Principles of Human Knowledge HTML version

Of The Principles Of Human Knowledge
1. OBJECTS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE.--It is evident to any one who takes a survey of the
objects of human knowledge, that they are either IDEAS actually imprinted on the senses; or
else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly,
ideas formed by help of memory and imagination--either compounding, dividing, or barely
representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways. By sight I have the ideas of light
and colours, with their several degrees and variations. By touch I perceive hard and soft, heat
and cold, motion and resistance, and of all these more and less either as to quantity or degree.
Smelling furnishes me with odours; the palate with tastes; and hearing conveys sounds to the
mind in all their variety of tone and composition. And as several of these are observed to
accompany each other, they come to be marked by one name, and so to be reputed as one
thing. Thus, for example a certain colour, taste, smell, figure and consistence having been
observed to go together, are accounted one distinct thing, signified by the name APPLE. Other
collections of ideas constitute a stone, a tree, a book, and the like sensible things--which as they
are pleasing or disagreeable excite the passions of love, hatred, joy, grief, and so forth.
2. MIND--SPIRIT--SOUL.--But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge,
there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises divers operations, as
willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call MIND,
SPIRIT, SOUL, or MYSELF. By which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing
entirely distinct from them, WHEREIN THEY EXIST, or, which is the same thing, whereby they
are perceived--for the existence of an idea consists in being perceived.
3. HOW FAR THE ASSENT OF THE VULGAR CONCEDED.--That neither our thoughts, nor
passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist WITHOUT the mind, is what EVERYBODY
WILL ALLOW. And it seems no less evident that the various sensations or ideas imprinted on
the sense, however blended or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose),
cannot exist otherwise than IN a mind perceiving them. I think an intuitive knowledge may be
obtained of this by any one that shall attend to WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM EXIST, when
applied to sensible things. The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were
out of my study I should say it existed--meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might
perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it.[Note.] There was an odour, that is,
it was smelt; there was a sound, that is, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by
sight or touch. This is all that I can understand by these and the like expressions. For as to what
is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being
perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their ESSE is PERCIPI, nor is it possible they
should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.
[Note: First argument in support of the author's theory.]
STRANGELY prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all
sensible objects, have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the
understanding. But, with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever this principle may
be entertained in the world, yet whoever shall find in his heart to call it in question may, if I
mistake not, perceive it to involve a manifest contradiction. For, what are the fore-mentioned
objects but the things we perceive by sense? and what do we PERCEIVE BESIDES OUR OWN