Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Pebble Argument answered by Anticipation
By George Berkeley (16851753)
From Principles of Human Knowledge
BEFORE we proceed any further, it is necessary to spend some time in answering objections which may probably be made against the principles hitherto laid down. In doing of which if I seem too prolix to those of quick apprehensions, I hope it may be pardoned, since all men do not equally apprehend things of this nature; and I am willing to be understood of every one. First, then, it will be objected that by the foregoing principles, all that is real and substantial in nature is banished out of the world; and instead thereof a chimerical scheme of ideas takes place. All things that exist, exist only in the mind, that is, they are purely notional. What therefore becomes of the sun, moon, and stars? What must we think of houses, rivers, mountains, trees, stones; nay, even of our own bodies? Are all these but so many chimeras and illusions on the fancy? To all which, and whatever else of the same sort may be objected I answer, that by the principles promised, we are not deprived of any one thing in nature. Whatever we see, feel, hear, or in any wise conceive or understand, remains as secure as ever, and is as real as ever. There is a rerum natura, and the distinction between realities and chimeras retains its full force. This is evident from sections 29, 30, and 33, where we have shown what is meant by real things in opposition to chimeras or ideas of our own framing; but then they both equally exist in the mind, and in that sense are like ideas.
I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend, either by sense or reflection. That the things I see with mine eyes and touch with my hands do exist, I make not the least question. The only thing whose existence we deny, is that which the philosophers call matter or corporeal substance. And in doing of this, there is no damage done to the rest of mankind, who, I daresay, will never miss it. The atheist indeed will want the colour of an empty name to support his impiety; and the philosophers may possibly find they have lost a great handle for trifling and disputation.
If any man thinks this detracts from the existence or reality of things, he is very far from understanding what hath been promised in the plainest terms I could think of. Take here an abstract of what has been said. There are spiritual substances, minds, or human souls which will or excite ideas in themselves at pleasure; but these are faint, weak, and unsteady in respect of others they perceive by sense, which being impressed upon them according to certain rules or laws of nature, speak themselves the effect of a mind more powerful and wise than human spirits. These latter are said to have more reality in them than the former; by which is meant that they are more affecting, orderly, and distinct, and that they are not fictions of the mind perceiving them. And in this sense, the sun that I see by day is the real sun, and that which I imagine by night is the idea of the former. In the sense here given of reality, it is evident that every vegetable, star, mineral, and in general each part of the mundane system, is as much a real being by our principles as any other. Whether others mean anything by the term really different from what I do, I entreat them to look into their own thoughts and see.
It will be urged that thus much at least is true, to wit, that we take away all corporeal substances. To this my answer is, that if the word substance be taken in the vulgar sense, for a combination of sensible qualities, such as extension, solidity, weight, and the like; this we cannot be accused of taking away. But if it be taken in a philosophic sense, for the support of accidents or qualities without the mind, then indeed I acknowledge that we take it away, if one may be said to take that away which never had any existence, not even in the imagination.
But say you, it sounds very harsh to say we eat and drink ideas, and are clothed with ideas. I acknowledge it does so, the word idea not being used in common discourse to signify the several combinations of sensible qualities, which are called things; and it is certain that any expression which varies from the familiar use of language will seem harsh and ridiculous. But this doth not concern the truth of the proposition, which in other words is no more than to say, we are fed and clothed with those things which we perceive immediately by our senses. The hardness or softness, the colour, taste, warmth, figure, and such like qualities, which, combined together, constitute the several sorts of victuals and apparel, have been shown to exist only in the mind that perceives them; and this is all that is meant by calling them ideas; which word, if it was as ordinarily used as thing, would sound no harsher or more ridiculous than it. I am not for disputing about the propriety, but the truth of the expression. If therefore you agree with me that we eat and drink, and are clad with the immediate objects of sense which cannot exist unperceived or without the mind; I shall readily grant it is more proper or conformable to custom that they should be called things rather than ideas.
If it be demanded why I make use of the word idea, and do not rather, in compliance with custom, call them things, I answer, I do it for two reasons: First, because the term thing, in contradistinction to idea, is generally supposed to denote somewhat existing without the mind: secondly, because thing hath a more comprehensive signification than idea, including spirits or thinking things as well as ideas. Since, therefore, the objects of sense exist only in the mind, and are withal thoughtless and inactive, I chose to mark them by the word idea, which implies those properties.
But say what we can, some one perhaps may be apt to reply, he will still believe his senses, and never suffer any arguments, how plausible soever, to prevail over the certainty of them. Be it so, assert the evidence of sense as high as you please, we are willing to do the same. That what I see, hear, and feel doth exist, that is to say, is perceived by me, I no more doubt than I do of my own being. But I do not see how the testimony of sense can be alleged as a proof for the existence of any thing which is not perceived by sense. We are not for having any man turn sceptic, and disbelieve his senses; on the contrary, we give them all the stress and assurance imaginable; nor are there any principles more opposite to scepticism than those we have laid down, as shall be hereafter clearly shown.