Skepticism Regarding Our Sensesby David Hume
Is the Perception of Existence from Our Senses, Reason, or Imagination?
The skeptic still continues to reason even if he cannot defend his reason by reason.
He must assent to the principle on the body’s existence even though he cannot maintain its veracity by any philosophical arguments.
- not left this to his choice, and
- not seen it too important to be trusted to our uncertain reasonings and speculations.
We may ask: Why do we believe in the body’s existence?
But it is in vain to ask: Is there a body or not?
We must take this for granted in all our reasonings.
Two questions are commonly confounded together:
- Why do we attribute a continued existence to objects, even when they are not present to the senses?
- Why do we suppose them to have an existence distinct from the mind and perception?
Existence here includes:
- situation and relations,
- external position, and
- the independence of their existence and operation.
These 2 questions ask about the continued and distinct existence of body, and are intimately connected together.
If the objects of our senses continue to exist even when they are not perceived, it means that their existence is independent from our perception. Conversely, if their existence is independent of our perception, they must continue to exist even if they are not perceived. The answer of the one question answers the other. Yet we may more easily discover the principles of human nature, from the answer. We shall carry this distinction with us. We will consider which one of the following creates the idea of a continued or a distinct existence: the senses, the reason, or the imagination. The Senses Cannot Give Us an Idea of Existence We have already shown the absurdity of the idea of external existence of things that are different from our perceptions (Part 2, Section 6).
The senses cannot create the notion of the continued existence of their objects, after they no longer appear to the senses. That would: be a contradiction in terms, and suppose that the senses continue to operate, even after they stopped operating. Therefore, the senses create the opinion of a distinct existence, and not a continued existence. It must present their impressions: as images and representations, or as these very distinct and external existences. Our senses do not portray their impressions as the images of something independent and external.
Our senses convey to us only a single perception. They never give us any intimation of anything beyond that. A single perception can only produce the idea of a double existence through some inference either of the reason or imagination. When the mind looks further than what immediately appears to it, its conclusions can never come from the senses. The mind looks further, when from a single perception it: infers a double existence, and supposes a resemblance and causation between them. Therefore, if our senses suggest any idea of distinct existences, they must convey the impressions as those very existences, by a kind of fallacy and illusion.
All sensations are felt by the mind as they are. When we doubt whether they present themselves as distinct objects, or as mere impressions, the difficulty is not on their nature. The difficulty is on their relations and situation. If the senses presented our impressions as external to, and independent of ourselves, both the objects and ourselves must be obvious to our senses. Otherwise, the senses could not compare them. The difficulty then, is how far we ourselves are the objects of our senses. The most abstruse question in philosophy is the one on:
identity, and the nature of the uniting principle which constitutes a person. We must have recourse to the most profound metaphysics to answer it because our senses are unable to answer it.
In common life, these ideas of ‘self’ and ‘person’ are never very fixed nor determinate. Therefore, it is absurd to imagine that the senses can ever distinguish between ourselves and external objects. In addition, every external and internal impression, passions, affections, sensations, pains and pleasures, are originally on the same footing. These are all impressions or perceptions. Our senses cannot deceive us more in the external locations and internal relations, than in the nature of our impressions because all the actions and sensations of the mind are known to us by consciousness. All those actions and sensations of the mind: must appear as they are, and must be what they appear. Everything that enters the mind is in reality a perception. It is impossible for anything to appear to the mind in a different way that it appears to the feeling. It would imply that we can have an idea of a feeling that we did not feel. Can our senses deceive us?
Can they represent our perceptions as different from ourselves, as something external and independent of us? Where does the error of the senses come from? We answer the question on external existence, by setting aside the metaphysical question of the identity of a thinking substance.
Our own body belongs to us. Several impressions appear exterior to the body. We suppose them also exterior to ourselves. The paper I write on is beyond my hand. The table is beyond the paper. The walls of the room are beyond the table. When I look out the window, I perceive a great fields and buildings beyond my room. We infer that only the senses are needed to convince us of the external existence of body. But this is wrong, as proven by three considerations:
Consideration 1: We do not perceive our body when we regard our arms and legs. We perceive certain impressions which enter through our senses. The ascribing of a real and corporeal existence to these impressions or to their objects, is an act of the mind that is difficult to explain. Consideration 2: The mind commonly regards sounds, tastes, and smells as continued independent qualities. They do not exist in space. Consequently, they cannot appear to the senses as placed externally from the body. We shall explain why we ascribe a place to them afterwards. Consideration 3: Even our sight does not tell us the distance immediately and without a certain reasoning and experience. This is acknowledged by the most rational philosophers. Any opinion that we create on the independence of our perceptions must be derived from experience and observation.
Our senses can never give us an idea of this independence. Our conclusions from experience are not favourable to the doctrine of the independence of our perceptions. When talk of real distinct existences of anything: we commonly mean their independent existence more than their external location, and we think that it has a sufficient reality if its being is continuous and independent of the changes in ourselves. The senses cannot give us any notion of an object’s continued existence because they cannot sense the object continuously.
They cannot give us a notion of an object’s distinct existence, because the senses cannot offer the object to the mind: as represented, and To offer it as represented, the senses must present both an object and an image. as original. To make it appear as original, the senses must convey a falsehood. This falsehood must lie in the relations and situation for the senses to compare the object with ourselves. Our senses cannot do this and so our senses cannot deceive us. Therefore, the notion of a continued and of a distinct existence never arises from the senses. Three Kinds of Sensory Impressions There are three types of impressions conveyed by the senses.
Type 1: Those of the shape, volume, motion and solidity of bodies. Both philosophers and ordinary people think that these impressions have a continued existence distinct from each other. Type 2: Those of colours, tastes, smells, sounds, heat and cold. Only ordinary people regard these under the same category. Type 3: The pains and pleasures arising from the application of objects to our bodies, such as the cutting of our flesh with steel. Both philosophers and ordinary people, again, think these impressions to be merely perceptions. Consequently, they are interrupted by and are dependent on the senses. The senses perceive the existence of colours, sounds, and temperature in the same way as they perceive motion and solidity.
The difference we make between them in this respect, does not arise from the mere perception. The prejudice for the distinct continued existence of colours, sounds, and temperature is so strong. When the contrary opinion is advanced by modern philosophers, people imagine that: they can almost refute it from their feeling and experience, and their very senses contradict this philosophy. Colours, sounds, etc. are originally on the same category with: the pain that arises from a wound, and the pleasure that proceeds from the heat of a fire. The difference between pain and pleasure is founded on imagination, not on perception nor reason. Both of them are just perceptions arising from the body’s configurations and motions. Thus, pain and pleasre are in the same category as colors, sounds, etc. To the senses therefore, all sensory perceptions are the same in the way that they exist. We can assign a distinct, continued existence to objects, that we hear and see the colours of, without ever:
consulting reason, or weighing our opinions by any philosophical principles. Philosophers might be able to produce convincing arguments to establish the belief of objects independent of the mind.
But these arguments are very few. Children, peasants, and most people are not induced by these arguments to: attribute objects to some impressions, and deny objects to other impressions. Accordingly, we find that all the conclusions of ordinary people are directly contrary to the conclusions confirmed by philosophy.
Philosophy informs us that everything which appears to the mind, is: nothing but a perception, and interrupted by and dependent on the mind. Whereas ordinary people: confound perceptions and objects, and attribute a distinct continued existence to the things they feel or see. This feeling which confounds perceptions and objects is entirely unreasonable. It must come from some other faculty than the understanding. As long as we take our perceptions and objects to be the same, we can never: infer the existence of the one from that of the other, and form any argument from the relation. We are assured of matters of fact, only through cause and effect. Even after we distinguish our perceptions from our objects, we are still incapable of reasoning on the existence of one to that of the other.
On the whole, our reason can never assure us of the continued and distinct existence of bodies. That opinion owes entirely to the imagination. Imagination Creates Existence from the Habitual Coherence and Constancy of Impressions All impressions appear as, and are, internal and perishing existences.
The idea of the distinct and continued existence of our impressions arises from a concurrence of some of the qualities of those impressions with the qualities of the imagination. This idea of the distinct and continued existence of our impressions does not extend to all our impressions. Instead, it arises from certain qualities peculiar to some impressions. Therefore, it will be easy for us to discover these qualities by comparing the distinct and continuously-existing impressions, with the internal and perishing impressions. People think that:
we grant reality and existence to some impressions because of those impressions’: involuntariness, and superior force and violence, we refuse reality and existence to some impressions because of those impressions’: voluntariness, and feebleness, the impressions of shape and size, colour and sound, are permanent beings existing external to us, and our pains and pleasures, passions and affections exist only within our perception. These feelings operate with greater violence and are equally involuntary as the impressions of shape and size, colour and sound. The heat of a moderate flame is supposed to exist in the flame. But the pain it causes on touch, exists only in the perception. I reject these unphilosophical opinions.
I then search for some other hypothesis to discover those qualities in our impressions which makes us assign a distinct and continued existence to them. I find that all those objects to which we attribute a continued existence, have a peculiar constancy. This constancy distinguishes them from the impressions which exist to us depending on our perception. Those mountains, houses, and trees, which I see, have always appeared to me in the same order. When I lose sight of them by closing my eyes, I find them return without change after I open my eyes. My bed, table, books, and papers, present themselves in the same uniform manner. They do not change when I stop seeing them. This is the case with all our impressions from objects that have an external existence. Other impressions that exist only in our minds do not have this constancy, whether they be: gentle or violent, and voluntary or involuntary. However, this constancy has very considerable exceptions.
Bodies often change their position and qualities. After a little absence or interruption, they may become hardly knowable. But even in these changes, they: preserve a coherence, and have a regular dependence on each other. This is the foundation of a kind of reasoning from causation. It produces the opinion of their continued existence. When I return to my room after an hour’s absence, I do not find my fire in the same situation I left it. But then in other instances I am used to seeing a similar change produced in a similar timespan, whether I am: present or absent, or near or remote. Therefore, this coherence in their changes is one of the characteristics of external objects, as well as their constancy. We have found that the opinion of the continued existence of body depends on the coherence, and constancy of certain impressions.
How do these qualities create so extraordinary an opinion? Let us begin with coherence.
We regard internal impressions as fleeting and perishing. Yet they have a coherence and regularity in their appearances. This coherence and regularity in the appearances of internal impressions is different from the coherence and regularity that we find in external bodies. Our passions have a mutual connection and dependence on each other. But we never think that our passions existed when our passions did not exist, just to preserve the same connection with the passions that have previously existed in us. This does not happen with external objects. Those external objects need a continued existence. Otherwise, they lose the regularity of their existence. I am seated in my room on the second floor, facing the fire.
All the objects that strike my senses are a few yards around me. My memory informs me of the existence of many objects. But then, this information does not go beyond their past existence. My senses or memory does not give any testimony to the continuance of their existence. I then hear the door of my room opening. I turn my head and see a servant walking towards me. This creates many new reflections and reasonings. I have always heard this noise only coming from the door’s motion. I therefore conclude that the door still exists. I have always found that a human body always had a quality called gravity. This gravity hinders the body from flying. This servant must have gone up to the second floor using gravity instead of flying, unless the stairs that I remember did not exist anymore. I receive a letter. Upon opening it, I see it to have come from a friend, by the handwriting and subscription. He says he is 1,000 kilometers away. I account for this phenomenon only by thinking about the continued existence of: the whole sea and continent between us in my mind, and the coaches and ferries which I remember. The phenomena of the servant and letter are contradictions and objections to our maxims on causes and effects because I did not see their actual causes.
I am used to: hear the sound of a door opening, and see the door opening at the same time. But in my example, I heard the door open, but did not turn my head enough to see it opened. My mind only received one perception. From this one perception, I supposed that: the door still exists, and it was opened without me seeing it opened. Without this supposition, my auditory perception of the opened door would contradict the visual perception of not yet seeing the door being open. My supposition is initially entirely arbitrary and hypothetical. This supposition gains a force and evidence by being the only supposition that I can create to reconcile such a contradiction. Similar instances have happened when I had to suppose the continued existence of objects in order to: connect their past and present appearances, and give them a union with each other that is suited to their natures and circumstances. These have naturally led me to regard the world as: something that is real and durable, and something that preserves its existence, even when it is no longer present to my perception. The coherence of appearances may seem to be of the same nature with our reasonings on causes and effects because they are both:
derived from custom, and regulated by past experience. But coherence is ultimately considerably different from cause and effect.
This inference arises from: the understanding, and habit, in an indirect and oblique manner. Nothing is ever really present to the mind besides its own perceptions.
Habit: can only be acquired by the regular succession of these perceptions, and can never exceed that degree of regularity. Therefore, any regularity in our perceptions can never be a foundation for us to infer a greater regularity in objects which are not perceived. A habit cannot be acquired by something that was never present to the mind. We give a greater regularity on real objects than the regularity in our mere perceptions by. inferring the continued existence of sensory objects from: their coherence, and the frequency of their union. We observe a connection between internal perceptions and external objects in their past appearance to the senses. But this connection is not perfectly constant, since it can be broken by: the turning about of our head, or the shutting of our eyes is able to break it. Yet these objects keep their usual connection, despite their apparent interruption. Are they joined by something that we cannot perceive? But all reasoning on matters of fact arises only from habit. Habit can only be the effect of repeated perceptions. The extension of habit and reasoning beyond the perceptions can never be the direct and natural effect of the constant repetition and connection. Rather, it must arise from the cooperation of some other principles. We see several loose standards of equality in mathematics.
We correct these standards by connecting them together. We then imagine that the resulting standard is exact because when the imagination (Part 2, Section 4) is set into any train of thinking, it tends to continue even when its object fails. The imagination continues its course without any new impulse, like a galley put in motion by the oars. The same principle makes us easily entertain this opinion of the continued existence of body.
Objects have a certain coherence even as they appear to our senses. But this coherence is much greater and more uniform, if we suppose the object to have a continued existence. The mind starts to observe a train of uniformity among objects. It naturally continues until it renders the uniformity as complete as possible. The simple supposition of their continued existence is enough. It gives us a notion of a much greater regularity among objects, than what they have when we look no farther than our senses. But whatever force we ascribe to this principle, it is too weak to alone support the continued existence of all external bodies.
We must join the constancy of the appearance of external bodies to their coherence, in order to give a satisfactory account of that opinion. This will lead me into a very profound reasoning. To avoid confusion, I will: give a short sketch of my system, and draw out all its parts in their full form. This inference from the constancy of our perceptions is like the precedence from the coherence or our perceptions.
This inference from constancy creates the notion of the continued existence of body, which happens before its distinct existence. It then creates the coherence. We go to the beach and see the ocean as Perception 1.
We leave the beach and consequently, the existence of the ocean becomes absent in our minds and is interrupted. We come back to the beach and see the ocean again, as Perception 2. We do not see Perception 1 and 2 as different (though they really are different). We think of those two perceptions as the same because of their resemblance. This interruption of the ocean’s existence is contrary to the ocean’s perfect identity.
It makes us think of: the first impression as annihilated, and the second as newly created. We find ourselves at a loss. We are involved in a kind of contradiction. To free ourselves from this difficulty, we: disguise the interruption as much as possible, or remove it entirely, by thinking that these interrupted perceptions are connected by a real existence that we are insensible of. This thought of continued existence, acquires a force and vivacity from: the memory of these broken impressions, that propensity that they give us which makes us think that they are the same. Thus, the very essence of belief consists in the force and vivacity of the conception. The Idea of an Invariable, Continous Existence Leads to the Idea of Identity We need four things to justify this system:
An explanation of the principle of identity. A reason why the resemblance of our broken and interrupted perceptions causes us to assign an identity to them. An account of that propensity given by this illusion that unites these broken appearances by a continued existence. An explanation for that force and vivacity of conception arising from the propensity. Justification 1: The view of any one object is not enough to convey the idea of identity.
In such a case: the object is the same with itself if the word ‘object’ had the same meaning as the word ‘itself’, and the proposition would only have a subject, and not a subject and a predicate. One single object conveys the idea of unity, not that of identity. On the other hand, a multiplicity of objects can never convey this idea, no matter how resembling they are.
The mind always: pronounces the one not to be the other, and considers them as forming two, three, or any number of objects, whose existences are distinct and independent. Since both number and unity are incompatible with the idea of identity, the the idea of identity must lie in something that is neither of them.
But honestly, at first sight this seems impossible. There can be no medium between unity and number just as there is nothing between existence and nonexistence. If one object exists, we can suppose that another also exists. In this case, we have the idea of number. If one object exists, we can suppose that another object does not exist. In this case, the first object remains at unity. Identity
To remove this difficulty, let us include the idea of time or duration.
Time implies succession (Part 2, Section 5). When we apply time to any unchangeable object, only the mind can change the unchangeable object in its imagination. This imagination almost universally takes place. Through it, a single object that we stare at for continuously is able to give us a notion of identity. The concept of time allows us to consider the object in two ways: We can consider it in Time 1 only. This gives us the idea of number. We can consider it in Time 1 and Time 2. This gives us the idea of unity. The idea of identity is the medium between unity and number.
Identity is the view of either unity or number depending on us. We say that an object is the same with itself when we mean that the object in Time 1 is the same object in Time 2. Through this, we make a difference between the idea meant by ‘object’ and the idea meant by ‘itself’, without: going the length of number, and restraining ourselves to a strict and absolute unity. Thus the principle of individuation is nothing but the invariableness and uninterruptedness of any object through time. The time factor allows the mind to trace it in the different periods of its existence, without: any break of the view, nor being obliged to create the idea of multiplicity or number. Justification 2: The constancy of our perceptions makes us ascribe to them a perfect numerical identity even if:
there are very long intervals between their appearance, and they only have one of the essential qualities of identity: invariableness. Philosophers distinguish between sensory objects and perceptions which are co-existent and resembling.
Yet this is a distinction which is not comprehended by the most of mankind. People perceive only one being. They can never assent to the opinion of a double existence and representation. They think that those sensations which enter their eye or ear are the true objects. They cannot readily conceive that this pen or paper immediately perceived, represents another pen and paper different from, but resembling it. To accommodate myself to their notions and avoid ambiguity, I shall at first suppose that there is only a single existence.
I shall call this existence indifferently as ‘object’ or ‘perception’. Both of them are a hat, shoe, stone, or any other sensory impression. I will return later to the more philosophical way of thinking. We mistake one idea for another because of the relation between them that associates them together in the mind and makes the mind pass from one idea to the other.
The relation of resemblance is the most effective in this. It causes an association of ideas and dispositions. It makes us conceive the one idea by an act or operation of the mind, similar to that by which we conceive the other. This circumstance is important. We may establish it as a general rule, that whatever ideas place the mind in the same or similar disposition, tend to be confounded with each other. The mind readily passes from one to the other, but is incapable of perceiving the change unless it gives its strict attention. This is the source of the error and deception with regard to identity when we assign it to our resembling perceptions. To apply this general maxim, we must: first examine the mind’s disposition in viewing any object which preserves a perfect identity, and find some other object that is confounded with it, by causing a similar disposition. When we fix our thought on any object, and suppose it to continue the same for some time, we:
suppose the change to lie only in the time, and never exert ourselves to produce any new image or idea of the object. The mind:
rests itself, and take no more exercise, than what is needed to continue that idea: that we formerly had, and that subsists without variation or interruption. The passage from one moment to another is scarce felt.
It does not distinguish itself by a different perception or idea. This perception or idea might require a different direction of the spirits for its conception. What other objects, beside identical ones, can:
put the mind in the same disposition, when the mind considers them, and cause the same uninterrupted passage of the imagination from one idea to another? If we can find such objects, we may conclude from the foregoing principle that they are very naturally:
confounded with identical ones, and taken for granted in most of our reasonings. This question is very important, but it is not very difficult nor doubtful.
I answer that a succession of related objects: places the mind in this disposition, and is considered with the same smooth and uninterrupted progress of the imagination, in the same way that it considers the same invariable object. The very nature and essence of relation is: to connect our ideas with each other, and to facilitate the transition to its correlative, upon the appearance of one. Therefore, the passage between related ideas is so smooth and easy. It produces little alteration on the mind. It seems like the continuation of the same action. The continuation of the same action is an effect of the continued view of the same object. This is why we attribute sameness to every succession of related objects. The thought slides along the succession with equal facility, as if it considered only one object. It therefore confounds the succession with the identity. We shall afterwards see many instances of this tendency of relation to make us ascribe an identity to different objects. But we shall confine ourselves to the present subject. There is such a constancy in almost all the impressions of the senses.
Their interruption: produces no alteration on them, and does not hinder them from returning the same in appearance and in situation as at their first existence. I look at the furniture of my room. I close my eyes for a second and then open my eyes. I find the new perceptions perfectly resembling those which I had a second ago. This resemblance is observed in 1,000 instances. It naturally: connects together our ideas of these interrupted perceptions by the strongest relation, and conveys the mind with an easy transition from one to another. The mind has almost the same disposition when it easily passes along the ideas of these different and interrupted perceptions and when it considers a constant and uninterrupted perception. Therefore, it is very natural for us to mistake the one for the other. Footnote 9:
This reasoning is somewhat: abstruse, and difficult to be comprehended. But this very difficulty can be converted into a proof of the reasoning. There are two resemblances which contribute to our mistaking the succession of our interrupted perceptions for an identical object: The resemblance of the perceptions. The resemblance from a succession of resembling objects with that in an identical object. We tend to confound these resemblances with each other. According to this reasoning, we naturally should. But let us keep them distinct. We shall find no difficulty in conceiving the precedent argument. Those who entertain this opinion on the identity of our resembling perceptions are generally the unphilosophical people (that is, all of us at one time or other).
Consequently, they: suppose their perceptions to be their only objects, and never think of a double existence internal and external, representing and represented. We think that the image present to the senses is the real body. We then ascribe a perfect identity to these interrupted images. But the interruption of the appearance is contrary to the identity. It naturally leads us to regard these resembling perceptions as different from each other. We then find ourselves at a loss how to reconcile such opposite opinions. The imagination’s smooth passage along the ideas of the resembling perceptions makes us ascribe to them a perfect identity. Their interrupted appearance makes us consider them as so many resembling, but still distinct beings which appear at certain intervals. The perplexity arising from this contradiction produces a propension to unite these broken appearances by the fiction of a continued existence. This is the third part of my hypothesis. Justification 3: Any contradiction to our feelings gives us an uneasiness, whether it:
comes externally or internally, or from the opposition of external objects, or from the combat of internal principles. On the contrary, we get pleasure from whatever:
strikes in with the natural propensities, and externally forwards their satisfaction or internally concurs with their movements. Here, there is an opposition between:
the notion of the identity of resembling perceptions, and the interruption of their appearance. The mind:
must be uneasy in that situation, and will naturally seek relief from the uneasiness. The uneasiness arises from the opposition of two contrary principles.
The mind must look for relief by sacrificing the one to the other. But the smooth passage of our thought along our resembling perceptions makes us ascribe to them an identity. We can never yield to that opinion without reluctance. Therefore, we must: turn to the other side, and suppose that our perceptions are no longer interrupted. Instead, our perceptions: preserve a continued and invariable existence, and are entirely the same by that means. But here the interruptions in the appearance of these perceptions are so long and frequent. It is impossible to overlook them The appearance of a perception in the mind and its initial existence seem entirely the same. We may doubt whether we can ever: assent to so palpable a contradiction, and suppose a perception to exist without being present to the mind. We will touch on some principles in order to: clear up this matter, and learn how the interruption in the appearance of a perception does not necessarily imply an interruption in its existence. We shall explain this more fully afterwards in Section 6. The difficulty here is not on whether the mind creates such a conclusion on the continued existence of its perceptions.
The difficulty comes only from: the way the conclusion is formed, and the principles it is derived from. Almost all men and even philosophers, for most of their lives, take their perceptions to be their only objects. They suppose that the very being intimately present to the mind, is the real body or material existence. This very perception or object is supposed to: have a continued uninterrupted being, not be annihilated by our absence, nor be brought into existence by our presence. When we are absent from it, we say it still exists, but that we do not feel, we do not see it. When we are present, we say we feel, or see it. Here then may arise two questions:
How can we suppose that a perception is absent from the mind without being annihilated? How can we conceive an object to become present to the mind, without some new creation of a perception or image? What do we mean by seeing, feeling, and perceiving? Here are two answers:
The mind is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions united by certain relations and falsely supposed to be endowed with a perfect simplicity and identity. Every perception: is distinguishable from another perception, and may be considered as separately existent. It follows that there is no absurdity in separating any particular perception from the mind. We can break off all its relations from that connected mass of perceptions, which constitute a thinking being. The same reasoning answers the second question. The word ‘perception’ does not render this separation from a mind absurd and contradictory. The word ‘object’ means the very same thing as ‘perception’. It can never render their conjunction impossible. External objects are seen, felt, and become present to the mind. They acquire a relation to a connected heap of perceptions which influences them very considerably in: adding their number by present reflections and passions, and storing the memory with ideas. The same continued and uninterrupted Being may, therefore, be sometimes present to the mind and sometimes absent from it, without any real or essential change in the Being itself. An interrupted appearance to the senses does not necessarily imply an interruption in the existence. The supposition of the continued existence of sensible objects or perceptions involves no contradiction. We may easily indulge our inclination to that supposition. When the exact resemblance of our perceptions makes us ascribe to them an identity, we may remove the seeming interruption by feigning a continued being.
This being may: fill those intervals, and preserve a perfect and entire identity to our perceptions. We here feign and believe this continued existence. The question is, from whence arises such a belief? This question leads us to the fourth member of this system. Justification 4: Belief generally consists in nothing but the vivacity of an idea.
An idea may acquire this vivacity by its relation to some present impression. Impressions are naturally the most vivid perceptions of the mind. This quality is in part conveyed by the relation to every connected idea. The relation: causes a smooth passage from the impression to the idea, and even gives a propensity to that passage. The mind falls so easily from the one perception to the other. The mind retains in the second perception a considerable share of the vivacity of the first perception. It is excited by the lively impression. This vivacity is conveyed to the related idea, without any great reduction in the passage, through the smooth transition and the propensity of the imagination. Even if this propensity arises from some other principle, besides that of relation, it must still have the same effect and convey the vivacity from the impression to the idea.
This is exactly the present case. Our memory presents us with so many instances of perceptions perfectly resembling each other that return at different times and after considerable interruptions. These interruptions creates contradictions. This resemblance gives us a propension to: consider these interrupted perceptions as the same, and connect them by a continued existence, in order to: justify this identity, and avoid those contradictions. Here then we have a propensity to feign the continued existence of all sensible objects. As this propensity arises from some lively impressions of the memory, it bestows a vivacity on that fiction. In other words, it makes us believe the continued existence of body. If we ascribe a continued existence to objects perfectly new to us, it is because the way they present themselves to our senses resembles the way of constant and coherent objects. This resemblance is a source of reasoning and analogy. It leads us to ascribe the same qualities to similar objects. An intelligent reader will find it easier to assent to this system, than to comprehend it fully and distinctly.
After a little reflection, he will agree that every part carries its own proof along with it. Ordinary people suppose that their perceptions to be their only objects. At the same time, they believe the continued existence of matter. In that case: the origin of that belief lies in that continued existence, and any of our objects, or perceptions, are not identically the same after an interruption. Consequently, the opinion of their identity can never arise from reason, but from the imagination. The resemblance of certain perceptions seduces the imagination to think that those perceptions have an identity because those are only perceptions that we have a propension to think as the same. This propension to bestow an identity on our resembling perceptions, produces the fiction of a continued existence. That fiction and the identity are really false. This is acknowledged by all philosophers. Its only effect is to remedy the interruption of our perceptions. This interruption is the only circumstance contrary to their identity. Finally, this propension creates belief through the memory’s present impressions. Without the remembrance of former sensations, we would never have any belief of the continued existence of a body. Thus, we find that each of these parts is supported by the strongest proofs. All of them together form a consistent, perfectly convincing system. A strong propensity or inclination alone, without any present impression, will sometimes cause a belief or opinion. How much more when aided by that circumstance? The imagination has a natural propensity to ascribe a continued existence to sensible objects or perceptions which resemble each other in their interrupted appearance.
Yet a very little reflection and philosophy is enough to make us perceive the fallacy of that opinion. There is an intimate connection between: a continued existence, and a distinct or independent existence. The other follows as soon as we establish the first, as a necessary consequence. Wherever the mind follows its first and most natural tendency, a continued existence first takes place and draws the other along with it. But when we compare experiments and reason on them, we quickly perceive that the doctrine of the independent existence of our sensible perceptions is contrary to the plainest experience. This: leads us back to perceive our error in attributing a continued existence to our perceptions, and and is the origin of many very curious opinions, which we shall here endeavour to account for. We will first observe a few experiments which convince us that our perceptions do not have any independent existence.
When we press one eye with a finger, we immediately perceive all the objects to become double. Half of them are removed from their common and natural position. We clearly perceive that all our perceptions are dependent on our organs and the disposition of our nerves and animal spirits since: we do not attribute both these perceptions to continued existence, and these perceptions are both of the same nature. This opinion is confirmed by the seeming increase and reduction of objects according to their distance.
We learn that our sensible perceptions do not have any distinct or independent existence, from: the apparent alterations in their figure, the changes in their colour and other qualities from our sickness and distempers, and an infinite number of other experiments of the same kind. The natural consequence of this reasoning is that our perceptions have no more a continued than an independent existence (Hyphothesis A).
Philosophers have run into this opinion. They change their system. They distinguish, (as we shall do for the future) between perceptions and objects (Hyphothesis B): Perceptions are supposed to be interrupted, perishing, and different at every different return. Objects are supposed to be uninterrupted and preserve a continued existence and identity. But however philosophical this new system is, it is only a palliative remedy. It contains all the difficulties of the unphilosophical system, with some unique peculiarities. The mind does not lead us directly to embrace this opinion of the double existence of perceptions and objects. We can only arrive at it by passing through the common hypothesis of the identity and continuance of our interrupted perceptions. We would never think: that our perceptions and objects are different, and that our objects alone preserve a continued existence if: we were not persuaded: that our perceptions are our only objects, and that our perceptions continue to exist even when they no longer make their appearance to the senses. The philosophical Hypothesis B has no primary recommendation either to reason or the imagination. But it gets all its influence on the imagination from the natural Hypothesis A. This proposition contains two parts. Perceptions and Objects Have a Double Existence: External and Internal Part 1: The philosophical Hypothesis B has no primary recommendation to reason or the imagination.
The only existences that we are sure of are perceptions which: command our strongest assent, and are the first foundation of all our conclusions. The only conclusion that we can draw from the existence of one thing to the existence of another thing, is through cause and effect. It shows: that there is a connection between them, and that the existence of one is dependent on the existence of the other. Cause and effect is derived from past experience. It lets us find that two beings are: constantly conjoined together, and always present at once to the mind. Only perceptions are ever present to the mind. It follows that we may observe a conjunction or cause and effect between different perceptions. But we can never observe it between perceptions and objects. Therefore, it is impossible that we can ever create any conclusion on the existence of objects from the existence or qualities of perceptions. This philosophical Hypothesis B has no primary recommendation to the imagination
The imagination would never by itself have found such a principle. It will be difficult to prove this to the reader because it implies a negative, which in many cases will not admit of any positive proof. If anyone invents a system to account for the direct origin of this opinion from the imagination, we should be able to judge it. Let us assume that our perceptions are broken, interrupted, and still different from each other. Let any one show why the imagination directly and immediately proceeds to the belief of another existence which resemble these perceptions in their nature, but in a continued, uninterrupted, and identical form. I will renounce my present opinion if anyone can do this. The abstractedness and difficulty of thinking about broken perceptions makes this an improper subject for the fancy to work on. Whoever explains the origin of the common opinion on the continued and distinct existence of body, must: take the mind in its common situation, and suppose: that our perceptions are our only objects, and that our perceptions continue to exist even when they are not perceived. This opinion is false. But it is the most natural opinion. It alone has any primary recommendation to the imagination. Part 2: The philosophical Hypothesis B acquires all its influence on the imagination from the natural Hypothesis A.
This is a natural consequence of philosophical Hypothesis B having no primary recommendation to reason or the imagination. The philosophical Hypothesis B takes hold of many minds, particularly of those who reflect so little on this subject. It derives all its authority from the unphilosophical system since it has no original authority of its own. The philosophical Hypothesis B is connected to the natural Hypothesis A as follows:
The imagination naturally runs on in this train of thinking. Our perceptions are our only objects. Resembling perceptions are the same, however broken or uninterrupted in their appearance. This appealing interruption is contrary to the identity. The interruption consequently does not extend beyond the appearance. The perception or object really continues to exist, even when absent from us. Our sensible perception, therefore, have a continued and uninterrupted existence. A little reflection destroys the conclusion that our perceptions have a continued existence, by showing that our perceptions have a dependent existence. This then rejects the opinion that there is any continued existence in nature that is preserved even when it no longer appears to the senses. The philosophical Hypothesis B, however, is different. The rejection of the independence and continuance of our sensible perceptions leads to the rejection of the opinion of a continued existence. All sects agree in the latter sentiment. a few extravagant skeptics agree in the They have kept that opinion in words only. They were never able to bring themselves to believe it. There is a great difference between opinions that come from a calm and profound reflection, and opinions that come from our instinct or natural impulse.
This difference is due to their suitableness and conformity to the mind. If these opinions become contrary, it is easy to foresee which of them will have the advantage. As long as our attention is on philosophy, the philosophical and studied principle may prevail. But the moment we relax our thoughts, nature will: display herself, and draw us back to our natural opinion. Nature has sometimes such an influence, that she can stop our progress, even during our most profound reflections.
She can keep us from running with all the consequences of any philosophical opinion. We clearly perceive the dependence and interruption of our perceptions. But we stop short. We never reject the notion of an independent and continued existence. That opinion has taken such deep root in the imagination. It is impossible to ever eradicate it. No metaphysical conviction on the dependence of our perceptions can eradicate it. Our natural and obvious principles here prevail above our studied reflections. But there is some struggle and opposition so long as these rejections retain any force or vivacity. To set ourselves at ease in this, we contrive a new Hypothesis C.
This hypothesis comprehends these principles of reason and imagination. This is the philosophical hypothesis of the double existence of perceptions and objects. It pleases our reason by allowing our dependent perceptions to be interrupted and different. It pleases the imagination by ascribing a continued existence to something else, which we call ‘objects’. Therefore, this philosophical Hypothesis C is the monstrous offspring of two principles which are: contrary to each other, both at once embraced by the mind, and unable to mutually destroy each other. The imagination tells us that our resembling perceptions:
have a continued and uninterrupted existence, and are not annihilated by their absence. Reflection tells us that even our resembling perceptions are:
interrupted in their existence, and different from each other. We elude the contradiction between these opinions by a new fiction.
This fiction is conformable to the hypotheses of reflection and fancy. It ascribes these contrary qualities to different existences: the interruption to perceptions, and the continuance to objects. Nature is obstinate.
It will not quit the field no matter how strongly attacked by reason. Reason is so clear in the point. It is impossible to disguise her. Unable to reconcile these two enemies, we try to set ourselves at ease by successively: granting whatever each demands, and feigning a double existence, where each may find something that has all the conditions that it wants. We would never run into this opinion of a double existence if we were fully convinced that our resembling perceptions are continued, identical, and independent, since we would: find satisfaction in our first supposition, and not look beyond it. If we were fully convinced that our perceptions are dependent, interrupted, and different, we would be as little inclined to embrace the opinion of a double existence.
Since in that case, we would: clearly perceive the error of our first supposition of a continued existence, and never regard it any further. Therefore, this opinion arises from:
the mind’s intermediate situation, and such an adherence to these two contrary principles. This adherence makes us seek some pretext to justify our receiving both. Happily, this is finally found in the system of a double existence. Another advantage of this philosophical Hypothesis C is its similarity to the natural Hypothesis A.
It lets us humour our reason for a moment, when it becomes troublesome. Yet it allows us to easily return to our natural notions upon its smallest negligence. Accordingly, we find that philosophers do not neglect this advantage.
They have exploded opinions that our perceptions: are our only objects, and continue identically and uninterruptedly the same in all their interrupted appearances. After leaving their closets, those philosophers immediately mingle with mankind with those opinions. This system has other particulars which depend on the fancy in a very conspicuous way.
Two of these are: We suppose external objects to resemble internal perceptions. Cause and effect can never afford us any just conclusion from the existence or qualities of our perceptions to the existence of external continued objects. Even if they could afford such a conclusion, we would never have any reason to infer that our objects resemble our perceptions. Therefore, that opinion is derived only from the imagination borrowing its ideas from some precedent perception. We can only conceive perceptions. Therefore, we must make everything resemble them. We suppose our objects in general to resemble our perceptions. We take it for granted, that every particular object resembles that perception, which it causes. Cause and effect determines us to join resemblance. The ideas of these existences are already united together in the fancy by cause and effect. We naturally add resemblance to complete the union. We have a strong propensity to complete every union by joining new relations to those which we have previously observed between any ideas. We shall observe this in Section 5. I begun this subject with premising, that we should have an implicit faith in our senses.
This is the conclusion from my whole reasoning. But to be honest, I feel the opposite. I am more inclined to put no faith at all in my senses or imagination, than to have confidence on them. I cannot conceive how such trivial qualities of the fancy, conducted by such false suppositions, can ever lead to any solid and rational system. The coherence and constancy of our perceptions produce the opinion of their continued existence, even if these qualities of perceptions have no perceivable connection with such an existence. The constancy of our perceptions has the most considerable effect.
Yet it is attended with the greatest difficulties. It is a gross illusion to suppose, that our resembling perceptions are numerically the same. This illusion leads us to think that these perceptions are uninterrupted and still exist even when they are not present to the senses. This is the case with our popular system. Our philosophical system is liable to the same difficulties. It is loaded with this absurdity, to the point that it immediately denies the absurdity and then establishes the unphilosophical system. Philosophers deny our resembling perceptions to be identically the same and uninterrupted.
Yet philosophers believe them to the point that they arbitrarily invent a new set of perceptions, to which they attribute these qualities. For we may well suppose in general, but it is impossible for us distinctly to conceive, objects to be in their nature any thing but exactly the same with perceptions. What then can we look for from this confusion of groundless and extraordinary opinions but error and falsehood? How can we justify to ourselves any belief we repose in them? This skeptical doubt of reason and the senses is a malady which can never be radically cured.
It must return on us every moment, however we chase it away. We may sometimes seem free from it. It is impossible on any system to defend our understanding or senses.
We merely expose them further when we try to justify them in that way. The skeptical doubt arises naturally from a profound and intense reflection on those subjects. It always increases the further we carry our reflections, whether in opposition or conformity. Carelessness and inattention alone can afford us any remedy. That is why I rely entirely on them. Whatever the reader’s opinion is now, he will be persuaded after an hour, that there is both an external and internal world. I will examine some general ancient and modern systems which have been proposed of both, before I proceed to a more particular inquiry on our impressions.