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[8]

8. We found in the first place that, owing to the ambiguity of the
term “sensible” as applied to things of which we are aware, the suggestion
was made that whatever is able to be perceived actually is pereived
and to suppose that it is not perceived is to be guilty of
contradiction and absurdity. Now when we distinguish between “being
perceived” and “being capable of being perceived”, we cannot say that
'all sensible or perceptible things are actually perceived' or that there
is any difficulty in saying that a thing which at one time was perceiv



  ― 14. ―
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ed, at another time was not perceived and yet still existed. If we were
to take Berkeley's argument seriously we should have to say that there
is no difference between the expressions “can be” and “is”, i.e., that
there is no such thing as “possibility” or “capacity”. And it is quite
certain that, on the basis of the doctrine of essences or the inner
natures of things, it is very difficult to say what their external history
can mean, i.e., if there is something which we ought to call the thing
itself and which remains absolutely unchanged whatever else may happen
to the thing, so long as the thing exists, then the natural conclusion
would be that, since the thing itself does not go through those changes
which we call the thing's history, we are really mistaken in attributing
that history to the thing at all.

Now according to the doctrine of essences, things do have that
permanent inner nature and et at the same time they have capacities
which enable them to take up different attitudes to other things at
different times. Now to solve this difficulty we find such theories
advanced as that of Leibniz who says that the thing itself or the thing's
ultimate nature is exactly equivalent to the whole history of the thing
and that to know the real nature of the thing is to know the thing's
whole history in every detail in a single act of thought; but Leibniz is
compelled to admit that our finite minds are incapable of this complete knowledge.

Now if our knowledge, as far as it goes, is concerned with changing
things, then we are not entitled to set up an ideal of complete knowledge
which would entirely transcend change because that assumption contradicts
the facts of experience; yet it is only by refernece to the facts of
experience that we could speak of one definite thing rather than another.
So that even in the theory of Leibniz, who is the most thoroughly rationalistic
of the pre-Kantian thinkers, certain fundamental inconsistencies
remain; and in the case of Berkeley, we find that in the course of his
argument he continually allows of the existence of possibilities or
capacities---he considers, for example, that the mind is capable of knowing
the laws of nature and yet that certain particular minds may not
have all that knowledge of which they are capable and may even make mistakes
about natural facts. Thus since, in order to have an intelligible
system at all, Berkeley has to admit the distinction between possibility
and actuality, we are entitled to regard his use of the term “sensible”
as ambiguous .and the proof which he bases upon that use of the term as
inconclusive.

Even if we can remove the confusion between what can be perceived
and what is perceived, we have still to deal with Berkeley's fundamental
contention that what is perceived must be perceived or is necessarily
perceived; in other words that being perceived belong to the very nature
or essence of the thing which is perceived and therefore that we cannot
imagine the one without the other; to suggest that we can is to be
guilty of abstraction.

Now this doctrine of opposition to abstraction is one which Berkeley
has derived from Descartes, and in particular, from Descartes' theory
of essences though, curiously enough, Descartes introduced the conception
of abstraction to show how he could be aware of pure essences. The
position is that we fall into error if we think separately of things
which cannot exist separately; and this connected existence is the mode
of existence of essences---we know a thing in its essence if we not
merely know all its aspects but know how these are bound up with one



  ― 15. ―
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another so as to constitute the thing. But the difficulty in this
theory is that of making any distinction between one aspect and that of
another because if we cannot think separately of a particular aspect of
a thing, it would appear that we could not distinguish that aspect from
any other aspect; in other words, to understand any aspect fully is to
understand the whole thing and then each so-called aspect is simply the
thing and there is no distinction between the one and the other.

Now Berkeley attempts to uphold this doctrine of essences and
yet at the same time to make a distinction between one aspect and another---it
is the whole nature of a sensible thing to be perceived and yet
Berkeley himself has said that the sensible thing also is; he has said
that the being of sensible things is their being perceived. Now either
he himself is guilty of abstraction in thinking of the being of the
thing apart from its whole nature or else there is no distinction between
these two aspects of the being of a thing, and thus the being and
the being perceived of sensible things are absolutely identical; but if
they are absolutely identical, then we should conclude that the term
“perceived” has no meaning. On the other hand, if we say significantly
of anything that it is perceived, i.e., if that proposition conveys real
information, then we must first have been able to think of the thing
without thinking of its being perceived and then to introduce that
character as something new; in other words, in attributing that or any
other character to the thing, we must suppose that the character does
not indicate the whole nature of the thing but only one particular
aspect of it, and that we can think of the thing without thinking of that
aspect, i.e., that we can quite justifiably do what Berkeley calls “abstracting”.

And this statement of the case does not imply that the proposition
so far formulated is untrue. If we take, for example, the proposition
that “All men are mortal”, then that is a proposition that we should
all allow to be true and yet should admit that it conveys definite
information. The fact is, then, that, though men have the character of
mortality or whatever present characteristics whichthe occurrence of
death at a future date implies, yet it is possible to be acquainted
with men without knowing that they have that character, and thus, at some
particular time, in the course of our experience to arrive at that proposition
as a new discovery. What that implies, then, is that we have
been acquainted with a number of mortals for a considerable time without
being aware that they were mortal and yet having a considerable
amount of quite exact knowledge about them.

In a similar way it might happen that we were acquainted with
a number of things which are perceived without being aware of the fact
that they are perceived and yet without falling into any error in
what we did believe about them. And that means that it was possible
for us to think that these things were not perceived, i.e., that we
could formulate that proposition without absurdity even if it turned
out, in further consideration, that the proposition was false.

Now the questions that this criticism leads up to are how it
was possible for Berkeley to think that being perceived constituted the
whole nature of certain particular things and how he could think that
a denial of that form of belief involved us in absurdity.

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