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A Treatise of Human Nature

Before I leave this subject I shall employ the same principles to explain that distinction of
reason, which is so much talked of, and is so little understood, in the schools. Of this kind
is the distinction betwixt figure and the body figured; motion and the body moved. The
difficulty of explaining this distinction arises from the principle above explained, that all
ideas, which are different, are separable. For it follows from thence, that if the figure be
different from the body, their ideas must be separable as well as distinguishable: if they
be not different, their ideas can neither be separable nor distinguishable. What then is
meant by a distinction of reason, since it implies neither a difference nor separation.
To remove this difficulty we must have recourse to the foregoing explication of abstract
ideas. It is certain that the mind would never have dreamed of distinguishing a figure
from the body figured, as being in reality neither distinguishable, nor different, nor
separable; did it not observe, that even in this simplicity there might be contained many
different resemblances and relations. Thus when a globe of white marble is presented, we
receive only the impression of a white colour disposed in a certain form, nor are we able
to separate and distinguish the colour from the form. But observing afterwards a globe of
black marble and a cube of white, and comparing them with our former object, we find
two separate resemblances, in what formerly seemed, and really is, perfectly inseparable.
After a little more practice of this kind, we begin to distinguish the figure from the colour
by a distinction of reason; that is, we consider the figure and colour together, since they
are in effect the same and undistinguishable; but still view them in different aspects,
according to the resemblances, of which they are susceptible. When we would consider
only the figure of the globe of white marble, we form in reality an idea both of the figure
and colour, but tacitly carry our eye to its resemblance with the globe of black marble:
And in the same manner, when we would consider its colour only, we turn our view to its
resemblance with the cube of white marble. By this means we accompany our ideas with
a kind of reflection, of which custom renders us, in a great measure, insensible. A person,
who desires us to consider the figure of a globe of white marble without thinking on its
colour, desires an impossibility but his meaning is, that we should consider the figure and
colour together, but still keep in our eye the resemblance to the globe of black marble, or
that to any other globe of whatever colour or substance.
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