Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Delusions of Sense
By George Berkeley (16851753)
BODY is opposite to spirit or mind. We have a notion of spirit from thought and action. We have a notion of body from resistance. So far forth as there is real power, there is spirit. So far forth as there is resistance, there is inability or want of power; that is, there is a negation of spirit. We are embodied, that is, we are clogged by weight, and hindered by resistance. But in respect of a perfect spirit, there is nothing hard or impenetrable; there is no resistance to the deity; nor hath he any body; nor is the supreme being united to the world, as the soul of an animal is to its body, which necessarily implieth defect, both as an instrument and as a constant weight and impediment.
Thus much it consists with piety to say, that a divine agent doth by his virtue permeate and govern the elementary fire or light which serves as animal spirit to enliven and actuate the whole mass, and all the members of this visible world. Nor is this doctrine less philosophical than pious. We see all nature alive or in motion. We see water turned into air, and air rarified and made elastic by the attraction of another medium, more pure indeed, more subtile and more volatile than air. But still, as this is a moveable, extended, and consequently a corporeal being, it cannot be itself the principle of motion, but leads us naturally and necessarily to an incorporeal spirit or agent. We are conscious that a spirit can begin, alter, or determinate motion, but nothing of this appears in body. Nay, the contrary is evident, both to experiment and reflection.
Natural phenomena are only natural appearances. They are, therefore, such as we see and perceive them. Their real and objective natures are, therefore, the same; passive without anything active, fluent and changing without anything permanent in them. However, as these make the first impressions, and the mind takes her first flight and spring, as it were, by resting her foot on these objects, they are not only first considered by all men, but most considered by most men. They and the phantoms that result from those appearances, the children of imagination grafted upon sense, such for example as pure space, are thought by many the very first in existence and stability, and to embrace and comprehend all other beings.
Now although such phantoms as corporeal forces, absolute motions and real spaces, do pass in physics for causes and principles, yet are they in truth but hypotheses, nor can they be the objects of real science. They pass nevertheless in physics conversant about things of sense, and confined to experiments and mechanics. But when we enter the province of the philosophia prima, we discover another order of beings, mind and its acts, permanent being, not dependent on corporeal things, nor resulting, nor connected, nor contained; but containing, connecting, enlivening the whole frame; and imparting those motions, forms, qualities, and that order and symmetry to all those transient phenomena which we term the course of nature.
It is with our faculties as with our affections, what first seizes holds fast. It is a vulgar theme that man is a compound of contrarieties, which breed a restless struggle in his nature between flesh and spirit, the beast and the angel, earth and heaven, ever weighed down and ever bearing up. During which conflict the character fluctuates; when either side prevails, it is then fixed for vice or virtue. And life from different principles takes a different issue. It is the same in regard to our faculties. Sense at first besets and overbears the mind. The sensible appearances are all in all; our reasonings are employed about them; our desires terminate in them; we look no farther for realities or causes, till intellect begins to dawn, and cast a ray on this shadowy scene. We then perceive the true principle of unity, identity and existence. Those things that before seemed to constitute the whole of being, upon taking an intellectual view of things, prove to be but fleeting phantoms.