I cannot but look upon it as a great honour, that your lordship, who are so thoroughly acquainted with the incomparable writings of antiquity, and know so well how to entertain yourself with the great men in the commonwealth of letters, should at any time take into your hand my mean papers; and so far bestow any of your valuable minutes on my Essay of Human Understanding, as to let the world see you have thought my notions worth your lordship’s consideration. My aim in that, as well as every thing else written by me, being purely to follow truth as far as I could discover it, I think myself beholden to whoever shows me my mistakes, as to one who, concurring in my design, helps me forward in my way.
Your lordship has been pleased to favour me with some thoughts of yours in this kind, in your late learned “Discourse, in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity;” and, I hope, I may say, have gone a little out of your way to do me that kindness; for the obligation is thereby the greater. And if your lordship has brought in the mention of my book in a chapter, intitled, “Objections against the Trinity, in Point of Reason, answered;” when, in my whole Essay, I think there is not to be found any thing like an objection against the Trinity: I have the more to acknowledge to your lordship, who would not let the foreignness of the subject hinder your lordship from endeavouring to set me right, as to some errours your lordship apprehends in my book; when other writers using some notions like mine, gave you that which was occasion enough for you to do me the favour to take notice of what you dislike in my Essay.
Your lordship’s name is of so great authority in the learned world, that I who profess myself more ready, upon conviction, to recant, than I was at first to publish, my mistakes, cannot pay that respect is due to it, without telling the reasons why I still retain any of my notions, after your lordship’s having appeared dissatisfied with them. This must be my apology, and I hope such a one as your lordship will allow, for my examining what you have printed against several passages in my book, and my showing the reasons why it has not prevailed with me to quit them.
That your lordship’s reasonings may lose none of their force by my misapprehending or misrepresenting them (a way too familiarly used in writings that have any appearance of controversy), I shall crave leave to give the reader your lordship’s arguments in the full strength of your own expressions; that so in them he may have the advantage to see the deficiency of my answers, in any point where I shall be so unfortunate as not to perceive, or not to follow, the light your lordship affords me.
Your lordship having in the two or three preceding pages, justly, as I think, found fault with the account of reason, given by the Unitarians and a late writer, in those passages you quote out of them; and then coming to the nature of substance, and relating what that author has said concerning the mind’s getting of simple ideas, and those simple ideas being the sole matter and foundation of all our reasonings; your lordship thus concludes,
“Then it follows, that we can have no foundation of reasoning, where there can be no such ideas from sensation or reflection.”
“Now this is the case of substance; it is not intromitted by the senses, nor depends upon the operation of the mind; and so it cannot be within the compass of our reason. And therefore I do not wonder, that the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world. For they not only tell us, &c.”
This, as I remember, is the first place where your lordship is pleased to quote any thing out of my “Essay of Human Understanding,” which your lordship does in these words following:
“That we can have no idea of it by sensation or reflection: but that nothing is signified by it, only an uncertain supposition of we know not what.” And therefore it is paralleled, more than once, with the Indian philosopher’s “He-knew-not-what; which supported the tortoise, that supported the elephant, that supported the earth: so substance was found out only to support accidents. And that when we talk of substances, we talk like children; who, being asked a question about somewhat which they knew not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something.”
These words of mine your lordship brings to prove, that I am one of “the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, that have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.” An accusation which your lordship will pardon me, if I do not readily know what to plead to, because I do not understand what is “almost to discard substance out of the reasonable part of the world.” If your lordship means by it, that I deny or doubt that there is in the world any such thing as substance, that your lordship will acquit me of, when your lordship looks again into that chapter, which you have cited more than once, where your lordship will find these words: “When we talk or think of any particular sort of corporeal substances, as horse, stone, &c. though the idea we have of either of them be but the complication or collection of those several simple ideas of sensible qualities which we used to find united in the thing called horse or stone; yet because we cannot conceive how they should subsist alone, nor one in another, we suppose them existing in, and supported by some common subject, which support we denote by the name substance; though it be certain we have no clear and distinct idea of that thing we suppose a support.” And again,
“The same happens concerning the operations of the mind, viz. thinking, reasoning, fearing, &c. which we considering not to subsist of themselves, nor apprehending how they can belong to body, or be produced by it, we are apt to think these the actions of some other substance, which we call spirit: whereby yet it is evident, that having no other idea or notion of matter, but something wherein those many sensible qualities which affect our senses, do subsist; by supposing a substance, wherein thinking, knowing, doubting, and a power of moving, &c. do subsist, we have as clear a notion of the nature or substance of spirit, as we have of body; the one being supposed to be (without knowing what it is) the substratum to those simple ideas we have from without; and the other supposed (with a like ignorance of what it is) to be the substratum to those operations, which we experiment in ourselves within.” And again,
“Whatever therefore be the secret nature of substance in general,all the ideas we have of particular distinct substances are nothing but several combinations of simple ideas, co-existing in such, though unknown, cause of their union, as makes the whole subsist of itself.”
And I further say in the same section, “That we suppose these combinations to rest in, and to be adherent to that unknown, common subject, which inheres not in any thing else. And that our complex ideas of substances, besides all those simple ideas they are made up of, have always the confused idea of something to which they belong, and in which they subsist: and therefore when we speak of any sort of substance, we say it is a thing having such and such qualities; a body is a thing that is extended, figured, and capable of motion; a spirit, a thing capable of thinking.”