Works of John Locke
22:31 h Ideas Lvl 10.71
John Locke was the "father of Liberalism," a physician, and philosopher. The Works of John Locke collects the Englishman's influential writing. Locke believed that man could only learn from his experiences, not his ideas. This theory is known as empiricism, and Locke is one of the first proponents of its ideals. Read the words of a great 1600s philosopher regarding learning, understanding, and thinking.

Works of John Locke

Letters to the Right Rev. Edward Lord Bishop of Worcester, Concerning Mr. Locke's Essay of Human Understanding

by
John Locke


Works of John Locke

A Letter to the Right Reverend Edward, Lord Bishop of Worcester, Concerning Some Passages Relating to Mr. Locke’s Essay of Human Understanding. In a Late Discourse of His Lordship’s, In Vindication of the Trinity

My Lord,

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.”

These, and the like fashions of speaking, intimate, that the substance is supposed always something, besides the extension, figure, solidity, motion, thinking, or other observable idea, though we know not what it is.

“Our idea of body, I say, is an extended, solid substance; and our idea of our souls is of a substance that thinks.” So that as long as there is any such thing as body or spirit in the world, I have done nothing towards the discarding substance out of the reasonable part of the world. Nay, as long as there is any simple idea or sensible quality left, according to my way of arguing, substance cannot be discarded; because all simple ideas, all sensible qualities, carry with them a supposition of a substratum to exist in, and of a substance wherein they inhere: and of this that whole chapter is so full, that I challenge any one who reads it to think I have almost, or one jot discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world. And of this man, horse, sun, water, iron, diamond, &c. which I have mentioned of distinct sorts of substances, will be my witnesses as long as any such thing remains in being; of which I say, “that the ideas of substances are such combinations of simple ideas, as are taken to represent distinct, particular things, subsisting by themselves, in which the supposed or confused idea of substance is always the first and chief.”

If by almost discarding substance out of the reasonable part of the world your lordship means, that I have destroyed, and almost discarded the true idea we have of it, by calling it “a substratum, a supposition of we know not what support of such qualities as are capable of producing simple ideas in us; an obscure and relative idea: that without knowing what it is, it is that which supports accidents; so that of substance we have no idea of what it is, but only a confused and obscure one, of what it does;” I must confess this, and the like I have said of our idea of substance; and should be very glad to be convinced by your lordship, or any body else, that I have spoken too meanly of it. He that would show me a more clear and distinct idea of substance, would do me a kindness I should thank him for. But this is the best I can hitherto find, either in my own thoughts, or in the books of logicians: for their account or idea of it is, that it is “Ens,” or “res per se subsistens et substans accidentibus;” which in effect is no more, but that substance is a being or thing; or, in short, something they know not what, or of which they have no clearer idea, than that it is something which supports accidents, or other simple ideas or modes, and is not supported itself as a mode or an accident. So that I do not see but Burgersdicius, Sanderson, and the whole tribe of logicians, must be reckoned with “the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, who have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.”

But supposing, my lord, that I, or these gentlemen, logicians of note in the schools, should own, that we have a very imperfect, obscure, inadequate idea of substance; would it not be a little too hard to charge us with discarding substance out of the world? For what almost discarding, and reasonable part of the world, signify, I must confess I do not clearly comprehend: but let almost, and reasonable part, signify here what they will, for I dare say your lordship meant something by them, would not your lordship think you were a little too hardly dealt with, if for acknowledging yourself to have a very imperfect and inadequate idea of God, or of several other things which, in this very treatise, you confess our understandings come short in and cannot comprehend, you should be accused to be one of these gentlemen that have almost discarded God, or those other mysterious things, whereof you contend we have very imperfect and inadequate ideas, out of the reasonable world? For I suppose your lordship means by almost discarding out of the reasonable world something that is blameable, for it seems not to be inserted for a commendation; and yet I think he deserves no blame, who owns the having imperfect, inadequate, obscure ideas, where he has no better: however, if it be inferred from thence, that either he almost excludes those things out of being, or out of rational discourse, if that be meant by the reasonable world; for the first of these will not hold, because the being of things in the world depends not on our ideas: the latter indeed is true, in some degree, but is no fault; for it is certain, that where we have imperfect, inadequate, confused, obscure ideas, we cannot discourse and reason about those things so well, fully, and clearly, as if we had perfect, adequate, clear and distinct ideas.

Your lordship, I must own, with great reason, takes notice that I paralleled, more than once, our idea of substance with the Indian philosopher’s he-knew-not-what, which supported the tortoise, &c.

This repetition is, I confess, a fault in exact writing: but I have acknowledged and excused it in these words in my preface, “I am not ignorant how little I herein consult my own reputation, when I knowingly let my Essay go with a fault so apt to disgust the most judicious, who are always the nicest readers.” And there further add, “that I did not publish my Essay for such great masters of knowledge as your lordship; but fitted it to men of my own size, to whom repetitions might be sometimes useful.” It would not therefore have been besides your lordship’s generosity (who were not intended to be provoked by the repetition) to have passed by such a fault as this, in one who pretends not beyond the lower rank of writers. But I see your lordship would have me exact and without any faults; and I wish I could be so, the better to deserve your lordship’s approbation.

My saying, “that when we talk of substance, we talk like children; who being asked a question about something, which they know not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something;” your lordship seems mightily to lay to heart, in these words that follow:

“If this be the truth of the case, we must still talk like children, and I know not how it can be remedied. For if we cannot come at a rational idea of substance, we can have no principle of certainty to go upon in this debate.”

If your lordship has any better and distincter idea of substance than mine is, which I have given an account of, your lordship is not at all concerned in what I have there said. But those whose idea of substance, whether a rational or not rational idea, is like mine, something he-knows-not-what, must in that, with me, talk like children, when they speak of something they know not what. For a philosopher that says, that which supports accidents is something he-knows-not-what; and a country-man that says, the foundation of the church at Harlem is supported by something he-knows-not-what; and a child that stands in the dark upon his mother’s muff, and says he stands upon something he-knows-not-what; in this respect talk all three alike. But if the country-man knows, that the foundation of the church at Harlem is supported by a rock, as the houses about Bristol are; or by gravel, as the houses about London are; or by wooden piles, as the houses in Amsterdam are; it is plain, that then having a clear and distinct idea of the thing that supports the church, he does not talk of this matter as a child; nor will he of the support of accidents, when he has a clearer and more distinct idea of it, than that it is barely something. But as long as we think like children, in cases where our ideas are no clearer nor distincter than theirs, I agree with your lordship, that I know not how it can be remedied, but that we must talk like them.

Your lordship’s next paragraph begins thus: “I do not say, that we can have a clear idea of substance, either by sensation or reflection; but from hence I argue, that this is a very insufficient distribution of the ideas necessary to reason.”

Your lordship here argues against a proposition that I know nobody that holds: I am sure the author of the Essay of Human Understanding never thought, nor in that Essay hath any where said, that the ideas that come into the mind by sensation and reflection, are all the ideas that are necessary to reason, or that reason is exercised about; for then he must have laid by all the ideas of simple and mixed modes and relations, and the complex ideas of the species of substances, about which he has spent so many chapters; and must have denied that these complex ideas are the objects of men’s thoughts or reasonings, which he is far enough from. All that he has said about sensation and reflection is, that all our simple ideas are received by them, and that these simple ideas are the foundation of all our knowledge, for as much as all our complex, relative, and general ideas are made by the mind, abstracting, enlarging, comparing, compounding, and referring, &c. these simple ideas, and their several combinations, one to another; whereby complex and general ideas are formed of modes, relations, and the several species of substances, all which are made use of by reason, as well as the other faculties of the mind.

I therefore agree with your lordship, that the ideas of sensation or reflection is a very insufficient distribution of the ideas necessary to reason. Only my agreement with your lordship had been more intire to the whole sentence, if your lordship had rather said, ideas made use of by reason; because I do not well know what is meant by ideas necessary to reason. For reason being a faculty of the mind, nothing, in my poor opinion, can properly be said to be necessary to that faculty, but what is required to its being. As nothing is necessary to sight in a man, but such a constitution of the body and organ, that a man may have the power of seeing; so I submit it to your lordship, whether any thing can properly be said to be necessary to reason in a man, but such a constitution of body or mind, or both, as may give him the power of reasoning. Indeed such a particular sort of objects or instruments may be sometimes said to be necessary to the eye, but it is never said in reference to the faculty of seeing, but in reference to some particular end of seeing; and then a microscope and a mite may be necessary to the eye, if the end proposed be to know the shape and parts of that animal. And so if a man would reason about substance, then the idea of substance is necessary to his reason: but yet I doubt not but that many a rational creature has been, who, in all his life, never bethought himself of any necessity his reason had of an idea of substance.

Your lordship’s next words are; “for besides these, there must be some general ideas which the mind doth form, not by mere comparing those ideas it has got from sense or reflection, but by forming distinct general notions of things from particular ideas.”

Here, again, I perfectly agree with your lordship, that besides the particular ideas received from sensation and reflection, the mind “forms general ideas, not by mere comparing those ideas it has got by sensation and reflection;” for this I do not remember I ever said. But this I say, “ideas become general, by separating from them the circumstances of time and place, and any other ideas that may determine them to this or that particular existence. By this way of abstraction they are made, &c.” And to the same purpose I explain myself in another place.

Your lordship says, “the mind forms general ideas, by forming general notions of things from particular ideas.” And I say, the mind forms general ideas, “abstracting from particular ones.” So that there is no difference that I perceive between us in this matter, but only a little in expression.

It follows, “and amongst these general notions, or rational ideas, substance is one of the first; because we find, that we can have no true conceptions of any modes or accidents (no matter which) but we must conceive a substratum, or subject wherein they are. Since it is a repugnancy to our first conceptions of things, that modes or accidents should subsist by themselves; and therefore the rational idea of substance is one of the first and most natural ideas in our minds.”

Whether the general idea of substance be one of the first or most natural ideas in our minds, I will not dispute with your lordship, as not being, I think, very material to the matter in hand. But as to the idea of substance, what it is, and how we come by it, your lordship says, “it is a repugnancy to our conceptions of things, that modes and accidents should subsist by themselves; and therefore we must conceive a substratum wherein they are.” And, I say, “because we cannot conceive how simple ideas of sensible qualities should subsist alone, or one in another, we suppose them existing in, and supported by, some common subject.” Which I, with your lordship, call also substratum.

What can be more consonant to itself, than what your lordship and I have said in these two passages is consonant to one another? Whereupon, my lord, give me leave, I beseech you, to boast to the world, that what I have said concerning our general idea of substance, and the way how we come by it, has the honour to be confirmed by your lordship’s authority. And that from hence I may be sure the saying, [that the general idea we have of substance is, that it is a substratum or support to modes or accidents, wherein they do subsist: and that the mind forms it, because it cannot conceive how they should subsist of themselves,] has no objection in it against the Trinity; for then your lordship will not, I know, be of that opinion, nor own it in a chapter where you are answering objections against the Trinity; however my words, which amount to no more, have been (I know not how) brought into that chapter: though what they have to do there, I must confess to your lordship, I do not yet see.

In the next words your lordship says, “but we are still told, that our understanding can have no other ideas but either from sensation or reflection.”

The words of that section your lordship quotes, are these: “the understanding seems to me, not to have the least glimmering of any ideas, which it doth not receive from one of these two. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us: and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations. These, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, and the compositions made out of them, we shall find to contain all our own stock of ideas; and that we have nothing in our minds which did not come in one of those two ways. Let any one examine his own thoughts, and thoroughly search into his own understanding, and then let him tell me, whether all the original ideas he has there, are any other than of the objects of his senses, or of the operations of his mind, considered as objects of his reflection? and how great a mass of knowledge soever he imagines to be lodged there, he will, upon taking a strict view, see, that he has not any idea in his mind but what one of these two have imprinted, though, perhaps, with infinite variety compounded and enlarged by the understanding, as we shall see hereafter.”

These words seem to me to signify something different from what your lordship has cited out of them; and if they do not, were intended, I am sure, by me, to signify all those complex ideas of modes, relations, and specific substances, which how the mind itself forms out of simple ideas, I have showed in the following part of my book; and intended to refer to it by these words, “as we shall see hereafter,” with which I close that paragraph. But if by ideas your lordship signifies simple ideas, in the words you have set down, I grant then they contain my sense, viz. “that our understandings can have (that is, in the natural exercise of our faculties) no other simple ideas, but either from sensation or reflection.”

Your lordship goes on: “and [we are still told] that herein chiefly lies the excellency of mankind above brutes, that these cannot abstract and enlarge ideas, as men do.”

Had your lordship done me the favour to have quoted the place in my book, from whence you had taken these words, I should not have been at a loss to find them. Those in my book, which I can remember any where come nearest to them, run thus:

“This, I think, I may be positive in, that the power of abstracting is not at all in brutes; and that the having of general ideas is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man and brutes; and is an excellency which the faculties of brutes do by no means attain to.”

Though, speaking of the faculties of the human understanding, I took occasion, by the by, to conjecture how far brutes partook with men in any of the intellectual faculties; yet it never entered into my thoughts, on that occasion, to compare the utmost perfections of human nature with that of brutes, and therefore was far from saying, “herein chiefly lies the excellency of mankind above brutes, that these cannot abstract and enlarge their ideas, as men do.” For it seems to me an absurdity I would not willingly be guilty of, to say, “that the excellency of mankind lies chiefly, or any ways in this, that brutes cannot abstract.” For brutes not being able to do any thing, cannot be any excellency of mankind. The ability of mankind does not lie in the impotency or disabilities of brutes. If your lordship had charged me to have said, that herein lies one excellency of mankind above brutes, viz. that men can, and brutes cannot abstract; I must have owned it to be my sense; but what I ought to say to what your lordship approved or disapproved of in it, I shall better understand, when I know to what purpose your lordship was pleased to cite it.

The immediately following paragraph runs thus: “but how comes the general idea of substance to be framed in our minds?” Is this by “abstracting and enlarging simple ideas?” no, “but it is by a complication of many simple ideas together: because not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from whence they do result, which therefore we call substance.” And is this all indeed, that is to be said for the being of substance, “that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum?” Is that custom grounded upon true reason, or not? If not, then accidents or modes must subsist of themselves, and these simple ideas need no tortoise to support them: for figures and colours, &c. would do well enough for themselves, but for some fancies men have accustomed themselves to.”

Herein your lordship seems to charge me with two faults; one, that I make “the general idea of substance to be framed, not by abstracting and enlarging simple ideas, but by a complication of many simple ideas together:” the other, as if I had said, the being of substance had no other foundation but the fancies of men.

As to the first of these, I beg leave to remind your lordship, that I say in more places than one, and particularly those above quoted, where ex professo I treat of abstraction and general ideas, that they are all made by abstracting; and therefore could not be understood to mean, that that of substance was made any other way; however my pen might have slipped, or the negligence of expression, where I might have something else than the general idea of substance in view, make me seem to say so.

That I was not speaking of the general idea of substance in the passage your lordship quotes, is manifest from the title of that chapter, which is, “of the complex ideas of substance.” And the first section of it, which your lordship cites for those words you have set down, stands thus: “The mind being, as I have declared, furnished with a great number of the simple ideas conveyed in by the senses, as they are found in exterior things, or by reflections on its own operations: takes notice also, that a certain number of these simple ideas go constantly together; which being presumed to belong to one thing, and words being suited to common apprehension, and made use of for quick dispatch, are called, so united in one subject, by one name; which, by inadvertency, we are apt afterward to talk of, and consider as one simple idea, which indeed is a complication of many ideas together: because, as I have said, not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum, wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result; which therefore we call substance.”

In which words, I do not observe any that deny the general idea of substance to be made by abstraction; nor any that say, “it is made by a complication of many simple ideas together.” But speaking in that place of the ideas of distinct substances, such as man, horse, gold, &c. I say they are made up of certain combinations of simple ideas; which combinations are looked upon, each of them, as one simple idea, though they are many; and we call it by one name of substance, though made up of modes, from the custom of supposing a substratum, wherein that combination does subsist. So that in this paragraph I only give an account of the idea of distinct substances, such as oak, elephant, iron, &c. how, though they are made up of distinct complications of modes, yet they are looked on as one idea, called by one name, as making distinct sorts of substances.

But that my notion of substance in general is quite different from these, and has no such combination of simple ideas in it, is evident from the immediately following words, where I say; “the idea of pure substance in general is only supposition of we know not what support of such qualities as are capable of producing simple ideas in us.” And these two I plainly distinguish all along, particularly where I say, “whatever therefore be the secret and abstract 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.”

The other thing laid to my charge, is, as if I took the being of substance to be doubtful, or rendered it so by the imperfect and ill-grounded idea I have given of it. To which I beg leave to say, that I ground not the being, but the idea of substance, on our accustoming ourselves to suppose some substratum; for it is of the idea alone I speak there, and not of the being of substance. And having every where affirmed and built upon it, that a man is a substance; I cannot be supposed to question or doubt of the being of substance, till I can question or doubt of my own being. Further I say, “that sensation convinces us that there are solid extended substances: and reflection, that there are thinking ones.” So that I think the being of substance is not shaken by what I have said: and if the idea of it should be, yet (the being of things depending not on our ideas) the being of substance would not be at all shaken by my saying, we had but an obscure imperfect idea of it, and that that idea came from our accustoming ourselves to suppose some substratum; or indeed, if I should say, we had no idea of substance at all. For a great many things may be and are granted to have a being, and be in nature, of which we have no ideas. For example; it cannot be doubted but there are distinct species of separate spirits, of which we have no distinct ideas at all: it cannot be questioned but spirits have ways of communicating their thoughts, and yet we have no idea of it at all.

The being then of substance being safe and secure, notwithstanding any thing I have said, let us see whether the idea of it be not so too. Your lordship asks, with concern, “and is this all indeed that is to be said for the being” (if your lordship please, let it be the idea) “of substance, that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum? Is that custom grounded upon true reason, or no?” I have said, that it is grounded upon this, “that we cannot conceive how simple ideas of sensible qualities should subsist alone, and therefore we suppose them to exist in, and to be supported by, some common subject, which support we denote by the name substance.” Which I think is a true reason, because it is the same your lordship grounds the supposition of a substratum on, in this very page; even on “repugnancy to our conceptions, that modes and accidents should subsist by themselves.” So that I have the good luck here again to agree with your lordship: and consequently conclude, I have your approbation in this, that the substratum to modes or accidents, which is our idea of substance in general, is founded in this, “that we cannot conceive how modes or accidents can subsist by themselves.”

The words next following, are: “if it be grounded upon plain and evident reason, then we must allow an idea of substance, which comes not in by sensation or reflection; and so we may be certain of something which we have not by those ideas.”

These words of your lordship’s contain nothing, that I see in them, against me: for I never said that the general idea of substance comes in by sensation and reflection; or, that it is a simple idea of sensation or reflection, though it be ultimately founded in them: for it is a complex idea, made up of the general idea of something, or being, with the relation of a support to accidents. For general ideas come not into the mind by sensation or reflection, but are the creatures or inventions of the understanding, as, I think, I have shown; and also, how the mind makes them from ideas, which it has got by sensation and reflection: and as to the ideas of relation, how the mind forms them, and how they are derived from, and ultimately terminate in, ideas of sensation and reflection, I have likewise shown.

But that I may not be mistaken what I mean, when I speak of ideas of sensation and reflection, as the materials of all our knowledge; give me leave, my lord, to set down a place or two out of my book, to explain myself; as, I thus speak of ideas of sensation and reflection: “That these, when we have taken a full survey of them, and their several modes, and the compositions made out of them, we shall find to contain all our whole stock of ideas; and we have nothing in our minds, which did not come in one of those two ways.” This thought, in another place, I express thus: “These simple ideas, the materials of all our knowledge, are suggested and furnished to the mind only by these two ways above mentioned, viz. sensation and reflection.” And again, “These are the most considerable of those simple ideas which the mind has, and out of which is made all its other knowledge; all which it receives by the two forementioned ways of sensation and reflection.” And, “Thus I have, in a short draught, given a view of our original ideas, from whence all the rest are derived, and of which they are made up.”

This, and the like said in other places, is what I have thought concerning ideas of sensation and reflection, as the foundation and materials of all our ideas, and consequently of all our knowledge. I have set down these particulars out of my book, that the reader, having a full view of my opinion herein, may the better see what in it is liable to your lordship’s reprehension. For that your lordship is not very well satisfied with it, appears not only by the words under consideration, but by these also: “But we are still told, that our understanding can have no other ideas, but either from sensation or reflection. And, let us suppose this principle to be true, that the simple ideas, by sensation or reflection, are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning.”

Your lordship’s argument, in the passage we are upon, stands thus: “If the general idea of substance be grounded upon plain and evident reason, then we must allow an idea of substance, which comes not in by sensation or reflection:” This is a consequence which, with submission, I think will not hold, because it is founded on a supposition which, I think, will not hold, viz. that reason and ideas are inconsistent; for if that supposition be not true, then the general idea of substance may be grounded on plain and evident reason: and yet it will not follow from thence, that it is not ultimately grounded on, and derived from, ideas which come in by sensation or reflection, and so cannot be said to come in by sensation or reflection.

To explain myself, and clear my meaning in this matter: all the ideas of all the sensible qualities of a cherry, come into my mind by sensation; the ideas of perceiving, thinking, reasoning, knowing, &c. come into my mind by reflection: the ideas of these qualities and actions, or powers, are perceived by the mind to be by themselves inconsistent with existence; or, as your lordship well expresses it, “we find that we can have no true conception of any modes or accidents, but we must conceive a substratum or subject, wherein they are;” i. e. that they cannot exist or subsist of themselves. Hence the mind perceives their necessary connexion with inherence or being supported; which being a relative idea superadded to the red colour in a cherry, or to thinking in a man, the mind frames the correlative idea of a support. For I never denied, that the mind could frame to itself ideas of relation, but have showed the quite contrary in my chapters about relation. But because a relation cannot be founded in nothing, or be the relation of nothing, and the thing here related as a supporter or support, is not represented to the mind by any clear and distinct idea; therefore the obscure, indistinct, vague idea of thing or something, is all that is left to be the positive idea, which has the relation of a support or substratum to modes or accidents; and that general determined idea of something, is, by the abstraction of the mind, derived also from the simple ideas of sensation and reflection: and thus the mind, from the positive, simple ideas got by sensation or reflection, comes to the general relative idea of substance; which, without the positive simple ideas, it would never have.

This your lordship (without giving by retail all the particular steps of the mind in this business) has well expressed in this more familiar way:

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