Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous
by George Berkeley
Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,
in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists
THE FIRST DIALOGUE
PHILONOUS. Good morrow, Hylas: I did not expect to find you
abroad so early.
HYLAS. It is indeed something unusual; but my thoughts were
so taken up with a subject I was discoursing of last night, that
finding I could not sleep, I resolved to rise and take a turn in the
PHIL. It happened well, to let you see what innocent and
agreeable pleasures you lose every morning. Can there be a pleasanter
time of the day, or a more delightful season of the year? That purple
sky, those wild but sweet notes of birds, the fragrant bloom upon the
trees and flowers, the gentle influence of the rising sun, these and a
thousand nameless beauties of nature inspire the soul with secret
transports; its faculties too being at this time fresh and lively, are
fit for those meditations, which the solitude of a garden and
tranquillity of the morning naturally dispose us to. But I am afraid I
interrupt your thoughts: for you seemed very intent on something.
HYL. It is true, I was, and shall be obliged to you if you
will permit me to go on in the same vein; not that I would by any
means deprive myself of your company, for my thoughts always flow more
easily in conversation with a friend, than when I am alone: but my
request is, that you would suffer me to impart my reflexions to you.
PHIL. With all my heart, it is what I should have requested
myself if you had not prevented me.
HYL. I was considering the odd fate of those men who have in
all ages, through an affectation of being distinguished from the
vulgar, or some unaccountable turn of thought, pretended either to
believe nothing at all, or to believe the most extravagant things in
the world. This however might be borne, if their paradoxes and
scepticism did not draw after them some consequences of general
disadvantage to mankind. But the mischief lieth here; that when men of
less leisure see them who are supposed to have spent their whole time
in the pursuits of knowledge professing an entire ignorance of all
things, or advancing such notions as are repugnant to plain and
commonly received principles, they will be tempted to entertain
suspicions concerning the most important truths, which they had
hitherto held sacred and unquestionable.
PHIL. I entirely agree with you, as to the ill tendency of
the affected doubts of some philosophers, and fantastical conceits of
others. I am even so far gone of late in this way of thinking, that I
have quitted several of the sublime notions I had got in their schools
for vulgar opinions. And I give it you on my word; since this revolt
from metaphysical notions to the plain dictates of nature and common
sense, I find my understanding strangely enlightened, so that I can
now easily comprehend a great many things which before were all
mystery and riddle.
HYL. I am glad to find there was nothing in the accounts I
heard of you.
PHIL. Pray, what were those?
HYL. You were represented, in last night's conversation, as
one who maintained the most extravagant opinion that ever entered into
the mind of man, to wit, that there is no such thing as MATERIAL
SUBSTANCE in the world.
PHIL. That there is no such thing as what PHILOSOPHERS CALL
MATERIAL SUBSTANCE, I am seriously persuaded: but, if I were made to
see anything absurd or sceptical in this, I should then have the same
reason to renounce this that I imagine I have now to reject the
HYL. What I can anything be more fantastical, more repugnant
to Common Sense, or a more manifest piece of Scepticism, than to
believe there is no such thing as MATTER?
PHIL. Softly, good Hylas. What if it should prove that you,
who hold there is, are, by virtue of that opinion, a greater sceptic,
and maintain more paradoxes and repugnances to Common Sense, than I
who believe no such thing?
HYL. You may as soon persuade me, the part is greater than
the whole, as that, in order to avoid absurdity and Scepticism, I
should ever be obliged to give up my opinion in this point.
PHIL. Well then, are you content to admit that opinion for
true, which upon examination shall appear most agreeable to Common
Sense, and remote from Scepticism?
HYL. With all my heart. Since you are for raising disputes
about the plainest things in nature, I am content for once to hear
what you have to say.
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, what do you mean by a SCEPTIC?
HYL. I mean what all men mean—one that doubts of
PHIL. He then who entertains no doubts concerning some
particular point, with regard to that point cannot be thought a
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. Whether doth doubting consist in embracing the
affirmative or negative side of a question?
HYL. In neither; for whoever understands English cannot but
know that DOUBTING signifies a suspense between both.
PHIL. He then that denies any point, can no more be said to
doubt of it, than he who affirmeth it with the same degree of
PHIL. And, consequently, for such his denial is no more to
be esteemed a sceptic than the other.
HYL. I acknowledge it.
PHIL. How cometh it to pass then, Hylas, that you pronounce
me A SCEPTIC, because I deny what you affirm, to wit, the existence of
Matter? Since, for aught you can tell, I am as peremptory in my
denial, as you in your affirmation.
HYL. Hold, Philonous, I have been a little out in my
definition; but every false step a man makes in discourse is not to be
insisted on. I said indeed that a SCEPTIC was one who doubted of
everything; but I should have added, or who denies the reality and
truth of things.
PHIL. What things? Do you mean the principles and theorems
of sciences? But these you know are universal intellectual notions,
and consequently independent of Matter. The denial therefore of this
doth not imply the denying them.
HYL. I grant it. But are there no other things? What think
you of distrusting the senses, of denying the real existence of
sensible things, or pretending to know nothing of them. Is not this
sufficient to denominate a man a SCEPTIC?
PHIL. Shall we therefore examine which of us it is that
denies the reality of sensible things, or professes the greatest
ignorance of them; since, if I take you rightly, he is to be esteemed
the greatest SCEPTIC?
HYL. That is what I desire.
PHIL. What mean you by Sensible Things?
HYL. Those things which are perceived by the senses. Can you
imagine that I mean anything else?
PHIL. Pardon me, Hylas, if I am desirous clearly to
apprehend your notions, since this may much shorten our inquiry.
Suffer me then to ask you this farther question. Are those things only
perceived by the senses which are perceived immediately? Or, may those
things properly be said to be SENSIBLE which are perceived mediately,
or not without the intervention of others?
HYL. I do not sufficiently understand you.
PHIL. In reading a book, what I immediately perceive are the
letters; but mediately, or by means of these, are suggested to my mind
the notions of God, virtue, truth, Now, that the letters are truly
sensible things, or perceived by sense, there is no doubt: but I would
know whether you take the things suggested by them to be so too.
HYL. No, certainly: it were absurd to think GOD or VIRTUE
sensible things; though they may be signified and suggested to the
mind by sensible marks, with which they have an arbitrary connexion.
PHIL. It seems then, that by SENSIBLE THINGS you mean those
only which can be perceived IMMEDIATELY by sense?
PHIL. Doth it not follow from this, that though I see one
part of the sky red, and another blue, and that my reason doth thence
evidently conclude there must be some cause of that diversity of
colours, yet that cause cannot be said to be a sensible thing, or
perceived by the sense of seeing?
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. In like manner, though I hear variety of sounds, yet I
cannot be said to hear the causes of those sounds?
HYL. You cannot.
PHIL. And when by my touch I perceive a thing to be hot and
heavy, I cannot say, with any truth or propriety, that I feel the
cause of its heat or weight?
HYL. To prevent any more questions of this kind, I tell you
once for all, that by SENSIBLE THINGS I mean those only which are
perceived by sense; and that in truth the senses perceive nothing
which they do not perceive IMMEDIATELY: for they make no inferences.
The deducing therefore of causes or occasions from effects and
appearances, which alone are perceived by sense, entirely relates to
PHIL. This point then is agreed between us—That SENSIBLE
THINGS ARE THOSE ONLY WHICH ARE IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVED BY SENSE. You
will farther inform me, whether we immediately perceive by sight
anything beside light, and colours, and figures; or by hearing,
anything but sounds; by the palate, anything beside tastes; by the
smell, beside odours; or by the touch, more than tangible qualities.
HYL. We do not.
PHIL. It seems, therefore, that if you take away all
sensible qualities, there remains nothing sensible?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. Sensible things therefore are nothing else but so many
sensible qualities, or combinations of sensible qualities?
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. HEAT then is a sensible thing?
PHIL. Doth the REALITY of sensible things consist in being
perceived? or, is it something distinct from their being perceived,
and that bears no relation to the mind?
HYL. To EXIST is one thing, and to be PERCEIVED is another.
PHIL. I speak with regard to sensible things only. And of
these I ask, whether by their real existence you mean a subsistence
exterior to the mind, and distinct from their being perceived?
HYL. I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and
without any relation to, their being perceived.
PHIL. Heat therefore, if it be allowed a real being, must
exist without the mind?
HYL. It must.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, is this real existence equally
compatible to all degrees of heat, which we perceive; or is there any
reason why we should attribute it to some, and deny it to others? And
if there be, pray let me know that reason.
HYL. Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be
sure the same exists in the object that occasions it.
PHIL. What! the greatest as well as the least?
HYL. _I_ tell you, the reason is plainly the same in respect
of both. They are both perceived by sense; nay, the greater degree of
heat is more sensibly perceived; and consequently, if there is any
difference, we are more certain of its real existence than we can be
of the reality of a lesser degree.
PHIL. But is not the most vehement and intense degree of
heat a very great pain?
HYL. No one can deny it.
PHIL. And is any unperceiving thing capable of pain or
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. Is your material substance a senseless being, or a
being endowed with sense and perception?
HYL. It is senseless without doubt.
PHIL. It cannot therefore be the subject of pain?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. Nor consequently of the greatest heat perceived by
sense, since you acknowledge this to be no small pain?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. What shall we say then of your external object; is it
a material Substance, or no?
HYL. It is a material substance with the sensible qualities
inhering in it.
PHIL. How then can a great heat exist in it, since you own
it cannot in a material substance? I desire you would clear this
HYL. Hold, Philonous, I fear I was out in yielding intense
heat to be a pain. It should seem rather, that pain is something
distinct from heat, and the consequence or effect of it.
PHIL. Upon putting your hand near the fire, do you perceive
one simple uniform sensation, or two distinct sensations?
HYL. But one simple sensation.
PHIL. Is not the heat immediately perceived?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And the pain?
PHIL. Seeing therefore they are both immediately perceived
at the same time, and the fire affects you only with one simple or
uncompounded idea, it follows that this same simple idea is both the
intense heat immediately perceived, and the pain; and, consequently,
that the intense heat immediately perceived is nothing distinct from a
particular sort of pain.
HYL. It seems so.
PHIL. Again, try in your thoughts, Hylas, if you can
conceive a vehement sensation to be without pain or pleasure.
HYL. I cannot.
PHIL. Or can you frame to yourself an idea of sensible pain
or pleasure in general, abstracted from every particular idea of heat,
cold, tastes, smells?
HYL. I do not find that I can.
PHIL. Doth it not therefore follow, that sensible pain is
nothing distinct from those sensations or ideas, in an intense degree?
HYL. It is undeniable; and, to speak the truth, I begin to
suspect a very great heat cannot exist but in a mind perceiving it.
PHIL. What! are you then in that sceptical state of
suspense, between affirming and denying?
HYL. I think I may be positive in the point. A very violent
and painful heat cannot exist without the mind.
PHIL. It hath not therefore according to you, any REAL
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. Is it therefore certain, that there is no body in
nature really hot?
HYL. I have not denied there is any real heat in bodies. I
only say, there is no such thing as an intense real heat.
PHIL. But, did you not say before that all degrees of heat
were equally real; or, if there was any difference, that the greater
were more undoubtedly real than the lesser?
HYL. True: but it was because I did not then consider the
ground there is for distinguishing between them, which I now plainly
see. And it is this: because intense heat is nothing else but a
particular kind of painful sensation; and pain cannot exist but in a
perceiving being; it follows that no intense heat can really exist in
an unperceiving corporeal substance. But this is no reason why we
should deny heat in an inferior degree to exist in such a substance.
PHIL. But how shall we be able to discern those degrees of
heat which exist only in the mind from those which exist without it?
HYL. That is no difficult matter. You know the least pain
cannot exist unperceived; whatever, therefore, degree of heat is a
pain exists only in the mind. But, as for all other degrees of heat,
nothing obliges us to think the same of them.
PHIL. I think you granted before that no unperceiving being
was capable of pleasure, any more than of pain.
HYL. I did.
PHIL. And is not warmth, or a more gentle degree of heat
than what causes uneasiness, a pleasure?
HYL. What then?
PHIL. Consequently, it cannot exist without the mind in an
unperceiving substance, or body.
HYL. So it seems.
PHIL. Since, therefore, as well those degrees of heat that
are not painful, as those that are, can exist only in a thinking
substance; may we not conclude that external bodies are absolutely
incapable of any degree of heat whatsoever?
HYL. On second thoughts, I do not think it so evident that
warmth is a pleasure as that a great degree of heat is a pain.
PHIL. _I_ do not pretend that warmth is as great a pleasure
as heat is a pain. But, if you grant it to be even a small pleasure,
it serves to make good my conclusion.
HYL. I could rather call it an INDOLENCE. It seems to be
nothing more than a privation of both pain and pleasure. And that such
a quality or state as this may agree to an unthinking substance, I
hope you will not deny.
PHIL. If you are resolved to maintain that warmth, or a
gentle degree of heat, is no pleasure, I know not how to convince you
otherwise than by appealing to your own sense. But what think you of
HYL. The same that I do of heat. An intense degree of cold
is a pain; for to feel a very great cold, is to perceive a great
uneasiness: it cannot therefore exist without the mind; but a lesser
degree of cold may, as well as a lesser degree of heat.
PHIL. Those bodies, therefore, upon whose application to our
own, we perceive a moderate degree of heat, must be concluded to have
a moderate degree of heat or warmth in them; and those, upon whose
application we feel a like degree of cold, must be thought to have
cold in them.
HYL. They must.
PHIL. Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man
into an absurdity?
HYL. Without doubt it cannot.
PHIL. Is it not an absurdity to think that the same thing
should be at the same time both cold and warm?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Suppose now one of your hands hot, and the other cold,
and that they are both at once put into the same vessel of water, in
an intermediate state; will not the water seem cold to one hand, and
warm to the other?
HYL. It will.
PHIL. Ought we not therefore, by your principles, to
conclude it is really both cold and warm at the same time, that is,
according to your own concession, to believe an absurdity?
HYL. I confess it seems so.
PHIL. Consequently, the principles themselves are false,
since you have granted that no true principle leads to an absurdity.
HYL. But, after all, can anything be more absurd than to
say, THERE IS NO HEAT IN THE FIRE?
PHIL. To make the point still clearer; tell me whether, in
two cases exactly alike, we ought not to make the same judgment?
HYL. We ought.
PHIL. When a pin pricks your finger, doth it not rend and
divide the fibres of your flesh?
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. And when a coal burns your finger, doth it any more?
HYL. It doth not.
PHIL. Since, therefore, you neither judge the sensation
itself occasioned by the pin, nor anything like it to be in the pin;
you should not, conformably to what you have now granted, judge the
sensation occasioned by the fire, or anything like it, to be in the
HYL. Well, since it must be so, I am content to yield this
point, and acknowledge that heat and cold are only sensations existing
in our minds. But there still remain qualities enough to secure the
reality of external things.
PHIL. But what will you say, Hylas, if it shall appear that
the case is the same with regard to all other sensible qualities, and
that they can no more be supposed to exist without the mind, than heat
HYL. Then indeed you will have done something to the
purpose; but that is what I despair of seeing proved.
PHIL. Let us examine them in order. What think you of
TASTES, do they exist without the mind, or no?
HYL. Can any man in his senses doubt whether sugar is sweet,
or wormwood bitter?
PHIL. Inform me, Hylas. Is a sweet taste a particular kind
of pleasure or pleasant sensation, or is it not?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And is not bitterness some kind of uneasiness or pain?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. If therefore sugar and wormwood are unthinking
corporeal substances existing without the mind, how can sweetness and
bitterness, that is, Pleasure and pain, agree to them?
HYL. Hold, Philonous, I now see what it was delude time. You
asked whether heat and cold, sweetness at were not particular sorts of
pleasure and pain; to which simply, that they were. Whereas I should
have thus distinguished: those qualities, as perceived by us, are
pleasures or pair existing in the external objects. We must not
therefore conclude absolutely, that there is no heat in the fire, or
sweetness in the sugar, but only that heat or sweetness, as perceived
by us, are not in the fire or sugar. What say you to this?
PHIL. I say it is nothing to the purpose. Our discourse
proceeded altogether concerning sensible things, which you defined to
be, THE THINGS WE IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVE BY OUR SENSES. Whatever other
qualities, therefore, you speak of as distinct from these, I know
nothing of them, neither do they at all belong to the point in
dispute. You may, indeed, pretend to have discovered certain qualities
which you do not perceive, and assert those insensible qualities exist
in fire and sugar. But what use can be made of this to your present
purpose, I am at a loss to conceive. Tell me then once more, do you
acknowledge that heat and cold, sweetness and bitterness (meaning
those qualities which are perceived by the senses), do not exist
without the mind?
HYL. I see it is to no purpose to hold out, so I give up the
cause as to those mentioned qualities. Though I profess it sounds
oddly, to say that sugar is not sweet.
PHIL. But, for your farther satisfaction, take this along
with you: that which at other times seems sweet, shall, to a
distempered palate, appear bitter. And, nothing can be plainer than
that divers persons perceive different tastes in the same food; since
that which one man delights in, another abhors. And how could this be,
if the taste was something really inherent in the food?
HYL. I acknowledge I know not how.
PHIL. In the next place, ODOURS are to be considered. And,
with regard to these, I would fain know whether what hath been said of
tastes doth not exactly agree to them? Are they not so many pleasing
or displeasing sensations?
HYL. They are.
PHIL. Can you then conceive it possible that they should
exist in an unperceiving thing?
HYL. I cannot.
PHIL. Or, can you imagine that filth and ordure affect those
brute animals that feed on them out of choice, with the same smells
which we perceive in them?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. May we not therefore conclude of smells, as of the
other forementioned qualities, that they cannot exist in any but a
perceiving substance or mind?
HYL. I think so.
PHIL. Then as to SOUNDS, what must we think of them: are
they accidents really inherent in external bodies, or not?
HYL. That they inhere not in the sonorous bodies is plain
from hence: because a bell struck in the exhausted receiver of an
air-pump sends forth no sound. The air, therefore, must be thought the
subject of sound.
PHIL. What reason is there for that, Hylas?
HYL. Because, when any motion is raised in the air, we
perceive a sound greater or lesser, according to the air's motion; but
without some motion in the air, we never hear any sound at all.
PHIL. And granting that we never hear a sound but when some
motion is produced in the air, yet I do not see how you can infer from
thence, that the sound itself is in the air.
HYL. It is this very motion in the external air that
produces in the mind the sensation of SOUND. For, striking on the drum
of the ear, it causeth a vibration, which by the auditory nerves being
communicated to the brain, the soul is thereupon affected with the
sensation called SOUND.
PHIL. What! is sound then a sensation?
HYL. I tell you, as perceived by us, it is a particular
sensation in the mind.
PHIL. And can any sensation exist without the mind?
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. How then can sound, being a sensation, exist in the
air, if by the AIR you mean a senseless substance existing without the
HYL. You must distinguish, Philonous, between sound as it is
perceived by us, and as it is in itself; or (which is the same thing)
between the sound we immediately perceive, and that which exists
without us. The former, indeed, is a particular kind of sensation, but
the latter is merely a vibrative or undulatory motion the air.
PHIL. I thought I had already obviated that distinction, by
answer I gave when you were applying it in a like case before. But, to
say no more of that, are you sure then that sound is really nothing
HYL. I am.
PHIL. Whatever therefore agrees to real sound, may with
truth be attributed to motion?
HYL. It may.
PHIL. It is then good sense to speak of MOTION as of a thing
that is LOUD, SWEET, ACUTE, or GRAVE.
HYL. _I_ see you are resolved not to understand me. Is it
not evident those accidents or modes belong only to sensible sound, or
SOUND in the common acceptation of the word, but not to sound in the
real and philosophic sense; which, as I just now told you, is nothing
but a certain motion of the air?
PHIL. It seems then there are two sorts of sound—the one
vulgar, or that which is heard, the other philosophical and real?
HYL. Even so.
PHIL. And the latter consists in motion?
HYL. I told you so before.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, to which of the senses, think you, the
idea of motion belongs? to the hearing?
HYL. No, certainly; but to the sight and touch.
PHIL. It should follow then, that, according to you, real
sounds may possibly be SEEN OR FELT, but never HEARD.
HYL. Look you, Philonous, you may, if you please, make a
jest of my opinion, but that will not alter the truth of things. I
own, indeed, the inferences you draw me into sound something oddly;
but common language, you know, is framed by, and for the use of the
vulgar: we must not therefore wonder if expressions adapted to exact
philosophic notions seem uncouth and out of the way.
PHIL. Is it come to that? I assure you, I imagine myself to
have gained no small point, since you make so light of departing from
common phrases and opinions; it being a main part of our inquiry, to
examine whose notions are widest of the common road, and most
repugnant to the general sense of the world. But, can you think it no
more than a philosophical paradox, to say that REAL SOUNDS ARE NEVER
HEARD, and that the idea of them is obtained by some other sense? And
is there nothing in this contrary to nature and the truth of things?
HYL. To deal ingenuously, I do not like it. And, after the
concessions already made, I had as well grant that sounds too have no
real being without the mind.
PHIL. And I hope you will make no difficulty to acknowledge
the same of COLOURS.
HYL. Pardon me: the case of colours is very different. Can
anything be plainer than that we see them on the objects?
PHIL. The objects you speak of are, I suppose, corporeal
Substances existing without the mind?
HYL. They are.
PHIL. And have true and real colours inhering in them?
HYL. Each visible object hath that colour which we see in
PHIL. How! is there anything visible but what we perceive by
HYL. There is not.
PHIL. And, do we perceive anything by sense which we do not
HYL. How often must I be obliged to repeat the same thing? I
tell you, we do not.
PHIL. Have patience, good Hylas; and tell me once more,
whether there is anything immediately perceived by the senses, except
sensible qualities. I know you asserted there was not; but I would now
be informed, whether you still persist in the same opinion.
HYL. I do.
PHIL. Pray, is your corporeal substance either a sensible
quality, or made up of sensible qualities?
HYL. What a question that is! who ever thought it was?
PHIL. My reason for asking was, because in saying, EACH
VISIBLE OBJECT HATH THAT COLOUR WHICH WE SEE IN IT, you make visible
objects to be corporeal substances; which implies either that
corporeal substances are sensible qualities, or else that there is
something besides sensible qualities perceived by sight: but, as this
point was formerly agreed between us, and is still maintained by you,
it is a clear consequence, that your CORPOREAL SUBSTANCE is nothing
distinct from SENSIBLE QUALITIES.
HYL. You may draw as many absurd consequences as you please,
and endeavour to perplex the plainest things; but you shall never
persuade me out of my senses. I clearly understand my own meaning.
PHIL. I wish you would make me understand it too. But, since
you are unwilling to have your notion of corporeal substance examined,
I shall urge that point no farther. Only be pleased to let me know,
whether the same colours which we see exist in external bodies, or
HYL. The very same.
PHIL. What! are then the beautiful red and purple we see on
yonder clouds really in them? Or do you imagine they have in
themselves any other form than that of a dark mist or vapour?
HYL. I must own, Philonous, those colours are not really in
the clouds as they seem to be at this distance. They are only apparent
PHIL. APPARENT call you them? how shall we distinguish these
apparent colours from real?
HYL. Very easily. Those are to be thought apparent which,
appearing only at a distance, vanish upon a nearer approach.
PHIL. And those, I suppose, are to be thought real which are
discovered by the most near and exact survey.
PHIL. Is the nearest and exactest survey made by the help of
a microscope, or by the naked eye?
HYL. By a microscope, doubtless.
PHIL. But a microscope often discovers colours in an object
different from those perceived by the unassisted sight. And, in case
we had microscopes magnifying to any assigned degree, it is certain
that no object whatsoever, viewed through them, would appear in the
same colour which it exhibits to the naked eye.
HYL. And what will you conclude from all this? You cannot
argue that there are really and naturally no colours on objects:
because by artificial managements they may be altered, or made to
PHIL. I think it may evidently be concluded from your own
concessions, that all the colours we see with our naked eyes are only
apparent as those on the clouds, since they vanish upon a more close
and accurate inspection which is afforded us by a microscope. Then' as
to what you say by way of prevention: I ask you whether the real and
natural state of an object is better discovered by a very sharp and
piercing sight, or by one which is less sharp?
HYL. By the former without doubt.
PHIL. Is it not plain from DIOPTRICS that microscopes make
the sight more penetrating, and represent objects as they would appear
to the eye in case it were naturally endowed with a most exquisite
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Consequently the microscopical representation is to be
thought that which best sets forth the real nature of the thing, or
what it is in itself. The colours, therefore, by it perceived are more
genuine and real than those perceived otherwise.
HYL. I confess there is something in what you say.
PHIL. Besides, it is not only possible but manifest, that
there actually are animals whose eyes are by nature framed to perceive
those things which by reason of their minuteness escape our sight.
What think you of those inconceivably small animals perceived by
glasses? must we suppose they are all stark blind? Or, in case they
see, can it be imagined their sight hath not the same use in
preserving their bodies from injuries, which appears in that of all
other animals? And if it hath, is it not evident they must see
particles less than their own bodies; which will present them with a
far different view in each object from that which strikes our senses?
Even our own eyes do not always represent objects to us after the same
manner. In the jaundice every one knows that all things seem yellow.
Is it not therefore highly probable those animals in whose eyes we
discern a very different texture from that of ours, and whose bodies
abound with different humours, do not see the same colours in every
object that we do? From all which, should it not seem to follow that
all colours are equally apparent, and that none of those which we
perceive are really inherent in any outward object?
HYL. It should.
PHIL. The point will be past all doubt, if you consider
that, in case colours were real properties or affections inherent in
external bodies, they could admit of no alteration without some change
wrought in the very bodies themselves: but, is it not evident from
what hath been said that, upon the use of microscopes, upon a change
happening in the burnouts of the eye, or a variation of distance,
without any manner of real alteration in the thing itself, the colours
of any object are either changed, or totally disappear? Nay, all other
circumstances remaining the same, change but the situation of some
objects, and they shall present different colours to the eye. The same
thing happens upon viewing an object in various degrees of light. And
what is more known than that the same bodies appear differently
coloured by candle-light from what they do in the open day? Add to
these the experiment of a prism which, separating the heterogeneous
rays of light, alters the colour of any object, and will cause the
whitest to appear of a deep blue or red to the naked eye. And now tell
me whether you are still of opinion that every body hath its true real
colour inhering in it; and, if you think it hath, I would fain know
farther from you, what certain distance and position of the object,
what peculiar texture and formation of the eye, what degree or kind of
light is necessary for ascertaining that true colour, and
distinguishing it from apparent ones.
HYL. I own myself entirely satisfied, that they are all
equally apparent, and that there is no such thing as colour really
inhering in external bodies, but that it is altogether in the light.
And what confirms me in this opinion is, that in proportion to the
light colours are still more or less vivid; and if there be no light,
then are there no colours perceived. Besides, allowing there are
colours on external objects, yet, how is it possible for us to
perceive them? For no external body affects the mind, unless it acts
first on our organs of sense. But the only action of bodies is motion;
and motion cannot be communicated otherwise than by impulse. A distant
object therefore cannot act on the eye; nor consequently make itself
or its properties perceivable to the soul. Whence it plainly follows
that it is immediately some contiguous substance, which, operating on
the eye, occasions a perception of colours: and such is light.
PHIL. Howl is light then a substance?
HYL. . I tell you, Philonous, external light is nothing but
a thin fluid substance, whose minute particles being agitated with a
brisk motion, and in various manners reflected from the different
surfaces of outward objects to the eyes, communicate different motions
to the optic nerves; which, being propagated to the brain, cause
therein various impressions; and these are attended with the
sensations of red, blue, yellow,
PHIL. It seems then the light doth no more than shake the
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. And consequent to each particular motion of the
nerves, the mind is affected with a sensation, which is some
PHIL. And these sensations have no existence without the
HYL. They have not.
PHIL. How then do you affirm that colours are in the light;
since by LIGHT you understand a corporeal substance external to the
HYL. Light and colours, as immediately perceived by us, I
grant cannot exist without the mind. But in themselves they are only
the motions and configurations of certain insensible particles of
PHIL. Colours then, in the vulgar sense, or taken for the
immediate objects of sight, cannot agree to any but a perceiving
HYL. That is what I say.
PHIL. Well then, since you give up the point as to those
sensible qualities which are alone thought colours by all mankind
beside, you may hold what you please with regard to those invisible
ones of the philosophers. It is not my business to dispute about THEM;
only I would advise you to bethink yourself, whether, considering the
inquiry we are upon, it be prudent for you to affirm—THE RED AND BLUE
WHICH WE SEE ARE NOT REAL COLOURS, BUT CERTAIN UNKNOWN MOTIONS AND
FIGURES WHICH NO MAN EVER DID OR CAN SEE ARE TRULY SO. Are not these
shocking notions, and are not they subject to as many ridiculous
inferences, as those you were obliged to renounce before in the case
HYL. I frankly own, Philonous, that it is in vain to longer.
Colours, sounds, tastes, in a word all those termed SECONDARY
QUALITIES, have certainly no existence without the mind. But by this
acknowledgment I must not be supposed to derogate, the reality of
Matter, or external objects; seeing it is no more than several
philosophers maintain, who nevertheless are the farthest imaginable
from denying Matter. For the clearer understanding of this, you must
know sensible qualities are by philosophers divided into PRIMARY and
SECONDARY. The former are Extension, Figure, Solidity, Gravity,
Motion, and Rest; and these they hold exist really in bodies. The
latter are those above enumerated; or, briefly, ALL SENSIBLE QUALITIES
BESIDE THE PRIMARY; which they assert are only so many sensations or
ideas existing nowhere but in the mind. But all this, I doubt not, you
are apprised of. For my part, I have been a long time sensible there
was such an opinion current among philosophers, but was never
thoroughly convinced of its truth until now.
PHIL. You are still then of opinion that EXTENSION and
FIGURES are inherent in external unthinking substances?
HYL. I am.
PHIL. But what if the same arguments which are brought
against Secondary Qualities will hold good against these also?
HYL. Why then I shall be obliged to think, they too exist
only in the mind.
PHIL. Is it your opinion the very figure and extension which
you perceive by sense exist in the outward object or material
substance? HYL. It is.
PHIL. Have all other animals as good grounds to think the
same of the figure and extension which they see and feel?
HYL. Without doubt, if they have any thought at all.
PHIL. Answer me, Hylas. Think you the senses were bestowed
upon all animals for their preservation and well-being in life? or
were they given to men alone for this end?
HYL. I make no question but they have the same use in all
PHIL. If so, is it not necessary they should be enabled by
them to perceive their own limbs, and those bodies which are capable
of harming them?
PHIL. A mite therefore must be supposed to see his own foot,
and things equal or even less than it, as bodies of some considerable
dimension; though at the same time they appear to you scarce
discernible, or at best as so many visible points?
HYL. I cannot deny it.
PHIL. And to creatures less than the mite they will seem yet
HYL. They will.
PHIL. Insomuch that what you can hardly discern will to
another extremely minute animal appear as some huge mountain?
HYL. All this I grant.
PHIL. Can one and the same thing be at the same time in
itself of different dimensions?
HYL. That were absurd to imagine.
PHIL. But, from what you have laid down it follows that both
the extension by you perceived, and that perceived by the mite itself,
as likewise all those perceived by lesser animals, are each of them
the true extension of the mite's foot; that is to say, by your own
principles you are led into an absurdity.
HYL. There seems to be some difficulty in the point.
PHIL. Again, have you not acknowledged that no real inherent
property of any object can be changed without some change in the thing
HYL. I have.
PHIL. But, as we approach to or recede from an object, the
visible extension varies, being at one distance ten or a hundred times
greater than another. Doth it not therefore follow from hence likewise
that it is not really inherent in the object?
HYL. I own I am at a loss what to think.
PHIL. Your judgment will soon be determined, if you will
venture to think as freely concerning this quality as you have done
concerning the rest. Was it not admitted as a good argument, that
neither heat nor cold was in the water, because it seemed warm to one
hand and cold to the other?
HYL. It was.
PHIL. Is it not the very same reasoning to conclude, there
is no extension or figure in an object, because to one eye it shall
seem little, smooth, and round, when at the same time it appears to
the other, great, uneven, and regular?
HYL. The very same. But does this latter fact ever happen?
PHIL. You may at any time make the experiment, by looking
with one eye bare, and with the other through a microscope.
HYL. I know not how to maintain it; and yet I am loath to
give up EXTENSION, I see so many odd consequences following upon such
PHIL. Odd, say you? After the concessions already made, I
hope you will stick at nothing for its oddness. But, on the other
hand, should it not seem very odd, if the general reasoning which
includes all other sensible qualities did not also include extension?
If it be allowed that no idea, nor anything like an idea, can exist in
an unperceiving substance, then surely it follows that no figure, or
mode of extension, which we can either perceive, or imagine, or have
any idea of, can be really inherent in Matter; not to mention the
peculiar difficulty there must be in conceiving a material substance,
prior to and distinct from extension to be the SUBSTRATUM of
extension. Be the sensible quality what it will—figure, or sound, or
colour, it seems alike impossible it should subsist in that which doth
not perceive it.
HYL. I give up the point for the present, reserving still a
right to retract my opinion, in case I shall hereafter discover any
false step in my progress to it.
PHIL. That is a right you cannot be denied. Figures and
extension being despatched, we proceed next to MOTION. Can a real
motion in any external body be at the same time very swift and very
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. Is not the motion of a body swift in a reciprocal
proportion to the time it takes up in describing any given space? Thus
a body that describes a mile in an hour moves three times faster than
it would in case it described only a mile in three hours.
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. And is not time measured by the succession of ideas in
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And is it not possible ideas should succeed one
another twice as fast in your mind as they do in mine, or in that of
some spirit of another kind?
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. Consequently the same body may to another seem to
perform its motion over any space in half the time that it doth to
you. And the same reasoning will hold as to any other proportion: that
is to say, according to your principles (since the motions perceived
are both really in the object) it is possible one and the same body
shall be really moved the same way at once, both very swift and very
slow. How is this consistent either with common sense, or with what
you just now granted?
HYL. I have nothing to say to it.
PHIL. Then as for SOLIDITY; either you do not mean any
sensible quality by that word, and so it is beside our inquiry: or if
you do, it must be either hardness or resistance. But both the one and
the other are plainly relative to our senses: it being evident that
what seems hard to one animal may appear soft to another, who hath
greater force and firmness of limbs. Nor is it less plain that the
resistance I feel is not in the body.
HYL. I own the very SENSATION of resistance, which is all
you immediately perceive, is not in the body; but the CAUSE of that
PHIL. But the causes of our sensations are not things
immediately perceived, and therefore are not sensible. This point I
thought had been already determined.
HYL. I own it was; but you will pardon me if I seem a little
embarrassed: I know not how to quit my old notions.
PHIL. To help you out, do but consider that if EXTENSION be
once acknowledged to have no existence without the mind, the same must
necessarily be granted of motion, solidity, and gravity; since they
all evidently suppose extension. It is therefore superfluous to
inquire particularly concerning each of them. In denying extension,
you have denied them all to have any real existence.
HYL. I wonder, Philonous, if what you say be true, why those
philosophers who deny the Secondary Qualities any real existence
should yet attribute it to the Primary. If there is no difference
between them, how can this be accounted for?
PHIL. It is not my business to account for every opinion of
the philosophers. But, among other reasons which may be assigned for
this, it seems probable that pleasure and pain being rather annexed to
the former than the latter may be one. Heat and cold, tastes and
smells, have something more vividly pleasing or disagreeable than the
ideas of extension, figure, and motion affect us with. And, it being
too visibly absurd to hold that pain or pleasure can be in an
unperceiving substance, men are more easily weaned from believing the
external existence of the Secondary than the Primary Qualities. You
will be satisfied there is something in this, if you recollect the
difference you made between an intense and more moderate degree of
heat; allowing the one a real existence, while you denied it to the
other. But, after all, there is no rational ground for that
distinction; for, surely an indifferent sensation is as truly a
SENSATION as one more pleasing or painful; and consequently should not
any more than they be supposed to exist in an unthinking subject.
HYL. It is just come into my head, Philonous, that I have
somewhere heard of a distinction between absolute and sensible
extension. Now, though it be acknowledged that GREAT and SMALL,
consisting merely in the relation which other extended beings have to
the parts of our own bodies, do not really inhere in the substances
themselves; yet nothing obliges us to hold the same with regard to
ABSOLUTE EXTENSION, which is something abstracted from GREAT and
SMALL, from this or that particular magnitude or figure. So likewise
as to motion; SWIFT and SLOW are altogether relative to the succession
of ideas in our own minds. But, it doth not follow, because those
modifications of motion exist not without the mind, that therefore
absolute motion abstracted from them doth not.
PHIL. Pray what is it that distinguishes one motion, or one
part of extension, from another? Is it not something sensible, as some
degree of swiftness or slowness, some certain magnitude or figure
peculiar to each?
HYL. I think so.
PHIL. These qualities, therefore, stripped of all sensible
properties, are without all specific and numerical differences, as the
schools call them.
HYL. They are.
PHIL. That is to say, they are extension in general, and
motion in general.
HYL. Let it be so.
PHIL. But it is a universally received maxim that EVERYTHING
WHICH EXISTS IS PARTICULAR. How then can motion in general, or
extension in general, exist in any corporeal substance?
HYL. I will take time to solve your difficulty.
PHIL. But I think the point may be speedily decided. Without
doubt you can tell whether you are able to frame this or that idea.
Now I am content to put our dispute on this issue. If you can frame in
your thoughts a distinct ABSTRACT IDEA of motion or extension,
divested of all those sensible modes, as swift and slow, great and
small, round and square, and the like, which are acknowledged to exist
only in the mind, I will then yield the point you contend for. But if
you cannot, it will be unreasonable on your side to insist any longer
upon what you have no notion of.
HYL. To confess ingenuously, I cannot.
PHIL. Can you even separate the ideas of extension and
motion from the ideas of all those qualities which they who make the
distinction term SECONDARY?
HYL. What! is it not an easy matter to consider extension
and motion by themselves, abstracted from all other sensible
qualities? Pray how do the mathematicians treat of them?
PHIL. I acknowledge, Hylas, it is not difficult to form
general propositions and reasonings about those qualities, without
mentioning any other; and, in this sense, to consider or treat of them
abstractedly. But, how doth it follow that, because I can pronounce
the word MOTION by itself, I can form the idea of it in my mind
exclusive of body? or, because theorems may be made of extension and
figures, without any mention of GREAT or SMALL, or any other sensible
mode or quality, that therefore it is possible such an abstract idea
of extension, without any particular size or figure, or sensible
quality, should be distinctly formed, and apprehended by the mind?
Mathematicians treat of quantity, without regarding what other
sensible. qualities it is attended with, as being altogether
indifferent to their demonstrations. But, when laying aside the words,
they contemplate the bare ideas, I believe you will find, they are not
the pure abstracted ideas of extension.
HYL. But what say you to PURE INTELLECT? May not abstracted
ideas be framed by that faculty?
PHIL. Since I cannot frame abstract ideas at all, it is
plain I cannot frame them by the help of PURE INTELLECT; whatsoever
faculty you understand by those words. Besides, not to inquire into
the nature of pure intellect and its spiritual objects, as VIRTUE,
REASON, GOD, or the like, thus much seems manifest—that sensible
things are only to be perceived by sense, or represented by the
imagination. Figures, therefore, and extension, being originally
perceived by sense, do not belong to pure intellect: but, for your
farther satisfaction, try if you can frame the idea of any figure,
abstracted from all particularities of size, or even from other
HYL. Let me think a little—I do not find that I can.
PHIL. And can you think it possible that should really exist
in nature which implies a repugnancy in its conception?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. Since therefore it is impossible even for the mind to
disunite the ideas of extension and motion from all other sensible
qualities, doth it not follow, that where the one exist there
necessarily the other exist likewise?
HYL. It should seem so.
PHIL. Consequently, the very same arguments which you
admitted as conclusive against the Secondary Qualities are, without
any farther application of force, against the Primary too. Besides, if
you will trust your senses, is it not plain all sensible qualities
coexist, or to them appear as being in the same place? Do they ever
represent a motion, or figure, as being divested of all other visible
and tangible qualities?
HYL. You need say no more on this head. I am free to own, if
there be no secret error or oversight in our proceedings hitherto,
that all sensible qualities are alike to be denied existence without
the mind. But, my fear is that I have been too liberal in my former
concessions, or overlooked some fallacy or other. In short, I did not
take time to think.
PHIL. For that matter, Hylas, you may take what time you
please in reviewing the progress of our inquiry. You are at liberty to
recover any slips you might have made, or offer whatever you have
omitted which makes for your first opinion.
HYL. One great oversight I take to be this—that I did not
sufficiently distinguish the OBJECT from the SENSATION. Now, though
this latter may not exist without the mind, yet it will not thence
follow that the former cannot.
PHIL. What object do you mean? the object of the senses?
HYL. The same.
PHIL. It is then immediately perceived?
PHIL. Make me to understand the difference between what is
immediately perceived and a sensation.
HYL. The sensation I take to be an act of the mind
perceiving; besides which, there is something perceived; and this I
call the OBJECT. For example, there is red and yellow on that tulip.
But then the act of perceiving those colours is in me only, and not in
PHIL. What tulip do you speak of? Is it that which you see?
HYL. The same.
PHIL. And what do you see beside colour, figure, and
PHIL. What you would say then is that the red and yellow are
coexistent with the extension; is it not?
HYL. That is not all; I would say they have a real existence
without the mind, in some unthinking substance.
PHIL. That the colours are really in the tulip which I see
is manifest. Neither can it be denied that this tulip may exist
independent of your mind or mine; but, that any immediate object of
the senses,—that is, any idea, or combination of ideas—should exist
in an unthinking substance, or exterior to ALL minds, is in itself an
evident contradiction. Nor can I imagine how this follows from what
you said just now, to wit, that the red and yellow were on the tulip
you SAW, since you do not pretend to SEE that unthinking substance.
HYL. You have an artful way, Philonous, of diverting our
inquiry from the subject.
PHIL. I see you have no mind to be pressed that way. To
return then to your distinction between SENSATION and OBJECT; if I
take you right, you distinguish in every perception two things, the
one an action of the mind, the other not.
PHIL. And this action cannot exist in, or belong to, any
unthinking thing; but, whatever beside is implied in a perception may?
HYL. That is my meaning.
PHIL. So that if there was a perception without any act of
the mind, it were possible such a perception should exist in an
HYL. I grant it. But it is impossible there should be such a
PHIL. When is the mind said to be active?
HYL. When it produces, puts an end to, or changes, anything.
PHIL. Can the mind produce, discontinue, or change anything,
but by an act of the will?
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. The mind therefore is to be accounted ACTIVE in its
perceptions so far forth as VOLITION is included in them?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. In plucking this flower I am active; because I do it
by the motion of my hand, which was consequent upon my volition; so
likewise in applying it to my nose. But is either of these smelling?
PHIL. I act too in drawing the air through my nose; because
my breathing so rather than otherwise is the effect of my volition.
But neither can this be called SMELLING: for, if it were, I should
smell every time I breathed in that manner?
PHIL. Smelling then is somewhat consequent to all this?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. But I do not find my will concerned any farther.
Whatever more there is—as that I perceive such a particular smell, or
any smell at all—this is independent of my will, and therein I am
altogether passive. Do you find it otherwise with you, Hylas?
HYL. No, the very same.
PHIL. Then, as to seeing, is it not in your power to open
your eyes, or keep them shut; to turn them this or that way?
HYL. Without doubt.
PHIL. But, doth it in like manner depend on YOUR will that
in looking on this flower you perceive WHITE rather than any other
colour? Or, directing your open eyes towards yonder part of the
heaven, can you avoid seeing the sun? Or is light or darkness the
effect of your volition?
HYL. No, certainly.
PHIL. You are then in these respects altogether passive?
HYL. I am.
PHIL. Tell me now, whether SEEING consists in perceiving
light and colours, or in opening and turning the eyes?
HYL. Without doubt, in the former.
PHIL. Since therefore you are in the very perception of
light and colours altogether passive, what is become of that action
you were speaking of as an ingredient in every sensation? And, doth it
not follow from your own concessions, that the perception of light and
colours, including no action in it, may exist in an unperceiving
substance? And is not this a plain contradiction?
HYL. I know not what to think of it.
PHIL. Besides, since you distinguish the ACTIVE and PASSIVE
in every perception, you must do it in that of pain. But how is it
possible that pain, be it as little active as you please, should exist
in an unperceiving substance? In short, do but consider the point, and
then confess ingenuously, whether light and colours, tastes, sounds,
are not all equally passions or sensations in the soul. You may indeed
call them EXTERNAL OBJECTS, and give them in words what subsistence
you please. But, examine your own thoughts, and then tell me whether
it be not as I say?
HYL. I acknowledge, Philonous, that, upon a fair observation
of what passes in my mind, I can discover nothing else but that I am a
thinking being, affected with variety of sensations; neither is it
possible to conceive how a sensation should exist in an unperceiving
substance. But then, on the other hand, when I look on sensible things
in a different view, considering them as so many modes and qualities,
I find it necessary to suppose a MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM, without which
they cannot be conceived to exist.
PHIL. MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM call you it? Pray, by which of
your senses came you acquainted with that being?
HYL. It is not itself sensible; its modes and qualities only
being perceived by the senses.
PHIL. I presume then it was by reflexion and reason you
obtained the idea of it?
HYL. I do not pretend to any proper positive IDEA of it.
However, I conclude it exists, because qualities cannot be conceived
to exist without a support.
PHIL. It seems then you have only a relative NOTION of it,
or that you conceive it not otherwise than by conceiving the relation
it bears to sensible qualities?
PHIL. Be pleased therefore to let me know wherein that
HYL. Is it not sufficiently expressed in the term
SUBSTRATUM, or SUBSTANCE?
PHIL. If so, the word SUBSTRATUM should import that it is
spread under the sensible qualities or accidents?
PHIL. And consequently under extension?
HYL. I own it.
PHIL. It is therefore somewhat in its own nature entirely
distinct from extension?
HYL. I tell you, extension is only a mode, and Matter is
something that supports modes. And is it not evident the thing
supported is different from the thing supporting?
PHIL. So that something distinct from, and exclusive of,
extension is supposed to be the SUBSTRATUM of extension?
HYL. Just so.
PHIL. Answer me, Hylas. Can a thing be spread without
extension? or is not the idea of extension necessarily included in
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Whatsoever therefore you suppose spread under anything
must have in itself an extension distinct from the extension of that
thing under which it is spread?
HYL. It must.
PHIL. Consequently, every corporeal substance, being the
SUBSTRATUM of extension, must have in itself another extension, by
which it is qualified to be a SUBSTRATUM: and so on to infinity. And I
ask whether this be not absurd in itself, and repugnant to what you
granted just now, to wit, that the SUBSTRATUM was something distinct
from and exclusive of extension?
HYL. Aye but, Philonous, you take me wrong. I do not mean
that Matter is SPREAD in a gross literal sense under extension. The
word SUBSTRATUM is used only to express in general the same thing with
PHIL. Well then, let us examine the relation implied in the
term SUBSTANCE. Is it not that it stands under accidents?
HYL. The very same.
PHIL. But, that one thing may stand under or support
another, must it not be extended?
HYL. It must.
PHIL. Is not therefore this supposition liable to the same
absurdity with the former?
HYL. You still take things in a strict literal sense. That
is not fair, Philonous.
PHIL. I am not for imposing any sense on your words: you are
at liberty to explain them as you please. Only, I beseech you, make me
understand something by them. You tell me Matter supports or stands
under accidents. How! is it as your legs support your body?
HYL. No; that is the literal sense.
PHIL. Pray let me know any sense, literal or not literal,
that you understand it in.—How long must I wait for an answer, Hylas?
HYL. I declare I know not what to say. I once thought I
understood well enough what was meant by Matter's supporting
accidents. But now, the more I think on it the less can I comprehend
it: in short I find that I know nothing of it.
PHIL. It seems then you have no idea at all, neither
relative nor positive, of Matter; you know neither what it is in
itself, nor what relation it bears to accidents?
HYL. I acknowledge it.
PHIL. And yet you asserted that you could not conceive how
qualities or accidents should really exist, without conceiving at the
same time a material support of them?
HYL. I did.
PHIL. That is to say, when you conceive the real existence
of qualities, you do withal conceive Something which you cannot
HYL. It was wrong, I own. But still I fear there is some
fallacy or other. Pray what think you of this? It is just come into my
head that the ground of all our mistake lies in your treating of each
quality by itself. Now, I grant that each quality cannot singly
subsist without the mind. Colour cannot without extension, neither can
figure without some other sensible quality. But, as the several
qualities united or blended together form entire sensible things,
nothing hinders why such things may not be supposed to exist without
PHIL. Either, Hylas, you are jesting, or have a very bad
memory. Though indeed we went through all the qualities by name one
after another, yet my arguments or rather your concessions, nowhere
tended to prove that the Secondary Qualities did not subsist each
alone by itself; but, that they were not AT ALL without the mind.
Indeed, in treating of figure and motion we concluded they could not
exist without the mind, because it was impossible even in thought to
separate them from all secondary qualities, so as to conceive them
existing by themselves. But then this was not the only argument made
use of upon that occasion. But (to pass by all that hath been hitherto
said, and reckon it for nothing, if you will have it so) I am content
to put the whole upon this issue. If you can conceive it possible for
any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object
whatever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to
HYL. If it comes to that the point will soon be decided.
What more easy than to conceive a tree or house existing by itself,
independent of, and unperceived by, any mind whatsoever? I do at this
present time conceive them existing after that manner.
PHIL. How say you, Hylas, can you see a thing which is at
the same time unseen?
HYL. No, that were a contradiction.
PHIL. Is it not as great a contradiction to talk of
CONCEIVING a thing which is UNCONCEIVED?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. The, tree or house therefore which you think of is
conceived by you?
HYL. How should it be otherwise?
PHIL. And what is conceived is surely in the mind?
HYL. Without question, that which is conceived is in the
PHIL. How then came you to say, you conceived a house or
tree existing independent and out of all minds whatsoever?
HYL. That was I own an oversight; but stay, let me consider
what led me into it.—It is a pleasant mistake enough. As I was
thinking of a tree in a solitary place, where no one was present to
see it, methought that was to conceive a tree as existing unperceived
or unthought of; not considering that I myself conceived it all the
while. But now I plainly see that all I can do is to frame ideas in my
own mind. I may indeed conceive in my own thoughts the idea of a tree,
or a house, or a mountain, but that is all. And this is far from
proving that I can conceive them EXISTING OUT OF THE MINDS OF ALL
PHIL. You acknowledge then that you cannot possibly conceive
how any one corporeal sensible thing should exist otherwise than in
HYL. I do.
PHIL. And yet you will earnestly contend for the truth of
that which you cannot so much as conceive?
HYL. I profess I know not what to think; but still there are
some scruples remain with me. Is it not certain I SEE THINGS at a
distance? Do we not perceive the stars and moon, for example, to be a
great way off? Is not this, I say, manifest to the senses?
PHIL. Do you not in a dream too perceive those or the like
HYL. I do.
PHIL. And have they not then the same appearance of being
HYL. They have.
PHIL. But you do not thence conclude the apparitions in a
dream to be without the mind?
HYL. By no means.
PHIL. You ought not therefore to conclude that sensible
objects are without the mind, from their appearance, or manner wherein
they are perceived.
HYL. I acknowledge it. But doth not my sense deceive me in
PHIL. By no means. The idea or thing which you immediately
perceive, neither sense nor reason informs you that it actually exists
without the mind. By sense you only know that you are affected with
such certain sensations of light and colours, And these you will not
say are without the mind.
HYL. True: but, beside all that, do you not think the sight
suggests something of OUTNESS OR DISTANCE?
PHIL. Upon approaching a distant object, do the visible size
and figure change perpetually, or do they appear the same at all
HYL. They are in a continual change.
PHIL. Sight therefore doth not suggest, or any way inform
you, that the visible object you immediately perceive exists at a
distance, or will be perceived when you advance farther onward; there
being a continued series of visible objects succeeding each other
during the whole time of your approach.
HYL. It doth not; but still I know, upon seeing an object,
what object I shall perceive after having passed over a certain
distance: no matter whether it be exactly the same or no: there is
still something of distance suggested in the case.
PHIL. Good Hylas, do but reflect a little on the point, and
then tell me whether there be any more in it than this: from the ideas
you actually perceive by sight, you have by experience learned to
collect what other ideas you will (according to the standing order of
nature) be affected with, after such a certain succession of time and
HYL. Upon the whole, I take it to be nothing else.
PHIL. Now, is it not plain that if we suppose a man born
blind was on a sudden made to see, he could at first have no
experience of what may be SUGGESTED by sight?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. He would not then, according to you, have any notion
of distance annexed to the things he saw; but would take them for a
new set of sensations, existing only in his mind?
HYL. It is undeniable.
PHIL. But, to make it still more plain: is not DISTANCE a
line turned endwise to the eye?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. And can a line so situated be perceived by sight?
HYL. It cannot.
PHIL. Doth it not therefore follow that distance is not
properly and immediately perceived by sight?
HYL. It should seem so.
PHIL. Again, is it your opinion that colours are at a
HYL. It must be acknowledged they are only in the mind.
PHIL. But do not colours appear to the eye as coexisting in
the same place with extension and figures?
HYL. They do.
PHIL. How can you then conclude from sight that figures
exist without, when you acknowledge colours do not; the sensible
appearance being the very same with regard to both?
HYL. I know not what to answer.
PHIL. But, allowing that distance was truly and immediately
perceived by the mind, yet it would not thence follow it existed out
of the mind. For, whatever is immediately perceived is an idea: and
can any idea exist out of the mind?
HYL. To suppose that were absurd: but, inform me, Philonous,
can we perceive or know nothing beside our ideas?
PHIL. As for the rational deducing of causes from effects,
that is beside our inquiry. And, by the senses you can best tell
whether you perceive anything which is not immediately perceived. And
I ask you, whether the things immediately perceived are other than
your own sensations or ideas? You have indeed more than once, in the
course of this conversation, declared yourself on those points; but
you seem, by this last question, to have departed from what you then
HYL. To speak the truth, Philonous, I think there are two
kinds of objects:—the one perceived immediately, which are likewise
called IDEAS; the other are real things or external objects, perceived
by the mediation of ideas, which are their images and representations.
Now, I own ideas do not exist without the mind; but the latter sort of
objects do. I am sorry I did not think of this distinction sooner; it
would probably have cut short your discourse.
PHIL. Are those external objects perceived by sense or by
some other faculty?
HYL. They are perceived by sense.
PHIL. Howl Is there any thing perceived by sense which is
not immediately perceived?
HYL. Yes, Philonous, in some sort there is. For example,
when I look on a picture or statue of Julius Caesar, I may be said
after a manner to perceive him (though not immediately) by my senses.
PHIL. It seems then you will have our ideas, which alone are
immediately perceived, to be pictures of external things: and that
these also are perceived by sense, inasmuch as they have a conformity
or resemblance to our ideas?
HYL. That is my meaning.
PHIL. And, in the same way that Julius Caesar, in himself
invisible, is nevertheless perceived by sight; real things, in
themselves imperceptible, are perceived by sense.
HYL. In the very same.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, when you behold the picture of Julius
Caesar, do you see with your eyes any more than some colours and
figures, with a certain symmetry and composition of the whole?
HYL. Nothing else.
PHIL. And would not a man who had never known anything of
Julius Caesar see as much?
HYL. He would.
PHIL. Consequently he hath his sight, and the use of it, in
as perfect a degree as you?
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. Whence comes it then that your thoughts are directed
to the Roman emperor, and his are not? This cannot proceed from the
sensations or ideas of sense by you then perceived; since you
acknowledge you have no advantage over him in that respect. It should
seem therefore to proceed from reason and memory: should it not?
HYL. It should.
PHIL. Consequently, it will not follow from that instance
that anything is perceived by sense which is not, immediately
perceived. Though I grant we may, in one acceptation, be said to
perceive sensible things mediately by sense: that is, when, from a
frequently perceived connexion, the immediate perception of ideas by
one sense SUGGESTS to the mind others, perhaps belonging to another
sense, which are wont to be connected with them. For instance, when I
hear a coach drive along the streets, immediately I perceive only the
sound; but, from the experience I have had that such a sound is
connected with a coach, I am said to hear the coach. It is
nevertheless evident that, in truth and strictness, nothing can be
HEARD BUT SOUND; and the coach is not then properly perceived by
sense, but suggested from experience. So likewise when we are said to
see a red-hot bar of iron; the solidity and heat of the iron are not
the objects of sight, but suggested to the imagination by the colour
and figure which are properly perceived by that sense. In short, those
things alone are actually and strictly perceived by any sense, which
would have been perceived in case that same sense had then been first
conferred on us. As for other things, it is plain they are only
suggested to the mind by experience, grounded on former perceptions.
But, to return to your comparison of Caesar's picture, it is plain, if
you keep to that, you must hold the real things, or archetypes of our
ideas, are not perceived by sense, but by some internal faculty of the
soul, as reason or memory. I would therefore fain know what arguments
you can draw from reason for the existence of what you call REAL
THINGS OR MATERIAL OBJECTS. Or, whether you remember to have seen them
formerly as they are in themselves; or, if you have heard or read of
any one that did.
HYL. I see, Philonous, you are disposed to raillery; but
that will never convince me.
PHIL. My aim is only to learn from you the way to come at
the knowledge of MATERIAL BEINGS. Whatever we perceive is perceived
immediately or mediately: by sense, or by reason and reflexion. But,
as you have excluded sense, pray shew me what reason you have to
believe their existence; or what MEDIUM you can possibly make use of
to prove it, either to mine or your own understanding.
HYL. To deal ingenuously, Philonous, now I consider the
point, I do not find I can give you any good reason for it. But, thus
much seems pretty plain, that it is at least possible such things may
really exist. And, as long as there is no absurdity in supposing them,
I am resolved to believe as I did, till you bring good reasons to the
PHIL. What! Is it come to this, that you only BELIEVE the
existence of material objects, and that your belief is founded barely
on the possibility of its being true? Then you will have me bring
reasons against it: though another would think it reasonable the proof
should lie on him who holds the affirmative. And, after all, this very
point which you are now resolved to maintain, without any reason, is
in effect what you have more than once during this discourse seen good
reason to give up. But, to pass over all this; if I understand you
rightly, you say our ideas do not exist without the mind, but that
they are copies, images, or representations, of certain originals that
HYL. You take me right.
PHIL. They are then like external things?
HYL. They are.
PHIL. Have those things a stable and permanent nature,
independent of our senses; or are they in a perpetual change, upon our
producing any motions in our bodies—suspending, exerting, or
altering, our faculties or organs of sense?
HYL. Real things, it is plain, have a fixed and real nature,
which remains the same notwithstanding any change in our senses, or in
the posture and motion of our bodies; which indeed may affect the
ideas in our minds, but it were absurd to think they had the same
effect on things existing without the mind.
PHIL. How then is it possible that things perpetually
fleeting and variable as our ideas should be copies or images of
anything fixed and constant? Or, in other words, since all sensible
qualities, as size, figure, colour, that is, our ideas, are
continually changing, upon every alteration in the distance, medium,
or instruments of sensation; how can any determinate material objects
be properly represented or painted forth by several distinct things,
each of which is so different from and unlike the rest? Or, if you say
it resembles some one only of our ideas, how shall we be able to
distinguish the true copy from all the false ones?
HYL. I profess, Philonous, I am at a loss. I know not what
to say to this.
PHIL. But neither is this all. Which are material objects in
themselves—perceptible or imperceptible?
HYL. Properly and immediately nothing can be perceived but
ideas. All material things, therefore, are in themselves insensible,
and to be perceived only by our ideas.
PHIL. Ideas then are sensible, and their archetypes or
PHIL. But how can that which is sensible be like that which
is insensible? Can a real thing, in itself INVISIBLE, be like a
COLOUR; or a real thing, which is not AUDIBLE, be like a SOUND? In a
word, can anything be like a sensation or idea, but another sensation
HYL. I must own, I think not.
PHIL. Is it possible there should be any doubt on the point?
Do. you not perfectly know your own ideas?
HYL. I know them perfectly; since what I do not perceive or
know can be no part of my idea.
PHIL. Consider, therefore, and examine them, and then tell
me if there be anything in them which can exist without the mind: or
if you can conceive anything like them existing without the mind.
HYL. Upon inquiry, I find it is impossible for me to
conceive or understand how anything but an idea can be like an idea.
And it is most evident that NO IDEA CAN EXIST WITHOUT THE MIND.
PHIL. You are therefore, by your principles, forced to deny
the REALITY of sensible things; since you made it to consist in an
absolute existence exterior to the mind. That is to say, you are a
downright sceptic. So I have gained my point, which was to shew your
principles led to Scepticism.
HYL. For the present I am, if not entirely convinced, at
PHIL. I would fain know what more you would require in order
to a perfect conviction. Have you not had the liberty of explaining
yourself all manner of ways? Were any little slips in discourse laid
hold and insisted on? Or were you not allowed to retract or reinforce
anything you had offered, as best served your purpose? Hath not
everything you could say been heard and examined with all the fairness
imaginable? In a word have you not in every point been convinced out
of your own mouth? And, if you can at present discover any flaw in any
of your former concessions, or think of any remaining subterfuge, any
new distinction, colour, or comment whatsoever, why do you not produce
HYL. A little patience, Philonous. I am at present so amazed
to see myself ensnared, and as it were imprisoned in the labyrinths
you have drawn me into, that on the sudden it cannot be expected I
should find my way out. You must give me time to look about me and
PHIL. Hark; is not this the college bell?
HYL. It rings for prayers.
PHIL. We will go in then, if you please, and meet here again
tomorrow morning. In the meantime, you may employ your thoughts on
this morning's discourse, and try if you can find any fallacy in it,
or invent any new means to extricate yourself.
THE SECOND DIALOGUE
HYL. I beg your pardon, Philonous, for not meeting you
sooner. All this morning my head was so filled with our late
conversation that I had not leisure to think of the time of the day,
or indeed of anything else.
PHILONOUS. I am glad you were so intent upon it, in hopes if
there were any mistakes in your concessions, or fallacies in my
reasonings from them, you will now discover them to me.
HYL. I assure you I have done nothing ever since I saw you
but search after mistakes and fallacies, and, with that view, have
minutely examined the whole series of yesterday's discourse: but all
in vain, for the notions it led me into, upon review, appear still
more clear and evident; and, the more I consider them, the more
irresistibly do they force my assent.
PHIL. And is not this, think you, a sign that they are
genuine, that they proceed from nature, and are conformable to right
reason? Truth and beauty are in this alike, that the strictest survey
sets them both off to advantage; while the false lustre of error and
disguise cannot endure being reviewed, or too nearly inspected.
HYL. I own there is a great deal in what you say. Nor can
any one be more entirely satisfied of the truth of those odd
consequences, so long as I have in view the reasonings that lead to
them. But, when these are out of my thoughts, there seems, on the
other hand, something so satisfactory, so natural and intelligible, in
the modern way of explaining things that, I profess, I know not how to
PHIL. I know not what way you mean.
HYL. I mean the way of accounting for our sensations or
PHIL. How is that?
HYL. It is supposed the soul makes her residence in some
part of the brain, from which the nerves take their rise, and are
thence extended to all parts of the body; and that outward objects, by
the different impressions they make on the organs of sense,
communicate certain vibrative motions to the nerves; and these being
filled with spirits propagate them to the brain or seat of the soul,
which, according to the various impressions or traces thereby made in
the brain, is variously affected with ideas.
PHIL. And call you this an explication of the manner whereby
we are affected with ideas?
HYL. Why not, Philonous? Have you anything to object against
PHIL. I would first know whether I rightly understand your
hypothesis. You make certain traces in the brain to be the causes or
occasions of our ideas. Pray tell me whether by the BRAIN you mean any
HYL. What else think you I could mean?
PHIL. Sensible things are all immediately perceivable; and
those things which are immediately perceivable are ideas; and these
exist only in the mind. Thus much you have, if I mistake not, long
since agreed to.
HYL. I do not deny it.
PHIL. The brain therefore you speak of, being a sensible
thing, exists only in the mind. Now, I would fain know whether you
think it reasonable to suppose that one idea or thing existing in the
mind occasions all other ideas. And, if you think so, pray how do you
account for the origin of that primary idea or brain itself?
HYL. I do not explain the origin of our ideas by that brain
which is perceivable to sense—this being itself only a combination of
sensible ideas—but by another which I imagine.
PHIL. But are not things imagined as truly IN THE MIND as
HYL. I must confess they are.
PHIL. It comes, therefore, to the same thing; and you have
been all this while accounting for ideas by certain motions or
impressions of the brain; that is, by some alterations in an idea,
whether sensible or imaginable it matters not.
HYL. I begin to suspect my hypothesis.
PHIL. Besides spirits, all that we know or conceive are our
own ideas. When, therefore, you say all ideas are occasioned by
impressions in the brain, do you conceive this brain or no? If you do,
then you talk of ideas imprinted in an idea causing that same idea,
which is absurd. If you do not conceive it, you talk unintelligibly,
instead of forming a reasonable hypothesis.
HYL. I now clearly see it was a mere dream. There is nothing
PHIL. You need not be much concerned at it; for after all,
this way of explaining things, as you called it, could never have
satisfied any reasonable man. What connexion is there between a motion
in the nerves, and the sensations of sound or colour in the mind? Or
how is it possible these should be the effect of that?
HYL. But I could never think it had so little in it as now
it seems to have.
PHIL. Well then, are you at length satisfied that no
sensible things have a real existence; and that you are in truth an
HYL. It is too plain to be denied.
PHIL. Look! are not the fields covered with a delightful
verdure? Is there not something in the woods and groves, in the rivers
and clear springs, that soothes, that delights, that transports the
soul? At the prospect of the wide and deep ocean, or some huge
mountain whose top is lost in the clouds, or of an old gloomy forest,
are not our minds filled with a pleasing horror? Even in rocks and
deserts is there not an agreeable wildness? How sincere a pleasure is
it to behold the natural beauties of the earth! To preserve and renew
our, relish for them, is not the veil of night alternately drawn over
her face, and doth she not change her dress with the seasons? How
aptly are the elements disposed! What variety and use in the meanest
productions of nature! What delicacy, what beauty, what contrivance,
in animal and vegetable bodies I How exquisitely are all things
suited, as well to their particular ends, as to constitute opposite
parts of the whole I And, while they mutually aid and support, do they
not also set off and illustrate each other? Raise now your thoughts
from this ball of earth to all those glorious luminaries that adorn
the high arch of heaven. The motion and situation of the planets, are
they not admirable for use and order? Were those (miscalled ERRATIC)
globes once known to stray, in their repeated journeys through the
pathless void? Do they not measure areas round the sun ever
proportioned to the times? So fixed, so immutable are the laws by
which the unseen Author of nature actuates the universe. How vivid and
radiant is the lustre of the fixed stars! How magnificent and rich
that negligent profusion with which they appear to be scattered
throughout the whole azure vault! Yet, if you take the telescope, it
brings into your sight a new host of stars that escape the naked eye.
Here they seem contiguous and minute, but to a nearer view immense
orbs of fight at various distances, far sunk in the abyss of space.
Now you must call imagination to your aid. The feeble narrow sense
cannot descry innumerable worlds revolving round the central fires;
and in those worlds the energy of an all-perfect Mind displayed in
endless forms. But, neither sense nor imagination are big enough to
comprehend the boundless extent, with all its glittering furniture.
Though the labouring mind exert and strain each power to its utmost
reach, there still stands out ungrasped a surplusage immeasurable. Yet
all the vast bodies that compose this mighty frame, how distant and
remote soever, are by some secret mechanism, some Divine art and
force, linked in a mutual dependence and intercourse with each other;
even with this earth, which was almost slipt from my thoughts and lost
in the crowd of worlds. Is not the whole system immense, beautiful,
glorious beyond expression and beyond thought! What treatment, then,
do those philosophers deserve, who would deprive these noble and
delightful scenes of all REALITY? How should those Principles be
entertained that lead us to think all the visible beauty of the
creation a false imaginary glare? To be plain, can you expect this
Scepticism of yours will not be thought extravagantly absurd by all
men of sense?
HYL. Other men may think as they please; but for your part
you have nothing to reproach me with. My comfort is, you are as much a
sceptic as I am.
PHIL. There, Hylas, I must beg leave to differ from you.
HYL. What! Have you all along agreed to the premises, and do
you now deny the conclusion, and leave me to maintain those paradoxes
by myself which you led me into? This surely is not fair.
PHIL. _I_ deny that I agreed with you in those notions that
led to Scepticism. You indeed said the REALITY of sensible things
consisted in AN ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE OUT OF THE MINDS OF SPIRITS, or
distinct from their being perceived. And pursuant to this notion of
reality, YOU are obliged to deny sensible things any real existence:
that is, according to your own definition, you profess yourself a
sceptic. But I neither said nor thought the reality of sensible things
was to be defined after that manner. To me it is evident for the
reasons you allow of, that sensible things cannot exist otherwise than
in a mind or spirit. Whence I conclude, not that they have no real
existence, but that, seeing they depend not on my thought, and have
all existence distinct from being perceived by me, THERE MUST BE SOME
OTHER MIND WHEREIN THEY EXIST. As sure, therefore, as the sensible
world really exists, so sure is there an infinite omnipresent Spirit
who contains and supports it.
HYL. What! This is no more than I and all Christians hold;
nay, and all others too who believe there is a God, and that He knows
and comprehends all things.
PHIL. Aye, but here lies the difference. Men commonly
believe that all things are known or perceived by God, because they
believe the being of a God; whereas I, on the other side, immediately
and necessarily conclude the being of a God, because all sensible
things must be perceived by Him.
HYL. But, so long as we all believe the same thing, what
matter is it how we come by that belief?
PHIL. But neither do we agree in the same opinion. For
philosophers, though they acknowledge all corporeal beings to be
perceived by God, yet they attribute to them an absolute subsistence
distinct from their being perceived by any mind whatever; which I do
not. Besides, is there no difference between saying, THERE IS A GOD,
THEREFORE HE PERCEIVES ALL THINGS; and saying, SENSIBLE THINGS DO
REALLY EXIST; AND, IF THEY REALLY EXIST, THEY ARE NECESSARILY
PERCEIVED BY AN INFINITE MIND: THEREFORE THERE IS AN INFINITE MIND OR
GOD? This furnishes you with a direct and immediate demonstration,
from a most evident principle, of the BEING OF A GOD. Divines and
philosophers had proved beyond all controversy, from the beauty and
usefulness of the several parts of the creation, that it was the
workmanship of God. But that—setting aside all help of astronomy and
natural philosophy, all contemplation of the contrivance, order, and
adjustment of things—an infinite Mind should be necessarily inferred
from the bare EXISTENCE OF THE SENSIBLE WORLD, is an advantage to them
only who have made this easy reflexion: that the sensible world is
that which we perceive by our several senses; and that nothing is
perceived by the senses beside ideas; and that no idea or archetype of
an idea can exist otherwise than in a mind. You may now, without any
laborious search into the sciences, without any subtlety of reason, or
tedious length of discourse, oppose and baffle the most strenuous
advocate for Atheism. Those miserable refuges, whether in an eternal
succession of unthinking causes and effects, or in a fortuitous
concourse of atoms; those wild imaginations of Vanini, Hobbes, and
Spinoza: in a word, the whole system of Atheism, is it not entirely
overthrown, by this single reflexion on the repugnancy included in
supposing the whole, or any part, even the most rude and shapeless, of
the visible world, to exist without a mind? Let any one of those
abettors of impiety but look into his own thoughts, and there try if
he can conceive how so much as a rock, a desert, a chaos, or confused
jumble of atoms; how anything at all, either sensible or imaginable,
can exist independent of a Mind, and he need go no farther to be
convinced of his folly. Can anything be fairer than to put a dispute
on such an issue, and leave it to a man himself to see if he can
conceive, even in thought, what he holds to be true in fact, and from
a notional to allow it a real existence?
HYL. It cannot be denied there is something highly
serviceable to religion in what you advance. But do you not think it
looks very like a notion entertained by some eminent moderns, of
SEEING ALL THINGS IN GOD?
PHIL. I would gladly know that opinion: pray explain it to
HYL. They conceive that the soul, being immaterial, is
incapable of being united with material things, so as to perceive them
in themselves; but that she perceives them by her union with the
substance of God, which, being spiritual, is therefore purely
intelligible, or capable of being the immediate object of a spirit's
thought. Besides the Divine essence contains in it perfections
correspondent to each created being; and which are, for that reason,
proper to exhibit or represent them to the mind.
PHIL. I do not understand how our ideas, which are things
altogether passive and inert, can be the essence, or any part (or like
any part) of the essence or substance of God, who is an impassive,
indivisible, pure, active being. Many more difficulties and objections
there are which occur at first view against this hypothesis; but I
shall only add that it is liable to all the absurdities of the common
hypothesis, in making a created world exist otherwise than in the mind
of a Spirit. Besides all which it hath this peculiar to itself; that
it makes that material world serve to no purpose. And, if it pass for
a good argument against other hypotheses in the sciences, that they
suppose Nature, or the Divine wisdom, to make something in vain, or do
that by tedious roundabout methods which might have been performed in
a much more easy and compendious way, what shall we think of that
hypothesis which supposes the whole world made in vain?
HYL. But what say you? Are not you too of opinion that we
see all things in God? If I mistake not, what you advance comes near
PHIL. Few men think; yet all have opinions. Hence men's
opinions are superficial and confused. It is nothing strange that
tenets which in themselves are ever so different, should nevertheless
be confounded with each other, by those who do not consider them
attentively. I shall not therefore be surprised if some men imagine
that I run into the enthusiasm of Malebranche; though in truth I am
very remote from it. He builds on the most abstract general ideas,
which I entirely disclaim. He asserts an absolute external world,
which I deny. He maintains that we are deceived by our senses, and,
know not the real natures or the true forms and figures of extended
beings; of all which I hold the direct contrary. So that upon the
whole there are no Principles more fundamentally opposite than his and
mine. It must be owned that I entirely agree with what the holy
Scripture saith, "That in God we live and move and have our being."
But that we see things in His essence, after the manner above set
forth, I am far from believing. Take here in brief my meaning:—It is
evident that the things I perceive are my own ideas, and that no idea
can exist unless it be in a mind: nor is it less plain that these
ideas or things by me perceived, either themselves or their
archetypes, exist independently of my mind, since I know myself not to
be their author, it being out of my power to determine at pleasure
what particular ideas I shall be affected with upon opening my eyes or
ears: they must therefore exist in some other Mind, whose Will it is
they should be exhibited to me. The things, I say, immediately
perceived are ideas or sensations, call them which you will. But how
can any idea or sensation exist in, or be produced by, anything but a
mind or spirit? This indeed is inconceivable. And to assert that which
is inconceivable is to talk nonsense: is it not?
HYL. Without doubt.
PHIL. But, on the other hand, it is very conceivable that
they should exist in and be produced by a spirit; since this is no
more than I daily experience in myself, inasmuch as I perceive
numberless ideas; and, by an act of my will, can form a great variety
of them, and raise them up in my imagination: though, it must be
confessed, these creatures of the fancy are not altogether so
distinct, so strong, vivid, and permanent, as those perceived by my
senses—which latter are called RED THINGS. From all which I conclude,
THERE IS A MIND WHICH AFFECTS ME EVERY MOMENT WITH ALL THE SENSIBLE
IMPRESSIONS I PERCEIVE. AND, from the variety, order, and manner of
these, I conclude THE AUTHOR OF THEM TO BE WISE, POWERFUL, AND GOOD,
BEYOND COMPREHENSION. MARK it well; I do not say, I see things by
perceiving that which represents them in the intelligible Substance of
God. This I do not understand; but I say, the things by me perceived
are known by the understanding, and produced by the will of an
infinite Spirit. And is not all this most plain and evident? Is there
any more in it than what a little observation in our own minds, and
that which passeth in them, not only enables us to conceive, but also
obliges us to acknowledge.
HYL. I think I understand you very clearly; and own the
proof you give of a Deity seems no less evident than it is surprising.
But, allowing that God is the supreme and universal Cause of an
things, yet, may there not be still a Third Nature besides Spirits and
Ideas? May we not admit a subordinate and limited cause of our ideas?
In a word, may there not for all that be MATTER?
PHIL. How often must I inculcate the same thing? You allow
the things immediately perceived by sense to exist nowhere without the
mind; but there is nothing perceived by sense which is not perceived
immediately: therefore there is nothing sensible that exists without
the mind. The Matter, therefore, which you still insist on is
something intelligible, I suppose; something that may be discovered by
reason, and not by sense.
HYL. You are in the right.
PHIL. Pray let me know what reasoning your belief of Matter
is grounded on; and what this Matter is, in your present sense of it.
HYL. I find myself affected with various ideas, whereof I
know I am not the cause; neither are they the cause of themselves, or
of one another, or capable of subsisting by themselves, as being
altogether inactive, fleeting, dependent beings. They have therefore
SOME cause distinct from me and them: of which I pretend to know no
more than that it is THE CAUSE OF MY IDEAS. And this thing, whatever
it be, I call Matter.
PHIL. Tell me, Hylas, hath every one a liberty to change the
current proper signification attached to a common name in any
language? For example, suppose a traveller should tell you that in a
certain country men pass unhurt through the fire; and, upon explaining
himself, you found he meant by the word fire that which others call
WATER. Or, if he should assert that there are trees that walk upon two
legs, meaning men by the term TREES. Would you think this reasonable?
HYL. No; I should think it very absurd. Common custom is the
standard of propriety in language. And for any man to affect speaking
improperly is to pervert the use of speech, and can never serve to a
better purpose than to protract and multiply disputes, where there is
no difference in opinion.
PHIL. And doth not MATTER, in the common current acceptation
of the word, signify an extended, solid, moveable, unthinking,
HYL. It doth.
PHIL. And, hath it not been made evident that no SUCH
substance can possibly exist? And, though it should be allowed to
exist, yet how can that which is INACTIVE be a CAUSE; or that which is
UNTHINKING be a CAUSE OF THOUGHT? You may, indeed, if you please,
annex to the word MATTER a contrary meaning to what is vulgarly
received; and tell me you understand by it, an unextended, thinking,
active being, which is the cause of our ideas. But what else is this
than to play with words, and run into that very fault you just now
condemned with so much reason? I do by no means find fault with your
reasoning, in that you collect a cause from the PHENOMENA: BUT I deny
that THE cause deducible by reason can properly be termed Matter.
HYL. There is indeed something in what you say. But I am
afraid you do not thoroughly comprehend my meaning. I would by no
means be thought to deny that God, or an infinite Spirit, is the
Supreme Cause of all things. All I contend for is, that, subordinate
to the Supreme Agent, there is a cause of a limited and inferior
nature, which CONCURS in the production of our ideas, not by any act
of will, or spiritual efficiency, but by that kind of action which
belongs to Matter, viz. MOTION.
PHIL. I find you are at every turn relapsing into your old
exploded conceit, of a moveable, and consequently an extended,
substance, existing without the mind. What! Have you already forgotten
you were convinced; or are you willing I should repeat what has been
said on that head? In truth this is not fair dealing in you, still to
suppose the being of that which you have so often acknowledged to have
no being. But, not to insist farther on what has been so largely
handled, I ask whether all your ideas are not perfectly passive and
inert, including nothing of action in them.
HYL. They are.
PHIL. And are sensible qualities anything else but ideas?
HYL. How often have I acknowledged that they are not.
PHIL. But is not MOTION a sensible quality?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Consequently it is no action?
HYL. I agree with you. And indeed it is very plain that when
I stir my finger, it remains passive; but my will which produced the
motion is active.
PHIL. Now, I desire to know, in the first place, whether,
motion being allowed to be no action, you can conceive any action
besides volition: and, in the second place, whether to say something
and conceive nothing be not to talk nonsense: and, lastly, whether,
having considered the premises, you do not perceive that to suppose
any efficient or active Cause of our ideas, other than SPIRIT, is
highly absurd and unreasonable?
HYL. I give up the point entirely. But, though Matter may
not be a cause, yet what hinders its being an INSTRUMENT, subservient
to the supreme Agent in the production of our ideas?
PHIL. An instrument say you; pray what may be the figure,
springs, wheels, and motions, of that instrument?
HYL. Those I pretend to determine nothing of, both the
substance and its qualities being entirely unknown to me.
PHIL. What? You are then of opinion it is made up of unknown
parts, that it hath unknown motions, and an unknown shape?
HYL. I do not believe that it hath any figure or motion at
all, being already convinced, that no sensible qualities can exist in
an unperceiving substance.
PHIL. But what notion is it possible to frame of an
instrument void of all sensible qualities, even extension itself?
HYL. I do not pretend to have any notion of it.
PHIL. And what reason have you to think this unknown, this
inconceivable Somewhat doth exist? Is it that you imagine God cannot
act as well without it; or that you find by experience the use of some
such thing, when you form ideas in your own mind?
HYL. You are always teasing me for reasons of my belief.
Pray what reasons have you not to believe it?
PHIL. It is to me a sufficient reason not to believe the
existence of anything, if I see no reason for believing it. But, not
to insist on reasons for believing, you will not so much as let me
know WHAT IT IS you would have me believe; since you say you have no
manner of notion of it. After all, let me entreat you to consider
whether it be like a philosopher, or even like a man of common sense,
to pretend to believe you know not what and you know not why.
HYL. Hold, Philonous. When I tell you Matter is an
INSTRUMENT, I do not mean altogether nothing. It is true I know not
the particular kind of instrument; but, however, I have some notion of
INSTRUMENT IN GENERAL, which I apply to it.
PHIL. But what if it should prove that there is something,
even in the most general notion of INSTRUMENT, as taken in a distinct
sense from CAUSE, which makes the use of it inconsistent with the
HYL. Make that appear and I shall give up the point.
PHIL. What mean you by the general nature or notion of
HYL. That which is common to all particular instruments
composeth the general notion.
PHIL. Is it not common to all instruments, that they are
applied to the doing those things only which cannot be performed by
the mere act of our wills? Thus, for instance, I never use an
instrument to move my finger, because it is done by a volition. But I
should use one if I were to remove part of a rock, or tear up a tree
by the roots. Are you of the same mind? Or, can you shew any example
where an instrument is made use of in producing an effect IMMEDIATELY
depending on the will of the agent?
HYL. I own I cannot.
PHIL. How therefore can you suppose that an All-perfect
Spirit, on whose Will all things have an absolute and immediate
dependence, should need an instrument in his operations, or, not
needing it, make use of it? Thus it seems to me that you are obliged
to own the use of a lifeless inactive instrument to be incompatible
with the infinite perfection of God; that is, by your own confession,
to give up the point.
HYL. It doth not readily occur what I can answer you.
PHIL. But, methinks you should be ready to own the truth,
when it has been fairly proved to you. We indeed, who are beings of
finite powers, are forced to make use of instruments. And the use of
an instrument sheweth the agent to be limited by rules of another's
prescription, and that he cannot obtain his end but in such a way, and
by such conditions. Whence it seems a clear consequence, that the
supreme unlimited agent useth no tool or instrument at all. The will
of an Omnipotent Spirit is no sooner exerted than executed, without
the application of means; which, if they are employed by inferior
agents, it is not upon account of any real efficacy that is in them,
or necessary aptitude to produce any effect, but merely in compliance
with the laws of nature, or those conditions prescribed to them by the
First Cause, who is Himself above all limitation or prescription
HYL. I will no longer maintain that Matter is an instrument.
However, I would not be understood to give up its existence neither;
since, notwithstanding what hath been said, it may still be an
PHIL. How many shapes is your Matter to take? Or, how often
must it be proved not to exist, before you are content to part with
it? But, to say no more of this (though by all the laws of disputation
I may justly blame you for so frequently changing the signification of
the principal term)—I would fain know what you mean by affirming that
matter is an occasion, having already denied it to be a cause. And,
when you have shewn in what sense you understand OCCASION, pray, in
the next place, be pleased to shew me what reason induceth you to
believe there is such an occasion of our ideas?
HYL. As to the first point: by OCCASION I mean an inactive
unthinking being, at the presence whereof God excites ideas in our
PHIL. And what may be the nature of that inactive unthinking
HYL. I know nothing of its nature.
PHIL. Proceed then to the second point, and assign some
reason why we should allow an existence to this inactive, unthinking,
HYL. When we see ideas produced in our minds, after an
orderly and constant manner, it is natural to think they have some
fixed and regular occasions, at the presence of which they are
PHIL. You acknowledge then God alone to be the cause of our
ideas, and that He causes them at the presence of those occasions.
HYL. That is my opinion.
PHIL. Those things which you say are present to God, without
doubt He perceives.
HYL. Certainly; otherwise they could not be to Him an
occasion of acting.
PHIL. Not to insist now on your making sense of this
hypothesis, or answering all the puzzling questions and difficulties
it is liable to: I only ask whether the order and regularity
observable in the series of our ideas, or the course of nature, be not
sufficiently accounted for by the wisdom and power of God; and whether
it doth not derogate from those attributes, to suppose He is
influenced, directed, or put in mind, when and what He is to act, by
an unthinking substance? And, lastly, whether, in case I granted all
you contend for, it would make anything to your purpose; it not being
easy to conceive how the external or absolute existence of an
unthinking substance, distinct from its being perceived, can be
inferred from my allowing that there are certain things perceived by
the mind of God, which are to Him the occasion of producing ideas in
HYL. I am perfectly at a loss what to think, this notion of
OCCASION seeming now altogether as groundless as the rest.
PHIL. Do you not at length perceive that in all these
different acceptations of MATTER, you have been only supposing you
know not what, for no manner of reason, and to no kind of use?
HYL. I freely own myself less fond of my notions since they
have been so accurately examined. But still, methinks, I have some
confused perception that there is such a thing as MATTER.
PHIL. Either you perceive the being of Matter immediately or
mediately. If immediately, pray inform me by which of the senses you
perceive it. If mediately, let me know by what reasoning it is
inferred from those things which you perceive immediately. So much for
the perception. Then for the Matter itself, I ask whether it is
object, SUBSTRATUM, cause, instrument, or occasion? You have already
pleaded for each of these, shifting your notions, and making Matter to
appear sometimes in one shape, then in another. And what you have
offered hath been disapproved and rejected by yourself. If you have
anything new to advance I would gladly bear it.
HYL. I think I have already offered all I had to say on
those heads. I am at a loss what more to urge.
PHIL. And yet you are loath to part with your old prejudice.
But, to make you quit it more easily, I desire that, beside what has
been hitherto suggested, you will farther consider whether, upon.
supposition that Matter exists, you can possibly conceive how you
should be affected by it. Or, supposing it did not exist, whether it
be not evident you might for all that be affected with the same ideas
you now are, and consequently have the very same reasons to believe
its existence that you now can have.
HYL. I acknowledge it is possible we might perceive all
things just as we do now, though there was no Matter in the world;
neither can I conceive, if there be Matter, how it should produce' any
idea in our minds. And, I do farther grant you have entirely satisfied
me that it is impossible there should be such a thing as matter in any
of the foregoing acceptations. But still I cannot help supposing that
there is MATTER in some sense or other. WHAT THAT IS I do not indeed
pretend to determine.
PHIL. I do not expect you should define exactly the nature
of that unknown being. Only be pleased to tell me whether it is a
Substance; and if so, whether you can suppose a Substance without
accidents; or, in case you suppose it to have accidents or qualities,
I desire you will let me know what those qualities are, at least what
is meant by Matter's supporting them?
HYL. We have already argued on those points. I have no more
to say to them. But, to prevent any farther questions, let me tell you
I at present understand by MATTER neither substance nor accident,
thinking nor extended being, neither cause, instrument, nor occasion,
but Something entirely unknown, distinct from all these.
PHIL. It seems then you include in your present notion of
Matter nothing but the general abstract idea of ENTITY.
HYL. Nothing else; save only that I super-add to this
general idea the negation of all those particular things, qualities,
or ideas, that I perceive, imagine, or in anywise apprehend.
PHIL. Pray where do you suppose this unknown Matter to
HYL. Oh Philonous! now you think you have entangled me; for,
if I say it exists in place, then you will infer that it exists in the
mind, since it is agreed that place or extension exists only in the
mind. But I am not ashamed to own my ignorance. I know not where it
exists; only I am sure it exists not in place. There is a negative
answer for you. And you must expect no other to all the questions you
put for the future about Matter.
PHIL. Since you will not tell me where it exists, be pleased
to inform me after what manner you suppose it to exist, or what you
mean by its EXISTENCE?
HYL. It neither thinks nor acts, neither perceives nor is
PHIL. But what is there positive in your abstracted notion
of its existence?
HYL. Upon a nice observation, I do not find I have any
positive notion or meaning at all. I tell you again, I am not ashamed
to own my ignorance. I know not what is meant by its EXISTENCE, or how
PHIL. Continue, good Hylas, to act the same ingenuous part,
and tell me sincerely whether you can frame a distinct idea of Entity
in general, prescinded from and exclusive of all thinking and
corporeal beings, all particular things whatsoever.
HYL. Hold, let me think a little—I profess, Philonous, I do
not find that I can. At first glance, methought I had some dilute and
airy notion of Pure Entity in abstract; but, upon closer attention, it
hath quite vanished out of sight. The more I think on it, the more am
I confirmed in my prudent resolution of giving none but negative
answers, and not pretending to the least degree of any positive
knowledge or conception of Matter, its WHERE, its HOW, its ENTITY, or
anything belonging to it.
PHIL. When, therefore, you speak of the existence of Matter,
you have not any notion in your mind?
HYL. None at all.
PHIL. Pray tell me if the case stands not thus—At first,
from a belief of material substance, you would have it that the
immediate objects existed without the mind; then that they are
archetypes; then causes; next instruments; then occasions: lastly
SOMETHING IN GENERAL, which being interpreted proves NOTHING. So
Matter comes to nothing. What think you, Hylas, is not this a fair
summary of your whole proceeding?
HYL. Be that as it will, yet I still insist upon it, that
our not being able to conceive a thing is no argument against its
PHIL. That from a cause, effect, operation, sign, or other
circumstance, there may reasonably be inferred the existence of a
thing not immediately perceived; and that it were absurd for any man
to argue against the existence of that thing, from his having no
direct and positive notion of it, I freely own. But, where there is
nothing of all this; where neither reason nor revelation induces us to
believe the existence of a thing; where we have not even a relative
notion of it; where an abstraction is made from perceiving and being
perceived, from Spirit and idea: lastly, where there is not so much as
the most inadequate or faint idea pretended to—I will not indeed
thence conclude against the reality of any notion, or existence of
anything; but my inference shall be, that you mean nothing at all;
that you employ words to no manner of purpose, without any design or
signification whatsoever. And I leave it to you to consider how mere
jargon should be treated.
HYL. To deal frankly with you, Philonous, your arguments
seem in themselves unanswerable; but they have not so great an effect
on me as to produce that entire conviction, that hearty acquiescence,
which attends demonstration. I find myself relapsing into an obscure
surmise of I know not what, MATTER.
PHIL. But, are you not sensible, Hylas, that two things must
concur to take away all scruple, and work a plenary assent in the
mind? Let a visible object be set in never so clear a light, yet, if
there is any imperfection in the sight, or if the eye is not directed
towards it, it will not be distinctly seen. And though a demonstration
be never so well grounded and fairly proposed, yet, if there is withal
a stain of prejudice, or a wrong bias on the understanding, can it be
expected on a sudden to perceive clearly, and adhere firmly to the
truth? No; there is need of time and pains: the attention must be
awakened and detained by a frequent repetition of the same thing
placed oft in the same, oft in different lights. I have said it
already, and find I must still repeat and inculcate, that it is an
unaccountable licence you take, in pretending to maintain you know not
what, for you know not what reason, to you know not what purpose. Can
this be paralleled in any art or science, any sect or profession of
men? Or is there anything so barefacedly groundless and unreasonable
to be met with even in the lowest of common conversation? But, perhaps
you will still say, Matter may exist; though at the same time you
neither know WHAT IS MEANT by MATTER, or by its EXISTENCE. This indeed
is surprising, and the more so because it is altogether voluntary and
of your own head, you not being led to it by any one reason; for I
challenge you to shew me that thing in nature which needs Matter to
explain or account for it.
HYL. THE REALITY of things cannot be maintained without
supposing the existence of Matter. And is not this, think you, a good
reason why I should be earnest in its defence?
PHIL. The reality of things! What things? sensible or
HYL. Sensible things.
PHIL. My glove for example?
HYL. That, or any other thing perceived by the senses.
PHIL. But to fix on some particular thing. Is it not a
sufficient evidence to me of the existence of this GLOVE, that I see
it, and feel it, and wear it? Or, if this will not do, how is it
possible I should be assured of the reality of this thing, which I
actually see in this place, by supposing that some unknown thing,
which I never did or can see, exists after an unknown manner, in an
unknown place, or in no place at all? How can the supposed reality of
that which is intangible be a proof that anything tangible really
exists? Or, of that which is invisible, that any visible thing, or, in
general of anything which is imperceptible, that a perceptible exists?
Do but explain this and I shall think nothing too hard for you.
HYL. Upon the whole, I am content to own the existence of
matter is highly improbable; but the direct and absolute impossibility
of it does not appear to me.
PHIL. But granting Matter to be possible, yet, upon that
account merely, it can have no more claim to existence than a golden
mountain, or a centaur.
HYL. I acknowledge it; but still you do not deny it is
possible; and that which is possible, for aught you know, may actually
PHIL. I deny it to be possible; and have, if I mistake not,
evidently proved, from your own concessions, that it is not. In the
common sense of the word MATTER, is there any more implied than an
extended, solid, figured, moveable substance, existing without the
mind? And have not you acknowledged, over and over, that you have seen
evident reason for denying the possibility of such a substance?
HYL. True, but that is only one sense of the term MATTER.
PHIL. But is it not the only proper genuine received sense?
And, if Matter, in such a sense, be proved impossible, may it not be
thought with good grounds absolutely impossible? Else how could
anything be proved impossible? Or, indeed, how could there be any
proof at all one way or other, to a man who takes the liberty to
unsettle and change the common signification of words?
HYL. I thought philosophers might be allowed to speak more
accurately than the vulgar, and were not always confined to the common
acceptation of a term.
PHIL. But this now mentioned is the common received sense
among philosophers themselves. But, not to insist on that, have you
not been allowed to take Matter in what sense you pleased? And have
you not used this privilege in the utmost extent; sometimes entirely
changing, at others leaving out, or putting into the definition of it
whatever, for the present, best served your design, contrary to all
the known rules of reason and logic? And hath not this shifting,
unfair method of yours spun out our dispute to an unnecessary length;
Matter having been particularly examined, and by your own confession
refuted in each of those senses? And can any more be required to prove
the absolute impossibility of a thing, than the proving it impossible
in every particular sense that either you or any one else understands
HYL. But I am not so thoroughly satisfied that you have
proved the impossibility of Matter, in the last most obscure
abstracted and indefinite sense.
PHIL. . When is a thing shewn to be impossible?
HYL. When a repugnancy is demonstrated between the ideas
comprehended in its definition.
PHIL. But where there are no ideas, there no repugnancy can
be demonstrated between ideas?
HYL. I agree with you.
PHIL. Now, in that which you call the obscure indefinite
sense of the word MATTER, it is plain, by your own confession, there
was included no idea at all, no sense except an unknown sense; which
is the same thing as none. You are not, therefore, to expect I should
prove a repugnancy between ideas, where there are no ideas; or the
impossibility of Matter taken in an UNKNOWN sense, that is, no sense
at all. My business was only to shew you meant NOTHING; and this you
were brought to own. So that, in all your various senses, you have
been shewed either to mean nothing at all, or, if anything, an
absurdity. And if this be not sufficient to prove the impossibility of
a thing, I desire you will let me know what is.
HYL. I acknowledge you have proved that Matter is
impossible; nor do I see what more can be said in defence of it. But,
at the same time that I give up this, I suspect all my other notions.
For surely none could be more seemingly evident than this once was:
and yet it now seems as false and absurd as ever it did true before.
But I think we have discussed the point sufficiently for the present.
The remaining part of the day I would willingly spend in running over
in my thoughts the several heads of this morning's conversation, and
tomorrow shall be glad to meet you here again about the same time.
PHIL. I will not fail to attend you.
THE THIRD DIALOGUE
PHILONOUS. Tell me, Hylas, what are the fruits of
yesterday's meditation? Has it confirmed you in the same mind you were
in at parting? or have you since seen cause to change your opinion?
HYLAS. Truly my opinion is that all our opinions are alike
vain and uncertain. What we approve to-day, we condemn to-morrow. We
keep a stir about knowledge, and spend our lives in the pursuit of it,
when, alas I we know nothing all the while: nor do I think it possible
for us ever to know anything in this life. Our faculties are too
narrow and too few. Nature certainly never intended us for
PHIL. What! Say you we can know nothing, Hylas?
HYL. There is not that single thing in the world whereof we
can know the real nature, or what it is in itself.
PHIL. Will you tell me I do not really know what fire or
HYL. You may indeed know that fire appears hot, and water
fluid; but this is no more than knowing what sensations are produced
in your own mind, upon the application of fire and water to your
organs of sense. Their internal constitution, their true and real
nature, you are utterly in the dark as to THAT.
PHIL. Do I not know this to be a real stone that I stand on,
and that which I see before my eyes to be a real tree?
HYL. KNOW? No, it is impossible you or any man alive should
know it. All you know is, that you have such a certain idea or
appearance in your own mind. But what is this to the real tree or
stone? I tell you that colour, figure, and hardness, which you
perceive, are not the real natures of those things, or in the least
like them. The same may be said of all other real things, or corporeal
substances, which compose the world. They have none of them anything
of themselves, like those sensible qualities by us perceived. We
should not therefore pretend to affirm or know anything of them, as
they are in their own nature.
PHIL. But surely, Hylas, I can distinguish gold, for
example, from iron: and how could this be, if I knew not what either
HYL. Believe me, Philonous, you can only distinguish between
your own ideas. That yellowness, that weight, and other sensible
qualities, think you they are really in the gold? They are only
relative to the senses, and have no absolute existence in nature. And
in pretending to distinguish the species of real things, by the
appearances in your mind, you may perhaps act as wisely as he that
should conclude two men were of a different species, because their
clothes were not of the same colour.
PHIL. It seems, then, we are altogether put off with the
appearances of things, and those false ones too. The very meat I eat,
and the cloth I wear, have nothing in them like what I see and feel.
HYL. Even so.
PHIL. But is it not strange the whole world should be thus
imposed on, and so foolish as to believe their senses? And yet I know
not how it is, but men eat, and drink, and sleep, and perform all the
offices of life, as comfortably and conveniently as if they really
knew the things they are conversant about.
HYL. They do so: but you know ordinary practice does not
require a nicety of speculative knowledge. Hence the vulgar retain
their mistakes, and for all that make a shift to bustle through the
affairs of life. But philosophers know better things.
PHIL. You mean, they KNOW that they KNOW NOTHING.
HYL. That is the very top and perfection of human knowledge.
PHIL. But are you all this while in earnest, Hylas; and are
you seriously persuaded that you know nothing real in the world?
Suppose you are going to write, would you not call for pen, ink, and
paper, like another man; and do you not know what it is you call for?
HYL. How often must I tell you, that I know not the real
nature of any one thing in the universe? I may indeed upon occasion
make use of pen, ink, and paper. But what any one of them is in its
own true nature, I declare positively I know not. And the same is true
with regard to every, other corporeal thing. And, what is more, we are
not only ignorant of the true and real nature of things, but even of
their existence. It cannot be denied that we perceive such certain
appearances or ideas; but it cannot be concluded from thence that
bodies really exist. Nay, now I think on it, I must, agreeably to my
former concessions, farther declare that it is impossible any REAL
corporeal thing should exist in nature.
PHIL. You amaze me. Was ever anything more wild and
extravagant than the notions you now maintain: and is it not evident
you are led into all these extravagances by the belief of MATERIAL
SUBSTANCE? This makes you dream of those unknown natures in
everything. It is this occasions your distinguishing between the
reality and sensible appearances of things. It is to this you are
indebted for being ignorant of what everybody else knows perfectly
well. Nor is this all: you are not only ignorant of the true nature of
everything, but you know not whether anything really exists, or
whether there are any true natures at all; forasmuch as you attribute
to your material beings an absolute or external existence, wherein you
suppose their reality consists. And, as you are forced in the end to
acknowledge such an existence means either a direct repugnancy, or
nothing at all, it follows that you are obliged to pull down your own
hypothesis of material Substance, and positively to deny the real
existence of any part of the universe. And so you are plunged into the
deepest and most deplorable scepticism that ever man was. Tell me,
Hylas, is it not as I say?
HYL. I agree with you. MATERIAL SUBSTANCE was no more than
an hypothesis; and a false and groundless one too. I will no longer
spend my breath in defence of it. But whatever hypothesis you advance,
or whatsoever scheme of things you introduce in its stead, I doubt not
it will appear every whit as false: let me but be allowed to question
you upon it. That is, suffer me to serve you in your own kind, and I
warrant it shall conduct you through as many perplexities and
contradictions, to the very same state of scepticism that I myself am
in at present.
PHIL. I assure you, Hylas, I do not pretend to frame any
hypothesis at all. I am of a vulgar cast, simple enough to believe my
senses, and leave things as I find them. To be plain, it is my opinion
that the real things are those very things I see, and feel, and
perceive by my senses. These I know; and, finding they answer all the
necessities and purposes of life, have no reason to be solicitous
about any other unknown beings. A piece of sensible bread, for
instance, would stay my stomach better than ten thousand times as much
of that insensible, unintelligible, real bread you speak of. It is
likewise my opinion that colours and other sensible qualities are on
the objects. I cannot for my life help thinking that snow is white,
and fire hot. You indeed, who by SNOW and fire mean certain external,
unperceived, unperceiving substances, are in the right to deny
whiteness or heat to be affections inherent in THEM. But I, who
understand by those words the things I see and feel, am obliged to
think like other folks. And, as I am no sceptic with regard to the
nature of things, so neither am I as to their existence. That a thing
should be really perceived by my senses, and at the same time not
really exist, is to me a plain contradiction; since I cannot prescind
or abstract, even in thought, the existence of a sensible thing from
its being perceived. Wood, stones, fire, water, flesh, iron, and the
like things, which I name and discourse of, are things that I know.
And I should not have known them but that I perceived them by my
senses; and things perceived by the senses are immediately perceived;
and things immediately perceived are ideas; and ideas cannot exist
without the mind; their existence therefore consists in being
perceived; when, therefore, they are actually perceived there can be
no doubt of their existence. Away then with all that scepticism, all
those ridiculous philosophical doubts. What a jest is it for a
philosopher to question the existence of sensible things, till he hath
it proved to him from the veracity of God; or to pretend our knowledge
in this point falls short of intuition or demonstration! I might as
well doubt of my own being, as of the being of those things I actually
see and feel.
HYL. Not so fast, Philonous: you say you cannot conceive how
sensible things should exist without the mind. Do you not?
PHIL. I do.
HYL. Supposing you were annihilated, cannot you conceive it
possible that things perceivable by sense may still exist?
PHIL. _I_ can; but then it must be in another mind. When I
deny sensible things an existence out of the mind, I do not mean my
mind in particular, but all minds. Now, it is plain they have an
existence exterior to my mind; since I find them by experience to be
independent of it. There is therefore some other Mind wherein they
exist, during the intervals between the times of my perceiving them:
as likewise they did before my birth, and would do after my supposed
annihilation. And, as the same is true with regard to all other finite
created spirits, it necessarily follows there is an OMNIPRESENT
ETERNAL MIND, which knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits
them to our view in such a manner, and according to such rules, as He
Himself hath ordained, and are by us termed the LAWS OF NATURE.
HYL. Answer me, Philonous. Are all our ideas perfectly inert
beings? Or have they any agency included in them?
PHIL. They are altogether passive and inert.
HYL. And is not God an agent, a being purely active?
PHIL. I acknowledge it.
HYL. No idea therefore can be like unto, or represent the
nature of God?
PHIL. It cannot.
HYL. Since therefore you have no IDEA of the mind of God,
how can you conceive it possible that things should exist in His mind?
Or, if you can conceive the mind of God, without having an idea of it,
why may not I be allowed to conceive the existence of Matter,
notwithstanding I have no idea of it?
PHIL. As to your first question: I own I have properly no
IDEA, either of God or any other spirit; for these being active,
cannot be represented by things perfectly inert, as our ideas are. I
do nevertheless know that I, who am a spirit or thinking substance,
exist as certainly as I know my ideas exist. Farther, I know what I
mean by the terms I AND MYSELF; and I know this immediately or
intuitively, though I do not perceive it as I perceive a triangle, a
colour, or a sound. The Mind, Spirit, or Soul is that indivisible
unextended thing which thinks, acts, and perceives. I say INDIVISIBLE,
because unextended; and UNEXTENDED, because extended, figured,
moveable things are ideas; and that which perceives ideas, which
thinks and wills, is plainly itself no idea, nor like an idea. Ideas
are things inactive, and perceived. And Spirits a sort of beings
altogether different from them. I do not therefore say my soul is an
idea, or like an idea. However, taking the word IDEA in a large sense,
my soul may be said to furnish me with an idea, that is, an image or
likeness of God—though indeed extremely inadequate. For, all the
notion I have of God is obtained by reflecting on my own soul,
heightening its powers, and removing its imperfections. I have,
therefore, though not an inactive idea, yet in MYSELF some sort of an
active thinking image of the Deity. And, though I perceive Him not by
sense, yet I have a notion of Him, or know Him by reflexion and
reasoning. My own mind and my own ideas I have an immediate knowledge
of; and, by the help of these, do mediately apprehend the possibility
of the existence of other spirits and ideas. Farther, from my own
being, and from the dependency I find in myself and my ideas, I do, by
an act of reason, necessarily infer the existence of a God, and of all
created things in the mind of God. So much for your first question.
For the second: I suppose by this time you can answer it yourself. For
you neither perceive Matter objectively, as you do an inactive being
or idea; nor know it, as you do yourself, by a reflex act, neither do
you mediately apprehend it by similitude of the one or the other; nor
yet collect it by reasoning from that which you know immediately. All
which makes the case of MATTER widely different from that of the
HYL. You say your own soul supplies you with some sort of an
idea or image of God. But, at the same time, you acknowledge you have,
properly speaking, no IDEA of your own soul. You even affirm that
spirits are a sort of beings altogether different from ideas.
Consequently that no idea can be like a spirit. We have therefore no
idea of any spirit. You admit nevertheless that there is spiritual
Substance, although you have no idea of it; while you deny there can
be such a thing as material Substance, because you have no notion or
idea of it. Is this fair dealing? To act consistently, you must either
admit Matter or reject Spirit. What say you to this?
PHIL. _I_ say, in the first place, that I do not deny the
existence of material substance, merely because I have no notion of
it' but because the notion of it is inconsistent; or, in other words,
because it is repugnant that there should be a notion of it. Many
things, for aught I know, may exist, whereof neither I nor any other
man hath or can have any idea or notion whatsoever. But then those
things must be possible, that is, nothing inconsistent must be
included in their definition. I say, secondly, that, although we
believe things to exist which we do not perceive, yet we may not
believe that any particular thing exists, without some reason for such
belief: but I have no reason for believing the existence of Matter. I
have no immediate intuition thereof: neither can I immediately from my
sensations, ideas, notions, actions, or passions, infer an unthinking,
unperceiving, inactive Substance—either by probable deduction, or
necessary consequence. Whereas the being of my Self, that is, my own
soul, mind, or thinking principle, I evidently know by reflexion. You
will forgive me if I repeat the same things in answer to the same
objections. In the very notion or definition of MATERIAL SUBSTANCE,
there is included a manifest repugnance and inconsistency. But this
cannot be said of the notion of Spirit. That ideas should exist in
what doth not perceive, or be produced by what doth not act, is
repugnant. But, it is no repugnancy to say that a perceiving thing
should be the subject of ideas, or an active thing the cause of them.
It is granted we have neither an immediate evidence nor a
demonstrative knowledge of the existence of other finite spirits; but
it will not thence follow that such spirits are on a foot with
material substances: if to suppose the one be inconsistent, and it be
not inconsistent to suppose the other; if the one can be inferred by
no argument, and there is a probability for the other; if we see signs
and effects indicating distinct finite agents like ourselves, and see
no sign or symptom whatever that leads to a rational belief of Matter.
I say, lastly, that I have a notion of Spirit, though I have not,
strictly speaking, an idea of it. I do not perceive it as an idea, or
by means of an idea, but know it by reflexion.
HYL. Notwithstanding all you have said, to me it seems that,
according to your own way of thinking, and in consequence of your own
principles, it should follow that YOU are only a system of floating
ideas, without any substance to support them. Words are not to be used
without a meaning. And, as there is no more meaning in SPIRITUAL
SUBSTANCE than in MATERIAL SUBSTANCE, the one is to be exploded as
well as the other.
PHIL. How often must I repeat, that I know or am conscious
of my own being; and that _I_ MYSELF am not my ideas, but somewhat
else, a thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wifls, and
operates about ideas. I know that I, one and the same self, perceive
both colours and sounds: that a colour cannot perceive a sound, nor a
sound a colour: that I am therefore one individual principle, distinct
from colour and sound; and, for the same reason, from aft other
sensible things and inert ideas. But, I am not in like manner
conscious either of the existence or essence of Matter. On the
contrary, I know that nothing inconsistent can exist, and that the
existence of Matter implies an inconsistency. Farther, I know what I
mean when I affirm that there is a spiritual substance or support of
ideas, that is, that a spirit knows and perceives ideas. But, I do not
know what is meant when it is said that an unperceiving substance hath
inherent in it and supports either ideas or the archetypes of ideas.
There is therefore upon the whole no parity of case between Spirit and
HYL. I own myself satisfied in this point. But, do you in
earnest think the real existence of sensible things consists in their
being actually perceived? If so; how comes it that all mankind
distinguish between them? Ask the first man you meet, and he shall
tell you, TO BE PERCEIVED is one thing, and TO EXIST is another.
PHIL. _I_ am content, Hylas, to appeal to the common sense
of the world for the truth of my notion. Ask the gardener why he
thinks yonder cherry-tree exists in the garden, and he shall tell you,
because he sees and feels it; in a word, because he perceives it by
his senses. Ask him why he thinks an orange-tree not to be there, and
he shall tell you, because he does not perceive it. What he perceives
by sense, that he terms a real, being, and saith it IS OR EXISTS; but,
that which is not perceivable, the same, he saith, hath no being.
HYL. Yes, Philonous, I grant the existence of a sensible
thing consists in being perceivable, but not in being actually
PHIL. And what is perceivable but an idea? And can an idea
exist without being actually perceived? These are points long since
agreed between us.
HYL. But, be your opinion never so true, yet surely you will
not deny it is shocking, and contrary to the common sense of men. Ask
the fellow whether yonder tree hath an existence out of his mind: what
answer think you he would make?
PHIL. The same that I should myself, to wit, that it doth
exist out of his mind. But then to a Christian it cannot surely be
shocking to say, the real tree, existing without his mind, is truly
known and comprehended by (that is EXISTS IN) the infinite mind of
God. Probably he may not at first glance be aware of the direct and
immediate proof there is of this; inasmuch as the very being of a
tree, or any other sensible thing, implies a mind wherein it is. But
the point itself he cannot deny. The question between the Materialists
and me is not, whether things have a REAL existence out of the mind of
this or that person, but whether they have an ABSOLUTE existence,
distinct from being perceived by God, and exterior to all minds. This
indeed some heathens and philosophers have affirmed, but whoever
entertains notions of the Deity suitable to the Holy Scriptures will
be of another opinion.
HYL. But, according to your notions, what difference is
there between real things, and chimeras formed by the imagination, or
the visions of a dream—since they are all equally in the mind?
PHIL. The ideas formed by the imagination are faint and
indistinct; they have, besides, an entire dependence on the will. But
the ideas perceived by sense, that is, real things, are more vivid and
clear; and, being imprinted on the mind by a spirit distinct from us,
have not the like dependence on our will. There is therefore no danger
of confounding these with the foregoing: and there is as little of
confounding them with the visions of a dream, which are dim,
irregular, and confused. And, though they should happen to be never so
lively and natural, yet, by their not being connected, and of a piece
with the preceding and subsequent transactions of our lives, they
might easily be distinguished from realities. In short, by whatever
method you distinguish THINGS FROM CHIMERAS on your scheme, the same,
it is evident, will hold also upon mine. For, it must be, I presume,
by some perceived difference; and I am not for depriving you of any
one thing that you perceive.
HYL. But still, Philonous, you hold, there is nothing in the
world but spirits and ideas. And this, you must needs acknowledge,
sounds very oddly.
PHIL. I own the word IDEA, not being commonly used for
THING, sounds something out of the way. My reason for using it was,
because a necessary relation to the mind is understood to be implied
by that term; and it is now commonly used by philosophers to denote
the immediate objects of the understanding. But, however oddly the
proposition may sound in words, yet it includes nothing so very
strange or shocking in its sense; which in effect amounts to no more
than this, to wit, that there are only things perceiving, and things
perceived; or that every unthinking being is necessarily, and from the
very nature of its existence, perceived by some mind; if not by a
finite created mind, yet certainly by the infinite mind of God, in
whom "we five, and move, and have our being." Is this as strange as to
say, the sensible qualities are not on the objects: or that we cannot
be sure of the existence of things, or know any thing of their real
natures—though we both see and feel them, and perceive them by all
HYL. And, in consequence of this, must we not think there
are no such things as physical or corporeal causes; but that a Spirit
is the immediate cause of all the phenomena in nature? Can there be
anything more extravagant than this?
PHIL. Yes, it is infinitely more extravagant to say—a thing
which is inert operates on the mind, and which is unperceiving is the
cause of our perceptions, without any regard either to consistency, or
the old known axiom, NOTHING CAN GIVE TO ANOTHER THAT WHICH IT HATH
NOT ITSELF. Besides, that which to you, I know not for what reason,
seems so extravagant is no more than the Holy Scriptures assert in a
hundred places. In them God is represented as the sole and immediate
Author of all those effects which some heathens and philosophers are
wont to ascribe to Nature, Matter, Fate, or the like unthinking
principle. This is so much the constant language of Scripture that it
were needless to confirm it by citations.
HYL. You are not aware, Philonous, that in making God the
immediate Author of all the motions in nature, you make Him the Author
of murder, sacrilege, adultery, and the like heinous sins.
PHIL. In answer to that, I observe, first, that the
imputation of guilt is the same, whether a person commits an action
with or without an instrument. In case therefore you suppose God to
act by the mediation of an instrument or occasion, called MATTER, you
as truly make Him the author of sin as I, who think Him the immediate
agent in all those operations vulgarly ascribed to Nature. I farther
observe that sin or moral turpitude doth not consist in the outward
physical action or motion, but in the internal deviation of the will
from the laws of reason and religion. This is plain, in that the
killing an enemy in a battle, or putting a criminal legally to death,
is not thought sinful; though the outward act be the very same with
that in the case of murder. Since, therefore, sin doth not consist in
the physical action, the making God an immediate cause of all such
actions is not making Him the Author of sin. Lastly, I have nowhere
said that God is the only agent who produces all the motions in
bodies. It is true I have denied there are any other agents besides
spirits; but this is very consistent with allowing to thinking
rational beings, in the production of motions, the use of limited
powers, ultimately indeed derived from God, but immediately under the
direction of their own wills, which is sufficient to entitle them to
all the guilt of their actions.
HYL. But the denying Matter, Philonous, or corporeal
Substance; there is the point. You can never persuade me that this is
not repugnant to the universal sense of mankind. Were our dispute to
be determined by most voices, I am confident you would give up the
point, without gathering the votes.
PHIL. I wish both our opinions were fairly stated and
submitted to the judgment of men who had plain common sense, without
the prejudices of a learned education. Let me be represented as one
who trusts his senses, who thinks he knows the things he sees and
feels, and entertains no doubts of their existence; and you fairly set
forth with all your doubts, your paradoxes, and your scepticism about
you, and I shall willingly acquiesce in the determination of any
indifferent person. That there is no substance wherein ideas can exist
beside spirit is to me evident. And that the objects immediately
perceived are ideas, is on all hands agreed. And that sensible
qualities are objects immediately perceived no one can deny. It is
therefore evident there can be no SUBSTRATUM of those qualities but
spirit; in which they exist, not by way of mode or property, but as a
thing perceived in that which perceives it. I deny therefore that
there is ANY UNTHINKING-SUBSTRATUM of the objects of sense, and IN
THAT ACCEPTATION that there is any material substance. But if by
MATERIAL SUBSTANCE is meant only SENSIBLE BODY, THAT which is seen and
felt (and the unphilosophical part of the world, I dare say, mean no
more)—then I am more certain of matter's existence than you or any
other philosopher pretend to be. If there be anything which makes the
generality of mankind averse from the notions I espouse, it is a
misapprehension that I deny the reality of sensible things. But, as it
is you who are guilty of that, and not I, it follows that in truth
their aversion is against your notions and not mine. I do therefore
assert that I am as certain as of my own being, that there are bodies
or corporeal substances (meaning the things I perceive by my senses);
and that, granting this, the bulk of mankind will take no thought
about, nor think themselves at all concerned in the fate of those
unknown natures, and philosophical quiddities, which some men are so
HYL. What say you to this? Since, according to you, men
judge of the reality of things by their senses, how can a man be
mistaken in thinking the moon a plain lucid surface, about a foot in
diameter; or a square tower, seen at a distance, round; or an oar,
with one end in the water, crooked?
PHIL. He is not mistaken with regard to the ideas he
actually perceives, but in the inference he makes from his present
perceptions. Thus, in the case of the oar, what he immediately
perceives by sight is certainly crooked; and so far he is in the
right. But if he thence conclude that upon taking the oar out of the
water he shall perceive the same crookedness; or that it would affect
his touch as crooked things are wont to do: in that he is mistaken. In
like manner, if he shall conclude from what he perceives in one
station, that, in case he advances towards the moon or tower, he
should still be affected with the like ideas, he is mistaken. But his
mistake lies not in what he perceives immediately, and at present, (it
being a manifest contradiction to suppose he should err in respect of
that) but in the wrong judgment he makes concerning the ideas he
apprehends to be connected with those immediately perceived: or,
concerning the ideas that, from what he perceives at present, he
imagines would be perceived in other circumstances. The case is the
same with regard to the Copernican system. We do not here perceive any
motion of the earth: but it were erroneous thence to conclude, that,
in case we were placed at as great a distance from that as we are now
from the other planets, we should not then perceive its motion.
HYL. I understand you; and must needs own you say things
plausible enough. But, give me leave to put you in mind of one thing.
Pray, Philonous, were you not formerly as positive that Matter
existed, as you are now that it does not?
PHIL. I was. But here lies the difference. Before, my
positiveness was founded, without examination, upon prejudice; but
now, after inquiry, upon evidence.
HYL. After all, it seems our dispute is rather about words
than things. We agree in the thing, but differ in the name. That we
are affected with ideas FROM WITHOUT is evident; and it is no less
evident that there must be (I will not say archetypes, but) Powers
without the mind, corresponding to those ideas. And, as these Powers
cannot subsist by themselves, there is some subject of them
necessarily to be admitted; which I call MATTER, and you call SPIRIT.
This is all the difference.
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, is that powerful Being, or subject of
HYL. It hath not extension; but it hath the power to raise
in you the idea of extension.
PHIL. It is therefore itself unextended?
HYL. I grant it.
PHIL. Is it not also active?
HYL. Without doubt. Otherwise, how could we attribute powers
PHIL. Now let me ask you two questions: FIRST, Whether it be
agreeable to the usage either of philosophers or others to give the
name MATTER to an unextended active being? And, SECONDLY, Whether it
be not ridiculously absurd to misapply names contrary to the common
use of language?
HYL. Well then, let it not be called Matter, since you will
have it so, but some THIRD NATURE distinct from Matter and Spirit. For
what reason is there why you should call it Spirit? Does not the
notion of spirit imply that it is thinking, as well as active and
PHIL. My reason is this: because I have a mind to have some
notion of meaning in what I say: but I have no notion of any action
distinct from volition, neither. can I conceive volition to be
anywhere but in a spirit: therefore, when I speak of an active being,
I am obliged to mean a Spirit. Beside, what can be plainer than that a
thing which hath no ideas in itself cannot impart them to me; and, if
it hath ideas, surely it must be a Spirit. To make you comprehend the
point still more clearly if it be possible, I assert as well as you
that, since we are affected from without, we must allow Powers to be
without, in a Being distinct from ourselves. So far we are agreed. But
then we differ as to the kind of this powerful Being. I will have it
to be Spirit, you Matter, or I know not what (I may add too, you know
not what) Third Nature. Thus, I prove it to be Spirit. From the
effects I see produced, I conclude there are actions; and, because
actions, volitions; and, because there are volitions, there must be a
WILL. Again, the things I perceive must have an existence, they or
their archetypes, out of MY mind: but, being ideas, neither they nor
their archetypes can exist otherwise than in an understanding; there
is therefore an UNDERSTANDING. But will and understanding constitute
in the strictest sense a mind or spirit. The powerful cause,
therefore, of my ideas is in strict propriety of speech a SPIRIT.
HYL. And now I warrant you think you have made the point
very clear, little suspecting that what you advance leads directly to
a contradiction. Is it not an absurdity to imagine any imperfection in
PHIL. Without a doubt.
HYL. To suffer pain is an imperfection?
PHIL. It is.
HYL. Are we not sometimes affected with pain and uneasiness
by some other Being?
PHIL. We are.
HYL. And have you not said that Being is a Spirit, and is
not that Spirit God?
PHIL. I grant it.
HYL. But you have asserted that whatever ideas we perceive
from without are in the mind which affects us. The ideas, therefore,
of pain and uneasiness are in God; or, in other words, God suffers
pain: that is to say, there is an imperfection in the Divine nature:
which, you acknowledged, was absurd. So you are caught in a plain
PHIL. That God knows or understands all things, and that He
knows, among other things, what pain is, even every sort of painful
sensation, and what it is for His creatures to suffer pain, I make no
question. But, that God, though He knows and sometimes causes painful
sensations in us, can Himself suffer pain, I positively deny. We, who
are limited and dependent spirits, are liable to impressions of sense,
the effects of an external Agent, which, being produced against our
wills, are sometimes painful and uneasy. But God, whom no external
being can affect, who perceives nothing by sense as we do; whose will
is absolute and independent, causing all things, and liable to be
thwarted or resisted by nothing: it is evident, such a Being as this
can suffer nothing, nor be affected with any painful sensation, or
indeed any sensation at all. We are chained to a body: that is to say,
our perceptions are connected with corporeal motions. By the law of
our nature, we are affected upon every alteration in the nervous parts
of our sensible body; which sensible body, rightly considered, is
nothing but a complexion of such qualities or ideas as have no
existence distinct from being perceived by a mind. So that this
connexion of sensations with corporeal motions means no more than a
correspondence in the order of nature, between two sets of ideas, or
things immediately perceivable. But God is a Pure Spirit, disengaged
from all such sympathy, or natural ties. No corporeal motions are
attended with the sensations of pain or pleasure in His mind. To know
everything knowable, is certainly a perfection; but to endure, or
suffer, or feel anything by sense, is an imperfection. The former, I
say, agrees to God, but not the latter. God knows, or hath ideas; but
His ideas are not conveyed to Him by sense, as ours are. Your not
distinguishing, where there is so manifest a difference, makes you
fancy you see an absurdity where there is none.
HYL. But, all this while you have not considered that the
quantity of Matter has been demonstrated to be proportioned to the
gravity of bodies. And what can withstand demonstration?
PHIL. Let me see how you demonstrate that point.
HYL. I lay it down for a principle, that the moments or
quantities of motion in bodies are in a direct compounded reason of
the velocities and quantities of Matter contained in them. Hence,
where the velocities are equal, it follows the moments are directly as
the quantity of Matter in each. But it is found by experience that all
bodies (bating the small inequalities, arising from the resistance of
the air) descend with an equal velocity; the motion therefore of
descending bodies, and consequently their gravity, which is the cause
or principle of that motion, is proportional to the quantity of
Matter; which was to be demonstrated.
PHIL. You lay it down as a self-evident principle that the
quantity of motion in any body is proportional to the velocity and
MATTER taken together; and this is made use of to prove a proposition
from whence the existence of CARTER is inferred. Pray is not this
arguing in a circle?
HYL. In the premise I only mean that the motion is
proportional to the velocity, jointly with the extension and solidity.
PHIL. But, allowing this to be true, yet it will not thence
follow that gravity is proportional to MATTER, in your philosophic
sense of the word; except you take it for granted that unknown
SUBSTRATUM, or whatever else you call it, is proportional to those
sensible qualities; which to suppose is plainly begging the question.
That there is magnitude and solidity, or resistance, perceived by
sense, I readily grant; as likewise, that gravity may be proportional
to those qualities I will not dispute. But that either these qualities
as perceived by us, or the powers producing them, do exist in a
MATERIAL SUBSTRATUM; this is what I deny, and you indeed affirm, but,
notwithstanding your demonstration, have not yet proved.
HYL. I shall insist no longer on that point. Do you think,
however, you shall persuade me that the natural philosophers have been
dreaming all this while? Pray what becomes of all their hypotheses and
explications of the phenomena, which suppose the existence of Matter?
PHIL. What mean you, Hylas, by the PHENOMENA?
HYL. I mean the appearances which I perceive by my senses.
PHIL. And the appearances perceived by sense, are they not
HYL. I have told you so a hundred times.
PHIL. Therefore, to explain the phenomena, is, to shew how
we come to be affected with ideas, in that manner and order wherein
they are imprinted on our senses. Is it not?
HYL. It is.
PHIL. Now, if you can prove that any philosopher has
explained the production of any one idea in our minds by the help of
MATTER, I shall for ever acquiesce, and look on all that hath been
said against it as nothing; but, if you cannot, it is vain to urge the
explication of phenomena. That a Being endowed with knowledge and will
should produce or exhibit ideas is easily understood. But that a Being
which is utterly destitute of these faculties should be able to
produce ideas, or in any sort to affect an intelligence, this I can
never understand. This I say, though we had some positive conception
of Matter, though we knew its qualities, and could comprehend its
existence, would yet be so far from explaining things, that it is
itself the most inexplicable thing in the world. And yet, for all
this, it will not follow that philosophers have been doing nothing;
for, by observing and reasoning upon the connexion of ideas, they
discover the laws and methods of nature, which is a part of knowledge
both useful and entertaining.
HYL. After all, can it be supposed God would deceive all
mankind? Do you imagine He would have induced the whole world to
believe the being of Matter, if there was no such thing?
PHIL. That every epidemical opinion, arising from prejudice,
or passion, or thoughtlessness, may be imputed to God, as the Author
of it, I believe you will not affirm. Whatsoever opinion we father on
Him, it must be either because He has discovered it to us by
supernatural revelation; or because it is so evident to our natural
faculties, which were framed and given us by God, that it is
impossible we should withhold our assent from it. But where is the
revelation? or where is the evidence that extorts the belief of
Matter? Nay, how does it appear, that Matter, TAKEN FOR SOMETHING
DISTINCT FROM WHAT WE PERCEIVE BY OUR SENSES, is thought to exist by
all mankind; or indeed, by any except a few philosophers, who do not
know what they would be at? Your question supposes these points are
clear; and, when you have cleared them, I shall think myself obliged
to give you another answer. In the meantime, let it suffice that I
tell you, I do not suppose God has deceived mankind at all.
HYL. But the novelty, Philonous, the novelty! There lies the
danger. New notions should always be discountenanced; they unsettle
men's minds, and nobody knows where they will end.
PHIL. Why the rejecting a notion that has no foundation,
either in sense, or in reason, or in Divine authority, should be
thought to unsettle the belief of such opinions as are grounded on all
or any of these, I cannot imagine. That innovations in government and
religion are dangerous, and ought to be discountenanced, I freely own.
But is there the like reason why they should be discouraged in
philosophy? The making anything known which was unknown before is an
innovation in knowledge: and, if all such innovations had been
forbidden, men would have made a notable progress in the arts and
sciences. But it is none of my business to plead for novelties and
paradoxes. That the qualities we perceive are not on the objects: that
we must not believe our senses: that we know nothing of the real
nature of things, and can never be assured even of their existence:
that real colours and sounds are nothing but certain unknown figures
and motions: that motions are in themselves neither swift nor slow:
that there are in bodies absolute extensions, without any particular
magnitude or figure: that a thing stupid, thoughtless, and inactive,
operates on a spirit: that the least particle of a body contains
innumerable extended parts:—these are the novelties, these are the
strange notions which shock the genuine uncorrupted judgment of all
mankind; and being once admitted, embarrass the mind with endless
doubts and difficulties. And it is against these and the like
innovations I endeavour to vindicate Common Sense. It is true, in
doing this, I may perhaps be obliged to use some AMBAGES, and ways of
speech not common. But, if my notions are once thoroughly understood,
that which is most singular in them will, in effect, be found to
amount to no more than this.—that it is absolutely impossible, and a
plain contradiction, to suppose any unthinking Being should exist
without being perceived by a Mind. And, if this notion be singular, it
is a shame it should be so, at this time of day, and in a Christian
HYL. As for the difficulties other opinions may be liable
to, those are out of the question. It is your business to defend your
own opinion. Can anything be plainer than that you are for changing
all things into ideas? You, I say, who are not ashamed to charge me
WITH SCEPTICISM. This is so plain, there is no denying it.
PHIL. You mistake me. I am not for changing things into
ideas, but rather ideas into things; since those immediate objects of
perception, which, according to you, are only appearances of things, I
take to be the real things themselves.
HYL. Things! You may pretend what you please; but it is
certain you leave us nothing but the empty forms of things, the
outside only which strikes the senses.
PHIL. What you call the empty forms and outside of things
seem to me the very things themselves. Nor are they empty or
incomplete, otherwise than upon your supposition—that Matter is an
essential part of all corporeal things. We both, therefore, agree in
this, that we perceive only sensible forms: but herein we differ—you
will have them to be empty appearances, I, real beings. In short, you
do not trust your senses, I do.
HYL. You say you believe your senses; and seem to applaud
yourself that in this you agree with the vulgar. According to you,
therefore, the true nature of a thing is discovered by the senses. If
so, whence comes that disagreement? Why is not the same figure, and
other sensible qualities, perceived all manner of ways? and why should
we use a microscope the better to discover the true nature of a body,
if it were discoverable to the naked eye?
PHIL. Strictly speaking, Hylas, we do not see the same
object that we feel; neither is the same object perceived by the
microscope which was by the naked eye. But, in case every variation
was thought sufficient to constitute a new kind of individual, the
endless number of confusion of names would render language
impracticable. Therefore, to avoid this, as well as other
inconveniences which are obvious upon a little thought, men combine
together several ideas, apprehended by divers senses, or by the same
sense at different times, or in different circumstances, but observed,
however, to have some connexion in nature, either with respect to
co-existence or succession; all which they refer to one name, and
consider as one thing. Hence it follows that when I examine, by my
other senses, a thing I have seen, it is not in order to understand
better the same object which I had perceived by sight, the object of
one sense not being perceived by the other senses. And, when I look
through a microscope, it is not that I may perceive more clearly what
I perceived already with my bare eyes; the object perceived by the
glass being quite different from the former. But, in both cases, my
aim is only to know what ideas are connected together; and the more a
man knows of the connexion of ideas, the more he is said to know of
the nature of things. What, therefore, if our ideas are variable; what
if our senses are not in all circumstances affected with the same
appearances. It will not thence follow they are not to be trusted; or
that they are inconsistent either with themselves or anything else:
except it be with your preconceived notion of (I know not what) one
single, unchanged, unperceivable, real Nature, marked by each name.
Which prejudice seems to have taken its rise from not rightly
understanding the common language of men, speaking of several distinct
ideas as united into one thing by the mind. And, indeed, there is
cause to suspect several erroneous conceits of the philosophers are
owing to the same original: while they began to build their schemes
not so much on notions as on words, which were framed by the vulgar,
merely for conveniency and dispatch in the common actions of life,
without any regard to speculation.
HYL. Methinks I apprehend your meaning.
PHIL. It is your opinion the ideas we perceive by our senses
are not real things, but images or copies of them. Our knowledge,
therefore, is no farther real than as our ideas are the true
REPRESENTATIONS OF THOSE ORIGINALS. But, as these supposed originals
are in themselves unknown, it is impossible to know how far our ideas
resemble them; or whether they resemble them at all. We cannot,
therefore, be sure we have any real knowledge. Farther, as our ideas
are perpetually varied, without any change in the supposed real
things, it necessarily follows they cannot all be true copies of them:
or, if some are and others are not, it is impossible to distinguish
the former from the latter. And this plunges us yet deeper in
uncertainty. Again, when we consider the point, we cannot conceive how
any idea, or anything like an idea, should have an absolute existence
out of a mind: nor consequently, according to you, how there should be
any real thing in nature. The result of all which is that we are
thrown into the most hopeless and abandoned scepticism. Now, give me
leave to ask you, First, Whether your referring ideas to certain
absolutely existing unperceived substances, as their originals, be not
the source of all this scepticism? Secondly, whether you are informed,
either by sense or reason, of the existence of those unknown
originals? And, in case you are not, whether it be not absurd to
suppose them? Thirdly, Whether, upon inquiry, you find there is
anything distinctly conceived or meant by the ABSOLUTE OR EXTERNAL
EXISTENCE OF UNPERCEIVING SUBSTANCES? Lastly, Whether, the premises
considered, it be not the wisest way to follow nature, trust your
senses, and, laying aside all anxious thought about unknown natures or
substances, admit with the vulgar those for real things which are
perceived by the senses?
HYL. For the present, I have no inclination to the answering
part. I would much rather see how you can get over what follows. Pray
are not the objects perceived by the SENSES of one, likewise
perceivable to others present? If there were a hundred more here, they
would all see the garden, the trees, and flowers, as I see them. But
they are not in the same manner affected with the ideas I frame in my
IMAGINATION. Does not this make a difference between the former sort
of objects and the latter?
PHIL. I grant it does. Nor have I ever denied a difference
between the objects of sense and those of imagination. But what would
you infer from thence? You cannot say that sensible objects exist
unperceived, because they are perceived by many.
HYL. I own I can make nothing of that objection: but it hath
led me into another. Is it not your opinion that by our senses we
perceive only the ideas existing in our minds?
PHIL. It is.
HYL. But the SAME idea which is in my mind cannot be in
yours, or in any other mind. Doth it not therefore follow, from your
principles, that no two can see the same thing? And is not this
PHIL. If the term SAME be taken in the vulgar acceptation,
it is certain (and not at all repugnant to the principles I maintain)
that different persons may perceive the same thing; or the same thing
or idea exist in different minds. Words are of arbitrary imposition;
and, since men are used to apply the word SAME where no distinction or
variety is perceived, and I do not pretend to alter their perceptions,
it follows that, as men have said before, SEVERAL SAW THE SAME THING,
so they may, upon like occasions, still continue to use the same
phrase, without any deviation either from propriety of language, or
the truth of things. But, if the term SAME be used in the acceptation
of philosophers, who pretend to an abstracted notion of identity,
then, according to their sundry definitions of this notion (for it is
not yet agreed wherein that philosophic identity consists), it may or
may not be possible for divers persons to perceive the same thing. But
whether philosophers shall think fit to CALL a thing the SAME or no,
is, I conceive, of small importance. Let us suppose several men
together, all endued with the same faculties, and consequently
affected in like sort by their senses, and who had yet never known the
use of language; they would, without question, agree in their
perceptions. Though perhaps, when they came to the use of speech, some
regarding the uniformness of what was perceived, might call it the
SAME thing: others, especially regarding the diversity of persons who
perceived, might choose the denomination of DIFFERENT things. But who
sees not that all the dispute is about a word? to wit, whether. what
is perceived by different persons may yet have the term SAME applied
to it? Or, suppose a house, whose walls or outward shell remaining
unaltered, the chambers are all pulled down, and new ones built in
their place; and that you should call this the SAME, and I should say
it was not the SAME house.—would we not, for all this, perfectly
agree in our thoughts of the house, considered in itself? And would
not all the difference consist in a sound? If you should say, We
differed in our notions; for that you super-added to your idea of the
house the simple abstracted idea of identity, whereas I did not; I
would tell you, I know not what you mean by THE ABSTRACTED IDEA OF
IDENTITY; and should desire you to look into your own thoughts, and be
sure you understood yourself.—Why so silent, Hylas? Are you not yet
satisfied men may dispute about identity and diversity, without any
real difference in their thoughts and opinions, abstracted from names?
Take this farther reflexion with you: that whether Matter be allowed
to exist or no, the case is exactly the same as to the point in hand.
For the Materialists themselves acknowledge what we immediately
perceive by our senses to be our own ideas. Your difficulty,
therefore, that no two see the same thing, makes equally against the
Materialists and me.
HYL. Ay, Philonous, but they suppose an external archetype,
to which referring their several ideas they may truly be said to
perceive the same thing.
PHIL. And (not to mention your having discarded those
archetypes) so may you suppose an external archetype on my
principles;—EXTERNAL, _I_ MEAN, TO YOUR OWN MIND: though indeed it
must be' supposed to exist in that Mind which comprehends all things;
but then, this serves all the ends of IDENTITY, as well as if it
existed out of a mind. And I am sure you yourself will not say it is
HYL. You have indeed clearly satisfied me—either that there
is no difficulty at bottom in this point; or, if there be, that it
makes equally against both opinions.
PHIL. But that which makes equally against two contradictory
opinions can be a proof against neither.
HYL. I acknowledge it. But, after all, Philonous, when I
consider the substance of what you advance against SCEPTICISM, it
amounts to no more than this: We are sure that we really see, hear,
feel; in a word, that we are affected with sensible impressions.
PHIL. And how are WE concerned any farther? I see this
cherry, I feel it, I taste it: and I am sure NOTHING cannot be seen,
or felt, or. tasted: it is therefore red. Take away the sensations of
softness, moisture, redness, tartness, and you take away the cherry,
since it is not a being distinct from sensations. A cherry, I say, is
nothing but a congeries of sensible impressions, or ideas perceived by
various senses: which ideas are united into one thing (or have one
name given them) by the mind, because they are observed to attend each
other. Thus, when the palate is affected with such a particular taste,
the sight is affected with a red colour, the touch with roundness,
softness, Hence, when I see, and feel, and taste, in such sundry
certain manners, I am sure the cherry exists, or is real; its reality
being in my opinion nothing abstracted from those sensations. But if
by the word CHERRY you, mean an unknown nature, distinct from all
those sensible qualities, and by its EXISTENCE something distinct from
its being perceived; then, indeed, I own, neither you nor I, nor any
one else, can be sure it exists.
HYL. But, what would you say, Philonous, if I should bring
the very same reasons against the existence of sensible things IN A
MIND, which you have offered against their existing IN A MATERIAL
PHIL. When I see your reasons, you shall hear what I have to
say to them.
HYL. Is the mind extended or unextended?
PHIL. Unextended, without doubt.
HYL. Do you say the things you perceive are in your mind?
PHIL. They are.
HYL. Again, have I not heard you speak of sensible
PHIL. I believe you may.
HYL. Explain to me now, O Philonous! how it is possible
there should be room for all those trees and houses to exist in your
mind. Can extended things be contained in that which is unextended?
Or, are we to imagine impressions made on a thing void of all
solidity? You cannot say objects are in your mind, as books in your
study: or that things are imprinted on it, as the figure of a seal
upon wax. In what sense, therefore, are we to understand those
expressions? Explain me this if you can: and I shall then be able to
answer all those queries you formerly put to me about my SUBSTRATUM.
PHIL. Look you, Hylas, when I speak of objects as existing
in the mind, or imprinted on the senses, I would not be understood in
the gross literal sense; as when bodies are said to exist in a place,
or a seal to make an impression upon wax. My meaning is only that the
mind comprehends or perceives them; and that it is affected from
without, or by some being distinct from itself. This is my explication
of your difficulty; and how it can serve to make your tenet of an
unperceiving material SUBSTRATUM intelligible, I would fain know.
HYL. Nay, if that be all, I confess I do not see what use
can be made of it. But are you not guilty of some abuse of language in
PHIL. None at all. It is no more than common custom, which
you know is the rule of language, hath authorised: nothing being more
usual, than for philosophers to speak of the immediate objects of the
understanding as things existing in the mind. 'Nor is there anything
in this but what is conformable to the general analogy of language;
most part of the mental operations being signified by words borrowed
from sensible things; as is plain in the terms COMPREHEND, reflect,
DISCOURSE, which, being applied to the mind, must not be taken in
their gross, original sense.
HYL. You have, I own, satisfied me in this point. But there
still remains one great difficulty, which I know not how you will get
over. And, indeed, it is of such importance that if you could solve
all others, without being able to find a solution for this, you must
never expect to make me a proselyte to your principles.
PHIL. Let me know this mighty difficulty.
HYL. The Scripture account of the creation is what appears
to me utterly irreconcilable with your notions. Moses tells us of a
creation: a creation of what? of ideas? No, certainly, but of things,
of real things, solid corporeal substances. Bring your principles to
agree with this, and I shall perhaps agree with you.
PHIL. Moses mentions the sun, moon, and stars, earth and
sea, plants and animals. That all these do really exist, and were in
the beginning created by God, I make no question. If by IDEAS you mean
fictions and fancies of the mind, then these are no ideas. If by IDEAS
you mean immediate objects of the understanding, or sensible things,
which cannot exist unperceived, or out of a mind, then these things
are ideas. But whether you do or do not call them IDEAS, IT matters
little. The difference is only about a name. And, whether that name be
retained or rejected, the sense, the truth, and reality of things
continues the same. In common talk, the objects of our senses are not
termed IDEAS, but THINGS. Call them so still: provided you do not
attribute to them any absolute external existence, and I shall never
quarrel with you for a word. The creation, therefore, I allow to have
been a creation of things, of RED things. Neither is this in the least
inconsistent with my principles, as is evident from what I have now
said; and would have been evident to you without this, if you had not
forgotten what had been so often said before. But as for solid
corporeal substances, I desire you to show where Moses makes any
mention of them; and, if they should be mentioned by him, or any other
inspired writer, it would still be incumbent on you to shew those
words were not taken in the vulgar acceptation, for things falling
under our senses, but in the philosophic acceptation, for Matter, or
AN UNKNOWN QUIDDITY, WITH AN ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. When you have proved
these points, then (and not till then) may you bring the authority of
Moses into our dispute.
HYL. It is in vain to dispute about a point so clear. I am
content to refer it to your own conscience. Are you not satisfied
there is some peculiar repugnancy between the Mosaic account of the
creation and your notions?
PHIL. If all possible sense which can be put on the first
chapter of Genesis may be conceived as consistently with my principles
as any other, then it has no peculiar repugnancy with them. But there
is no sense you may not as well conceive, believing as I do. Since,
besides spirits, all you conceive are ideas; and the existence of
these I do not deny. Neither do you pretend they exist without the
HYL. Pray let me see any sense you can understand it in.
PHIL. Why, I imagine that if I had been present at the
creation, I should have seen things produced into being—that is
become perceptible—in the order prescribed by the sacred historian. I
ever before believed the Mosaic account of the creation, and now find
no alteration in my manner of believing it. When things are said to
begin or end their existence, we do not mean this with regard to God,
but His creatures. All objects are eternally known by God, or, which
is the same thing, have an eternal existence in His mind: but when
things, before imperceptible to creatures, are, by a decree of God,
perceptible to them, then are they said to begin a relative existence,
with respect to created minds. Upon reading therefore the Mosaic
account of the creation, I understand that the several parts of the
world became gradually perceivable to finite spirits, endowed with
proper faculties; so that, whoever such were present, they were in
truth perceived by them. This is the literal obvious sense suggested
to me by the words of the Holy Scripture: in which is included no
mention, or no thought, either of SUBSTRATUM, INSTRUMENT, OCCASION, or
ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. And, upon inquiry, I doubt not it will be found
that most plain honest men, who believe the creation, never think of
those things any more than I. What metaphysical sense you may
understand it in, you only can tell.
HYL. But, Philonous, you do not seem to be aware that you
allow created things, in the beginning, only a relative, and
consequently hypothetical being: that is to say, upon supposition
there were MEN to perceive them; without which they have no actuality
of absolute existence, wherein creation might terminate. Is it not,
therefore, according to you, plainly impossible the creation of any
inanimate creatures should precede that of man? And is not this
directly contrary to the Mosaic account?
PHIL. In answer to that, I say, first, created beings might
begin to exist in the mind of other created intelligences, beside men.
You will not therefore be able to prove any contradiction between
Moses and my notions, unless you first shew there was no other order
of finite created spirits in being, before man. I say farther, in case
we conceive the creation, as we should at this time, a parcel of
plants or vegetables of all sorts produced, by an invisible Power, in
a desert where nobody was present—that this way of explaining or
conceiving it is consistent with my principles, since they deprive you
of nothing, either sensible or imaginable; that it exactly suits with
the common, natural, and undebauched notions of mankind; that it
manifests the dependence of all things on God; and consequently hath
all the good effect or influence, which it is possible that important
article of our faith should have in making men humble, thankful, and
resigned to their great Creator. I say, moreover, that, in this naked
conception of things, divested of words, there will not be found any
notion of what you call the ACTUALITY OF ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. You may
indeed raise a dust with those terms, and so lengthen our dispute to
no purpose. But I entreat you calmly to look into your own thoughts,
and then tell me if they are not a useless and unintelligible jargon.
HYL. I own I have no very clear notion annexed to them. But
what say you to this? Do you not make the existence of sensible things
consist in their being in a mind? And were not all things eternally in
the mind of God? Did they not therefore exist from all eternity,
according to you? And how could that which was eternal be created in
time? Can anything be clearer or better connected than this?
PHIL. And are not you too of opinion, that God knew all
things from eternity?
HYL. I am.
PHIL. Consequently they always had a being in the Divine
HYL. This I acknowledge.
PHIL. By your own confession, therefore, nothing is new, or
begins to be, in respect of the mind of God. So we are agreed in that
HYL. What shall we make then of the creation?
PHIL. May we not understand it to have been entirely in
respect of finite spirits; so that things, with regard to us, may
properly be said to begin their existence, or be created, when God
decreed they should become perceptible to intelligent creatures, in
that order and manner which He then established, and we now call the
laws of nature? You may call this a RELATIVE, or HYPOTHETICAL
EXISTENCE if you please. But, so long as it supplies us with the most
natural, obvious, and literal sense of the Mosaic history of the
creation; so long as it answers all the religious ends of that great
article; in a word, so long as you can assign no other sense or
meaning in its stead; why should we reject this? Is it to comply with
a ridiculous sceptical humour of making everything nonsense and
unintelligible? I am sure you cannot say it is for the glory of God.
For, allowing it to be a thing possible and conceivable that the
corporeal world should have an absolute existence extrinsical to the
mind of God, as well as to the minds of all created spirits; yet how
could this set forth either the immensity or omniscience of the Deity,
or the necessary and immediate dependence of all things on Him? Nay,
would it not rather seem to derogate from those attributes?
HYL. Well, but as to this decree of God's, for making things
perceptible, what say you, Philonous? Is it not plain, God did either
execute that decree from all eternity, or at some certain time began
to will what He had not actually willed before, but only designed to
will? If the former, then there could be no creation, or beginning of
existence, in finite things. If the latter, then we must acknowledge
something new to befall the Deity; which implies a sort of change: and
all change argues imperfection.
PHIL. Pray consider what you are doing. Is it not evident
this objection concludes equally against a creation in any sense; nay,
against every other act of the Deity, discoverable by the light of
nature? None of which can WE conceive, otherwise than as performed in
time, and having a beginning. God is a Being of transcerident and
unlimited perfections: His nature, therefore, is incomprehensible to
finite spirits. It is not, therefore, to be expected, that any man,
whether Materialist or Immaterialist, should have exactly just notions
of the Deity, His attributes, and ways of operation. If then you would
infer anything against me, your difficulty must not be drawn from the
inadequateness of our conceptions of the Divine nature, which is
unavoidable on any scheme; but from the denial of Matter, of which
there is not one word, directly or indirectly, in what you have now
HYL. I must acknowledge the difficulties you are concerned
to clear are such only as arise from the non-existence of Matter, and
are peculiar to that notion. So far you are in the right. But I cannot
by any means bring myself to think there is no such peculiar
repugnancy between the creation and your opinion; though indeed where
to fix it, I do not distinctly know.
PHIL. What would you have? Do I not acknowledge a twofold
state of things—the one ectypal or natural, the other archetypal and
eternal? The former was created in time; the latter existed from
everlasting in the mind of God. Is not this agreeable to the common
notions of divines? or, is any more than this necessary in order to
conceive the creation? But you suspect some peculiar repugnancy,
though you know not where it lies. To take away all possibility of
scruple in the case, do but consider this one point. Either you are
not able to conceive the Creation on any hypothesis whatsoever; and,
if so, there is no ground for dislike or complaint against any
particular opinion on that score: or you are able to conceive it; and,
if so, why not on my Principles, since thereby nothing conceivable is
taken away? You have all along been allowed the full scope of sense,
imagination, and reason. Whatever, therefore, you could before
apprehend, either immediately or mediately by your senses, or by
ratiocination from your senses; whatever you could perceive, imagine,
or understand, remains still with you. If, therefore, the notion you
have of the creation by other Principles be intelligible, you have it
still upon mine; if it be not intelligible, I conceive it to be no
notion at all; and so there is no loss of it. And indeed it seems to
me very plain that the supposition of Matter, that is a thing
perfectly unknown and inconceivable, cannot serve to make us conceive
anything. And, I hope it need not be proved to you that if the
existence of Matter doth not make the creation conceivable, the
creation's being without it inconceivable can be no objection against
HYL. I confess, Philonous, you have almost satisfied me in
this point of the creation.
PHIL. I would fain know why you are not quite satisfied. You
tell me indeed of a repugnancy between the Mosaic history and
Immaterialism: but you know not where it lies. Is this reasonable,
Hylas? Can you expect I should solve a difficulty without knowing what
it is? But, to pass by all that, would not a man think you were
assured there is no repugnancy between the received notions of
Materialists and the inspired writings?
HYL. And so I am.
PHIL. Ought the historical part of Scripture to be
understood in a plain obvious sense, or in a sense which is
metaphysical and out of the way?
HYL. In the plain sense, doubtless.
PHIL. When Moses speaks of herbs, earth, water, as having
been created by God; think you not the sensible things commonly
signified by those words are suggested to every unphilosophical
HYL. I cannot help thinking so.
PHIL. And are not all ideas, or things perceived by sense,
to be denied a real existence by the doctrine of the Materialist?
HYL. This I have already acknowledged.
PHIL. The creation, therefore, according to them, was not
the creation of things sensible, which have only a relative being, but
of certain unknown natures, which have an absolute being, wherein
creation might terminate?
PHIL. Is it not therefore evident the assertors of Matter
destroy the plain obvious sense of Moses, with which their notions are
utterly inconsistent; and instead of it obtrude on us I know not what;
something equally unintelligible to themselves and me?
HYL. I cannot contradict you.
PHIL. Moses tells us of a creation. A creation of what? of
unknown quiddities, of occasions, or SUBSTRATUM? No, certainly; but of
things obvious to the senses. You must first reconcile this with your
notions, if you expect I should be reconciled to them.
HYL. I see you can assault me with my own weapons.
PHIL. Then as to ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE; was there ever known a
more jejune notion than that? Something it is so abstracted and
unintelligible that you have frankly owned you could not conceive it,
much less explain anything by it. But allowing Matter to exist, and
the notion of absolute existence to be clear as light; yet, was this
ever known to make the creation more credible? Nay, hath it not
furnished the atheists and infidels of all ages with the most
plausible arguments against a creation? That a corporeal substance,
which hath an absolute existence without the minds of spirits, should
be produced out of nothing, by the mere will of a Spirit, hath been
looked upon as a thing so contrary to all reason, so impossible and
absurd! that not only the most celebrated among the ancients, but even
divers modern and Christian philosophers have thought Matter
co-eternal with the Deity. Lay these things together, and then judge
you whether Materialism disposes men to believe the creation of
HYL. I own, Philonous, I think it does not. This of the
CREATION is the last objection I can think of; and I must needs own it
hath been sufficiently answered as well as the rest. Nothing now
remains to be overcome but a sort of unaccountable backwardness that I
find in myself towards your notions.
PHIL. When a man is swayed, he knows not why, to one side
of' the question, can this, think you, be anything else but the effect
of prejudice, which never fails to attend old and rooted notions? And
indeed in this respect I cannot deny the belief of Matter to have very
much the advantage over the contrary opinion, with men of a learned,
HYL. I confess it seems to be as you say.
PHIL. As a balance, therefore, to this weight of prejudice,
let us throw into the scale the great advantages that arise from the
belief of Immaterialism, both in regard to religion and human
learning. The being of a God, and incorruptibility of the soul, those
great articles of religion, are they not proved with the clearest and
most immediate evidence? When I say the being of a God, I do not mean
an obscure general Cause of things, whereof we have no conception, but
God, in the strict and proper sense of the word. A Being whose
spirituality, omnipresence, providence, omniscience, infinite power
and goodness, are as conspicuous as the existence of sensible things,
of which (notwithstanding the fallacious pretences and affected
scruples of Sceptics) there is no more reason to doubt than of our own
being.—Then, with relation to human sciences. In Natural Philosophy,
what intricacies, what obscurities, what contradictions hath the
belief of Matter led men into! To say nothing of the numberless
disputes about its extent, continuity, homogeneity, gravity,
divisibility, they not pretend to explain all things by bodies
operating on bodies, according to the laws of motion? and yet, are
they able to comprehend how one body should move another? Nay,
admitting there was no difficulty in reconciling the notion of an
inert being with a cause, or in conceiving how an accident might pass
from one body to another; yet, by all their strained thoughts and
extravagant suppositions, have they been able to reach the MECHANICAL
production of any one animal or vegetable body? Can they account, by
the laws of motion, for sounds, tastes, smells, or colours; or for the
regular course of things? Have they accounted, by physical principles,
for the aptitude and contrivance even of the most inconsiderable parts
of the universe? But, laying aside Matter and corporeal, causes, and
admitting only the efficiency of an All-perfect Mind, are not all the
effects of nature easy and intelligible? If the PHENOMENA are nothing
else but IDEAS; God is a SPIRIT, but Matter an unintelligent,
unperceiving being. If they demonstrate an unlimited power in their
cause; God is active and omnipotent, but Matter an inert mass. If the
order, regularity, and usefulness of them can never be sufficiently
admired; God is infinitely wise and provident, but Matter destitute of
all contrivance and design. These surely are great advantages in
PHYSICS. Not to mention that the apprehension of a distant Deity
naturally disposes men to a negligence in their moral actions; which
they would be more cautious of, in case they thought Him immediately
present, and acting on their minds, without the interposition of
Matter, or unthinking second causes.—Then in METAPHYSICS: what
difficulties concerning entity in abstract, substantial forms,
hylarchic principles, plastic natures, substance and accident,
principle of individuation, possibility of Matter's thinking, origin
of ideas, the manner how two independent substances so widely
different as SPIRIT AND MATTER, should mutually operate on each other?
what difficulties, I say, and endless disquisitions, concerning these
and innumerable other the like points, do we escape, by supposing only
Spirits and ideas?—Even the MATHEMATICS themselves, if we take away
the absolute existence of extended things, become much more clear and
easy; the most shocking paradoxes and intricate speculations in those
sciences depending on the. infinite divisibility of finite extension;
which depends on that supposition—But what need is there to insist on
the particular sciences? Is not that opposition to all science
whatsoever, that frenzy of the ancient and modern Sceptics, built on
the same foundation? Or can you produce so much as one argument
against the reality of corporeal things, or in behalf of that avowed
utter ignorance of their natures, which doth not suppose their reality
to consist in an external absolute existence? Upon this supposition,
indeed, the objections from the change of colours in a pigeon's neck,
or the appearance of the broken oar in the water, must be allowed to
have weight. But these and the like objections vanish, if we do not
maintain the being of absolute external originals, but place the
reality of things in ideas, fleeting indeed, and changeable;—however,
not changed at random, but according to the fixed order of nature.
For, herein consists that constancy and truth of things which secures
all the concerns of life, and distinguishes that which is real from
the IRREGULAR VISIONS of the fancy.
HYL. I agree to all you have now said, and must own that
nothing can incline me to embrace your opinion more than the
advantages I see it is attended with. I am by nature lazy; and this
would be a mighty abridgment in knowledge. What doubts, what
hypotheses, what labyrinths of amusement, what fields of disputation,
what an ocean of false learning, may be avoided by that single notion
PHIL. After all, is there anything farther remaining to be
done? You may remember you promised to embrace that opinion which upon
examination should appear most agreeable to Common Sense and remote
from Scepticism. This, by your own confession, is that which denies
Matter, or the ABSOLUTE existence of corporeal things. Nor is this
all; the same notion has been proved several ways, viewed in different
lights, pursued in its consequences, and all objections against it
cleared. Can there be a greater evidence of its truth? or is it
possible it should have all the marks of a true opinion and yet be
HYL. I own myself entirely satisfied for the present in all
respects. But, what security can I have that I shall still continue
the same full assent to your opinion, and that no unthought-of
objection or difficulty will occur hereafter?
PHIL. Pray, Hylas, do you in other cases, when a point is
once evidently proved, withhold your consent on account of objections
or difficulties it may be liable to? Are the difficulties that attend
the doctrine of incommensurable quantities, of the angle of contact,
of the asymptotes to curves, or the like, sufficient to make you hold
out against mathematical demonstration? Or will you disbelieve the
Providence of God, because there may be some particular things which
you know not how to reconcile with it? If there are difficulties
ATTENDING IMMATERIALISM, there are at the same time direct and evident
proofs of it. But for the existence of Matter there is not one proof,
and far more numerous and insurmountable objections lie against it.
But where are those mighty difficulties you insist on? Alas! you know
not where or what they are; something which may possibly occur
hereafter. If this be a sufficient pretence for withholding your full
assent, you should never yield it to any proposition, how free soever
from exceptions, how clearly and solidly soever demonstrated.
HYL. You have satisfied me, Philonous.
PHIL. But, to arm you against all future objections, do but
consider: That which bears equally hard on two contradictory opinions
can be proof against neither. Whenever, therefore, any difficulty
occurs, try if you can find a solution for it on the hypothesis of the
MATERIALISTS. Be not deceived by words; but sound your own thoughts.
And in case you cannot conceive it easier by the help of MATERIALISM,
it is plain it can be no objection against IMMATERIALISM. Had you
proceeded all along by this rule, you would probably have spared
yourself abundance of trouble in objecting; since of all your
difficulties I challenge you to shew one that is explained by Matter:
nay, which is not more unintelligible with than without that
supposition; and consequently makes rather AGAINST than FOR it. You
should consider, in each particular, whether the difficulty arises
from the NON-EXISTENCE OF MATTER. If it doth not, you might as well
argue from the infinite divisibility of extension against the Divine
prescience, as from such a difficulty against IMMATERIALISM. And yet,
upon recollection, I believe you will find this to have been often, if
not always, the case. You should likewise take heed not to argue on a
PETITIO PRINCIPII. One is apt to say—The unknown substances ought to
be esteemed real things, rather than the ideas in our minds: and who
can tell but the unthinking external substance may concur, as a cause
or instrument, in the productions of our ideas? But is not this
proceeding on a supposition that there are such external substances?
And to suppose this, is it not begging the question? But, above all
things, you should beware of imposing on yourself by that vulgar
sophism which is called IGNORATIO ELENCHI. You talked often as if you
thought I maintained the non-existence of Sensible Things. Whereas in
truth no one can be more thoroughly assured of their existence than I
am. And it is you who doubt; I should have said, positively deny it.
Everything that is seen, felt, heard, or any way perceived by the
senses, is, on the principles I embrace, a real being; but not on
yours. Remember, the Matter you contend for is an Unknown Somewhat (if
indeed it may be termed SOMEWHAT), which is quite stripped of all
sensible qualities, and can neither be perceived by sense, nor
apprehended by the mind. Remember I say, that it is not any object
which is hard or soft, hot or cold, blue or white, round or square,
For all these things I affirm do exist. Though indeed I deny they have
an existence distinct from being perceived; or that they exist out of
all minds whatsoever. Think on these points; let them be attentively
considered and still kept in view. Otherwise you will not comprehend
the state of the question; without which your objections will always
be wide of the mark, and, instead of mine, may possibly be directed
(as more than once they have been) against your own notions.
HYL. I must needs own, Philonous, nothing seems to have kept
me from agreeing with you more than this same MISTAKING THE QUESTION.
In denying Matter, at first glimpse I am tempted to imagine you deny
the things we see and feel: but, upon reflexion, find there is no
ground for it. What think you, therefore, of retaining the name
MATTER, and applying it to SENSIBLE THINGS? This may be done without
any change in your sentiments: and, believe me, it would be a means of
reconciling them to some persons who may be more shocked at an
innovation in words than in opinion.
PHIL. With all my heart: retain the word MATTER, and apply
it to the objects of sense, if you please; provided you do not
attribute to them any subsistence distinct from their being perceived.
I shall never quarrel with you for an expression. MATTER, or MATERIAL
SUBSTANCE, are terms introduced by philosophers; and, as used by them,
imply a sort of independency, or a subsistence distinct from being
perceived by a mind: but are never used by common people; or, if ever,
it is to signify the immediate objects of sense. One would think,
therefore, so long as the names of all particular things, with the
TERMS SENSIBLE, SUBSTANCE, BODY, STUFF, and the like, are retained,
the word MATTER should be never missed in common talk. And in
philosophical discourses it seems the best way to leave it quite out:
since there is not, perhaps, any one thing that hath more favoured and
strengthened the depraved bent of the mind towards Atheism than the
use of that general confused term.
HYL. Well but, Philonous, since I am content to give up the
notion of an unthinking substance exterior to the mind, I think you
ought not to deny me the privilege of using the word MATTER as I
please, and annexing it to a collection of sensible qualities
subsisting only in the mind. I freely own there is no other substance,
in a strict sense, than SPIRIT. But I have been so long accustomed to
the term MATTER that I know not how to part with it: to say, there is
no MATTER in the world, is still shocking to me. Whereas to say—There
is no MATTER, if by that term be meant an unthinking substance
existing without the mind; but if by MATTER is meant some sensible
thing, whose existence consists in being perceived, then there is
MATTER:—THIS distinction gives it quite another turn; and men will
come into your notions with small difficulty, when they are proposed
in that manner. For, after all, the controversy about MATTER in the
strict acceptation of it, lies altogether between you and the
philosophers: whose principles, I acknowledge, are not near so
natural, or so agreeable to the common sense of mankind, and Holy
Scripture, as yours. There is nothing we either desire or shun but as
it makes, or is apprehended to make, some part of our happiness or
misery. But what hath happiness or misery, joy or grief, pleasure or
pain, to do with Absolute Existence; or with unknown entities,
ABSTRACTED FROM ALL RELATION TO US? It is evident, things regard us
only as they are pleasing or displeasing: and they can please or
displease only so far forth as they are perceived. Farther, therefore,
we are not concerned; and thus far you leave things as you found them.
Yet still there is something new in this doctrine. It is plain, I do
not now think with the Philosophers; nor yet altogether with the
vulgar. I would know how the case stands in that respect; precisely,
what you have added to, or altered in my former notions.
PHIL. I do not pretend to be a setter-up of new notions. My
endeavours tend only to unite, and place in a clearer light, that
truth which was before shared between the vulgar and the
philosophers:—the former being of opinion, that THOSE THINGS THEY
IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVE ARE THE REAL THINGS; and the latter, that THE
THINGS IMMEDIATELY PERCEIVED ARE IDEAS, WHICH EXIST ONLY IN THE MIND.
Which two notions put together, do, in effect, constitute the
substance of what I advance.
HYL. I have been a long time distrusting my senses:
methought I saw things by a dim light and through false glasses. Now
the glasses are removed and a new light breaks in upon my under
standing. I am clearly convinced that I see things in their native
forms, and am no longer in pain about their UNKNOWN NATURES OR
ABSOLUTE EXISTENCE. This is the state I find myself in at present;
though, indeed, the course that brought me to it I do not yet
thoroughly comprehend. You set out upon the same principles that
Academics, Cartesians, and the like sects usually do; and for a long
time it looked as if you were advancing their philosophical
Scepticism: but, in the end, your conclusions are directly opposite to
PHIL. You see, Hylas, the water of yonder fountain, how it
is forced upwards, in a round column, to a certain height; at which it
breaks, and falls back into the basin from whence it rose: its ascent,
as well as descent, proceeding from the same uniform law or principle
of GRAVITATION. just so, the same Principles which, at first view,
lead to Scepticism, pursued to a certain point, bring men back to