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An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 online

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a power of swimming in the water, and making a certain kind of noise,
and perhaps, to a man who has long observed this kind of birds, some
other properties: which all terminate in sensible simple ideas, all
united in one common subject.

15. Our Ideas of spiritual Substances, as clear as of bodily Substances.

Besides the complex ideas we have of material sensible substances, of
which I have last spoken, - by the simple ideas we have taken from those
operations of our own minds, which we experiment daily in ourselves,
as thinking, understanding, willing, knowing, and power of beginning
motion, &c., co-existing in some substance, we are able to frame the
COMPLEX IDEA OF AN IMMATERIAL SPIRIT. And thus, by putting together the
ideas of thinking, perceiving, liberty, and power of moving themselves
and other things, we have as clear a perception and notion of immaterial
substances as we have of material. For putting together the ideas of
thinking and willing, or the power of moving or quieting corporeal
motion, joined to substance, of which we have no distinct idea, we have
the idea of an immaterial spirit; and by putting together the ideas of
coherent solid parts, and a power of being moved joined with substance,
of which likewise we have no positive idea, we have the idea of matter.
The one is as clear and distinct an idea as the other: the idea of
thinking, and moving a body, being as clear and distinct ideas as the
ideas of extension, solidity, and being moved. For our idea of substance
is equally obscure, or none at all, in both: it is but a supposed I know
not what, to support those ideas we call accidents. It is for want of
reflection that we are apt to think that our senses show us nothing but
material things. Every act of sensation, when duly considered, gives us
an equal view of both parts of nature, the corporeal and spiritual. For
whilst I know, by seeing or hearing, &c., that there is some corporeal
being without me, the object of that sensation, I do more certainly
know, that there is some spiritual being within me that sees and hears.
This, I must be convinced, cannot be the action of bare insensible
matter; nor ever could be, without an immaterial thinking being.

16. No Idea of abstract Substance either in Body or Spirit.

By the complex idea of extended, figured, coloured, and all other
sensible qualities, which is all that we know of it, we are as far from
the idea of the substance of body, as if we knew nothing at all: nor
after all the acquaintance and familiarity which we imagine we have with
matter, and the many qualities men assure themselves they perceive and
know in bodies, will it perhaps upon examination be found, that they
have any more or clearer primary ideas belonging to body, than they have
belonging to immaterial spirit.

17. Cohesion of solid parts and Impulse, the primary ideas peculiar to

The primary ideas we have PECULIAR TO BODY, as contradistinguished to
the original ideas proper and peculiar to body; for figure is but the
consequence of finite extension.

18. Thinking and Motivity

The ideas we have belonging and PECULIAR TO SPIRIT, are THINKING, and
IS CONSEQUENT TO IT, LIBERTY. For, as body cannot but communicate its
motion by impulse to another body, which it meets with at rest, so the
mind can put bodies into motion, or forbear to do so, as it pleases. The
ideas of EXISTENCE, DURATION, and MOBILITY, are common to them both.

19. Spirits capable of Motion.

There is no reason why it should be thought strange that I make mobility
belong to spirit; for having no other idea of motion, but change of
distance with other beings that are considered as at rest; and finding
that spirits, as well as bodies, cannot operate but where they are; and
that spirits do operate at several times in several places, I cannot but
attribute change of place to all finite spirits: (for of the Infinite
Spirit I speak not here). For my soul, being a real being as well as my
body, is certainly as capable of changing distance with any other
body, or being, as body itself; and so is capable of motion. And if
a mathematician can consider a certain distance, or a change of that
distance between two points, one may certainly conceive a distance and a
change of distance, between two spirits; and so conceive their motion,
their approach or removal, one from another.

20. Proof of this.

Every one finds in himself that his soul can think will, and operate on
his body in the place where that is, but cannot operate on a body, or in
a place, an hundred miles distant from it. Nobody can imagine that his
soul can think or move a body at Oxford, whilst he is at London; and
cannot but know, that, being united to his body, it constantly changes
place all the whole journey between Oxford and London, as the coach or
horse does that carries him, and I think may be said to be truly all
that while in motion or if that will not be allowed to afford us a clear
idea enough of its motion, its being separated from the body in death, I
think, will; for to consider it as going out of the body, or leaving it,
and yet to have no idea of its motion, seems to me impossible.

21. God immoveable because infinite.

If it be said by any one that it cannot change place, because it hath
none, for the spirits are not IN LOCO, but UBI; I suppose that way of
talking will not now be of much weight to many, in an age that is not
much disposed to admire, or suffer themselves to be deceived by such
unintelligible ways of speaking. But if any one thinks there is any
sense in that distinction, and that it is applicable to our present
purpose, I desire him to put it into intelligible English; and then from
thence draw a reason to show that immaterial spirits are not capable of
motion. Indeed motion cannot be attributed to God; not because he is an
immaterial, but because he is an infinite spirit.

22. Our complex idea of an immaterial Spirit and our complex idea of
Body compared.

Let us compare, then, our complex idea of an immaterial spirit with our
complex idea of body, and see whether there be any more obscurity in one
than in the other, and in which most. Our idea of BODY, as I think, is
THOUGHT. These, I think, are our complex ideas of soul and body, as
contradistinguished; and now let us examine which has most obscurity in
it, and difficulty to be apprehended. I know that people whose thoughts
are immersed in matter, and have so subjected their minds to their
senses that they seldom reflect on anything beyond them, are apt to say,
they cannot comprehend a THINKING thing which perhaps is true: but I
affirm, when they consider it well, they can no more comprehend an

23. Cohesion of solid Parts in Body as hard to be conceived as thinking
in a Soul.

If any one says he knows not what it is thinks in him, he means he knows
not what the substance is of that thinking thing: No more, say I, knows
he what the substance is of that solid thing. Further, if he says he
knows not how he thinks, I answer, Neither knows he how he is extended,
how the solid parts of body are united or cohere together to make
extension. For though the pressure of the particles of air may account
for the cohesion of several parts of matter that are grosser than the
particles of air, and have pores less than the corpuscles of air, yet
the weight or pressure of the air will not explain, nor can be a cause
of the coherence of the particles of air themselves. And if the pressure
of the aether, or any subtiler matter than the air, may unite, and hold
fast together, the parts of a particle of air, as well as other bodies,
yet it cannot make bonds for ITSELF, and hold together the parts that
make up every the least corpuscle of that MATERIA SUBTILIS. So that that
hypothesis, how ingeniously soever explained, by showing that the parts
of sensible bodies are held together by the pressure of other external
insensible bodies, reaches not the parts of the aether itself; and by
how much the more evident it proves, that the parts of other bodies are
held together by the external pressure of the aether, and can have no
other conceivable cause of their cohesion and union, by so much the more
it leaves us in the dark concerning the cohesion of the parts of the
corpuscles of the aether itself: which we can neither conceive without
parts, they being bodies, and divisible, nor yet how their parts cohere,
they wanting that cause of cohesion which is given of the cohesion of
the parts of all other bodies.

24. Not explained by an ambient fluid.

But, in truth, the pressure of any ambient fluid, how great soever, can
be no intelligible cause of the cohesion of the solid parts of matter.
For, though such a pressure may hinder the avulsion of two polished
superficies, one from another, in a line perpendicular to them, as in
the experiment of two polished marbles; yet it can never in the least
hinder the separation by a motion, in a line parallel to those surfaces.
Because the ambient fluid, having a full liberty to succeed in each
point of space, deserted by a lateral motion, resists such a motion of
bodies, so joined, no more than it would resist the motion of that body
were it on all sides environed by that fluid, and touched no other body;
and therefore, if there were no other cause of cohesion, all parts of
bodies must be easily separable by such a lateral sliding motion. For if
the pressure of the aether be the adequate cause of cohesion, wherever
that cause operates not, there can be no cohesion. And since it cannot
operate against a lateral separation, (as has been shown,) therefore in
every imaginary plane, intersecting any mass of matter, there could
be no more cohesion than of two polished surfaces, which will always,
notwithstanding any imaginable pressure of a fluid, easily slide one
from another. So that perhaps, how clear an idea soever we think we have
of the extension of body, which is nothing but the cohesion of solid
parts, he that shall well consider it in his mind, may have reason to
conclude, That it is as easy for him to have a clear idea how the soul
thinks as how body is extended. For, since body is no further, nor
otherwise, extended, than by the union and cohesion of its solid
parts, we shall very ill comprehend the extension of body, without
understanding wherein consists the union and cohesion of its parts;
which seems to me as incomprehensible as the manner of thinking, and how
it is performed.

We can as little understand how the parts cohere in extension as how our
spirits perceive or move.

25. I allow it is usual for most people to wonder how any one should
find a difficulty in what they think they every day observe. Do we
not see (will they be ready to say) the parts of bodies stick firmly
together? Is there anything more common? And what doubt can there be
made of it? And the like, I say, concerning thinking and voluntary
motion. Do we not every moment experiment it in ourselves, and therefore
can it be doubted? The matter of fact is clear, I confess; but when we
would a little nearer look into it, both in the one and the other;
and can as little understand how the parts of body cohere, as how we
ourselves perceive or move. I would have any one intelligibly explain
to me how the parts of gold, or brass, (that but now in fusion were as
loose from one another as the particles of water, or the sands of an
hour-glass,) come in a few moments to be so united, and adhere so
strongly one to another, that the utmost force of men's arms cannot
separate them? A considering man will, I suppose, be here at a loss to
satisfy his own, or another man's understanding.

26. The cause of coherence of atoms in extended substances

The little bodies that compose that fluid we call water are so extremely
small, that I have never heard of any one who, by a microscope, (and yet
I have heard of some that have magnified to ten thousand; nay, to much
above a hundred thousand times,) pretended to perceive their distinct
bulk, figure, or motion; and the particles of water are also so
perfectly loose one from another, that the least force sensibly
separates them. Nay, if we consider their perpetual motion, we must
allow them to have no cohesion one with another; and yet let but a sharp
cold come, and they unite, they consolidate; these little atoms cohere,
and are not, without great force, separable. He that could find the
bonds that tie these heaps of loose little bodies together so firmly; he
that could make known the cement that makes them stick so fast one to
another, would discover a great and yet unknown secret: and yet when
that was done, would he be far enough from making the extension of body
(which is the cohesion of its solid parts) intelligible, till he could
show wherein consisted the union, or consolidation of the parts of those
bonds or of that cement, or of the least particle of matter that exists.
Whereby it appears that this primary and supposed obvious quality of
body will be found, when examined, to be as incomprehensible as anything
belonging to our minds, and a solid extended substance as hard to be
conceived as a thinking immaterial one, whatever difficulties some would
raise against it.

27. The supposed pressure [*dropped word] explain cohesion is

For, to extend our thoughts a little further, the pressure which is
brought to explain the cohesion of bodies [*dropped line] considered,
as no doubt it is, finite, let any one send his contemplation to the
extremities of the universe, and there see what conceivable hoops, what
bond he can imagine to hold this mass of matter in so close a pressure
together; from whence steel has its firmness, and the parts of a diamond
their hardness and indissolubility. If matter be finite, it must have
its extremes; and there must be something to hinder it from scattering
asunder. If, to avoid this difficulty, any one will throw himself into
the supposition and abyss of infinite matter, let him consider what
light he thereby brings to the cohesion of body, and whether he be ever
the nearer making it intelligible, by resolving it into a supposition
the most absurd and most incomprehensible of all other: so far is our
extension of body (which is nothing but the cohesion of solid parts)
from being clearer, or more distinct, when we would inquire into the
nature, cause, or manner of it, than the idea of thinking.

28. Communication of Motion by Impulse, or by Thought, equally

Another idea we have of body is, THE POWER OF COMMUNICATION OF MOTION
These ideas, the one of body, the other of our minds, every day's
experience clearly furnishes us with: but if here again we inquire how
this is done, we are equally in the dark. For, in the communication of
motion by impulse, wherein as much motion is lost to one body as is
got to the other, which is the ordinariest case, we can have no other
conception, but of the passing of motion out of one body into another;
which, I think, is as obscure and inconceivable as how our minds move
or stop our bodies by thought, which we every moment find they do. The
increase of motion by impulse, which is observed or believed sometimes
to happen, is yet harder to be understood. We have by daily experience
clear evidence of motion produced both by impulse and by thought; but
the manner how, hardly comes within our comprehension: we are equally
at a loss in both. So that, however we consider motion, and its
communication, either from body or spirit, the idea which belongs to
spirit is at least as clear as that which belongs to body. And if we
consider the active power of moving, or, as I may call it, motivity, it
is much clearer in spirit than body; since two bodies, placed by one
another at rest, will never afford us the idea of a power in the one to
move the other, but by a borrowed motion: whereas the mind every day
affords us ideas of an active power of moving of bodies; and therefore
it is worth our consideration, whether active power be not the proper
attribute of spirits, and passive power of matter. Hence may be
conjectured that created spirits are not totally separate from matter,
because they are both active and passive. Pure spirit, viz. God, is only
active; pure matter is only passive; those beings that are both active
and passive, we may judge to partake of both. But be that as it will, I
think, we have as many and as clear ideas belonging to spirit as we have
belonging to body, the substance of each being equally unknown to us;
and the idea of thinking in spirit, as clear as of extension in body;
and the communication of motion by thought, which we attribute to
spirit, is as evident as that by impulse, which we ascribe to body.
Constant experience makes us sensible of both these, though our narrow
understandings can comprehend neither. For, when the mind would look
beyond those original ideas we have from sensation or reflection, and
penetrate into their causes, and manner of production, we find still it
discovers nothing but its own short-sightedness.

29. Summary.

To conclude. Sensation convinces us that there are solid extended
substances; and reflection, that there are thinking ones: experience
assures us of the existence of such beings, and that the one hath a
power to move body by impulse, the other by thought; this we cannot
doubt of. Experience, I say, every moment furnishes us with the clear
ideas both of the one and the other. But beyond these ideas, as received
from their proper sources, our faculties will not reach. If we would
inquire further into their nature, causes, and manner, we perceive not
the nature of extension clearer than we do of thinking. If we would
explain them any further, one is as easy as the other; and there is no
more difficulty to conceive how A SUBSTANCE WE KNOW NOT should, by
thought, set body into motion, than how A SUBSTANCE WE KNOW NOT should,
by impulse, set body into motion. So that we are no more able to
discover wherein the ideas belonging to body consist, than those
belonging to spirit. From whence it seems probable to me, that the
simple ideas we receive from sensation and reflection are the boundaries
of our thoughts; beyond which the mind, whatever efforts it would make,
is not able to advance one jot; nor can it make any discoveries, when it
would pry into the nature and hidden causes of those ideas.

30. Our idea of Spirit and our idea of Body compared.

So that, in short, the idea we have of spirit, compared with the idea we
have of body, stands thus: the substance of spirits is unknown to us;
and so is the substance of body equally unknown to us. Two primary
qualities or properties of body, viz. solid coherent parts and impulse,
we have distinct clear ideas of: so likewise we know, and have distinct
clear ideas, of two primary qualities or properties of spirit, viz.
thinking, and a power of action; i.e. a power of beginning or stopping
several thoughts or motions. We have also the ideas of several qualities
inherent in bodies, and have the clear distinct ideas of them; which
qualities are but the various modifications of the extension of cohering
solid parts, and their motion. We have likewise the ideas of the several
modes of thinking viz. believing, doubting, intending, fearing, hoping;
all which are but the several modes of thinking. We have also the ideas
of willing, and moving the body consequent to it, and with the body
itself too; for, as has been shown, spirit is capable of motion.

31. The Notion of Spirit involves no more Difficulty in it than that of

Lastly, if this notion of immaterial spirit may have, perhaps, some
difficulties in it not easily to be explained, we have therefore no more
reason to deny or doubt the existence of such spirits, than we have
to deny or doubt the existence of body; because the notion of body is
cumbered with some difficulties very hard, and perhaps impossible to be
explained or understood by us. For I would fain have instanced anything
in our notion of spirit more perplexed, or nearer a contradiction, than
the very notion of body includes in it; the divisibility IN INFINITUM
of any finite extension involving us, whether we grant or deny it, in
consequences impossible to be explicated or made in our apprehensions
consistent; consequences that carry greater difficulty, and more
apparent absurdity, than anything can follow from the notion of an
immaterial knowing substance.

32. We know nothing of things beyond our simple Ideas of them.

Which we are not at all to wonder at, since we having but some few
superficial ideas of things, discovered to us only by the senses from
without, or by the mind, reflecting on what it experiments in itself
within, have no knowledge beyond that, much less of the internal
constitution, and true nature of things, being destitute of faculties
to attain it. And therefore experimenting and discovering in ourselves
knowledge, and the power of voluntary motion, as certainly as we
experiment, or discover in things without us, the cohesion and
separation of solid parts, which is the extension and motion of bodies;
we have as much reason to be satisfied with our notion of immaterial
spirit, as with our notion of body, and the existence of the one as well
as the other. For it being no more a contradiction that thinking should
exist separate and independent from solidity, than it is a contradiction
that solidity should exist separate and independent from thinking, they
being both but simple ideas, independent one from another and having as
clear and distinct ideas in us of thinking as of solidity, I know not
why we may not as well allow a thinking thing without solidity, i.e.
immaterial, to exist, as a solid thing without thinking, i.e. matter, to
exist; especially since it is not harder to concieve how thinking should
exist without matter, than how matter should think. For whensoever we
would proceed beyond these simple ideas we have from sensation and
reflection and dive further into the nature of things, we fall presently
into darkness and obscurity, perplexedness and difficulties, and can
discover nothing further but our own blindness and ignorance. But
whichever of these complex ideas be clearest, that of body, or
immaterial spirit, this is evident, that the simple ideas that make them
up are no other than what we have received from sensation or reflection:
and so is it of all our other ideas of substances, even of God himself.

33. Our complex idea of God.

For if we examine the idea we have of the incomprehensible Supreme
Being, we shall find that we come by it the same way; and that the
complex ideas we have both of God, and separate spirits, are made of
the simple ideas we receive from reflection; v.g. having, from what we
experiment in ourselves, got the ideas of existence and duration; of
knowledge and power; of pleasure and happiness; and of several other
qualities and powers, which it is better to have than to be without;
when we would frame an idea the most suitable we can to the Supreme
Being, we enlarge every one of these with our idea of infinity; and so
putting them together, make our complex idea of God. For that the mind
has such a power of enlarging some of its ideas, received from sensation
and reflection, has been already shown.

34. Our complex idea of God as infinite.

If I find that I know some few things, and some of them, or all, perhaps
imperfectly, I can frame an idea of knowing twice as many; which I can
double again, as often as I can add to number; and thus enlarge my idea
of knowledge, by extending its comprehension to all things existing, or
possible. The same also I can do of knowing them more perfectly; i.e.
all their qualities, powers, causes, consequences, and relations, &c.,
till all be perfectly known that is in them, or can any way relate to
them: and thus frame the idea of infinite or boundless knowledge. The
same may also be done of power, till we come to that we call infinite;
and also of the duration of existance, without beginning or end, and so
frame the idea of an eternal being. The degrees or extent wherein we

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 26 of 34)