Front Page Titles (by Subject) A LETTER TO THE RIGHT REVEREND EDWARD, LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE'S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING. IN A LATE DISCOURSE OF HIS LORDSHIP'S, IN VINDICATION OF THE TRINITY. - Works of John Locke, vol. 3
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A LETTER TO THE RIGHT REVEREND EDWARD, LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE’S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING. IN A LATE DISCOURSE OF HIS LORDSHIP’S, IN VINDICATION OF THE TRINITY. - John Locke, Works of John Locke, vol. 3 
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 3.
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A LETTER TO THE RIGHT REVEREND EDWARD, LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE’S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
I cannot but look upon it as a great honour, that your lordship, who are so thoroughly acquainted with the incomparable writings of antiquity, and know so well how to entertain yourself with the great men in the commonwealth of letters, should at any time take into your hand my mean papers; and so far bestow any of your valuable minutes on my Essay of Human Understanding, as to let the world see you have thought my notions worth your lordship’s consideration. My aim in that, as well as every thing else written by me, being purely to follow truth as far as I could discover it, I think myself beholden to whoever shows me my mistakes, as to one who, concurring in my design, helps me forward in my way.
Your lordship has been pleased to favour me with some thoughts of yours in this kind, in your late learned “Discourse, in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity;” and, I hope, I may say, have gone a little out of your way to do me that kindness; for the obligation is thereby the greater. And if your lordship has brought in the mention of my book in a chapter, intitled, “Objections against the Trinity, in Point of Reason, answered;” when, in my whole Essay, I think there is not to be found any thing like an objection against the Trinity: I have the more to acknowledge to your lordship, who would not let the foreignness of the subject hinder your lordship from endeavouring to set me right, as to some errours your lordship apprehends in my book; when other writers using some notions like mine, gave you that which was occasion enough for you to do me the favour to take notice of what you dislike in my Essay.
Your lordship’s name is of so great authority in the learned world, that I who profess myself more ready, upon conviction, to recant, than I was at first to publish, my mistakes, cannot pay that respect is due to it, without telling the reasons why I still retain any of my notions, after your lordship’s having appeared dissatisfied with them. This must be my apology, and I hope such a one as your lordship will allow, for my examining what you have printed against several passages in my book, and my showing the reasons why it has not prevailed with me to quit them.
That your lordship’s reasonings may lose none of their force by my misapprehending or misrepresenting them (a way too familiarly used in writings that have any appearance of controversy), I shall crave leave to give the reader your lordship’s arguments in the full strength of your own expressions; that so in them he may have the advantage to see the deficiency of my answers, in any point where I shall be so unfortunate as not to perceive, or not to follow, the light your lordship affords me.
Your lordship having in the two or three preceding pages, justly, as I think, found fault with the account of reason, given by the Unitarians and a late writer, in those passages you quote out of them; and then coming to the nature of substance, and relating what that author has said concerning the mind’s getting of simple ideas, and those simple ideas being the sole matter and foundation of all our reasonings; your lordship thus concludes,
“Then it follows, that we can have no foundation of reasoning, where there can be no such ideas from sensation or reflection.”
“Now this is the case of substance; it is not intromitted by the senses, nor depends upon the operation of the mind; and so it cannot be within the compass of our reason. And therefore I do not wonder, that the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world. For they not only tell us, &c.”
This, as I remember, is the first place where your lordship is pleased to quote any thing out of my “Essay of Human Understanding,” which your lordship does in these words following:
“That we can have no idea of it by sensation or reflection: but that nothing is signified by it, only an uncertain supposition of we know not what.” And therefore it is paralleled, more than once, with the Indian philosopher’s “He-knew-not-what; which supported the tortoise, that supported the elephant, that supported the earth: so substance was found out only to support accidents. And that when we talk of substances, we talk like children; who, being asked a question about somewhat which they knew not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something.”
These words of mine your lordship brings to prove, that I am one of “the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, that have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.” An accusation which your lordship will pardon me, if I do not readily know what to plead to, because I do not understand what is “almost to discard substance out of the reasonable part of the world.” If your lordship means by it, that I deny or doubt that there is in the world any such thing as substance, that your lordship will acquit me of, when your lordship looks again into that chapter, which you have cited more than once, where your lordship will find these words:Human understanding, B. ii. c. 23.§ 4. “When we talk or think of any particular sort of corporeal substances, as horse, stone, &c. though the idea we have of either of them be but the complication or collection of those several simple ideas of sensible qualities which we used to find united in the thing called horse or stone; yet because we cannot conceive how they should subsist alone, nor one in another, we suppose them existing in, and supported by some common subject, which support we denote by the name substance; though it be certain we have no clear and distinct idea of that thing we suppose a support.” And again,
§ 5.“The same happens concerning the operations of the mind, viz. thinking, reasoning, fearing, &c. which we considering not to subsist of themselves, nor apprehending how they can belong to body, or be produced by it, we are apt to think these the actions of some other substance, which we call spirit: whereby yet it is evident, that having no other idea or notion of matter, but something wherein those many sensible qualities which affect our senses, do subsist; by supposing a substance, wherein thinking, knowing, doubting, and a power of moving, &c. do subsist, we have as clear a notion of the nature or substance of spirit, as we have of body; the one being supposed to be (without knowing what it is) the substratum to those simple ideas we have from without; and the other supposed (with a like ignorance of what it is) to be the substratum to those operations, which we experiment in ourselves within.” And again,
§ 6.“Whatever therefore be the secret nature of substance in general, all the ideas we have of particular distinct substances are nothing but several combinations of simple ideas, co-existing in such, though unknown, cause of their union, as makes the whole subsist of itself.”
And I further say in the same section, “That we suppose these combinations to rest in, and to be adherent to that unknown, common subject, which inheres not in any thing else. And that our complex ideas of substances, besides all those simple ideas they are made up of, have always the confused idea of something to which they belong, and in which they subsist: and therefore when we speak of any sort of substance, we say it is a thing having such and such qualities; a body is a thing that is extended, figured, and capable of motion; a spirit, a thing capable of thinking.”
These, and the like fashions of speaking, intimate, that the substance is supposed always something, besides the extension, figure, solidity, motion, thinking, or other observable idea, though we know not what it is.
B. ii. c. 23.§ 22.“Our idea of body, I say, is an extended, solid substance; and our idea of our souls is of a substance that thinks.” So that as long as there is any such thing as body or spirit in the world, I have done nothing towards the discarding substance out of the reasonable part of the world. Nay, as long as there is any simple idea or sensible quality left, according to my way of arguing, substance cannot be discarded; because all simple ideas, all sensible qualities, carry with them a supposition of a substratum to exist in, and of a substance wherein they inhere: and of this that whole chapter is so full, that I challenge any one who reads it to think I have almost, or one jot discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world. And of this man, horse, sun, water, iron, diamond, &c. which I have mentioned of distinct sorts of substances, will be my witnesses as long as any such thing remains in being;B. ii. c. 12.§ 6. of which I say, “that the ideas of substances are such combinations of simple ideas, as are taken to represent distinct, particular things, subsisting by themselves, in which the supposed or confused idea of substance is always the first and chief.”
If by almost discarding substance out of the reasonable part of the world your lordship means, that I have destroyed, and almost discarded the true idea we have of it,B. ii. c. 23.§ 1.§ 2.§ 3.B. ii. c. 13.§ 19. by calling it “a substratum, a supposition of we know not what support of such qualities as are capable of producing simple ideas in us; an obscure and relative idea: that without knowing what it is, it is that which supports accidents; so that of substance we have no idea of what it is, but only a confused and obscure one, of what it does;” I must confess this, and the like I have said of our idea of substance; and should be very glad to be convinced by your lordship, or any body else, that I have spoken too meanly of it. He that would show me a more clear and distinct idea of substance, would do me a kindness I should thank him for. But this is the best I can hitherto find, either in my own thoughts, or in the books of logicians: for their account or idea of it is, that it is “Ens,” or “res per se subsistens et substans accidentibus;” which in effect is no more, but that substance is a being or thing; or, in short, something they know not what, or of which they have no clearer idea, than that it is something which supports accidents, or other simple ideas or modes, and is not supported itself as a mode or an accident. So that I do not see but Burgersdicius, Sanderson, and the whole tribe of logicians, must be reckoned with “the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, who have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.”
But supposing, my lord, that I, or these gentlemen, logicians of note in the schools, should own, that we have a very imperfect, obscure, inadequate idea of substance; would it not be a little too hard to charge us with discarding substance out of the world? For what almost discarding, and reasonable part of the world, signify, I must confess I do not clearly comprehend: but let almost, and reasonable part, signify here what they will, for I dare say your lordship meant something by them, would not your lordship think you were a little too hardly dealt with, if for acknowledging yourself to have a very imperfect and inadequate idea of God, or of several other things which, in this very treatise, you confess our understandings come short in and cannot comprehend, you should be accused to be one of these gentlemen that have almost discarded God, or those other mysterious things, whereof you contend we have very imperfect and inadequate ideas, out of the reasonable world? For I suppose your lordship means by almost discarding out of the reasonable world something that is blameable, for it seems not to be inserted for a commendation; and yet I think he deserves no blame, who owns the having imperfect, inadequate, obscure ideas, where he has no better: however, if it be inferred from thence, that either he almost excludes those things out of being, or out of rational discourse, if that be meant by the reasonable world; for the first of these will not hold, because the being of things in the world depends not on our ideas: the latter indeed is true, in some degree, but is no fault; for it is certain, that where we have imperfect, inadequate, confused, obscure ideas, we cannot discourse and reason about those things so well, fully, and clearly, as if we had perfect, adequate, clear and distinct ideas.
Your lordship, I must own, with great reason, takes notice that I paralleled, more than once, our idea of substance with the Indian philosopher’s he-knew-not-what, which supported the tortoise, &c.
This repetition is, I confess, a fault in exact writing: but I have acknowledged and excused it in these words in my preface, “I am not ignorant how little I herein consult my own reputation, when I knowingly let my Essay go with a fault so apt to disgust the most judicious, who are always the nicest readers.” And there further add, “that I did not publish my Essay for such great masters of knowledge as your lordship; but fitted it to men of my own size, to whom repetitions might be sometimes useful.” It would not therefore have been besides your lordship’s generosity (who were not intended to be provoked by the repetition) to have passed by such a fault as this, in one who pretends not beyond the lower rank of writers. But I see your lordship would have me exact and without any faults; and I wish I could be so, the better to deserve your lordship’s approbation.
My saying, “that when we talk of substance, we talk like children; who being asked a question about something, which they know not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something;” your lordship seems mightily to lay to heart, in these words that follow:
“If this be the truth of the case, we must still talk like children, and I know not how it can be remedied. For if we cannot come at a rational idea of substance, we can have no principle of certainty to go upon in this debate.”
If your lordship has any better and distincter idea of substance than mine is, which I have given an account of, your lordship is not at all concerned in what I have there said. But those whose idea of substance, whether a rational or not rational idea, is like mine, something he-knows-not-what, must in that, with me, talk like children, when they speak of something they know not what. For a philosopher that says, that which supports accidents is something he-knows-not-what; and a country-man that says, the foundation of the church at Harlem is supported by something he-knows-not-what; and a child that stands in the dark upon his mother’s muff, and says he stands upon something he-knows-not-what; in this respect talk all three alike. But if the country-man knows, that the foundation of the church at Harlem is supported by a rock, as the houses about Bristol are; or by gravel, as the houses about London are; or by wooden piles, as the houses in Amsterdam are; it is plain, that then having a clear and distinct idea of the thing that supports the church, he does not talk of this matter as a child; nor will he of the support of accidents, when he has a clearer and more distinct idea of it, than that it is barely something. But as long as we think like children, in cases where our ideas are no clearer nor distincter than theirs, I agree with your lordship, that I know not how it can be remedied, but that we must talk like them.
Your lordship’s next paragraph begins thus: “I do not say, that we can have a clear idea of substance, either by sensation or reflection; but from hence I argue, that this is a very insufficient distribution of the ideas necessary to reason.”
Your lordship here argues against a proposition that I know nobody that holds: I am sure the author of the Essay of Human Understanding never thought, nor in that Essay hath any where said, that the ideas that come into the mind by sensation and reflection, are all the ideas that are necessary to reason, or that reason is exercised about; for then he must have laid by all the ideas of simple and mixed modes and relations, and the complex ideas of the species of substances, about which he has spent so many chapters; and must have denied that these complex ideas are the objects of men’s thoughts or reasonings, which he is far enough from. All that he has said about sensation and reflection is, that all our simple ideas are received by them, and that these simple ideas are the foundation of all our knowledge, for as much as all our complex, relative, and general ideas are made by the mind, abstracting, enlarging, comparing, compounding, and referring, &c. these simple ideas, and their several combinations, one to another; whereby complex and general ideas are formed of modes, relations, and the several species of substances, all which are made use of by reason, as well as the other faculties of the mind.
I therefore agree with your lordship, that the ideas of sensation or reflection is a very insufficient distribution of the ideas necessary to reason. Only my agreement with your lordship had been more intire to the whole sentence, if your lordship had rather said, ideas made use of by reason; because I do not well know what is meant by ideas necessary to reason. For reason being a faculty of the mind, nothing, in my poor opinion, can properly be said to be necessary to that faculty, but what is required to its being. As nothing is necessary to sight in a man, but such a constitution of the body and organ, that a man may have the power of seeing; so I submit it to your lordship, whether any thing can properly be said to be necessary to reason in a man, but such a constitution of body or mind, or both, as may give him the power of reasoning. Indeed such a particular sort of objects or instruments may be sometimes said to be necessary to the eye, but it is never said in reference to the faculty of seeing, but in reference to some particular end of seeing; and then a microscope and a mite may be necessary to the eye, if the end proposed be to know the shape and parts of that animal. And so if a man would reason about substance, then the idea of substance is necessary to his reason: but yet I doubt not but that many a rational creature has been, who, in all his life, never bethought himself of any necessity his reason had of an idea of substance.
Your lordship’s next words are; “for besides these, there must be some general ideas which the mind doth form, not by mere comparing those ideas it has got from sense or reflection, but by forming distinct general notions of things from particular ideas.”
Here, again, I perfectly agree with your lordship, that besides the particular ideas received from sensation and reflection, the mind “forms general ideas, not by mere comparing those ideas it has got by sensation and reflection;” for this I do not remember I ever said. But this I say,B. iii. c. 3.§ 6. “ideas become general, by separating from them the circumstances of time and place, and any other ideas that may determine them to this or that particular existence. By this way of abstraction they are made,B. i. c. 11.§ 9. &c.” And to the same purpose I explain myself in another place.
Your lordship says, “the mind forms general ideas, by forming general notions of things from particular ideas.” And I say, the mind forms general ideas, “abstracting from particular ones.” So that there is no difference that I perceive between us in this matter, but only a little in expression.
It follows, “and amongst these general notions, or rational ideas, substance is one of the first; because we find, that we can have no true conceptions of any modes or accidents (no matter which) but we must conceive a substratum, or subject wherein they are. Since it is a repugnancy to our first conceptions of things, that modes or accidents should subsist by themselves; and therefore the rational idea of substance is one of the first and most natural ideas in our minds.”
Whether the general idea of substance be one of the first or most natural ideas in our minds, I will not dispute with your lordship, as not being, I think, very material to the matter in hand. But as to the idea of substance, what it is, and how we come by it, your lordship says, “it is a repugnancy to our conceptions of things, that modes and accidents should subsist by themselves; and therefore we must conceive a substratum wherein they are.”B. ii. c. 23.§ 4. And, I say, “because we cannot conceive how simple ideas of sensible qualities should subsist alone, or one in another, we suppose them existing in, and supported by, some common subject.”§ 1. Which I, with your lordship, call also substratum.
What can be more consonant to itself, than what your lordship and I have said in these two passages is consonant to one another? Whereupon, my lord, give me leave, I beseech you, to boast to the world, that what I have said concerning our general idea of substance, and the way how we come by it, has the honour to be confirmed by your lordship’s authority. And that from hence I may be sure the saying, [that the general idea we have of substance is, that it is a substratum or support to modes or accidents, wherein they do subsist: and that the mind forms it, because it cannot conceive how they should subsist of themselves,] has no objection in it against the Trinity; for then your lordship will not, I know, be of that opinion, nor own it in a chapter where you are answering objections against the Trinity; however my words, which amount to no more, have been (I know not how) brought into that chapter: though what they have to do there, I must confess to your lordship, I do not yet see.
In the next words your lordship says, “but we are still told, that our understanding can have no other ideas but either from sensation or reflection.”
B. ii. c. 1.§ 5.The words of that section your lordship quotes, are these: “the understanding seems to me, not to have the least glimmering of any ideas, which it doth not receive from one of these two. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us: and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations. These, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, and the compositions made out of them, we shall find to contain all our own stock of ideas; and that we have nothing in our minds which did not come in one of those two ways. Let any one examine his own thoughts, and thoroughly search into his own understanding, and then let him tell me, whether all the original ideas he has there, are any other than of the objects of his senses, or of the operations of his mind, considered as objects of his reflection? and how great a mass of knowledge soever he imagines to be lodged there, he will, upon taking a strict view, see, that he has not any idea in his mind but what one of these two have imprinted, though, perhaps, with infinite variety compounded and enlarged by the understanding, as we shall see hereafter.”
These words seem to me to signify something different from what your lordship has cited out of them; and if they do not, were intended, I am sure, by me, to signify all those complex ideas of modes, relations, and specific substances, which how the mind itself forms out of simple ideas, I have showed in the following part of my book; and intended to refer to it by these words, “as we shall see hereafter,” with which I close that paragraph. But if by ideas your lordship signifies simple ideas, in the words you have set down, I grant then they contain my sense, viz. “that our understandings can have (that is, in the natural exercise of our faculties) no other simple ideas, but either from sensation or reflection.”
Your lordship goes on: “and [we are still told] that herein chiefly lies the excellency of mankind above brutes, that these cannot abstract and enlarge ideas, as men do.”
Had your lordship done me the favour to have quoted the place in my book, from whence you had taken these words, I should not have been at a loss to find them. Those in my book, which I can remember any where come nearest to them, run thus:
“This, I think, I may be positive in, that the power of abstracting is not at all in brutes; and that the having of general ideas is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man and brutes; and is an excellency which the faculties of brutes do by no means attain to.”B. ii. c. 11.§ 10.
Though, speaking of the faculties of the human understanding, I took occasion, by the by, to conjecture how far brutes partook with men in any of the intellectual faculties; yet it never entered into my thoughts, on that occasion, to compare the utmost perfections of human nature with that of brutes, and therefore was far from saying, “herein chiefly lies the excellency of mankind above brutes, that these cannot abstract and enlarge their ideas, as men do.” For it seems to me an absurdity I would not willingly be guilty of, to say, “that the excellency of mankind lies chiefly, or any ways in this, that brutes cannot abstract.” For brutes not being able to do any thing, cannot be any excellency of mankind. The ability of mankind does not lie in the impotency or disabilities of brutes. If your lordship had charged me to have said, that herein lies one excellency of mankind above brutes, viz. that men can, and brutes cannot abstract; I must have owned it to be my sense; but what I ought to say to what your lordship approved or disapproved of in it, I shall better understand, when I know to what purpose your lordship was pleased to cite it.
The immediately following paragraph runs thus: “but how comes the general idea of substance to be framed in our minds?” Is this by “abstracting and enlarging simple ideas?” no, “but it is by a complication of many simple ideas together:B. ii. c. 23.§ 4. because not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from whence they do result, which therefore we call substance.” And is this all indeed, that is to be said for the being of substance, “that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum?” Is that custom grounded upon true reason, or not? If not, then accidents or modes must subsist of themselves, and these simple ideas need no tortoise to support them: for figures and colours, &c. would do well enough for themselves, but for some fancies men have accustomed themselves to.”
Herein your lordship seems to charge me with two faults; one, that I make “the general idea of substance to be framed, not by abstracting and enlarging simple ideas, but by a complication of many simple ideas together:” the other, as if I had said, the being of substance had no other foundation but the fancies of men.
As to the first of these, I beg leave to remind your lordship, that I say in more places than one, and particularly those above quoted, where ex professo I treat of abstraction and general ideas, that they are all made by abstracting; and therefore could not be understood to mean, that that of substance was made any other way; however my pen might have slipped, or the negligence of expression, where I might have something else than the general idea of substance in view, make me seem to say so.
That I was not speaking of the general idea of substance in the passage your lordship quotes, is manifest from the title of that chapter, which is, “of the complex ideas of substance.” And the first section of it, which your lordship cites for those words you have set down, stands thus:B. ii. c. 23.§ 1. “The mind being, as I have declared, furnished with a great number of the simple ideas conveyed in by the senses, as they are found in exterior things, or by reflections on its own operations: takes notice also, that a certain number of these simple ideas go constantly together; which being presumed to belong to one thing, and words being suited to common apprehension, and made use of for quick dispatch, are called, so united in one subject, by one name; which, by inadvertency, we are apt afterward to talk of, and consider as one simple idea, which indeed is a complication of many ideas together: because, as I have said, not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum, wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result; which therefore we call substance.”
In which words, I do not observe any that deny the general idea of substance to be made by abstraction; nor any that say, “it is made by a complication of many simple ideas together.” But speaking in that place of the ideas of distinct substances, such as man, horse, gold, &c. I say they are made up of certain combinations of simple ideas; which combinations are looked upon, each of them, as one simple idea, though they are many; and we call it by one name of substance, though made up of modes, from the custom of supposing a substratum, wherein that combination does subsist. So that in this paragraph I only give an account of the idea of distinct substances, such as oak, elephant, iron, &c. how, though they are made up of distinct complications of modes, yet they are looked on as one idea, called by one name, as making distinct sorts of substances.
But that my notion of substance in general is quite different from these, and has no such combination of simple ideas in it, is evident from the immediately following words, where I say;B. ii. c. 23.§ 2. “the idea of pure substance in general is only supposition of we know not what support of such qualities as are capable of producing simple ideas in us.” And these two I plainly distinguish all along, particularly where I say, “whatever therefore be the secret and abstract nature of substance in general,§ 6. all the ideas we have of particular distinct substances, are nothing but several combinations of simple ideas, co-existing in such, though unknown, cause of their union, as makes the whole subsist of itself.”
The other thing laid to my charge, is, as if I took the being of substance to be doubtful, or rendered it so by the imperfect and ill-grounded idea I have given of it. To which I beg leave to say, that I ground not the being, but the idea of substance, on our accustoming ourselves to suppose some substratum; for it is of the idea alone I speak there, and not of the being of substance. And having every where affirmed and built upon it, that a man is a substance; I cannot be supposed to question or doubt of the being of substance, till I can question or doubt of my own being. Further I say, “that sensation convinces us that there are solid extended substances:B. ii. c. 23.§ 29. and reflection, that there are thinking ones.” So that I think the being of substance is not shaken by what I have said: and if the idea of it should be, yet (the being of things depending not on our ideas) the being of substance would not be at all shaken by my saying, we had but an obscure imperfect idea of it, and that that idea came from our accustoming ourselves to suppose some substratum; or indeed, if I should say, we had no idea of substance at all. For a great many things may be and are granted to have a being, and be in nature, of which we have no ideas. For example; it cannot be doubted but there are distinct species of separate spirits, of which we have no distinct ideas at all: it cannot be questioned but spirits have ways of communicating their thoughts, and yet we have no idea of it at all.
The being then of substance being safe and secure, notwithstanding any thing I have said, let us see whether the idea of it be not so too. Your lordship asks, with concern, “and is this all indeed that is to be said for the being” (if your lordship please, let it be the idea) “of substance, that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum? Is that custom grounded upon true reason, or no?” I have said, that it is grounded upon this,B. ii. c. 23.§ 4. “that we cannot conceive how simple ideas of sensible qualities should subsist alone, and therefore we suppose them to exist in, and to be supported by, some common subject, which support we denote by the name substance.” Which I think is a true reason, because it is the same your lordship grounds the supposition of a substratum on, in this very page; even on “repugnancy to our conceptions, that modes and accidents should subsist by themselves.” So that I have the good luck here again to agree with your lordship: and consequently conclude, I have your approbation in this, that the substratum to modes or accidents, which is our idea of substance in general, is founded in this, “that we cannot conceive how modes or accidents can subsist by themselves.”
The words next following, are: “if it be grounded upon plain and evident reason, then we must allow an idea of substance, which comes not in by sensation or reflection; and so we may be certain of something which we have not by those ideas.”
These words of your lordship’s contain nothing, that I see in them, against me: for I never said that the general idea of substance comes in by sensation and reflection; or, that it is a simple idea of sensation or reflection, though it be ultimately founded in them: for it is a complex idea, made up of the general idea of something, or being, with the relation of a support to accidents. For general ideas come not into the mind by sensation or reflection, but are the creatures or inventions of the understanding, as, I think,B. iii. c. 3. I have shown; and also, how the mind makes them from ideas, which it has got by sensation and reflection: and as to the ideas of relation, how the mind forms them, and how they are derived from,B. ii. c. 25. & c. 28.§ 18. and ultimately terminate in, ideas of sensation and reflection, I have likewise shown.
But that I may not be mistaken what I mean, when I speak of ideas of sensation and reflection, as the materials of all our knowledge; give me leave, my lord, to set down a place or two out of my book, to explain myself; as, I thus speak of ideas of sensation and reflection:B. ii. c. 1.§ 5. “That these, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, and the compositions made out of them, we shall find to contain all our whole stock of ideas; and we have nothing in our minds, which did not come in one of those two ways.” This thought, in another place, I express thus:B. ii. c. 2.§ 2. “These simple ideas, the materials of all our knowledge, are suggested and furnished to the mind only by these two ways above mentioned, viz. sensation and reflection.” And again,B. ii. c. 7.§ 10. “These are the most considerable of those simple ideas which the mind has, and out of which is made all its other knowledge; all which it receives by the two forementioned ways of sensation and reflection.” And,B. ii. c. 21.§ 72. “Thus I have, in a short draught, given a view of our original ideas, from whence all the rest are derived, and of which they are made up.”
This, and the like said in other places, is what I have thought concerning ideas of sensation and reflection, as the foundation and materials of all our ideas, and consequently of all our knowledge. I have set down these particulars out of my book, that the reader, having a full view of my opinion herein, may the better see what in it is liable to your lordship’s reprehension. For that your lordship is not very well satisfied with it, appears not only by the words under consideration, but by these also: “But we are still told, that our understanding can have no other ideas, but either from sensation or reflection. And, let us suppose this principle to be true, that the simple ideas, by sensation or reflection, are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning.”
Your lordship’s argument, in the passage we are upon, stands thus: “If the general idea of substance be grounded upon plain and evident reason, then we must allow an idea of substance, which comes not in by sensation or reflection:” This is a consequence which, with submission, I think will not hold, because it is founded on a supposition which, I think, will not hold, viz. that reason and ideas are inconsistent; for if that supposition be not true, then the general idea of substance may be grounded on plain and evident reason: and yet it will not follow from thence, that it is not ultimately grounded on, and derived from, ideas which come in by sensation or reflection, and so cannot be said to come in by sensation or reflection.
To explain myself, and clear my meaning in this matter: all the ideas of all the sensible qualities of a cherry, come into my mind by sensation; the ideas of perceiving, thinking, reasoning, knowing, &c. come into my mind by reflection: the ideas of these qualities and actions, or powers, are perceived by the mind to be by themselves inconsistent with existence; or, as your lordship well expresses it, “we find that we can have no true conception of any modes or accidents, but we must conceive a substratum or subject, wherein they are;” i. e. that they cannot exist or subsist of themselves. Hence the mind perceives their necessary connexion with inherence or being supported; which being a relative idea superadded to the red colour in a cherry, or to thinking in a man, the mind frames the correlative idea of a support. For I never denied, that the mind could frame to itself ideas of relation, but have showed the quite contrary in my chapters about relation. But because a relation cannot be founded in nothing, or be the relation of nothing, and the thing here related as a supporter or support, is not represented to the mind by any clear and distinct idea; therefore the obscure, indistinct, vague idea of thing or something, is all that is left to be the positive idea, which has the relation of a support or substratum to modes or accidents; and that general determined idea of something, is, by the abstraction of the mind, derived also from the simple ideas of sensation and reflection: and thus the mind, from the positive, simple ideas got by sensation or reflection, comes to the general relative idea of substance; which, without the positive simple ideas, it would never have.
This your lordship (without giving by retail all the particular steps of the mind in this business) has well expressed in this more familiar way:
“We find we can have no true conception of any modes or accidents, but we must conceive a substratum or subject wherein they are; since it is a repugnancy to our conceptions of things, that modes or accidents should subsist by themselves.”
Hence your lordship calls it the rational idea of substance: and says, “I grant that by sensation and reflection we come to know the powers and properties of things: but our reason is satisfied that there must be something beyond these, because it is impossible that they should subsist by themselves.” So that if this be that which your lordship means by the rational idea of substance, I see nothing there is in it against what I have said, that it is founded on simple ideas of sensation or reflection, and that it is a very obscure idea.
Your lordship’s conclusion from your foregoing words, is, “and so we may be certain of some things which we have not by those ideas;” which is a proposition, whose precise meaning your lordship will forgive me if I profess, as it stands there, I do not understand. For it is uncertain to me, whether your lordship means, we may certainly know the existence of something which we have not by those ideas; or certainly know the distinct properties of something which we have not by those ideas; or certainly know the truth of some proposition which we have not by those ideas: for to be certain of something, may signify either of these. But in which soever of these it be meant, I do not see how I am concerned in it.
Your lordship’s next paragraph is as followeth:
“The idea of substance; we are told again, is nothing but the supposed, but unknown support of those qualities we find existing, which we imagine cannot subsist, sine re substante; which, according to the true import of the word, is in plain English standing under or upholding. But very little weight is to be laid upon a bare grammatical etymology, when the word is used in another sense by the best authors, such as Cicero and Quintilian; who take substance for the same as essence, as Valla hath proved; and so the Greek word imports: But Boethius, in translating Aristotle’s Predicaments, rather chose the word substance, as more proper to express a compound being, and reserved essence for what was simple and immaterial. And in this sense, substance was not applied to God, but only essence, as St. Augustine observes.”
Your lordship here seems to dislike my taking notice, that the derivation of the word substance favours the idea we have of it: and your lordship tells me, “that very little weight is to be laid on a bare grammatical etymology.” Though little weight were to be laid on it, if there were nothing else to be said for it; yet when it was brought to confirm an idea which your lordship allows of, nay, calls a rational idea, and says is founded in evident reason, I do not see what your lordship had to blame in it. For though Cicero and Quintilian take substantia for the same with essence, as your lordship says; or for riches and estate, as I think they also do; yet I suppose it will be true, that substantia is derived a substando, and that that shows the original import of the word. For, my lord, I have been long of opinion, as may be seen in my book, that if we knew the original of all the words we meet with, we should thereby be very much helped to know the ideas they were first applied to and made to stand for; and therefore I must beg your lordship to excuse this conceit of mine, this etymological observation especially, since it hath nothing in it against the truth, nor against your lordship’s idea of substance.
But your lordship opposes to this etymology the use of the word substance by the best authors in another sense; and thereupon give the world a learned account of the use of the word substance, in a sense wherein it is not taken for the substratum of accidents: however, I think it a sufficient justification of myself to your lordship, that I use it in the same sense your lordship does, and that your lordship thinks not fit to govern yourself by those authorities; for then your lordship could not apply the word substance to God, as Boethius did not, and as your lordship has proved out of St. Augustine, that it was not applied. Though I guess it is the consideration of substance, as it is applied to God, that brings it into your lordship’s present discourse. But if your lordship and I (if without presumption I may join myself with you) have, in the use of the word substance, quitted the example of the best authors, I think the authority of the schools, which has a long time been allowed in philosophical terms, will bear us out in this matter.
In the remaining part of this paragraph it follows: “but afterwards the names of substance and essence were promiscuously used with respect to God and his creatures; and do imply that which makes the real being, as distinguished from modes and properties. And so the substance and essence of a man are the same; not being taken for the individual substance, which cannot be understood without particular modes and properties; but the general substance or nature of man, abstractedly from all the circumstances of person.”
Here your lordship makes these terms general substance, nature, and essence, to signify the same thing; how properly I shall not here inquire. Your lordship goes on.
“And I desire to know, whether, according to true reason, that be not a clear idea of man; not of Peter, James, or John, but of a man as such.”
This, I think, nobody denies: nor can any body deny it, who will not say, that the general abstract idea which he has in his mind of a sort or species of animal that he calls man, ought not to have that general name man applied to it: for that is all (as I humbly conceive) which these words of your lordship here amount to.
“This,” your lordship says, “is not a mere universal name, or mark, or sign.” Your lordship says it is an idea, and every body must grant it to be an idea; and therefore it is, in my opinion, safe enough from being thought a mere name, or mark, or sign of that idea. For he must think very oddly, who takes the general name of any idea, to be the general idea itself: it is a mere mark or sign of it without doubt, and nothing else. Your lordship adds:
“But there is as clear and distinct a conception of this in our minds, as we can have from any such simple ideas as are conveyed by our senses.”
If your lordship means by this, (as the words seem to me to import) that we can have as clear and distinct an idea of the general substance, or nature, or essence of the species man, as we have of the particular colour and figure of a man when we look on him, or of his voice when we hear him speak, I must crave leave to dissent from your lordship. Because the idea we have of the substance, wherein the properties of a man do inhere, is a very obscure idea: so in that part, our general idea of man is obscure and confused: as also, how that substance is differently modified in the different species of creatures, so as to have different properties and powers whereby they are distinguished, that also we have very obscure, or rather no distinct ideas of at all. But there is no obscurity or confusion at all in the idea of a figure that I clearly see, or of a sound that I distinctly hear; and such are, or may be, the ideas that are conveyed in by sensation or reflection. It follows:
“I do not deny that the distinction of particular substances, is by the several modes and properties of them, (which they may call a complication of simple ideas if they please): but I do assert, that the general idea which relates to the essence, without these, is so just and true an idea, that without it the complication of simple ideas will never give us a right notion of it.”
Here, I think, that your lordship asserts, “that the general idea of the real essence (for so I understand general idea which relates to the essence) without the modes and properties, is a just and true idea.” For example; the real essence of a thing is that internal constitution on which the properties of that thing depend. Now your lordship seems to me to acknowledge, that that internal constitution or essence we cannot know; for your lordship says, “that from the powers and properties of things which are knowable by us, we may know as much of the internal essence of things, as these powers and properties discover.” That is unquestionably so; but if those powers and properties discover no more of those internal essences, but that there are internal essences, we shall know only that there are internal essences, but shall have no idea or conception at all of what they are; as your lordship seems to confess in the next words of the same page, where you add: “I do not say, that we can know all essences of things alike, nor that we can attain to a perfect understanding of all that belong to them; but if we can know so much, as that there are certain beings in the world, endued with such distinct powers and properties, what is it we complain of the want of?” Wherein your lordship seems to terminate our knowledge of those internal essences in this, “that there are certain beings indued with distinct powers and properties.” But what these beings, these internal essences are, that we have no distinct conceptions of; as your lordship confesses yet plainer a little after, in these words: for “although we cannot comprehend the internal frame and constitution of things.” So that we having, as is confessed, no idea of what this essence, this internal constitution of things on which their properties depend, is; how can we say it is any way a just and true idea? But your lordship says, “it is so just and true an idea, that without it the contemplation of simple ideas will never give us a right notion of it.” All the idea we have of it, which is only that there is an internal, though unknown constitution of things on which their properties depend, simple ideas of sensation and reflection, and the contemplation of them, have alone helped us to; and because they can help us no further, that is the reason we have no perfecter notion of it.
That which your lordship seems to me principally to drive at, in this and the foregoing paragraph, is, to assert, that the general substance of man, and so of any other species, is that which makes the real being of that species abstractly from the individuals of that species. By general substance here, I suppose, your lordship means the general idea of substance: and that which induces me to take the liberty to suppose so, is, that I think your lordship is here discoursing of the idea of substance, and how we come by it. And if your lordship should mean otherwise, I must take the liberty to deny there is any such thing in rerum natura, as a general substance that exists itself, or makes any thing.
Taking it then for granted that your lordship says, that this is the general idea of substance, viz. “that it is that which makes the real being of any thing;” your lordship says, “that it is as clear and distinct a conception in our minds, as we can have from any such simple ideas as are conveyed by our senses.” Here I must crave leave to dissent from your lordship. Your lordship says in the former part of this page, “that substance and essence do imply that which makes the real being.” Now what, I beseech your lordship, do these words, that which, here signify more than something? And the idea expressed by something, I am apt to think, your lordship will not say is as clear and distinct a conception or idea in the mind, as the idea of the red colour of a cherry, or the bitter taste of wormwood, or the figure of a circle brought into the mind by your senses.
Your lordship farther says, “it makes” (whereby, I suppose, your lordship means, constitutes or is) “the real being, as distinguished from modes and properties.”
For example, my lord, strip this supposed general idea of a man or gold of all its modes and properties, and then tell me whether your lordship has as clear and distinct an idea of what remains, as you have of the figure of the one, or the yellow colour of the other. I must confess the remaining something, to me affords so vague, confused and obscure an idea, that I cannot say I have any distinct conception of it; for barely by being something, it is not in my mind clearly distinguished from the figure or voice of a man, or the colour or taste of a cherry, for they are something too. If your lordship has a clear and distinct idea of that “something, which makes the real being as distinguished from all its modes and properties,” your lordship must enjoy the privilege of the sight and clear ideas you have: nor can you be denied them, because I have not the like; the dimness of my conceptions must not pretend to hinder the clearness of your lordship’s, any more than the want of them in a blind man can debar your lordship of the clear and distinct ideas of colours. The obscurity I find in my own mind, when I examine what positive, general, simple idea of substance I have, is such as I profess, and further than that I cannot go: but what, and how clear it is in the understanding of a seraphim, or of an elevated mind, that I cannot determine. Your lordship goes on.
“I must do that right to the ingenious author of the Essay of Human Understanding (from whence these notions are borrowed to serve other purposes than he intended them) that he makes the case of spiritual and corporeal substances to be alike, as to their ideas. And that we have as clear a notion of a spirit, as we have of a body; the one being supposed to be the substratum to those simple ideas we have from without, and the other of those operations we find within ourselves. And that it is as rational to affirm, there is no body, because we cannot know its essence, as it is called, or have no idea of the substance of matter; as to say there is no spirit, because we know not its essence, or have no idea of a spiritual substance.”
“From hence it follows, that we may be certain that there are both spiritual and bodily substances, although we can have no clear and distinct ideas of them. But if our reason depend upon our clear and distinct ideas, how is this possible? We cannot reason without clear ideas, and yet we may be certain without them: can we be certain without reason? Or, doth our reason give us true notions of things, without these ideas? If it be so, this new hypothesis about reason must appear to be very unreasonable.”
That which your lordship seems to argue here, is, that we may be certain without clear and distinct ideas. Who your lordship here argues against, under the title of this new hypothesis about reason, I confess I do not know. For I do not remember that I have any where placed certainty only in clear and distinct ideas, but in the clear and visible connexion of any of our ideas, be those ideas what they will; as will appear to any one who will look into B. iv. c. 4. § 18. and B. iv. c. 6. § 3. of my Essay, in the latter of which he will find these words: “certainty of knowledge is to perceive the agreement or disagreement of ideas, as expressed in any proposition.” As in the proposition your lordship mentions, v. g. that we may be certain there are spiritual and bodily substances; or, that bodily substances do exist, is a proposition of whose truth we may be certain; and so of spiritual substances. Let us now examine wherein the certainty of these propositions consists.
First, as to the existence of bodily substances, I know by my senses that something extended, and solid, and figured does exist; for my senses are the utmost evidence and certainty I have of the existence of extended, solid, figured things. These modes being then known to exist by our senses, the existence of them (which I cannot conceive can subsist without something to support them) makes me see the connexion of those ideas with a support, or, as it is called, a subject of inhesion, and so consequently the connexion of that support (which cannot be nothing) with existence. And thus I come by a certainty of the existence of that something which is a support of those sensible modes, though I have but a very confused, loose, and undetermined idea of it, signified by the same substance. After the same manner experimenting thinking in myself, by the existence of thought in me, to which something that thinks is evidently and necessarily connected in my mind; I come to be certain that there exists in me something that thinks, though of that something which I call substance also, I have but a very obscure imperfect idea.
Before I go any farther, it is fit I return my acknowledgements to your lordship, for the good opinion you are pleased here to express of the “author of the Essay of Human Understanding,” and that you do not impute to him the ill use some may have made of his notions. But he craves leave to say, that he should have been better preserved from the hard and sinister thoughts, which some men are always ready for, if in what you have here published, your lordship had been pleased to have shown where you directed your discourse against him, and where against others, from p. 234 to p. 262 of your Vindication of the Trinity. For nothing but my book and my words being quoted, the world will be apt to think that I am the person who argue against the Trinity, and deny mysteries, against whom your lordship directs those pages. And indeed, my lord, though I have read them over with great attention, yet, in many places, I cannot discern whether it be against me or any body else, that your lordship is arguing. That which often makes the difficulty is, that I do not see how what I say does at all concern the controversy your lordship is engaged in, and yet I alone am quoted. Your lordship goes on:
“Let us suppose this principle to be true,” that the simple ideas by sensation or reflection are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning: “I ask then how we come to be certain, that there are spiritual substances in the world, since we can have no clear and distinct ideas concerning them? Can we be certain, without any foundation of reason? This is a new sort of certainty, for which we do not envy those pretenders to reason. But methinks, they should not at the same time assert the absolute necessity of these ideas to our knowledge, and declare that we may have certain knowledge without them. If there be any other method, they overthrow their own principle; if there be none, how come they to any certainty that there are both bodily and spiritual substances?”
This paragraph, which continues to prove, that we may have certainty without clear and distinct ideas, I would flatter myself is not meant against me, because it opposes nothing that I have said; and so shall not say any thing to it, but only set it down to do your lordship right, that the reader may judge. Though I do not find how he will easily overlook me, and think I am not at all concerned in it, since my words alone are quoted in several pages immediately preceding and following: and in the very next paragraph it is said, “how they come to know;” which word, they, must signify some body besides the author of Christianity not mysterious; and then I think, by the whole tenour of your lordship’s discourse, nobody will be left but me, possible to be taken to be the other: for in the same paragraph your lordship says, “the same persons say, that notwithstanding their ideas, it is possible for matter to think.”
I know not what other person says so but I; but if any one does, I am sure no person but I say so in my book, which your lordship has quoted for them, viz. Human Understanding, B. iv. c. 3. This, which is a riddle to me, the more amazes me, because I find it in a treatise of your lordship’s, who so perfectly understands the rules and methods of writing, whether in controversy or any other way. But this which seems wholly new to me, I shall better understand when your lordship pleases to explain it. In the mean time I mention it as an apology for myself, if sometimes I mistake your lordship’s aim, and so misapply my answer. What follows in your lordship’s next paragraph is this:
“As to these latter (which is my business) I must inquire farther, how they come to know there are such? The answer is, by self-reflection on those powers we find in ourselves, which cannot come from a mere bodily substance. I allow the reason to be very good; but the question I ask, is, whether this argument be from the clear and distinct idea or not? We have ideas in ourselves of the several operations of our minds, of knowing, willing, considering, &c. which cannot come from a bodily substance. Very true; but is all this contained in the simple idea of these operations? How can that be, when the same persons say, that, notwithstanding their ideas, it is possible for matter to think?Human Understanding B. ii. c. 3.§ 6. For it is said—that we have the ideas of matter and thinking, but possibly shall never be able to know whether any material being thinks or not; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether omnipotency hath not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive or think.—If this be true, then for all that we can know by our ideas of matter and thinking, matter may have a power of thinking: and if this hold, then it is impossible to prove a spiritual substance in us, from the idea of thinking: for how can we be assured by our ideas, that God hath not given such a power of thinking to matter so disposed as our bodies are? Especially since it is said,—that in respect of our notions, it is not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, super-add to our idea of matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should super-add to it another substance, with a faculty of thinking.—Whoever asserts this can never prove a spiritual substance in us from a faculty of thinking; because he cannot know from the idea of matter and thinking, that matter so disposed cannot think. And he cannot be certain, that God hath not framed the matter of our bodies so as to be capable of it.”
These words, my lord, I am forced to take to myself; for though your lordship has put it the same persons say, in the plural number, yet there is nobody quoted for the following words, but my Essay: nor do I think any body but I has said so. But so it is in this present chapter, I have the good luck to be joined with others for what I do not say, and others with me for what I imagine they do not say; which, how it came about, your lordship can best resolve. But to the words themselves: in them your lordship argues, that upon my principles it “cannot be proved that there is a spiritual substance in us.” To which give me leave, with submission, to say, that I think it may be proved from my principles, and I think I have done it; and the proof in my book stands thus: First, we experiment in ourselves thinking. The idea of this action or mode of thinking is inconsistent with the idea of self-subsistence, and therefore has a necessary connexion with a support or subject of inhesion: the idea of that support is what we call substance; and so from thinking experimented in us, we have a proof of a thinking substance in us, which in my sense is a spirit. Against this your lordship will argue, that by what I have said of the possibility that God may, if he pleases, super-add to matter a faculty of thinking, it can never be proved that there is a spiritual substance in us, because upon that supposition it is possible it may be a material substance that thinks in us. I grant it; but add, that the general idea of substance being the same every where, the modification of thinking, or the power of thinking joined to it, makes it a spirit, without considering what other modifications it has, as whether it has the modification of solidity or no. As on the other side, substance, that has the modification of solidity, is matter, whether it has the modification of thinking or no. And therefore, if your lordship means by a spiritual an immaterial substance, I grant I have not proved, nor upon my principles can it be proved, (your lordship meaning, as I think you do, demonstratively proved) that there is an immaterial substance in us that thinks. Though I presume,B. iv. 6. 10.§. 16. from what I have said about the supposition of a system of matter thinking (which there demonstrates that God is immaterial) will prove it in the highest degree probable, that the thinking substance in us is immaterial. But your lordship thinks not probability enough; and by charging the want of demonstration upon my principles, that the thinking thing in us is immaterial, your lordship seems to conclude it demonstrable from principles of philosophy. That demonstration I should with joy receive from your lordship, or any one. For though all the great ends of morality and religion are well enough secured without it,B. iv. c. 3.§ 6. as I have shown; yet it would be a great advance of our knowledge in nature and philosophy.
To what I have said in my book, to show that all the great ends of religion and morality are secured barely by the immortality of the soul, without a necessary supposition that the soul is immaterial, I crave leave to add, that immortality may and shall be annexed to that, which in its own nature is neither immaterial nor immortal, as the apostle expressly declares in these words; “for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”1 Cor. xv. 53. Perhaps my using the word spirit for a thinking substance, without excluding materiality out of it, will be thought too great a liberty, and such as deserves censure, because I leave immateriality out of the idea I make it a sign of. I readily own that words should be sparingly ventured on in a sense wholly new; and nothing but absolute necessity can excuse the boldness of using any term, in a sense whereof we can produce no example. But in the present case, I think, I have great authorities to justify me. The soul is agreed, on all hands, to be that in us which thinks. And he that will look into the first book of Cicero’s Tusculan questions, and into the sixth book of Virgil’s Æneids, will find that these two great men, who of all the Romans best understood philosophy, thought, or at least did not deny, the soul to be a subtile matter, which might come under the name of aura, or ignis, or æther; and this soul they both of them called spiritus: in the notion of which it is plain they included only thought and active motion, without the total exclusion of matter. Whether they thought right in this, I do not say; that is not the question; but whether they spoke properly, when they called an active, thinking, subtile substance, out of which they excluded only gross and palpable matter, spiritus, spirit. I think that nobody will deny, that, if any among the Romans can be allowed to speak properly, Tully and Virgil are the two who may most securely be depended on for it: and one of them, speaking of the soul, says, “dum spiritus hos regit artus;” and the other, “vita continetur corpore & spiritu.” Where it is plain, by corpus he means (as generally every where) only gross matter that may be felt and handled; as appears by those words: “si cor, aut sanguis, aut cerebrum est animus, certe, quoniam est corpus, interibit cum reliquo corpore; si anima est, forte dissipabitur; si ignis extinguetur.” Tusc. Quæst. l. i. c. 11. Here Cicero opposes corpus to ignis and anima, i. e. aura or breath: and the foundation of that his distinction of the soul, from that which he calls corpus or body, he gives a little lower in these words; “tanta ejus tenuitas ut fugiat aciem.” ib. c. 22.
Nor was it the heathen world alone that had this notion of spirit; the most enlightened of all the ancient people of God, Solomon himself, speaks after the same manner:Eccles. iii. 19. “That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth so dieth the other, yea they have all one spirit.” So I translate the Hebrew word רוח here, for so I find it translated the very next verse but one;Ver. 21. “Who knoweth the spirit of a man that goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast that goeth down to the earth?” In which places it is plain that Solomon applies the word רוח, and our translators of him, the word spirit, to a substance, out of which immateriality was not wholly excluded, “unless the spirit of a beast that goeth downwards to the earth” be immaterial. Nor did the way of speaking in our Saviour’s time vary from this:Chap. xxiv. 37. St. Luke tells us, that when our Saviour, after his resurrection, stood in the midst of them, “they were affrighted, and supposed that they had seen πνεῦμα,” the Greek word which always answers spirit in English; and so the translators of the Bible render it here, “they supposed that they had seen a spirit.” But our Saviour says to them, “Behold my hands and my feet,Ver. 39. that it is I myself, handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me have.” Which words of our Saviour put the same distinction between body and spirit, that Cicero did in the place above cited, viz. that the one was a gross compages that could be felt and handled; and the other such as Virgil describes the ghost or soul of Anchises,Lib. vi.
I would not be thought here to say, that spirit never does signify a purely immaterial substance. In that sense the scripture, I take it, speaks, when it says, “God is a spirit;” and in that sense I have used it; and in that sense I have proved from my principles, that there is a spiritual substance; and am certain that there is a spiritual immaterial substance: which is, I humbly conceive, a direct answer to your lordship’s question in the beginning of this argument, viz. “How come we to be certain that there are spiritual substances, supposing this principle to be true, that the simple ideas by sensation and reflection are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning?” But this hinders not, but that if God, that infinite, omnipotent, and perfectly immaterial spirit, should please to give a system of very subtile matter sense and motion, it might, with propriety of speech be called spirit; though materiality were not excluded out of its complex idea. Your lordship proceeds:B. iv. c. 10.§ 5. “It is said indeed elsewhere, that it is repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge. But this doth not reach the present case; which is not what matter can do of itself, but what matter prepared by an omnipotent hand can do. And what certainty can we have that he hath not done it? We can have none from the ideas, for those are given up in this case; and consequently we can have no certainty upon these principles, whether we have any spiritual substance within us or not.”
Your lordship in this paragraph proves, that from what I say,B. iv. c. 10.§ 5. “we can have no certainty whether we have any spiritual substance in us or not.” If by spiritual substance your lordship means an immaterial substance in us, as you speak a little farther on, I grant what your lordship says is true, that it cannot, upon these principles, be demonstrated. But I must crave leave to say at the same time, that upon these principles it can be proved, to the highest degree of probability. If by spiritual substance your lordship means a thinking substance, I must dissent from your lordship, and say, that we can have a certainty, upon my principles, that there is a spiritual substance in us. In short, my lord, upon my principles, i. e. from the idea of thinking, we can have a certainty that there is a thinking substance in us; from hence we have a certainty that there is an eternal thinking substance. This thinking substance, which has been from eternity,B. iv. I have proved to be immaterial. This eternal, immaterial, thinking substance, has put into us a thinking substance, which, whether it be a material or immaterial substance, cannot be infallibly demonstrated from our ideas; though from them it may be proved, that it is to the highest degree probable that it is immaterial. This, in short, my lord, is what I have to say on this point; which may, in good measure, serve for an answer to your lordship’s next leaf or two; which I shall set down, and then take notice of some few particulars which I wonder to find your lordship accuse me of. Your lordship says:
“But we are told,B. ii. c. 23.§ 15. that from the operations of our minds, we are able to frame a complex idea of a spirit. How can that be, when we cannot from those ideas be assured, but that those operations may come from a material substance? If we frame an idea on such grounds, it is at most but a possible idea; for it may be otherwise, and we can have no assurance from our ideas, that it is not: so that the most men may come to in this way of ideas, is, that it is possible it may be so, and it is possible it may not; but that it is impossible for us, from our ideas, to determine either way. And is not this an admirable way to bring us to a certainty of reason?”
“I am very glad to find the idea of a spiritual substance made as consistent and intelligible, as that of a corporeal:—For as the one consists of a cohesion of solid parts, and the power of communicating motion by impulse, so the other consists in a power of thinking and willing,§ 27. and moving the body; and that the cohesion of solid parts, is as hard to be conceived as thinking: and we are as much in the dark about the power of communicating motion by impulse, as in the power of exciting motion by thought. We have by daily experience clear evidence of motion produced, both by impulse and by thought; but the manner how, hardly comes within our comprehension; we are equally at a loss in both.
§ 28.“From whence it follows, that we may be certain of a being of a spiritual substance, although we have no clear and distinct idea of it, nor are able to comprehend the manner of its operations: and therefore it is a vain thing in any to pretend that all our reason and certainty is founded on clear and distinct ideas: and that they have reason to reject any doctrine which relates to spiritual substances, because they cannot comprehend the manner of it. For the same thing is confessed by the most inquisitive men, about the manner of operation, both in material and immaterial substances.§ 31. It is affirmed,—that the very notion of body implies something very hard, if not impossible, to be explained or understood by us; and that the natural consequence of it, viz. divisibility, involves us in difficulties impossible to be explicated, or made consistent; that we have but some few superficial ideas of things;§ 32. that we are destitute of faculties to attain to the true nature of them: and that when we do that, we fall presently into darkness and obscurity, and can discover nothing further but our own blindness and ignorance.
“These are very fair and ingenuous confessions of the shortness of human understanding, with respect to the nature and manner of such things which we are most certain of the being of, by constant and undoubted experience. I appeal now to the reason of mankind, whether it can be any reasonable foundation for rejecting a doctrine proposed to us as of divine revelation, because we cannot comprehend the manner of it; especially when it relates to the divine essence.§ 33, 34, 35. For as the same author observes,—our idea of God is framed from the complex ideas of those perfections we find in ourselves, but enlarging them so, as to make them suitable to an infinite being; as knowledge, power, duration,§ 36. &c. And the degrees or extent of these which we ascribe to the sovereign being, are all boundless and infinite. For it is infinity, which joined to our ideas of existence, power, knowledge, &c. makes that complex idea, whereby we represent to ourselves, the best we can, the supreme being.”
“Now, when our knowledge of gross material substances is so dark; when the notion of spiritual substances is above all ideas of sensation; when the higher any substance is, the more remote from our knowledge; but especially when the very idea of a supreme being implies its being infinite and incomprehensible; I know not whether it argues more stupidity or arrogance to expose a doctrine relating to the divine essence, because they cannot comprehend the manner of it: but of this more afterwards. I am yet upon the certainty of our reason, from clear and distinct ideas: and if we can attain to certainty without them, and where it is confessed we cannot have them, as about substance; then these cannot be the sole matter and foundation of our reasoning, which is peremptorily asserted by this late author.”
Here, after having argued, that notwithstanding what I say about our idea of a spirit, it is impossible, from our ideas, to determine whether that spirit in us be a material substance or no, your lordship concludes the paragraph thus: “and is not this an admirable way to bring us to a certainty of reason?”
I answer; I think it is a way to bring us to a certainty in these things which I have offered as certain, but I never thought it a way to certainty, where we never can reach certainty; nor shall I think the worse of it, if your lordship should instance in an hundred other things, as well as the immateriality of the spirit in us, wherein this way does not bring us to a certainty; unless, at the same time, your lordship shall show us another way that will bring us to a certainty in those points, wherein this way of ideas failed. If your lordship, or any body else, will show me a better way to a certainty in them, I am ready to learn, and will lay by that of ideas. The way of ideas will not, from philosophy, afford us a demonstration, that the thinking substance in us is immaterial. Whereupon your lordship asks, “and is not this an admirable way to bring us to a certainty of reason?” The way of argument which your lordship, opposes to the way of ideas, will, I humbly conceive, from philosophy, as little afford us a demonstration, that the thinking substance in us is immaterial. Whereupon may not any one likewise ask, “and is not this an admirable way to bring us to a certainty of reason?” Is any way, I beseech your lordship, to be condemned as an ill way to bring us to certainty, demonstrative certainty, because it brings us not to it in a point where reason cannot attain to such certainty? Algebra is a way to bring us to a certainty in mathematics; but must it be presently condemned as an ill way, because there are some questions in mathematics, which a man cannot come to certainty in by the way of Algebra?
In page 247, after having set down several confessions of mine, “of the shortness of human understanding,” your lordship adds these words: “I appeal now to the reason of mankind, whether it can be any reasonable foundation for rejecting a doctrine proposed to us as a divine revelation, because we cannot comprehend the manner of it; especially when it relates to the divine essence.” And I beseech you, my lord, where did I ever say so, or any thing like it? And yet it is impossible for any reader but to imagine, that that proposition which your lordship appeals to the reason of mankind against, is a proposition of mine, which your lordship is confuting out of confessions of my own, great numbers whereof stand quoted out of my Essay, in several pages of your lordship’s book, both before and after this your lordship’s appeal to the reason of mankind. And now I must appeal to your lordship, whether you find any such proposition in my book? If your lordship does not, I too must then appeal to the reason of mankind, whether it be reasonable for your lordship to bring so many confessions out of my book, to confute a proposition that is no-where in it? There is, no doubt, reason for it; which since your lordship does not, that I see, declare, and I have not wit enough to discover, I shall therefore leave to the reason of mankind to find out.
Your lordship has, in this part of your discourse, spoke very much of reason; as,—“is not this an admirable way to bring us to a certainty of reason?—And therefore it is a vain thing in any to pretend, that all our reason and certainty is founded on clear and distinct ideas.—I appeal now to the reason of mankind.—I am yet upon the certainty of our reason.—The certainty is not placed in the idea, but in good and sound reason.—Allowing the argument to be good, yet it is not taken from the idea, but from principles of true reason.”
What your lordship says at the beginning of this chapter, in these words, “we must consider what we understand by reason,” made me hope I should here find what your lordship understands by reason explained, that so I might rectify my notion of it, and might be able to avoid the obscurity and confusion which very much perplex most of the discourses, wherein it is appealed to or from as judge. But notwithstanding the explication I flattered myself with the hopes of, from what I thought your lordship had promised, I find no other account of reason, but in quotations out of others, which your lordship justly blames. Had I been so happy as to have been enlightened in this point by your lordship’s learned pen, so as to have seen distinctly what your lordship understands by reason, I should possibly have excused myself from giving your lordship the trouble of these papers, and been able to have perceived, without applying myself any farther to your lordship, how so much of my Essay came into a chapter, which was designed to answer “objections against the Trinity, in point of reason.” It follows:
“But I go yet farther: and as I have already showed we can have no certainty of an immaterial substance within us, from these simple ideas; so I shall now show, that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from them, by their own confession, concerning the existence of the most spiritual and infinite substance, even God himself.” And then your lordship goes on to give an account of my proof of a God: which your lordship closes with these words:
“That which I design is to show, that the certainty of it is not placed upon any clear and distinct ideas, but upon the force of reason distinct from it; which was the thing I intended to prove.”
If this be the thing your lordship designed, I am then at a loss who your lordship designed it against: for I do not remember that I have any where said, that we could not be convinced by reason of any truth, but where all the ideas concerned in that conviction were clear and distinct; for knowledge and certainty, in my opinion, lies in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas, such as they are, and not always in having perfectly clear and distinct ideas. Though those, I must own, the clearer and more distinct they are, contribute very much to our more clear and distinct reasoning and discoursing about them. But in some cases we may have certainty about obscure ideas; v. g. by the clear idea of thinking in me, I find the agreement of the clear idea of existence, and the obscure idea of a substance in me, because I perceive the necessary idea of thinking, and the relative idea of a support; which support, without having any clear and distinct idea of what it is, beyond this relative one of a support, I call substance.
If your lordship intended this against another, who has said, “clear and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning;” it seems very strange to me, that your lordship should intend it against one, and quote the words of another. For above ten pages before, your lordship had quoted nothing but my book; and in the immediate preceding paragraph bring a large quotation out of the tenth section of the tenth chapter of my fourth book; of which your lordship says, “this is the substance of the argument used, to prove an infinite spiritual being, which I am far from weakening the force of; but that which I design is to show, that the certainty of it is not placed upon clear and distinct ideas.” Whom now, I beseech your lordship, can this be understood to be intended against, but me? For how can my using an argument, whose certainty is not placed upon clear and distinct ideas, prove any thing against another man, who says, “that clear and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning?” This proves only against him that uses the argument; and therefore either I must be supposed here to hold, that clear and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning, (which I do not remember that I ever said) or else that your lordship here proves against nobody.
But though I do not remember that I have any where said, that clear and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning; yet I do own, that simple ideas are the foundations of all our knowledge, if that be it which your lordship questions: and therefore I must think myself concerned in what your lordship says in this very place, in these words, “I shall now show, that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from these simple ideas, by their own confession, concerning the existence of God himself.”
This being spoken in the plural number, cannot be understood to be meant of the author of Christianity not mysterious, and nobody else: and whom can any reader reasonably apply it to, but the author of the Essay of Human Understanding; since, besides that it stands in the midst of a great many quotations out of that book, without any other person being named, or any one’s words but mine quoted, my proof alone of a deity is brought out of that book, to make good what your lordship here says; and nobody else is any where mentioned or quoted concerning it?
The same way of speaking of the persons you are arguing against in the plural number, your lordship uses in other places; as, “which they may call a complication of simple ideas, if they please.”
“We do not envy these pretenders to reason; but methinks they should not at the same time assert the absolute necessity of these ideas to our knowledge, and declare that we may have certain knowledge without them.” And all along in that page, “they.” And in the very next page my words being quoted, your lordship asks, “how can that be, when the same persons say, that notwithstanding their ideas, it is impossible for matter to think?” So that I do not see how I can exempt myself from being meant to be one of those pretenders to reason; wherewith we can be certain without any foundation of reason; which your lordship, in the immediate foregoing page, does not envy for this new sort of certainty. How can it be understood but that I am one of those persons, that “at the same time assert the absolute necessity of these ideas to our knowledge, and declare that we may have certain knowledge without them?” Though your lordship very civilly says, “that you must do that right to the ingenious author of the Essay of Human Understanding, (from whence these notions are borrowed, to serve other purposes than he intended them) that,” &c. yet, methinks, it is the author himself, and his use of these notions, that is blamed and argued against; but still in the plural number, which he confesses himself not to understand.
My lord, if your lordship can show me where I pretend to reason or certainty, without any foundation of reason; or where it is I assert the absolute necessity of any ideas to our knowledge, and declare that we may have certain knowledge without them, your lordship will do me a great favour: for this, I grant, is a new sort of certainty which I long to be rid of, and to disown to the world. But truly, my lord, as I pretended to no new sort of certainty, but just such as human understanding was possessed of before I was born; and should be glad I could get more out of the books and writings that come abroad in my days: so, my lord, if I have any where pretended to any new sort of certainty, I beseech your lordship show me the place, that I may correct the vanity of it, and unsay it to the world.
Again, your lordship says thus, “I know not whether it argues more stupidity or arrogance to expose a doctrine relating to the divine essence, because they cannot comprehend the manner of it.”
Here, my lord, I find the same “they” again, which, some pages back, evidently involved me: and since that you have named nobody besides me, nor alleged any body’s writings but mine; give me leave, therefore, to ask your lordship, whether I am one of these “they” here also, that I may know whether I am concerned to answer for myself? I am ashamed to importune your lordship so often about the same matter; but I meet with so many places in your lordship’s (I had almost said new) way of writing, that put me to a stand, not knowing whether I am meant or no, that I am at a loss whether I should clear myself from what possibly your lordship does not lay to my charge; and yet the reader, thinking it meant of me, should conclude that to be in my book which is not there, and which I utterly disown.
Though I cannot be joined with those who expose a doctrine relating to the divine essence, because they cannot comprehend the manner of it; unless your lordship can show where I have so exposed it, which I deny that I have any where done; yet your lordship, before you come to the bottom of the same page, has these words, “I shall now show, that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from them, by their own confession, concerning the existence of the most spiritual and infinite substance, even God himself.”
If your lordship did mean me in that “they” which is some lines backwards, I must complain to your lordship, that you have done me an injury, in imputing that to me which I have not done. And if “their” here were not meant by your lordship to relate to the same persons, I ask by what shall the reader distinguish them? And how shall any body know who your lordship means? For that I am comprehended here is apparent, by your quoting my essay in the very next words, and arguing against it in the following pages.
I enter not here into your lordship’s argument; that which I am now considering is your lordship’s peculiar way of writing in this part of your treatise, which makes me often in doubt, whether the reader will not condemn my book upon your lordship’s authority, where he thinks me concerned, if I say nothing: and yet your lordship may look upon my defence as superfluous, when I did not hold what your lordship argued against.
But to go on with your lordship’s argument, your lordship says, “I shall now show that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from simple ideas by their own confession, concerning the existence of the most spiritual and infinite substance, even God himself.”
Your lordship’s way of proving it is this: your lordship says, we are told, b. iv. c. 10. § 1. “That the evidence of it is equal to mathematical certainty; and very good arguments are brought to prove it, in a chapter on purpose: but that which I take notice of, is, that the argument from the clear and distinct idea of a God is passed over.” Supposing all this to be so, your lordship, methinks, with submission, does not prove the proposition you undertook, which was this; “there can be no sufficient evidence brought from simple ideas, by their own confession concerning [i. e. to prove] the existence of a God.” For if I did in that chapter, as your lordship says, pass over the proof from the clear and distinct idea of God, that, I presume, is no confession that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from clear and distinct ideas, much less from simple ideas, concerning the existence of a God; because the using of one argument brought from one foundation, is no confession that there is not another principle or foundation. But, my lord, I shall not insist upon this, whether it be a confession or no.
Leaving confession out of the proposition, I humbly conceive your lordship’s argument does not prove. Your lordship’s proposition to be proved, is, “there can be sufficient evidence brought from simple ideas to prove the existence of a God;” and your lordship’s reason is, because the argument from the clear and distinct idea of God is omitted in my proof of a God. I will suppose, for the strengthening your lordship’s reasoning in the case, that I had said (which I am far enough from saying) that there was no other argument to prove the existence of God, but what I had used in that chapter; yet, my lord, with all this, your lordship’s argument, I humbly conceive, would not hold; for I might bring evidence from simple ideas, though I brought none from the idea of God; for the idea we have of God is a complex, and no simple idea. So that the terms being changed from simple ideas to a clear and distinct complex idea of God, the proposition which was undertaken to be proved, seems to be unproved.
Your lordship’s next words are, “how can this be consistent with deducing our certainty of knowledge from clear and simple ideas?”
Here your lordship joins something that is mine with something that is not mine. I do say, that all our knowledge is founded in simple ideas; but I do not say, it is all deduced from clear ideas; much less that we cannot have any certain knowledge of the existence of any thing, whereof we have not a clear, distinct, complex idea; or, that the complex idea must be clear enough to be in itself the evidence of the existence of that thing; which seems to be your lordship’s meaning here. Our knowledge is all founded on simple ideas, as I have before explained, though not always about simple ideas, for we may know the truth of propositions which include complex ideas, and those complex ideas may not always be perfectly clear ideas.
In the remaining part of this page, it follows: “I do not go about to justify those who lay the whole stress upon that foundation, which I grant to be too weak to support so important a truth; and that those are very much to blame, who go about to invalidate other arguments for the sake of that: but I doubt all that talk about clear and distinct ideas being made the foundation of certainty, came originally from these discourses or meditations, which are aimed at. The author of them was an ingenious thinking man, and he endeavoured to lay the foundation of certainty, as well as he could. The first thing he found any certainty in, was his own existence; which he founded upon the perceptions of the acts of his mind, which some call an internal infallible perception that we are. From hence he proceeded to inquire, how we came by this certainty? And he resolved it into this, that he had a clear and distinct perception of it; and from hence he formed this general rule, that what he had a clear and distinct perception of was true. Which in reason ought to go no farther, than where there is the like degree of evidence.”
This account which your lordship gives here, what it was wherein Descartes laid the foundation of certainty, containing nothing in it to show what your lordship proposed here, viz. “that there can be no sufficient evidence brought from ideas, by my own confession, concerning the existence of God himself;” I willingly excuse myself from troubling your lordship concerning it. Only I crave leave to make my acknowledgment to your lordship, for what you are pleased, by the way, to drop in these words: “But I doubt all this talk about clear and distinct ideas being made the foundation of certainty, came originally from these discourses or meditations, which are aimed at.”
B. iv. c. 10.§ 7.By the quotations in your lordship’s immediately preceding words taken out of my Essay, which relate to that ingenious thinking author, as well as by what in your following words is said of his founding certainty in his own existence; it is hard to avoid thinking that your lordship means, that I borrowed from him my notions concerning certainty. And your lordship is so great a man, and every way so far above my meanness, that it cannot be supposed that your lordship intended this for any thing but a commendation of me to the world as the scholar of so great a master. But though I must always acknowledge to that justly-admired gentleman the great obligation of my first deliverance from the unintelligible way of talking of the philosophy in use in the schools in his time, yet I am so far from entitling his writings to any of the errors or imperfections which are to be found in my Essay, as deriving their original from him, that I must own to your lordship they were spun barely out of my own thoughts, reflecting as well as I could on my own mind, and the ideas I had there; and were not, that I know, derived from any other original. But, possibly, I all this while assume to myself an honour which your lordship did not intend to me by this intimation; for though what goes before and after seems to appropriate those words to me, yet some part of them brings me under my usual doubt, which I shall remain under till I know whom these words, viz. “this talk about clear and distinct ideas being made the foundation of certainty,” belong to.
The remaining part of this paragraph contains a discourse of your lordship’s upon Descarte’s general rule of certainty, in these words: “For the certainty here was not grounded on the clearness of the perception, but on the plainness of the evidence, which is that of nature, that the very doubting of it proves it: since it is impossible, that any thing should doubt or question its own being, that had it not. So that here it is not the clearness of the idea, but an immediate act of perception which is the true ground of certainty. And this cannot extend to things without ourselves, of which we can have no other perception, than what is caused by the impressions of outward objects. But whether we are to judge according to these impressions, doth not depend on our ideas themselves, but upon the exercise of our judgment and reason about them, which put the difference between true and false, and adequate and inadequate ideas. So that our certainty is not from the ideas themselves, but from the evidence of reason, that those ideas are true and just, and consequently that we may build our certainty upon them.”
Granting all this to be so, yet I must confess, my lord, I do not see how it any way tends to show either your lordship’s proof, or my confession “that my proof of an infinite spiritual being is not placed upon ideas; which is what your lordship professes to be your design here.”
But though we are not yet come to your lordship’s proof, that the certainty in my proof of a deity is not placed on ideas, yet I crave leave to consider what your lordship says here concerning certainty; about which one cannot employ too many thoughts to find wherein it is placed. Your lordship says, “That Descartes’s certainty was not grounded on the clearness of the perception, but on the plainness of the evidence.” And a little lower; here (i. e. in Descartes’s foundation of certainty) it is not the clearness of the idea, but an immediate “act of perception, on which is the true ground of certainty.” And a little lower, that “in things without us, our certainty is not from the ideas, but from the evidence of reason that those ideas are true and just.”
Your lordship, I hope, will pardon my dulness, if after your lordship has placed the grounds of certainty of our own existence, sometimes in the plainness of the evidence, in opposition to the clearness of the perception; sometimes in the immediate act of perception, in opposition to the clearness of the idea; and the certainty of other things without us, in the evidence of reason that these ideas are true and just, in opposition to the ideas themselves: I know not, by these rules, wherein to place certainty; and therefore stick to my own plain way, by ideas, delivered in these words:B. 4. c. 4.§ 18. “Wherever we perceive the agreement or disagreement of any of our ideas, there is certain knowledge; and wherever we are sure those ideas agree with the reality of things, there is certain real knowledge. Of which agreement of our ideas with the reality of things, I think I have shown wherein it is that certainty, real certainty, consists.” Whereof more may be seen in chap. vi. in which, if your lordship find any mistakes, I shall take it as a great honour to be set right by you.
Your lordship, as far as I can guess your meaning (for I must own I do not clearly comprehend it) seems to me, in the foregoing passage, to oppose this assertion, that the certainty of the being of any thing might be made out from the idea of that thing. Truly, my lord, I am so far from saying (or thinking) so, that I never knew any one of that mind but Descartes, and some that have followed him in his proof of a God, from the idea which we have of God in us; which I was so far from thinking a sufficient ground of certainty, that your lordship makes use of my denying or doubting of it, against me, as we shall see in the following words:
“But the idea of an infinite being has this peculiar to it, that necessary existence is implied in it. This is a clear and distinct idea, and yet it is denied that this doth prove the existence of God. How then can the grounds of our certainty arise from the clear and distinct ideas, when in one of the clearest ideas of our minds, we can come to no certainty by it?”
Your lordship’s proof here, as far as I comprehend it, seems to be, that it is confessed, “That certainty does not arise from clear and distinct ideas, because it is denied that the clear and distinct idea of an infinite being, that implies necessary existence in it, does prove the existence of a God.”
Here your lordship says, it is denied; and in five lines after you recal that saying, and use these words, “I do not say that it is denied, to prove it:” which of these two sayings of your lordship’s must I now answer to? If your lordship says it is denied, I fear that will not hold to be so in matter of fact, which made your lordship unsay it; though that being most to your lordship’s purpose, occasioned, I suppose, its dropping from your pen. For if it be not denied, I think the whole force of your lordship’s argument fails. But your lordship helps that out as well as the thing will bear, by the words that follow in the sentence, which altogether stands thus: “I do not say, that it is denied, to prove it; but this is said, that it is a doubtful thing, from the different make of men’s tempers, and application of their thoughts. What can this mean, unless it be to let us know that even clear and distinct ideas may lose their effect, by the difference of men’s tempers and studies? So that besides ideas, in order to a right judgment, a due temper and application of the mind is required.”
If I meant in those words of mine, quoted here by your lordship, just as your lordship concludes they mean, I know not why I should be ashamed of it; for I never thought that ideas, even the most clear and distinct, would make men certain of what might be demonstrated from them, unless they were of a temper to consider, and would apply their minds to them. There are no ideas more clear and distinct than those of numbers, and yet there are a thousand demonstrations concerning numbers, which millions of men do not know, (and so have not the certainty about them that they might have) for want of application.
I could not avoid here to take this to myself: for this passage of your lordship’s is pinned down upon me so close, by your lordship’s citing the 7th sect of the 10th chapter of my ivth book, that I am forced here to answer for myself; which I shall do, after having first set down my words, as they stand in the place quoted by your lordship:B. iv. c. 10.§ 7. “How far the idea of a most perfect being, which a man may frame in his mind, does or does not prove the existence of a God, I will not here examine. For in the different make of men’s tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth. But yet, I think, this I may say, that it is an ill way of establishing this truth, and silencing atheists, to lay the whole stress of so important a point as this, upon that sole foundation, and take some men’s having that idea of God in their minds (for it is evident, some men have none, and some a worse than none, and the most very different) for the only proof of a Deity; and, out of an overfondness of that darling invention, cashier, or at least endeavour to invalidate all other arguments, and forbid us to hearken to those proofs, as being weak, or fallacious, which our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe, offer so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considering man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth, as can any where be delivered, that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead.”
The meaning of which words of mine was not to deny that the idea of a most perfect being doth prove a God, but to blame those who take it for the only proof, and endeavour to invalidate all others. For the belief of a God being, as I say in the same section, the foundation of all religion and genuine morality, I thought no arguments that are made use of to work the persuasion of a God into men’s minds, should be invalidated. And the reason I give why they should all be left to their full strength, and none of them rejected as unfit to be hearkened to, is this: because “in the different make of men’s tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth.” So that my meaning here was not, as your lordship supposes, to ground certainty on the different make of men’s tempers, and application of their thoughts, in opposition to clear and distinct ideas, as is very evident from my words; but to show of what ill consequence it is, to go about to invalidate any argument, which hath a tendency to settle the belief of a God in any one’s mind; because in the difference of men’s tempers and application, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another: so that I speaking of belief, and your lordship, as I take it, speaking in that place of certainty, nothing can (I crave leave to say) be inferred from these words of mine to your lordship’s purpose. And that I meant belief, and not certainty, is evident from hence, that I look upon the argument there spoken of, as not conclusive, and so not able to produce certainty in any one, though I did not know how far it might prevail on some men’s persuasions to confirm them in the truth. And since not all, nor the most of those that believe a God, are at the pains, or have the skill, to examine and clearly comprehend the demonstrations of his being, I was unwilling to show the weakness of the argument there spoken of; since possibly by it some men might be confirmed in the belief of a God, which is enough to preserve in them true sentiments of religion and morality.
Your lordship hereupon asks, “Wherein is this different from what all men of understanding have said?”
I answer: in nothing that I know; nor did I ever, that I remember, say that it was. Your lordship goes on to demand,
“Why then should these clear and simple ideas be made the sole foundation of reason?”
I answer: that I know not: they must give your lordship a reason for it, who have made clear ideas the sole foundation of reason. Why I have made simple ones the foundation of all knowledge, I have shown. Your lordship goes on:
“One would think by this”—
By what, I beseech your lordship?
“That these ideas would presently satisfy men’s minds, if they attended to them.”
What those ideas are from which your lordship would expect such present satisfaction, and upon what grounds your lordship expects it, I do not know. But this I will venture to say, that all the satisfaction men’s minds can have in their inquiries after truth and certainty, is to be had only from considering, observing, and rightly laying together of ideas, so as to find out their agreement or disagreement, and no other way.
But I do not think ideas have truth and certainty always so ready to satisfy the mind in its inquiries, that there needs no more to be satisfied, than to attend to them as one does to a man, whom one asks a question to be satisfied; which your lordship’s way of expression seems to me to intimate. But they must be considered well, and their habitudes examined; and where their agreement or disagreement cannot be perceived by an immediate comparison, other ideas must be found out to discover the agreement or disagreement of those under consideration, and then all laid in a due order, before the mind can be satisfied in the certainty of that truth, which it is seeking after. This, my lord, requires often a little more time and pains, than attending to a tale that is told for present satisfaction. And I believe some of the incomparable Mr. Newton’s wonderful demonstrations cost him so much pains, that though they were all founded in nothing but several ideas of quantity, yet those ideas did not presently satisfy his mind, though they were such that, with great application and labour of thought, they were able to satisfy him with certainty, i. e. produce demonstration. Your lordship adds,
“But even this will not do as to the idea of an infinite being.”
Though the complex idea for which the sound God stands (whether containing in it the idea of necessary existence or no, for the case is the same) will not prove the real existence of a being answering that idea, any more than any other idea in any one’s mind will prove the existence of any real being answering that idea; yet, I humbly conceive, it does not hence follow, but that there may be other ideas by which the being of a God may be proved. For nobody that I know ever said, that every idea would prove every thing, or that an idea in men’s minds would prove the existence of such a real being: and therefore if this idea fail to prove, what is proposed to be proved by it, it is no more an exception against the way of ideas, than it would be an exception against the way of medius terminus, in arguing that somebody used one that did not prove. It follows:
“It is not enough to say they will not examine how far it will hold; for they ought either to say, that it doth hold, or give up this ground of certainty from clear and distinct ideas.”
Here, my lord, I am got again into the plural number; but not knowing any body but myself who has used these words which are set down out of my essay, and which you are in this and the foregoing paragraph arguing against, I am forced to beg your lordship to let me know, who those persons are whom your lordship, joining with me, entitles with me to those words of my book; or to whom your lordship joining me, entitles me by these words of mine to what they have published, that I may see how far I am answerable for them.
Now as to the words themselves, viz. “I will not examine how far the idea proposed does or does not prove the existence of a God,” because they are mine; and your lordship excepts against them, and tells me, “it was not enough to say, I will not examine, &c. For I ought either to have said, that it doth hold, or give up this ground of certainty from clear and distinct ideas.” I will answer as well as I can.
I could not then, my lord, well say that that doth hold, which I thought did not hold; but I imagined I might, without entering into the examen, and showing the weakness of that argument, pass it by with saying, I would not examine, and so left it with this thought, “valeat quantum valere potest.”
But though I did this, and said not then, it will hold, nay think now it will not hold, yet I do not see how from thence I was then, or am now under any necessity to give up the ground of certainty from ideas; because the ground of certainty from ideas may be right, though in the present instance a right use were not made of them, or a right idea was not made use of to produce the certainty sought. Ideas in mathematics are a sure ground of certainty; and yet every one may not make so right an use of them, as to attain to certainty by them; but yet any one’s failing of certainty by them, is not the overturning of this truth, that certainty is to be had by them. Clear and distinct I have omitted here to join with ideas, not because clear and distinct make any ideas unfit to produce certainty, which have all other fitness to do it; but because I do not limit certainty to clear and distinct ideas only, since there may be certainty from ideas that are not in all their parts perfectly clear and distinct.
Your lordship, in the following paragraph, endeavours to show, that I have not proved the being of a God by ideas; and from thence, with an argument not unlike the preceding, you conclude, that ideas cannot be the grounds of certainty, because I have not grounded my proof of a God on ideas. To which way of argumentation I must crave leave here again to reply, that your lordship’s supposing, as you do, that there is another way to certainty, which is not that of ideas, does not prove that certainty may not be had from ideas, because I make use of that other way. This being premised, I shall endeavour to show, that my proof of a Deity is all grounded on ideas, however your lordship is pleased to call it by other names. Your lordship’s words are:
“But instead of the proper argument from ideas, we are told, that—from the consideration of ourselves, and what we find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth, that there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing being. All which I readily yield; but we see plainly, the certainty is not placed in the idea, but in good and sound reason,” from the consideration of ourselves and our constitutions. “What! in the idea of ourselves? No certainly.”
Give me leave, my lord, to ask where I ever said, that certainty was placed in the idea, which your lordship urges my words as a contradiction of? I think I never said so. 1. Because I do not remember it. 2. Because your lordship has not quoted any place where I have said so. 3. Because I all along in my book, which has the honour to be so often quoted here by your lordship, say the quite contrary. For I place certainty where I think every body will find it, and no where else, viz. in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas; so that, in my opinion, it is impossible to be placed in any one single idea, simple or complex: I must own, that I think certainty grounded on ideas: and therefore to take your lordship’s words here, as I think they are meant, in opposition to what I say, I shall take the liberty to change your lordship’s words here, “What! in the idea of ourselves? No certainly;” into words used by your lordship in the foregoing page, to the same purpose, “What! can the grounds of our certainty arise from the idea of ourselves? No certainly.”
To which permit me, my lord, with due respect to reply, Yes, certainly. The certainty of the being of a God, in my proof, is grounded on the idea of ourselves, as we are thinking beings. But your lordship urges my own words, which are, that “from the consideration of ourselves, and what we find in our constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth.”
My lord, I must confess I never thought, that the consideration of ourselves, and what we find in our own constitutions, excluded the consideration of the idea either of being or of thinking, two of the ideas that make a part of the complex idea a man has of himself. If consideration of ourselves excludes those ideas, I may be charged with speaking improperly; but it is plain, nevertheless, that I ground the proof of a God on those ideas, and I thought I spoke properly enough; when meaning that the consideration of those ideas, which our own being offered us, and so finding their agreement or disagreement with others, we were thereby, i. e. by thus reasoning, led into the knowledge of the existence of the first infinite being, i. e. of God; I expressed it as I did, in the more familiar way of speaking. For my purpose, in that chapter, being to make out the knowledge of the existence of a God, and not to prove that it was by ideas, I thought it most proper to express myself in the most usual and familiar way, to let it the easier into men’s minds, by common words and known ways of expression: and therefore, as I think, I have scarce used the word idea in that whole chapter, but only in that one place, where my speaking against laying the whole proof only upon our idea of a most perfect being obliged me to it.
But your lordship says, that in this way of coming to a certain knowledge of the being of a God, “from the consideration of ourselves, and what we find in our own constitutions, the certainty is placed in good and sound reason.” I hope so. “But not in the idea.”
What your lordship here means by not placed in the idea, I confess, I do not well understand; but if your lordship means that it is not grounded on the ideas of thinking and existence before mentioned, and the comparing of them, and finding their agreement or disagreement with other ideas, that I must take the liberty to dissent from: for in this sense it may be placed in ideas, and in good and sound reason too, i. e. in reason rightly managing those ideas so as to produce evidence by them. So that, my lord, I must own I see not the force of the argument, which says, not in ideas but in sound reason; since I see no such opposition between them, but that ideas and sound reason may consist together. For instance; when a man would show the certainty of this truth, that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right ones; the first thing probably that he does, is to draw a diagram. What is the use of that diagram? but steadily to suggest to his mind those several ideas he would make use of in that demonstration. The considering and laying these together in such order, and with such connexion, as to make the agreement of the ideas of the three angles of the triangle, with the ideas of two right ones, to be perceived, is called right reasoning, and the business of that faculty which we call reason; which when it operates rightly by considering and comparing ideas so as to produce certainty, this showing or demonstration that the things is so, is called good and sound reason. The ground of this certainty lies in ideas themselves, and their agreement or disagreement, which reason neither does nor can alter, but only lays them so together as to make it perceivable; and without such a due consideration and ordering of the ideas, certainty could not be had: and thus certainty is placed both in ideas, and in good and sound reason.
This affords an easy answer to your lordship’s next words, brought to prove, that the certainty of a God is not placed on the idea of ourselves. They stand thus:
“For let our ideas be taken which way we please, by sensation or reflection, yet it is not the idea that makes us certain, but the argument from that which we perceive in and about ourselves.”
Nothing truer than that it is not the idea that makes us certain without reason, or without the understanding: but it is as true, that it is not reason, it is not the understanding, that makes us certain without ideas. It is not the sun makes me certain it is day, without my eyes; nor it is not my sight makes me certain it is day, without the sun; but the one employed about the other. Nor is it one idea by itself, that in this, or any case, makes us certain; but certainty consists in the perceived agreement or disagreement of all the ideas that serve to show the agreement or disagreement of distinct ideas, as they stand in the proposition, whose truth or falsehood we would be certain of. The using of intermediate ideas to show this is called argumentation, and the ideas so used in train, an argument; so that in my poor opinion to say, that the argument makes us certain, is no more than saying, the ideas made use of make us certain.
The idea of thinking in ourselves, which we receive by reflection, we may, by intermediate ideas, perceive to have a necessary agreement and connexion with the idea of the existence of an eternal, thinking being. This, whether your lordship will call placing of certainty in the idea, or placing the certainty in reason; whether your lordship will say, it is not the idea that gives us the certainty, but the argument; is indifferent to me; I shall not be so unmannerly as to prescribe to your lordship what way you should speak, in this or any other matter. But this your lordship will give me leave to say, that let it be called how your lordship pleases, there is no contradiction in it to what I have said concerning certainty, or the way how we came by it, or the ground on which I place it. Your lordship further urges my words out of the fifth section of the same chapter.
But “we find in ourselves perception and knowledge. It is very true. But how doth this prove there is a God? Is it from the clear and distinct idea of it? No, but from this argument, that either there must have been a knowing being from eternity, or an unknowing, for something must have been from eternity: but if an unknowing being, then it was impossible there ever should have been any knowledge, it being as impossible that a thing without knowledge should produce it, as that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones.” Allowing the argument to be good, “yet it is not taken from the idea, but from the principles of true reason; as, that no man can doubt his own perception; that every thing must have a cause; that this cause must have either a knowledge or not; if it have, the point is gained: if it hath not, nothing can produce nothing; and consequently a not-knowing being cannot produce a knowing.”
Your lordship here contends, that my argument is not taken from the idea, but from true principles of reason. I do not say it is taken from any one idea, but from all the ideas concerned in it. But your lordship, if you herein oppose any thing I have said, must, I humbly conceive, say, not from ideas, but from true principles of reason; several whereof your lordship has here set down. And whence, I beseech your lordship, comes the certainty of any of those propositions, which your lordship calls true principles of reason, but from the perceivable agreement or disagreement of the ideas contained in them? Just as it is expressed in those propositions, v. g. “a man cannot doubt of his own perception,” is a true principle of reason, or a true proposition, or a certain proposition; but to the certainty of it we arrive, only by perceiving the necessary agreement of the two ideas of perception and self-consciousness.
Again, “every thing must have a cause:” though I find it so set down for one by your lordship, yet, I humbly conceive, is not a true principle of reason, nor a true proposition; but the contrary. The certainty whereof we attain by the contemplation of our ideas, and by perceiving that the idea of eternity, and the idea of the existence of something, do agree; and the idea of existence from eternity, and of having a cause, do not agree, or are inconsistent within the same thing. But “every thing that has a beginning must have a cause,” is a true principle of reason, or a proposition certainly true; which we come to know by the same way, i. e. by contemplating our ideas, and perceiving that the idea of beginning to be, is necessarily connected with the idea of some operation; and the idea of operation, with the idea of something operating, which we call a cause; and so the beginning to be, is perceived to agree with the idea of a cause, as is expressed in the proposition: and thus it comes to be a certain proposition; and so may be called a principle of reason, as every true proposition is to him that perceives the certainty of it.
This, my lord, is my way of ideas, and of coming to a certainty by them; which, when your lordship has again considered, I am apt to think your lordship will no more condemn, than I do except against your lordship’s way of arguments or principles of reason. Nor will it, I suppose, any longer offend your lordship, under the notion of a new way of reasoning; since I flatter myself, both these ways will be found to be equally old, one as the other, though perhaps formerly they have not been so distinctly taken notice of, and the name of ideas is of later date in our English language.
If your lordship says, as I think you mean, viz. that my argument to prove a God, is not taken from ideas, your lordship will pardon me, if I think otherwise. For I beseech your lordship, are not ideas, whose agreement or disagreement, as they are expressed in propositions, is perceived, immediately or by intuition, the principles of true reason? And does not the certainty we have of the truth of these propositions consist in the perception of such agreement or disagreement? And does not the agreement or disagreement depend upon the ideas themselves? Nay, so entirely depend upon the ideas themselves, that it is impossible for the mind, or reason, or argument, or any thing to alter it? All that reason or the mind does, in reasoning or arguing, is to find out and observe that agreement or disagreement: and all that argument does is, by an intervening idea, to show it, where an immediate putting the ideas together will not do it.
As for example, in the present case: the proposition, of whose truth I would be certain, is this: “a knowing being has eternally existed.” Here the ideas joined, are eternal existence, with a knowing being. But does my mind perceive any immediate connexion or repugnancy in these ideas? No. The proposition then at first view affords me no certainty; or, as our English idiom phrases it, it is not certain, or I am not certain of it. But though I am not, yet I would be certain whether it be true or no. What then must I do? Find arguments to prove that it is true, or the contrary. And what is that, but to cast about and find out intermediate ideas, which may show me the necessary connexion or inconsistency of the ideas in the proposition? Either of which, when by these intervening ideas I am brought to perceive, I am then certain that the proposition is true, or I am certain that it is false. As, in the present case, I perceive in myself thought and perception; the idea of actual perception has an evident connexion with an actual being, that doth perceive and think: the idea of an actual thinking being, hath a perceivable connexion with the eternal existence of some knowing being, by the intervention of the negation of all being, or the idea of nothing, which has a necessary connexion with no power, no operation, no casualty, no effect, i. e. with nothing. So that the idea of once actually nothing, has a visible connexion with nothing to eternity, for the future; and hence the idea of an actual being, is perceived to have a necessary connexion with some actual being from eternity. And by the like way of ideas, may be perceived the actual existence of a knowing being, to have a connexion with the existence of an actual knowing being from eternity; and the idea of an eternal, actual, knowing being, with the idea of immateriality, by the intervention of the idea of matter, and of its actual division, divisibility, and want of perception, &c. which are the ideas, or, as your lordship is pleased to call them, arguments, I make use of in this proof, which I need not here go over again; and which is partly contained in these following words, which your lordship thus quotes out of the 10th section of the same chapter.
“Again, if we suppose nothing to be first, matter can never begin to be; if bare matter without motion to be eternal, motion can never begin to be; if matter and motion be supposed eternal, thought can never begin to be; for if matter could produce thought, then thought must be in the power of matter; and if it be in matter as such, it must be the inseparable property of all matter; which is contrary to the sense and experience of mankind. If only some parts of matter have a power of thinking, how comes so great a difference in the properties of the same matter? What disposition of matter is required to thinking? And from whence comes it? Of which no account can be given in reason.” To which your lordship subjoins:
“This is the substance of the argument used, to prove an infinite spiritual being, which I am far from weakening the force of: but that which I design is to show, that the certainty of it is not placed upon any clear and distinct ideas, but upon the force of reason distinct from it; which was the thing I intended to prove.”
Your lordship says, that the certainty of it (I suppose your lordship means the certainty produced by my proof of a Deity) is not placed upon clear and distinct ideas. It is placed, among others, upon the ideas of thinking, existence, and matter, which I think are all clear and distinct ideas; so that there are some clear and distinct ideas in it: and one can hardly say there are not any clear and distinct ideas in it, because there is one obscure and confused one in it, viz. that of substance; which yet hinders not the certainty of the proof.
The words which your lordship subjoins to the former, viz. “But upon the force of reason distinct from it;” seem to me to say, as far as I can understand them, that the certainty of my argument for a Deity is placed not on clear and distinct ideas, but upon the force of reason.
This, among other places before set down, makes me wish your lordship had told us, what you understand by reason: for, in my acceptation of the word reason, I do not see but the same proof may be placed upon clear and distinct ideas, and upon reason too. As I said before, I can perceive no inconsistency or opposition between them, no more than there is any opposition between a clear object and my faculty of seeing, in the certainty of any thing I receive by my eyes; for this certainty may be placed very well on both the clearness of the object, and the exercise of that faculty in me.
Your lordship’s next words, I think, should be read thus; “distinct from them:” for if they were intended as they are printed, “distinct from it,” I confess I do not understand them. “Certainty not placed on clear and distinct ideas, but upon the force of reason distinct from them,” my capacity will reach the sense of. But then I cannot but wonder what “distinct from them” do there; for I know nobody that does not think that reason, or the faculty of reasoning, is distinct from the ideas it makes use of or is employed about, whether those ideas be clear and distinct, or obscure and confused. But if that sentence be to be read as it is printed, viz. “The certainty of it is not placed upon any clear and distinct ideas, but upon the force of reason distinct from it;” I acknowledge your lordship’s meaning is above my comprehension. Upon the whole matter, my lord, I must confess, that I do not see that what your lordship says you intended here to prove, is proved, viz. that certainty in my proof of a God is not placed on ideas. And next, if it were proved, I do not see how it answers any objection against the Trinity, in point of reason.
Before I go on to what follows, I must beg leave to confess, I am troubled to find these words of your lordship, among those I have above set down out of the foregoing page, viz. allowing the argument to be good; and cannot forbear to wish, that when your lordship was writing this passage, you had had in your mind what you are pleased here to say, viz. that you are far from weakening the force of my argument which I used to prove an infinite spiritual being.
My lord, your lordship is a great man, not only by the dignity your merits are invested with, but more by the merits of your parts and learning. Your lordship’s words carry great weight and authority with them; and he that shall quote but a saying or a doubt of your lordship’s, that questions the force of my argument for the proof of a God, will think himself well founded and to be hearkened to, as gone a great way in the cause. These words “allowing the argument to be good,” in the received way of speaking, are usually taken to signify, that he that speaks them, does not judge the argument to be good; but that for discourse-sake he at present admits it. Truly, my lord, till I read these words in your lordship, I always took it for a good argument; and was so fully persuaded of its goodness, that I spoke higher of it than of any reasoning of mine any where, because I thought it equal to a demonstration. If it be not so, it is fit I recall my words, and that I do not betray so important and fundamental a truth, by a weak, but over-valued argument: and therefore I cannot, upon this occasion, but importune your lordship, that if your lordship (as your words seem to intimate) sees any weakness in it, your lordship would be pleased to show it me; that either I may amend that fault, and make it conclusive, or else retract my confidence, and leave that cause to those who have strength suitable to its weight. But to return to what follows in your lordship’s next paragraph.
2. The next thing necessary to be cleared in this dispute, is, the distinction “between nature and person; and of this we can have no clear and distinct idea from sensation or reflection. And yet all our notions of the doctrine of the Trinity depend upon the right understanding of it. For we must talk unintelligibly about this point, unless we have clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction. But that these come not into our minds by these simple ideas of sensation and reflection, I shall now make it appear.”
By this it is plain, that the business of the following pages is to make it appear, that “we have no clear and distinct idea of the distinction of nature and person, from sensation or reflection:” or, as your lordship expresses it a little lower, “the apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction, come not into our minds by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection.”
And what, pray my lord, can be inferred from hence, if it should be so? Your lordship tells us,
“All our notions of the doctrine of the Trinity depend upon the right understanding of the distinction between nature and person; and we must talk unintelligibly about this point, unless we have clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction.”
If it be so, the inference I should draw from thence (if it were fit for me to draw any) would be this, that it concerns those who write on that subject to have themselves, and to lay down to others, clear and distinct apprehensions, or notions, or ideas, (call them what you please) of what they mean by nature and person, and of the grounds of identity and distinction.
This seems, to me, the natural conclusion flowing from your lordship’s words; which seem here to suppose clear and distinct apprehensions (something like clear and distinct ideas) necessary for the avoiding unintelligible talk in the doctrine of the Trinity. But I do not see your lordship can, from the necessity of clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, &c. in the dispute of the Trinity, bring in one, who has perhaps mistaken the way to clear and distinct notions concerning nature and person, &c. as fit to be answered among those who bring objections against the Trinity in point of reason. I do not see why an unitarian may not as well bring him in, and argue against his Essay, in a chapter that he should write, to answer objections against the unity of God, in point of reason or revelation: for upon what ground soever any one writes in this dispute, or any other, it is not tolerable to talk unintelligibly on either side.
If by the way of ideas, which is that of the author of the Essay of Human Understanding, a man cannot come to clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; if, as he proposes from the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, such apprehensions cannot be got; it will follow from thence, that he is a mistaken philosopher: but it will not follow from thence, that he is not an orthodox Christian, for he might (as he did) write his Essay of Human Understanding, without any thought of the controversy between the trinitarians and unitarians: nay, a man might have writ all that is in his book, that never heard one word of any such dispute.
There is in the world a great and fierce contest about nature and grace: it would be very hard for me, if I must be brought in as a party on either side, because a disputant, in that controversy, should think the clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and grace, come not into our minds by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection. If this be so, I may be reckoned among the objectors against all sorts and points of orthodoxy, whenever any one pleases: I may be called to account as one heterodox, in the points of free-grace, free-will, predestination, original sin, justification by faith, transubstantiation, the pope’s supremacy, and what not? as well as in the doctrine of the Trinity; and all because they cannot be furnished with clear and distinct notions of grace, free-will, transubstantiation, &c. by sensation or reflection. For in all these, or any other points, I do not see but there may be complaint made, that they have not always right understanding and clear notions of those things, on which the doctrine they dispute of depends. And it is not altogether unusual for men to talk unintelligibly to themselves and others, in these and other points of controversy, for want of clear and distinct apprehensions, or, (as I would call them, did not your lordship dislike it) ideas: for all which unintelligible talking I do not think myself accountable, though it should so fall out that my way, by ideas, would not help them to what it seems is wanting, clear and distinct notions. If my way be ineffectual to that purpose, they may, for all me, make use of any other more successful, and leave me out of the controversy, as one useless to either party, for deciding of the question.
Supposing, as your lordship says, and as you have undertaken to make appear, that “the clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction, should not come into the mind by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection;” what, I beseech your lordship, is this to the dispute concerning the Trinity, on either side? And if after your lordship has endeavoured to give clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, the disputants in this controversy should still talk unintelligibly about this point, for want of clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; ought your lordship to be brought in among the partisans on the other side, by any one who writ a Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity? In good earnest, my lord, I do not see how the clear and distinct notions of nature and person, not coming into the mind by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, any more contains any objection against the doctrine of the Trinity, than the clear and distinct apprehensions of original sin, justification, or transubstantiation, not coming to the mind by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, contains any objection against the doctrine of original sin, justification, or transubstantiation, and so of all the rest of the terms used in any controversy in religion; however your lordship, in a Treatise of the Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, and in the chapter where you make it your business to answer objections in point of reason, set yourself seriously to prove, that “clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction, come not into our minds by these simple ideas of sensation and reflection.” In order to the making this appear, we read as followeth:
“As to nature, that is sometimes taken for the essential property of a thing; as, when we say, that such a thing is of a different nature from another; we mean no more, than it is differenced by such properties as come to our knowledge. Sometimes nature is taken for the thing itself in which these properties are; and so Aristotle took nature for a corporeal substance, which had the principles of motion in itself; but nature and substance are of an equal extent; and so that which is the subject of powers and properties, is the nature, whether it be meant of bodily or spiritual substances.”
Your lordship, in this paragraph, gives us two significations of the word nature: 1. That it is sometimes taken for essential properties, which I easily admit. 2. That sometimes it is taken for the thing itself in which these properties are, and consequently for substance itself. And this your lordship proves out of Aristotle.
Whether Aristotle called the thing itself, wherein the essential properties are, nature, I will not dispute: but that your lordship thinks fit to call substance nature, is evident. And from thence I think your lordship endeavours to prove in the following words, that we can have from ideas no clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature. Your lordship’s words are:
“I grant, that by sensation and reflection we come to know the powers and properties of things; but our reason is satisfied that there must be something beyond these, because it is impossible that they should subsist by themselves. So that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, and not to mere ideas.”
How we come by the idea of substance, from the simple ones of sensation and reflection, I have endeavoured to show in another place, and therefore shall not trouble your lordship with it here again. But what your lordship infers in these words, “So that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, and not to mere ideas;” I do not well understand. Your lordship indeed here again seems to oppose reason and ideas; and to that I say, mere ideas are the objects of the understanding, and reason is one of the faculties of the understanding employed about them; and that the understanding, or reason, which-ever your lordship pleases to call it, makes or forms, out of the simple ones that come in by sensation and reflection, all the other ideas, whether general, relative, or complex, by abstracting, comparing, and compounding its positive simple ideas, whereof it cannot make or frame any one, but what it receives by sensation or reflection. And therefore I never denied that reason was employed about our particular simple ideas, to make out of them ideas general, relative, and complex; nor about all our ideas, whether simple or complex, positive or relative, general or particular: it being the proper business of reason, in the search after truth and knowledge, to find out the relations between all these sorts of ideas, in the perception whereof knowledge and certainty of truth consists.
These, my lord, are, in short, my notions about ideas, their original and formation, and of the use the mind, or reason, makes of them in knowledge. Whether your lordship thinks fit to call this a new way of reasoning, must be left to your lordship; whether it be a right way, is that alone which I am concerned for. But your lordship seems all along (I crave leave here once for all to take notice of it) to have some particular exception against ideas, and particularly clear and distinct ideas, as if they were not to be used, or were of no use in reason and knowledge; or, as if reason were opposed to them, or leads us into the knowledge and certainty of things without them; or, the knowledge of things did not at all depend on them. I beg your lordship’s pardon for expressing myself so variously and doubtfully in this matter; the reason whereof is, because I must own, that I do not every-where clearly understand what your lordship means, when you speak, as you do, of ideas; as if I ascribed more to them, than belonged to them; or expected more of them, than they could do; v. g. where your lordship says,
“But is all this contained in the simple idea of these operations?” And again, “so that here it is not the clearness of the idea, but an immediate act of perception, which is the true ground of certainty.” And farther, “so that our certainty is not from the ideas themselves, but from the evidence of reason.” And in another place, “it is not the idea that makes us certain, but the argument from that which we perceive in and about ourselves. Is it from the clear and distinct idea of it? No! but from this argument.” And here, “the nature of things belongs to our reason, and not to mere ideas.”
These, and several the like passages, your lordship has against what your lordship calls “this new way of ideas, and an admirable way to bring us to the certainty of reason.”
I never said nor thought ideas, nor any thing else, could bring us to the certainty of reason, without the exercise of reason. And then, my lord, if we will employ our minds, and exercise our reason, to bring us to certainty; what, I beseech you, shall they be employed about but ideas? For ideas, in my sense of the word,B. i. c. 1.§ 8. are, “whatsoever is the object of the understanding, when a man thinks; or whatever it is the mind can be employed about in thinking.” And again, I have these words,B. ii. c. 8.§ 8. “whatsoever is the immediate object of perception, thought, or understanding, that I call idea.” So that my way of ideas, and of coming to certainty by them, is to employ our minds in thinking upon something; and I do not see but your lordship yourself, and every body else, must make use of my way of ideas, unless they can find out a way that will bring them to certainty, by thinking on nothing. So that let certainty be placed as much as it will on reason, let the nature of things belong as properly as it will to our reason, it will nevertheless be true, that certainty consists in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas; and that the complex idea the word nature stands for, is ultimately made up of the simple ideas of sensation and reflection. Your lordship proceeds:
“But we must yet proceed farther: for nature may be considered two ways.
“1. As it is in distinct individuals, as the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence proper to each of them. For the nature of man, as in Peter, is distinct from the same nature, as it is in James and John; otherwise, they would be but one person, as well as have the same nature. And this distinction of persons in them, is discerned both by our senses, as to their different accidents; and by our reason, because they have a separate existence; not coming into it at once, and in the same manner.”
2. “Nature may be considered abstractly, without respect to individual persons: and then it makes an entire notion of itself. For however the same nature may be in different individuals, yet the nature itself remains one and the same; which appears from this evident reason, that otherwise every individual must make a different kind.”
I am so little confident of my own quickness, and of having got from what your lordship has said here, a clear and distinct apprehension concerning nature, that I must beg your lordship’s pardon, if I should happen to dissatisfy your lordship, by talking unintelligibly, or besides the purpose about it. I must then confess to your lordship, 1. that I do not clearly understand whether your lordship, in these two paragraphs, speaks of nature, as standing for essential properties; or of nature, as standing for substance; and yet it is of great moment in the case, because your lordship allows, that the notion of nature in the former of these senses, may be had from sensation and reflection; but of nature in the latter sense, your lordship says, “it properly belongs to reason, and not mere ideas.” 2. Your lordship’s saying, in the first of these paragraphs, “that the nature of a man, as in Peter, is distinct from the same nature as it is in James and John;” and in the second of them, “that however the same nature may be in different individuals, yet the nature itself remains one and the same;” does not give me so clear and distinct an apprehension concerning nature, that I know which, in your lordship’s opinion, I ought to think, either that one and the same nature is in Peter and John; or that a nature distinct from that in John, is in Peter: and the reason is, because I cannot, in my way by ideas, well put together one and the same and distinct. My apprehension concerning the nature of man, or the common nature of man, if your lordship will, upon this occasion, give me leave to trouble your lordship with it, is, in short, this; that it is a collection of several ideas, combined into one complex, abstract idea, which when they are found united in any individual existing, though joined in that existence with several other ideas, that individual or particular being is truly said to have the nature of a man, or the nature of a man to be in him; for as much as all these simple ideas are found united in him, which answer the complex, abstract idea, to which the specific name man is given by any one; which abstract, specific idea, he keeps the same, when he applies the specific name standing for it, to distinct individuals; i. e. nobody changes his idea of a man, when he says Peter is a man, from that idea which he makes the name man to stand for, when he calls John a man. This short way by ideas has not, I confess, those different, and more learned and scholastic considerations set down by your lordship. But how they are necessary, or at all tend to prove what your lordship has proposed to prove, viz. that we have no clear and distinct idea of nature, from the simple ideas got from sensation and reflection, I confess I do not yet see. But your lordship goes on to it.
“Let us now see how far these things can come from our simple ideas, by reflection and sensation. And I shall lay down the hypothesis of those, who resolve our certainty into ideas, as plainly and intelligibly as I can.”
Here I am got again into the plural number; for though it be said “the hypothesis of those,” yet my words alone are quoted for that hypothesis, and not a word of any body else in this whole business concerning nature. What they are, I shall give the reader, as your lordship has set them down.
Human Understanding, b. ii. c. 30, 31.1. We are told, “that all simple ideas are true and adequate. Not, that they are the true representations of things without us; but that they are the true effects of such powers in them, as produce such sensation within us. So that really we can understand nothing certainly by them, but the effects they have upon us.”
For these words of mine, I find Human Understanding, B. ii. c. 30. 31. quoted; but I crave leave to observe to your lordship, that in neither of these chapters do I find the words, as they stand here in your lordship’s book. In B. ii. c. 31. § 2. of my Essay, I find these words, “that all our simple ideas are adequate, because being nothing but the effects of certain powers in things fitted or ordained by God, to produce such sensations in us; they cannot but be correspondent and adequate to those powers.” And in chap. 30. sect. 2. I say, that “our simple ideas are all real, all agree to the reality of things. Not that they are all of them the images or representations of what does exist; the contrary whereof, in all but the primary qualities of bodies, hath been already shewed.”
These are the words in my book, from whence those in your lordship’s seem to be gathered, but with some difference: for I do not remember that I have any where said, of all our simple ideas, that they are none of them true representations of things without us; as the words I find in your lordship’s book, seem to make me say. The contrary whereof appears from the words which I have set down, out of chap. 30, where I deny only the simple ideas of secondary qualities to be representations; but do every-where affirm, that the simple ideas of primary qualities are the images or representations of what does exist without us. So that my words, in the chapters quoted by your lordship, not saying that all our simple ideas are only effects, and none of them representations, your lordship, I humbly conceive, cannot, upon that account, infer from my words, as you do here, viz. “so that really we can understand nothing certainly by them.”
The remaining words of this sentence, I must beg your lordship’s pardon, if I profess I do not understand: they are these; “but the effects they have upon us.” They here, and them in the preceding words to which they are joined, signify simple ideas; for it is of those your lordship infers, “so that really we can understand nothing certainly by them, but the effects they have upon us.” And then your lordship’s words import thus much, “so that really we can understand nothing certainly by simple ideas, but the effects simple ideas have upon us;” which I cannot understand to be what your lordship intended to infer from the preceding words taken to be mine. For I suppose your lordship argues, from my opinion concerning the simple ideas of secondary qualities, the little real knowledge we should receive from them, if it be true, that they are not representations or images of any thing in bodies, but only effects of certain powers in bodies to produce them in us: and in that sense I take the liberty to read your lordship’s words thus; so that we can really understand nothing certainly but [these ideas] by the effects [those powers] have upon us. To which I answer,
1. That we as certainly know and distinguish things by ideas, supposing them nothing but effects produced in us by these powers, as if they were representations. I can as certainly, when I have occasion for either, distinguish gold from silver by the colour, or wine from water by the taste: if the colour of the one, or the taste of the other, be only an effect of their powers on me; as if that colour and that taste were representations and resemblances of something in those bodies.
2. I answer; that we have certainly as much pleasure and delight by those ideas, one way as the other. The smell of a violet or taste of a peach gives me as real and certain delight, if it be only an effect, as if it were the true resemblance of something in that flower and fruit. And I a little the more wonder to hear your lordship complain so much of want of certainty in this case, when I read these words of your lordship in another place:
“That from the powers and properties of things which are knowable by us, we may know as much of the internal essence of things, as those powers and properties discover. I do not say, that we can know all essences of things alike; nor that we can attain to a perfect understanding of all that belong to them: but if we can know so much, as that there are certain beings in the world, endued with such distinct powers and properties; what is it we complain of in order to our certainty of things? But we do not see the bare essence of things. What is that bare essence, without the powers and properties belonging to it? It is that internal constitution of things, from whence those powers and properties flow. Suppose we be ignorant of this (as we are like to be, for any discoveries that have been yet made) that is a good argument, to prove the uncertainty of philosophical speculations, about the real essence of things; but it is no prejudice to us, who inquire after the certainty of such essences. For although we cannot comprehend the internal frame or constitution of things, nor in what manner they do flow from the substance; yet by them we certainly know, that there are such essences, and that they are distinguished from each other by their powers and properties.”
Give me leave, if your lordship please, to argue after the same manner in the present case: that from these simple ideas which are knowable by us, we know as much of the powers and internal constitutions of things, as these powers discover; and if we can know so much, as that there are such powers, and that there are certain beings in the world, endued with such powers and properties, that, by these simple ideas that are but the effects of these powers, we can as certainly distinguish the beings wherein those powers are, and receive as certain advantage from them, as if those simple ideas were resemblances: what is it we complain of the want of, in order to our certainty of things? But we do not see that internal constitution from whence those powers flow. Suppose we be ignorant of this (as we are like to be for any discoveries that have been yet made) that is a good argument, to show how short our philosophical speculations are about the real, internal constitutions of things; but is no prejudice to us, who by those simple ideas search out, find, and distinguish things for our uses. For though, by those ideas which are not resemblances, we cannot comprehend the internal frame or constitution of things, nor in what manner these ideas are produced in us, by those powers; yet by them we certainly know, that there are such essences or constitutions of these substances, that have those powers, whereby they regularly produce those ideas in us; and that they are distinguished from each other by those powers.
The next words your lordship sets down, as out of my book, are:
“2. All our ideas of substances are imperfect and inadequate, because they refer to the real essences of things of which we are ignorant, and no man knows what substance is in itself: and they are all false, when looked on as the representations of the unknown essences of things.”
In these too, my lord, you must give me leave to take notice,B. ii. c. 21. that there is a little variation from my words: for I do not say, “that all our ideas of substances are imperfect and inadequate, because they refer to the real essences of things;” for some people may not refer them to real essences. But I do say, “that all ideas of substances, which are referred to real essences, are in that respect inadequate.” As may be seen more at large in that chapter.
Your lordship’s next quotation has in it something of a like slip. The words which your lordship sets down, are,
“3. Abstract ideas are only general names, made by separating circumstances of time and place, &c. from them, which are only the inventions and creatures of the understanding.”
For these your lordship quotes chap. iii. § 6. of my third book; where my words are, “The next thing to be considered, is, how general words come to be made. For since all things that exist are only particulars, how come we by general terms? or where find we those general natures they are supposed to stand for? Words become general, by being made signs of general ideas; and ideas become general, by separating from them the circumstances of time or place, and any other ideas that may determine them to this or that particular existence. By this way of abstraction, they are made capable of representing more individuals than one; each of which, having in it a conformity to that abstract idea, is (as we call it) of that sort.” By which words it appears, that I am far enough from saying, “that abstract ideas are only general names.” Your lordship’s next quotation out of my book, is,
“4. Essence may be taken two ways: 1. For the real, internal, unknown constitutions of things; and in this sense it is understood as to particular things. 2. For the abstract idea; and one is said to be the nominal, the other the real essence. And the nominal essences only are immutable, and are helps to enable them to consider things, and to discourse of them.”
Here too, I think, there are some words left out, which are necessary to make my meaning clearly understood; which your lordship will find, if you think fit to give yourself the trouble to cast your eye again on that chapter, which you here quote. But not discerning clearly what use your lordship makes of them, as they are either in your lordship’s quotation, or in my book, I shall not trouble your lordship about them. Your lordship goes on:
“But two things are granted, which tend to clear this matter.
“1. That there is a real essence, which is the foundation of powers and properties.
“2. That we may know these powers and properties, although we are ignorant of the real essence.”
If by that indefinite expression, “we may know these powers and properties,” your lordship means, “that we may know some of the powers and properties that depend on the real essences of substances;” I grant it to be my meaning. If your lordship, in these words, comprehends all their powers and properties, that goes beyond my meaning. From these two things, which I grant your lordship says, you infer,
“1. That from those true and adequate ideas, which we have of the modes and properties of things, we have sufficient certainty of the real essence of them; for these ideas are allowed to be true; and either by them we may judge of the truth of things, or we can make no judgment at all of any thing without ourselves.
“If our ideas be only the effects we see of the powers of things without us; yet our reason must be satisfied, that there could be no such powers, unless there were some real beings which had them. So that either we may be certain, by these effects, of the real being of things; or it is not possible, as we are framed, to have any certainty at all of any thing without ourselves.”
All this, if I mistake not your lordship, is only to prove, that by the ideas of properties and powers which we observe in things, our reason must be satisfied that there are without us real beings, with real essences: which being that which I readily own and have said in my book, I cannot but acknowledge myself obliged to your lordship, for being at the pains to collect places out of my book to prove what I hold in it; and the more, because your lordship does it by ways and steps, which I should never possibly have thought of. Your lordship’s next inference is:
“2. That from the powers and properties of things, which are knowable by us, we may know as much of the internal essence of things, as those powers and properties discover. I do not say, that we can know all essences of things alike; nor that we can attain to a perfect understanding of all that belong to them: but if we can know so much, as that there are certain beings in the world, endued with such distinct powers and properties; what is it we complain of the want of, in order to our certainty of things? But we do not see the bare essence of things. What is that bare essence without the powers and properties belonging to it? It is that internal constitution of things, from whence those powers and properties flow. Suppose we be ignorant of this (as we are like to be, for any discoveries that have been yet made) that is a good argument to prove the uncertainty of philosophical speculations, about the real essences of things; but it is no prejudice to us, who inquire after the certainty of such essences. For although we cannot comprehend the internal frame or constitution of things, nor in what manner they do flow from the substance; yet, by them, we certainly know that there are such essences, and that they are distinguished from each other by their powers and properties.”
This second inference seems to be nothing but a reproof to those who complain, “that they do not see the bare essences of things.” Complaining that God did not make us otherwise than he has, and with larger capacities than he has thought fit to give us, is, I confess, a fault worthy of your lordship’s reproof. But to say, that if we knew the real essences or internal constitutions of those beings, some of whose properties we know, we should have much more certain knowledge concerning those things and their properties, I am sure is true, and I think no faulty complaining; and if it be, I must own myself to your lordship to be one of those complainers.
But your lordship asks, “what is it we complain of the want of, in order to our certainty of things?”
If your lordship means, as your words seem to import, “what is it we complain of, in order to our certainty,” that those properties are the properties of some beings, or that something does exist when those properties exist? I answer, we complain of the want of nothing in order to that certainty, or such a certainty as that is. But there are other very desirable certainties, or other parts of knowledge concerning the same things, which we may want, when we have those certainties. Knowing the colour, figure, and smell of hyssop, I can, when I see hyssop, know so much, as that there is a certain being in the world, endued with such distinct powers and properties; and yet I may justly complain, that I want something in order to certainty, that hyssop will cure a bruise or a cough, or that it will kill moths; or, used in a certain way, harden iron; or an hundred other useful properties that may be in it; which I shall never know; and yet might be certain of, if I knew the real essences or internal constitutions of things, on which their properties depend.
Your lordship agreeing with me, that the real essence is that internal constitution of things, from whence their powers and properties flow; adds farther, “suppose we be ignorant of this [essence] as we are like to be for any discoveries that have been yet made, that is a good argument to prove the uncertainty of philosophical speculations about the real essences of things: but it is no prejudice to us, who inquire after the certainty of such essences.”
I know nobody that ever denied the certainty of such real essences or internal constitutions, in things that do exist, if it be that that your lordship means by certainty of such essences. If it be any other certainty that your lordship inquires after, relating to such essences, I confess I know not what it is, since your lordship acknowledges, “we are ignorant of those real essences, those internal constitutions, and are like to be so;” and seem to think it the incurable cause of uncertainty in philosophical speculations.
Your lordship adds, “for although we cannot comprehend the internal frame and constitution of things, nor in what manner they do flow from the substance.”
Here I must acknowledge to your lordship, that my notion of these essences differs a little from your lordship’s; for I do not take them to flow from the substance in any created being, but to be in every thing that internal constitution, or frame, or modification of the substance, which God in his wisdom and good pleasure thinks fit to give to every particular creature, when he gives a being: and such essences I grant there are in all things that exist. Your lordship’s third inference begins thus:
“3. The essences of things, as they are knowable by us, have a reality in them: for they are founded on the natural constitution of things.”
I think the real essences of things are not so much founded on, as that they are the very real constitution of things, and therefore I easily grant there is reality in them; and it was from that reality that I called them real essences. But yet from hence I cannot agree to what follows:
“And however the abstracted ideas are the work of the mind, yet they are not mere creatures of the mind; as appears by an instance produced of the essence of the sun being in one single individual; in which case it is granted, that the idea may be so abstracted, that more suns might agree in it, and it is as much a sort, as if there were as many suns as there are stars. So that here we have a real essence subsisting in one individual, but capable of being multiplied into more, and the same essence remaining. But in this one sun there is a real essence, and not a mere nominal or abstracted essence; but suppose there were more suns; would not each of them have the real essence of the sun? For what is it makes the second sun to be a true sun, but having the same real essence with the first? If it were but a nominal essence, then the second would have nothing but the name.”
This, my lord, as I understand it, is to prove, that the abstract general essence of any sort of things, or things of the same denomination, v. g. of man or marigold, hath a real being out of the understanding; which I confess, my lord, I am not able to conceive. Your lordship’s proof here brought out of my Essay, concerning the sun, I humbly conceive will not reach it; because what is said there, does not at all concern the real, but nominal essence; as is evident from hence, that the idea I speak of there, is a complex idea; but we have no complex idea of the internal constitution, or real essence of the sun. Besides, I say expressly, that our distinguishing substances into species by names, is not at all founded on their real essences. So that the sun being one of these substances, I cannot, in the place quoted by your lordship, be supposed to mean by essence of the sun, the real essence of the sun, unless I had so expressed it. But all this argument will be at an end, when your lordship shall have explained what you mean by these words, “true sun.” In my sense of them, any thing will be a true sun, to which the name sun may be truly and properly applied; and to that substance or thing, the name sun may be truly and properly applied, which has united in it that combination of sensible qualities, by which any thing else that is called sun is distinguished from other substances, i. e. by the nominal essence: and thus our sun is denominated and distinguished from a fixed star; not by a real essence that we do not know (for if we did, it is possible we should find the real essence or constitution of one of the fixed stars to be the same with that of our sun) but by a complex idea of sensible qualities co-existing; which, wherever they are found, make a true sun. And thus I crave leave to answer your lordship’s question, “for what is it makes the second sun to be a true sun, but having the same real essence with the first? If it were but a nominal essence, then the second would have nothing but the name.”
I humbly conceive, if it had the nominal essence, it would have something besides the name, viz. that nominal essence, which is sufficient to denominate it truly a sun, or to make it be a true sun, though we know nothing of that real essence whereon that nominal one depends. Your lordship will then argue, that that real essence is in the second sun, and makes the second sun. I grant it, when the second sun comes to exist, so as to be perceived by us to have all the ideas contained in our complex idea, i. e. in our nominal essence of a sun. For should it be true (as is now believed by astronomers) that the real essence of the sun were in any of the fixed stars, yet such a star could not for that be by us called a sun, whilst it answers not our complex idea or nominal essence of a sun. But how far that will prove, that the essences of things, as they are knowable by us, have a reality in them, distinct from that of abstract ideas in the mind, which are merely creatures of the mind I do not see; and we shall farther inquire, in considering your lordship’s following words.
“Therefore there must be a real essence in every individual of the same kind.” Yes, and I beg leave of your lordship to say, of a different kind too. For that alone is it which makes it to be what it is.
That every individual substance which has a real, internal, individual constitution, i. e. a real essence, that makes it to be what it is, I readily grant. Upon this your lordship says,
“Peter, James, and John are all true and real men.” Answ. Without doubt, supposing them to be men, they are true and real men, i. e. supposing the name of that species belongs to them. And so three bobaques are all true and real bobaques, supposing the name of that species of animals belongs to them.
For I beseech your lordship to consider, whether in your way of arguing, by naming them Peter, James, and John, names familiar to us, as appropriated to individuals of the species man, your lordship does not at first suppose them men; and then very safely ask, whether they be not all true and real men? But if I should ask your lordship, whether Weweena, Chuckerey, and Cousheda, were true and real men or no? Your lordship would not be able to tell me, until I having pointed out to your lordship the individuals called by those names, your lordship, by examining whether they had in them those sensible qualities, which your lordship has combined into that complex idea, to which you give the specific name man, determined them all, or some of them, to be the species which you call man, and so to be true and real men: which when your lordship has determined, it is plain you did it by that which is only the nominal essence, as not knowing the real one. But your lordship farther asks,
“What is it makes Peter, James, and John, real men? Is it the attributing the general name to them? No certainly; but that the true and real essence of a man is in every one of them.
If when your lordship asks, what makes them men? your lordship used the word, making, in the proper sense for the efficient cause, and in that sense it were true, that the essence of a man, i. e. the specific essence of that species, made a man; it would undoubtedly follow, that this specific essence had a reality beyond that of being only a general abstract idea in the mind. But when it is said, “that it is the true and real essence of a man in every one of them that makes Peter, James, and John, true and real men;” the true and real meaning of these words is no more, but that the essence of that species, i. e. the properties answering the complex abstract idea, to which the specific name is given, being found in them, that makes them be properly and truly called men, or is the reason why they are called men. Your lordship adds,
“And we must be as certain of this, as we are that they are men.”
How I beseech your lordship, are we certain, that they are men, but only by our senses, finding those properties in them which answer the abstract complex idea, which is in our minds of the specific idea, to which we have annexed the specific name man? This I take to be the true meaning of what your lordship says in the next words, viz. “they take their denomination of being men, from that common nature or essence which is in them;” and I am apt to think, these words will not hold true in any other sense.
Your lordship’s fourth inference begins thus:
“That the general idea is not made from the simple ideas, by the mere act of the mind abstracting from circumstances, but from reason and consideration of the nature of things.”
I thought, my lord, that reason and consideration had been acts of the mind, mere acts of the mind, when any thing was done by them. Your lordship gives a reason for it, viz.
“For when we see several individuals that have the same powers and properties, we thence infer, that there must be something common to all, which makes them of one kind.”
I grant the inference to be true; but must beg leave to deny that this proves, that the general idea the name is annexed to, is not made by the mind. I have said, and it agrees with what your lordship here says, that the mind,B. iii. c. 6.§ 28, 29. “in making its complex ideas of substances, only follows nature, and puts no ideas together, which are not supposed to have an union in nature: nobody joins the voice of a sheep with the shape of an horse; nor the colour of lead with the weight and fixedness of gold, to be the complex ideas of any real substances; unless he has a mind to fill his head with chimeras, and his discourse with unintelligible words. Men observing certain qualities always joined and existing together, therein copied nature, and of ideas so united, made their complex ones of substances, &c.” Which is very little different from what your lordship here says, that it is from our observation of individuals, that we come to infer, “that there is something common to them all.” But I do not see how it will thence follow, that the general or specific idea is not made by the mere act of the mind. No, says your lordship;
“There is something common to them all, which makes them of one kind; and if the difference of kinds be real, that which makes them all of one kind must not be a nominal, but real essence.”
This may be some objection to the name of nominal essence; but is, as I humbly conceive, none to the thing designed by it. There is an internal constitution of things, on which their properties depend. This your lordship and I are agreed of, and this we call the real essence. There are also certain complex ideas, or combinations of these properties in men’s minds, to which they commonly annex specific names, or names of sorts or kinds of things. This, I believe, your lordship does not deny. These complex ideas, for want of a better name, I have called nominal essences; how properly, I will not dispute. But if any one will help me to a better name for them, I am ready to receive it; till then I must, to express myself, use this. Now, my lord, body, life, and the power of reasoning, being not the real essence of a man, as I believe your lordship will agree: will your lordship say, that they are not enough to make the thing wherein they are found, of the kind called man, and not of the kind called baboon, because the difference of these kinds is real? If this be not real enough to make the thing of one kind and not of another, I do not see how animal rationale can be enough to distinguish a man from an horse: for that is but the nominal, not real essence of that kind, designed by the name man. And yet, I suppose, every one thinks it real enough, to make a real difference between that and other kinds. And if nothing will serve the turn, to make things of one kind and not of another (which, as I have showed, signifies no more but ranking of them under different specific names) but their real, unknown constitutions, which are the real essences we are speaking of, I fear it would be a long while before we should have really different kinds of substances, or distinct names for them; unless we could distinguish them by these differences, of which we have no distinct conceptions. For I think it would not be readily answered me, if I should demand, wherein lies the real difference in the internal constitution of a stag from that of a buck, which are each of them very well known to be of one kind, and not of the other; and nobody questions but that the kinds whereof each of them is, are really different. Your lordship farther says,
“And this difference doth not depend upon the complex ideas of substances, whereby men arbitrarily join modes together in their minds.”
I confess, my lord, I know not what to say to this, because I do not know what these complex ideas of substances are, whereby men arbitrarily join modes together in their minds. But I am apt to think there is a mistake in the matter, by the words that follow, which are these:
“For let them mistake in their complication of ideas, either in leaving out or putting in what doth not belong to them; and let their ideas be what they please, the real essence of a man, and an horse, and a tree, are just what they were.”
The mistake I spoke of, I humbly suppose is this, that things are here taken to be distinguished by their real essences; when by the very way of speaking of them, it is clear, that they are already distinguished by their nominal essences, and are so taken to be. For what, I beseech your lordship, does your lordship mean, when you say, “the real essence of a man, and an horse, and a tree;” but that there are such kinds already set out by the signification of these names, man, horse, tree? And what, I beseech your lordship, is the signification of each of these specific names, but the complex idea it stands for? And that complex idea is the nominal essence, and nothing else. So that taking man, as your lordship does here, to stand for a kind or sort of individuals; all which agree in that common, complex idea, which that specific name stands for; it is certain that the real essence of all the individuals, comprehended under the specific name man, in your use of it, would be just the same, let others leave out or put into their complex idea of man what they please; because the real essence on which that unaltered complex idea, i. e. those properties depend, must necessarily be concluded to be the same.
For I take it for granted, that in using the name man, in this place, your lordship uses it for that complex idea which is in your lordship’s mind of that species. So that your lordship, by putting it for, or substituting it in, the place of that complex idea, where you say, the real essence of it is just as it was, or the very same it was; does suppose the idea it stands for to be steadily the same. For if I change the signification of the word man, whereby it may not comprehend just the same individuals which in your lordship’s sense it does, but shut out some of those that to your lordship are men in your signification of the word man, or take in others to which your lordship does not allow the name man, I do not think your lordship will say, that the real essence of man, in both these senses, is the same; and yet your lordship seems to say so, when you say, “let men mistake in the complication of their ideas, either in leaving out or putting in what doth not belong to them; and let their ideas be what they please; the real essence of the individuals comprehended under the names annexed to these ideas, will be the same:” for so, I humbly conceive, it must be put, to make out what your lordship aims at. For as your lordship puts it by the name of man, or any other specific name, your lordship seems to me to suppose, that that name stands for, and not for, the same idea, at the same time.
For example, my lord, let your lordship’s idea, to which you annex the sign man, be a rational animal; let another man’s idea be a rational animal of such a shape; let a third man’s idea be of an animal of such a size and shape, leaving out rationality; let a fourth’s be an animal with a body of such a shape, and an immaterial substance, with a power of reasoning; let a fifth leave out of his idea an immaterial substance: it is plain every one of these will call his a man, as well as your lordship; and yet it is as plain that man, as standing for all these distinct, complex ideas, cannot be supposed to have the same internal constitution, i. e. the same real essence. The truth is, every distinct, abstract idea, with a name to it, makes a real, distinct kind, whatever the real essence (which we know not of any of them) be.
And therefore I grant it true, what your lordship says in the next words, “and let the nominal essences differ never so much, the real, common essence or nature of the several kinds, is not at all altered by them;” i. e. that our thoughts or ideas cannot alter the real constitutions that are in things that exist; there is nothing more certain. But yet it is true, that the change of ideas to which we annex them, can and does alter the signification of their names, and thereby alter the kinds, which by these names we rank and sort them into. Your lordship farther adds,
“And these real essences are unchangeable, i. e. the internal constitutions are unchangeable.” Of what, I beseech your lordship, are the internal constitutions unchangeable? Not of any thing that exists, but of God alone; for they may be changed all as easily by that hand that made them, as the internal frame of a watch? What then is it that is unchangeable? The internal constitution or real essence of a species: which, in plain English, is no more but this, whilst the same specific name, v. g. of man, horse, or tree, is annexed to, or made the sign of the same abstract, complex idea, under which I rank several individuals, it is impossible but the real constitution on which that unaltered complex idea, or nominal essence, depends, must be the same: i. e. in other words, where we find all the same properties, we have reason to conclude there is the same real, internal constitution, from which those properties flow.
But your lordship proves the real essences to be unchangeable, because God makes them, in these following words:
“For however there may happen some variety in individuals by particular accidents, yet the essences of men and horses, and trees, remain always the same; because they do not depend on the ideas of men, but on the will of the Creator, who hath made several sorts of beings.”
It is true, the real constitutions or essences of particular things existing, do not depend on the ideas of men, but on the will of the Creator; but their being ranked into sorts, under such and such names, does depend, and wholly depend upon the ideas of men.
Your lordship here ending your four inferences, and all your discourse about nature; you come, in the next place, to treat of person, concerning which your lordship discourseth thus:
“2. Let us now come to the idea of a person. For although the common nature in mankind be the same, yet we see a difference in the several individuals from one another: so that Peter, and James, and John, are all of the same kind; yet Peter is not James, and James is not John. But what is this distinction founded upon? They may be distinguished from each other by our senses as to difference of features, distance of place, &c. but that is not all; for supposing there were no such external difference, yet there is a difference between them, as several individuals of the same nature. And here lies the true common idea of a person, which arises from that manner of substance which is in one individual, and is not communicable to another. An individual, intelligent substance, is rather supposed to the making of a person, than the proper definition of it: for a person relates to something, which doth distinguish it from another intelligent substance in the same nature; and therefore the foundation of it lies in the peculiar manner of subsistence, which agrees to one, and to none else of the kind: and this is it which is called personality.”
But then your lordship asks, “but how do our simple ideas help us out in this matter? Can we learn from them the difference of nature and person?”
If nature and person are taken for two real beings, that do or can exist any where, without any relation to these two names, I must confess I do not see how simple ideas, or any thing else, can help us out in this matter; nor can we from simple ideas, or any thing else that I know, learn the difference between them, nor what they are.
The reason why I speak thus, is because your lordship, in your fore-cited words, says, “here lies the true idea of a person;” and in the foregoing discourse speaks of nature, as if it were some steady, established being, to which one certain precise idea necessarily belongs to make it a true idea: whereas, my lord, in the way of ideas, I begin at the other end, and think that the word person in itself signifies nothing; and so no idea belonging to it, nothing can be said to be the true idea of it. But as soon as the common use of any language has appropriated it to any idea, then that is the true idea of a person, and so of nature: but because the propriety of language, i. e. the precise idea that every word stands for, is not always exactly known, but is often disputed, there is no other way for him that uses a word that is in dispute, but to define what he signifies by it; and then the dispute can be no longer verbal, but must necessarily be about the idea which he tells us he puts it for.
Taking therefore nature and person for the signs of two ideas they are put to stand for, there is nothing, I think, that helps us so soon, nor so well to find the difference of nature and person, as simple ideas; for by enumerating all the simple ideas, that are contained in the complex idea that each of them is made to stand for, we shall immediately see the whole difference that is between them.
Far be it from me to say there is no other way but this: your lordship proposing to clear the distinction between nature and person, and having declared, “we can have no clear and distinct idea of it by sensation or reflection, and that the grounds of identity and distinction come not into our minds by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection:” gave me some hopes of getting farther insight into these matters, so as to have more clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, than was to be had by ideas. But after having, with attention, more than once read over what your lordship, with so much application, has writ thereupon; I must, with regret, confess, that the way is too delicate, and the matter too abstruse, for my capacity; and that I learned nothing out of your lordship’s elaborate discourse, but this, that I must content myself with the condemned way of ideas, and despair of ever attaining any knowledge by any other than that, or farther than that will lead me to it.
The remaining part of the chapter containing no remarks of your lordship upon any part of my book, I am glad I have no occasion to give your lordship any farther trouble, but only to beg your lordship’s pardon for this, and to assure your lordship that I am,