobody thinks that pain exists in matter (12-13). Philonous again invokes this idea to argue
that taste cannot be a real property of objects.
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 (15-16)?
Furthermore, in a parallel to the hand and water example, Philonous notes that the same food can
taste differently depending upon the state of your palate (consider how coffee tastes before and after
you brush your teeth). Furthermore, it is also quite common for one person to think a food tastes
good and another to think the same food tastes bad.
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 (16)?
3.3 ODORS
Philonous states that the same arguments he made about taste also apply to odors (16-17).
3.4 SOUNDS
Hylas argues that sounds are real because they are composed of material particles that interact with
our sense organs.
It is this very motion in the external air that produces in the mind the sensation of
sound. For, striking on the drum of the ear, it causeth a vibration, which by the
auditory nerves being communicated to the brain, the soul is thereupon affected with
the sensation called sound (17).
Essentially, the idea is that real sound (as the philosophers but not common people understand) is
just a certain sort of motion. Philonous finds this to be ridiculous.

Phil. It seems then there are two sorts of soundthe 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 (18).
If Hylas is right, then true sound is perceived through sight and touch instead of through hearing.
This should seem rather strange given that Hylas originally occused Philonous of rejecting common
sense.
3.5 COLORS
Philonous provides three main arguments against the idea that colors are real properties of objects.
First, Philonous notes that when we examine something under a microscope the colors it previously
had disappear.
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 (20).
Second, just like taste and smell, colors can differe depending upon the condition of our sense
organs. For instance, things will appear yellow to someone who has jaundice (21). Third, Philonous
again points out, just like with sound, the absurdity of Hylass claim that color consists of motion.
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
affirmthe 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 (23)?

4: PRIMARY QUALITIES ARE NOT REAL PROPERTIES OF OBJECTS


Ultimately, Hylas admits that the qualities discussed thus far are not real properties of objects.
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
(23).
To this point, Philonous has not said anything that Descartes or Locke, for instance, would disagree
with. In fact, Hylas notes that many philosophers have held that secondary qualities are nothing real
in objects. Yet, this does not mean that material objects are not real, because they still have primary
qualities.
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 (23).
What makes Berkeleys position more radical, however, is that he also denies that primary qualities
are mind independent properties of objects.
4.1 EXTENSION AND FIGURE
Philonous notes that the size of an object will differ depending upon the size of the observer.
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 (24)?
Furthermore, objects change in size as we move closer or farther away from them.
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 (25)?
Finally, the example with two hands feeling the same water to be different temperatures also applies
here. Philonous points out that the same object would have a very different figure if one eye looked
at it naked and the other eye looked at it under a microscope (25).
This argument might seem somewhat odd at first. It is true that objects will appear different to a
mite and a giant. However, they both might be able to agree that some object is (for instance) one
foot tall. Yet, not even this actually tells us anything about the absolute size of the object in question.
Imagine, all of a sudden, that everything in the universe doubled in size. We would have no way of
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knowing this, because our perspective would still be the same (because everything is in proportion)
and our measuring instruments would not tell us things had gotten bigger because the instruments
themselves would have changed in size. Thus, our perception would not reflect the change that had
occurred in the objects themselves.
4.2 MOTION
Berkeley argues that motion cannot be a primary quality because motion relies upon our relative
experience of time.
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 another kind?
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 (26).
Motion is measured by time and the way we experience time has to do with how quickly we
experience the succession of ideas in our mind. Yet, it is certainly possible that this succession of
ideas could vary and thus motion cannot be a real property of objects either.
4.3 SOLIDITY
The same sort of point that applied to the differential vision of size by the mite and the giant also
applies to the solidity (or the ability of some body to resist our force).
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
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and firmness of limbs. Nor is it less plain that the resistance I feel is not in the body
(26-27).
4.4 WHY DO PHILOSOPHERS MAKE THE PRIMARY/SECONDARY DISTINCTION?
Hylas seems to be coming around to the idea that primary qualities are no more in objects than
secondary qualities are. However, we might wonder at this point why it is that philosophers make
the distinction when their own criterion of what make a secondary quality applies to all sensible
qualities. Philonous points out that it has to do with the fact that the usual group of secondary
qualities is often associated with pleasure and pain.
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
(27).

5: ABSTRACT IDEAS
What Philonous arguments have shown to this point is that particular extensions and motions (for
instance) cannot be real qualities of objects. This leaves the question, however, of whether those
properties in general can be primary qualities.
5.1 SENSIBLE V.S. ABSOLUTE EXTENSION
Hylas argues along these lines by drawing a distinction between sensible and absolute extension.
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 (27-28).
The fact that some body is an extended thing could be a primary quality, even if its particular
magnitude could not be a primary quality.

5.2 BERKELEYS NOMINALISM


Berkeley responds in the following way.
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
(28)?
The position that Berkeley adopts here is called nominalism.
Nominalism The view that denies the existence of abstract, general objects.
What is an abstract, general object? One example would be our concept of a triangle. Not some
particular triangle (with sides of a certain length and angles of a certain degree) but our concept of
the triangle itself. The nominalist denies that this concept is a real, existent thing. The same, then,
would go for a general notion of extension or motion. Philonous supports this view by asking Hylas
if he can form an idea in his mind of extension in general.
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 notion of.
Hyl. To confess ingenuously, I cannot (28).
If we try to form an idea to ourselves of the concept of extension or motion, it seems we are unable
to do so. The best we can do is form an idea of some particular body in motion. However, the
nominalist does not hold that our general terms are useless.
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? []
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 (29).
We can consider the quality of motion that a body has apart from the other qualities it has (shape,
extension, etc.). And to do this we construct general terms that allow us to speak about those
properties. So, motion stands for movement from place to place, triangle stands for a three sided
closed figure, and chair stands for a four legged object used for sitting. However, none of this means
that there is some general object which actually exists. All that exists are particular things and those
who perceive them.
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6: MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM
Hylas arguest hat he simply cannot conceive how sensible qualities could exist without some
material substratum that supports them. He conceives of matter as being similar to a blank canvas
upon which certain qualities are painted.
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 (33).
Importantly, Hylas admits that this substratum is not an extended thing.
Phil. If so, the word substratum should import that it is spread under the sensible
qualities or accidents?
Hyl. True.
Phil. And consequently under extension?
Hyl. I own it.
Phil. It is therefore somewhat in its own nature entirely distinct from extension?
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 (33)?
If this material substrate was extended then it would have a mind dependent quality and could not
be what lies behind our perceptions. However, Philonous points out that this makes the notion of
material substrate seem highly obscure. It is unclear how something could support something else if
it was not an extended thing.
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?
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Hyl. You still take things in a strict literal sense. That is not fair, Philonous.
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 (34)?
It is easy to conceive of how a blank canvas supports what is painted upon it. That is because the
canvas is an extended thing. However, it is not clear how a non extended entity could support
anything. Ultimately, Hylas admits he does not really have an idea of such a material substrate.
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 (34).
Here Berkeley takes Lockes critique of substance to its logical conclusion. Locke was more or less
content to hold that we simply have confused idea of substance. Berkeley, instead, points out that
we do not have any idea of material substance at all.

7: IDEAS AND OBJECTS


The sort of picture that Hylas tires to cling to in the face of Philonous arguments is summed up
nicely in the following passage.
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 (38).
Ideas are supposed to be copies, or representations, of external objects. Philonous calls into question
what evidence we have that this is the case.
7.1 INDIRECT PERCEPTION
Hylas eventually acknowledges that we have no direct perception of matter or any material
substrate/substance. We only have direct access to our ideas. However, Hylas does suggest that
perhaps we can have an indirect perception of matter. He argues for this with the following
example.

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Hyl. Yes, Philonous, in some sort there is. For example, when I look on a picture or
statue of Julius Csar, 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 Csar, in himself invisible, is nevertheless
perceived by sight; real things, in themselves imperceptible, are perceived by sense.
Hyl. In the very same (38-39).
Philonous argues, on the other hand, that Julius Caesar is not perceived at all but rather is simply
recalled via memory (39). He provides another example of hearing a coach on the street.
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 properly perceived by
sense, but suggested from experience. So likewise when we are said to see a red-hot
bar of iron; the solidity and heat of the iron are not the objects of sight, but
suggested to the imagination by the color and figure which are properly perceived by
that sense. In short, those things alone are actually and strictly perceived by any
sense, which would have been perceived in case that same sense had then been first
conferred on us (39-40).
It is our past education about Julius Caesar that allows us to form an idea of him upon seeing a
statue, and our past experience of what coaches sound like that allows us to form an idea of one
upon hearing certain sounds. However, we do not have any such past experience of a material
substrate that lacks any qualities.
7.2 IDEAS CANNOT BE COPIES OF OBJECTS
Philonous also points out that it does not make any sense to think that our ideas are direct copies of
something else. This is because, as Hylas admits, the material objects are supposed to remain
unchanged regardless of any changes in our senses (41). Philonous responds in the following way.
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,

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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 (41)?
If our ideas were copies of unchanging objects, then it is not clear why our ideas should be so
variable. Additionally, it is not clear how a sensible thing (an idea) can be a copy of something that is
insensible (an external object).
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 (41)?

8: CONCLUSION TO THE FIRST DIALOGUE


The first dialogue concludes with Hylas finding himself unable to answer Philonous arguments.
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 (42).
From this Philonous concludes that it is actually Hylas, and not himself, who is the skeptic.
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 show your principles led to Scepticism (42).

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