Section 5

A Feeling or Perception Cannot Be Bound By Dimensions

by David Hume Icon

Philosophers say that the soul is immaterial because it exists in divisible physical space.

But a thought, feeling, or perception is an inseparable and indivisible being.

  • It is impossible for anything divisible, such as a space, can be conjoined to something indivisible, such as a feeling.

If space were conjoined to a feeling, would the feeling exist on the left or the right of the space?

  • If the indivisible feeling exists within the divisible space, it must either:
    • exist in one part of the space, or
      • That space would then be indivisble and separate from the rest of the space.
    • exist in all parts of the space.
      • It would make the indivisible feeling divisible as the space.

These are all absurd and contradictory.* No one can think of a feeling that has:

  • a length of 1 kilometer,
  • a width of 1 meter, and
  • a thickness of 1 centimeter.

*Superphysics Note: Hume’s error is in not knowing the those philosophers were referring to metaphysical space which is also indivisible as one metaphysical idea. His error is in comparing a metaphysical feeling in physical kilometers or meters. In other words, the indivisible metaphysical feeling is the same as, and of the same material as, the indivisible metaphysical space.

Thought and space are totally incompatible.

  • They can never be put together in one subject.

This argument does not affect the question on the soul’s substance directly.

  • But it affects the question on the soul’s matter-like properties.

Therefore, we may consider what objects have properties like those of matter.


The first notion of space is derived solely from the senses of sight and feeling.

Only what is coloured or tangible can convey that idea.

We reduce or increase our desire in a different way from how we reduce or increase the size of visible objects.

When several sounds strike our hearing at once, we create ideas of the distance of their physical sources through habit and reflection alone.

The location of that sound must either be:

  • a mathematical point without parts, or
  • in a space.

Whatever is in a space must have a shape, as square, round, triangular, etc.

None of these will agree to:

  • a desire, or
  • any impression or idea, except to sight and feeling.

A desire is indivisible.

  • But it is not a mathematical point.

Otherwise, desires could be added into 2, 3, or 4 desires.

They would be disposed in a way as to have a determinate length, width, and thickness, which is absurd.

Most Perceptions of Qualities Have No Easily-Perceivable Location

I deliver a maxim that an object may exist and yet be nowhere.

Most beings actually exist this way.

This maxim is:

  • condemned by several metaphysicians, and
  • contrary to the most certain principles of reason.

An object may be nowhere when:

  • its parts cannot create any shape or quantity, and
  • its whole cannot create any shape or quantity with respect to other bodies.

This is the case with all our perceptions and objects, except those of the sight and feeling.

A moral reflection cannot be placed on the right or on the left hand of a passion

  • Smell or sound cannot have a circular or square shape*.
  • These perceptions are absolutely incompatible with location.
    • Even the imagination cannot ascribe it to them.

If the passions and feelings appear to the perception to have a location, the idea of space might be derived from them as well as from the sight and touch.

*Superphysics Note: This will be proven by visualizing the feelings via machine learning

But this is contrary to what we have already established.

If they appear not to have any particular place, they may exist in the same way, since whatever we conceive is possible.

We do not need to prove that those simple perceptions that exist nowhere cannot be in a matter or body in a space, since it is impossible to find a relation on quality that is common to all simple perceptions and all bodies in space.

This question occurs in:

  • metaphysical disputes on the soul’s nature, and
  • our common life, if we think about it.

An apple is one end of the table and a lemon at the other.

The apple and lemon have a taste and color, which are complex ideas. We conjoin these qualities.

The sweet taste of the apple and the sour taste of the lemon exist in the bodies of the apple and lemon. These bodies are separated by the length of the table. This is so notable and so natural an illusion. A physical object in space cannot be conjoined with a quality that does not exist in space.

Yet they have many other relations. The taste and smell of any fruit are inseparable from its other qualities of colour and texture. Whichever is the cause or effect, they are always co-existent. They are also co-temporary in their appearance in the mind. We perceive the physical body’s taste and smell when we sense them. The sequence of the causation and contiguity, between a physical object in space and a quality that does not exist in space have an effect on the mind.

When one appears, the mind immediately thinks of the other. We also try to give them a new conjunction in place, so that we make the transition easier. This is a common quality of human nature.

When objects are related in any way, we have a strong propensity to add a new relation to them, in order to complete the union.

When we arrange bodies, we always place things that:

  • are resembling,
  • in contiguity to each other, or
  • at least in correspondent points of view.

This is because we feel a satisfaction in joining the relation of contiguity to that of resemblance, or the resemblance of situation to that of qualities.

The effects this propensity have been already observed (towards the end of Section 2) in that resemblance. We readily suppose this resemblance between particular impressions and their external causes. But we find the most obvious effect of it in the present instance. From the causation and contiguity in time between two objects, we likewise feign a conjunction in place, to strengthen the connection. An object in space, such as an apple, can have a union in space with a quality that does not have a location, such as taste.

But this union is altogether unintelligible and contradictory. Is the taste of the apple in its entire body? If this is true, then the taste would have a shape. Or is it in one part or some parts of the apple only? This cannot be true because the whole apple has a taste. We are then influenced by two principles directly contrary to each other: the inclination of our fancy which makes us incorporate the taste with the physical object, and our reason, which shows us the impossibility of such a union. We are divided between these opposite principles, so we renounce neither one nor the other.

We suppose that the apple’s taste exists within the apple’s body, but in a way that it: fills the whole without space, and exists in every part without separation. In short, we use the principle that says a thing is in a certain place, and yet is not there. When crudely proposed, this appears so shocking. All this absurdity comes from us trying to give a location on something that is utterly incapable of it. This endeavour arises from our inclination to complete a union founded on a causation and contiguity of time, by attributing a conjunction to the objects in space. But if reason must prevail if it has enough force to overcome prejudice.

Our reason can only choose either: Opinion 1: That some perceptions exist without any location Opinion 2: That some perceptions have a shape and size Opinion 3: That when perceptions are in physical objects, their entire being is in the whole object and its every part. The absurdity of Opinions 2 and 3 proves the accuracy of Opinion 1. There is no Opinion 4 because the supposition of mathematical points resolves itself into Opinion 2. Opinion 2 supposes that: several passions have a circular shape, and a number of smells conjoined with a number of sounds, may make a body of 12 cubic inches. In this view, we condemn the materialists [ Descartes ].

They conjoin all thought with space. We also equally blame their antagonists [ Spinoza (freethinkers) ] who conjoin all thought with a simple and indivisible substance. The most vulgar philosophy informs us that no external object can make itself known to the mind:

immediately, and without the interposition of an image or perception. That table which appears to me, is only a perception.

All its qualities are qualities of a perception. The most obvious of its qualities is space. The perception consists of parts. These parts are situated to afford us the notion of distance and contiguity, length, width, and thickness. The end of length, width, and thickness is a ‘shape’. This shape is moveable, separable, and divisible. Mobility and separability are the distinguishing properties of physical objects.

To cut short all disputes, the very idea of space comes from an impression. Consequently, space must perfectly agree to its impression. If an object occupies a space then the space agrees to its object. The free-thinker may now triumph in his turn. After finding that impressions and ideas occupy space, he may ask his antagonists how can they incorporate a simple and indivisible substance with an object that has space? All the arguments of Theologians may here be retorted on them. Is the indivisible or immaterial substance on the left or on the right hand of the perception? Is it: in this particular part, or in that other part? in every part without being extended? entire in any one part without deserting the rest? The only answer to these questions: is absurd in itself, and will account for the union of our indivisible perceptions with a physical object. I have condemned the question of the soul’s substance as utterly unintelligible.

The doctrine of the immateriality, simplicity, and indivisibility of a thinking substance is a true atheism. It will justify all those feelings that Spinoza is so universally infamous for. I hope at least to reap one advantage. My adversaries will not render my present doctrine odious because they will see that they can be so easily retorted on them.

The fundamental principle of Spinoza’s atheism is the doctrine of the:

  • universe’s simplicity
  • unity of that substance which is inherent in thought and matter.
  • He says that there is only one substance in the world.

That substance is: perfectly simple, indivisible, and exists everywhere, without any local presence. All are modifications of that one, simple, and necessarily existent being: Whatever we discover externally by sensation. Whatever we feel internally by reflection. That being does not have any separate existence. Every passion of the soul, every configuration of matter, however different and various: are inherent in the same substance, and preserve in themselves their characters of distinction, without communicating them to that subject. The same substratum supports the most different modifications, without any difference in itself. That substratum varies them, without any variation. Time, place, and all nature’s diversity cannot produce any composition or change in its perfect simplicity and identity. Spinoza is a famous atheist.

His principles enter into gloomy and obscure regions. His hypothesis is hideous. It is almost the same with that of the soul’s immateriality which has become so popular. Every idea is derived from a preceding perception (Part 2, Section 6).

It is impossible that our idea of a perception, and that of an object or external existence, can ever be different from each other. Whatever difference between them is still incomprehensible to us. We are obliged to: conceive an external object merely as a relation without a relative, or make it the very same with a perception or impression. The consequence I draw from this may appear as a mere sophism. But it will be found solid and satisfactory on the smallest examination. We can never conceive a specific deference between an object and impression.

Any conclusion we form on the connection and repugnance of impressions will not be applicable to objects. On the other hand, whatever conclusions of this kind that we create on objects, will be applicable to impressions. An object is supposed to be different from an impression. We cannot be sure that the circumstance of our reasoning is common to both, if we create the reasoning on the impression. It is still possible that the object may differ from the impression. But when we first create our reasoning on the object, that same reasoning must be applied to the impression, because the quality of the object on which the argument is founded, must at least be conceived by the mind. It could not be conceived unless it were common to an impression, since our ideas come from impressions. Thus we may establish a maxim that we can only discover a connection or repugnance, between objects not extending to impressions, from an irregular principle of reasoning from experience (like that of Section 2, from the coherence of our perceptions).

But the inverse proposition might not be equally true, that all the discoverable relations of impressions are common to objects. I apply the inherent substance to two different systems of being: the physical and nonphysical.

The universe of objects which has the sun, moon, stars, earth, seas, plants, animals, men, ships, and houses. Spinoza tells me that these are only modifications. The subject inherent to all of them, is simple, uncompounded, and indivisible. The universe of thought, or my impressions and ideas, observing another sun, moon, stars, earth, seas, plants, animals, men, ships, and houses. Theologians tell me that these are also modifications of one simple, uncompounded, and indivisible substance. Theologians: detest the first hypothesis, and venerate the second hypothesis. I examine these hypotheses to see the cause of so great a partiality.

I find that they are: both unintelligible, and so much alike. It is impossible to discover any absurdity in one, not common to both. We have no idea of any quality in an object which does not agree to, and may not represent a quality in an impression because all our ideas are derived from our impressions.

Therefore, we can never find any repugnance between a physical object as a modification, and a simple uncompounded essence, as its substance, unless that repugnance takes place equally between: the perception or impression of that physical object, and the same uncompounded essence. Every idea of a quality in an object passes through an impression. Therefore, every perceivable relation, whether of connection or repugnance, must be common to both objects and impressions. Let us survey this argument and see whether all the absurdities in Spinoza’s system may not be discovered in that of Theologians (See Bayle’s dictionary, article of Spinoza).

Argument 1: It has been said against Spinoza scholastically, that a mode is not any distinct or separate existence.

It must be the very same with its substance. Consequently, the space of the universe must be identified with that simple, uncompounded essence inherent in the universe. But this is utterly impossible and inconceivable unless: the indivisible substance expands itself, so as to correspond to the space, or the space contracts itself so as to correspond to the indivisible substance. This argument seems just.

Only a change of terms is needed to apply the same argument to our extended perceptions. The following are the same: the simple essence of the soul, and the simple essence of the ideas of objects and perceptions. They only have a supposition of a difference, that is unknown and incomprehensible. Argument 2: It has been said, that we do not have any idea of:

substance that is not applicable to matter, and a distinct substance which is not applicable to every distinct portion of matter. Therefore, Matter is not a modification but a substance.

Each part of matter is not a distinct modification, but a distinct substance. We have no perfect idea of substance. We take it for something that can exist by itself. Thus: every perception is a substance, and every distinct part of a perception is a distinct substance. Consequently, the one hypothesis labours under the same difficulties with the other. Argument 3: It has been objected to the system of one simple substance in the universe, that this substance is the support or substratum of everything.

It must at the very same instant be modified into forms which are contrary and incompatible. The round and square shapes are incompatible in the same substance at the same time. How then is it possible, that the same substance can at once be modified into that square table, and into this round one? I ask the same question on the impressions of these tables. I find that the answer is no more satisfactory in one case than in the other. Whatever side we turn to, the same difficulties follow us.

We cannot advance one step towards the establishing the soul’s simplicity and immateriality without preparing the way for a dangerous and irrecoverable atheism. It would be the same as calling a ’thought’ as an ‘action’ instead of ‘a modification of the soul’. ‘Action’ would then mean the same thing as an ‘abstract mode’. An abstract mode is something that is: not distinguishable nor separable from its substance, and only conceived by reason. Nothing is gained by changing the name of ‘modification’ into ‘action’. We do not free ourselves from one single difficulty through it. The two following reflections will show this. Reflection 1: The word ‘action’ can never justly be applied to any perception derived from a mind or thinking substance.

Our perceptions are all really different, separable, and distinguishable from each other and from everything we can imagine. It is impossible to conceive how our perceptions can be the action of any substance. Motion is commonly used to show how perception works, in the same way that action is used to show how its substance works. But this confounds us more than it instructs us. Motion induces no real nor essential change on the body. It only varies its relation to other objects. There is a radical difference between:

a person in the morning walking a garden with friends, and a person in the afternoon enclosed in a dungeon, full of terror, despair, and resentment. This difference is different from what is produced on a body by the change of its situation.

We conclude that external objects have a separate existence from each other because of the distinction and separability of their ideas. So when we make these ideas themselves our objects, we must draw the same conclusion concerning them, according to the precedent reasoning. It is impossible for us to tell how the soul’s substance can admit of such differences of perception without any fundamental change. Consequently, we can never tell how perceptions are actions of that substance. Therefore, the use of the word ‘action’ unaccompanied with any meaning, instead of that of ‘modification’, makes no addition to our knowledge. It does not give any advantage to the doctrine of the soul’s immateriality. Reflection 2: If the word ‘action’ brings any advantage to the cause of the soul’s immateriality, it must bring an equal advantage to the cause of atheism.

Do our Theologians want to make a monopoly of the word ‘action’? Will the atheists likewise make a same monopoly? Will they say that: plants, animals, men, etc. are just actions of one simple universal substance? this universal substance acts from a blind and absolute necessity? You’ll say this is utterly absurd.> I say: it is unintelligible, and it is impossible to discover any absurdity in the supposition that all the objects in nature are actions of one simple substance. This absurdity will not be applicable to a like supposition on impressions and ideas. We can now make another hypothesis which is:

more intelligible than the hypotheses on the substance of the soul, and more important than the hypotheses on the cause of our perceptions. The schools say that matter and motion are still matter and motion, however varied.

Matter and motion produce only a difference in the position and situation of objects. Divide a body as often as you please, it is still body. Place it in any shape and nothing ever results but that shape, or the relation of parts. Move it in any way, you still find motion or a change of relation.

It is absurd to imagine that:

  • a clockwise motion is just a clockwise motion, but a counterclockwise motion is both a physical motion and a passion or moral reflection,
  • the shocking of 2 spherical particles should become a sensation of pain, and
  • the joining of 2 triangular particles should afford a pleasure.

These different shocks, variations, and mixtures are the only changes matter is susceptible of. These never give us any idea of thought or perception. It is impossible that thought can ever be caused by matter. Few have been able to withstand the seeming evidence of this argument.

Yet it is the easiest to refute. We only need to reflect that: we are never sensible of any connection between causes and effects, and it is only by our experience of their constant conjunction, that we can know of this relation. All objects which are not contrary, are susceptible of a constant conjunction. No real objects are contrary (Part 3, Section 15). Thus, to consider the matter a priori: Anything can produce anything. We can never discover why any object may or may not be the cause of any other, no matter the resemblance between them. Two weights

This destroys the precedent reasoning on the cause of thought or perception.

There appears no connection between motion or thought just as there appears no connection between all other causes and effects. Place 100 pound weight on one end of a lever and another 100 pound weight on another end. These weights will not move, just as thoughts will not move from seeing this. You might try to prove a priori that such a position of bodies can never cause thought because it is nothing but a position of bodies. In this case, you must also conclude that it can never produce motion because there is no apparent connection. You reason too hastily when you conclude that: it is impossible that motion can ever produce thought from the mere consideration of the ideas, or a different position of parts can create a different passion or reflection. Because this is contrary to experience. We might have experienced our mind perceiving a constant conjunction of thought and motion. Everyone has experienced a change of thought or feeling based on the different positions of their body. You might then reply that this change of thought or feeling depends on the union of soul and body. I would answer that we must separate the question into two: The question on the mind’s substance The question on the substance of the cause of its thought We answer the question on the substance of the cause of its thought by finding out that thought and motion are:

different from each other, but constantly united by experience. When we apply these ideas to matter, we can conclude that motion is the cause of thought and perception. Our only dilemma is:

Dilemma 1a: To assert that an object can only be the cause of another, if the mind can perceive the connection of those objects, or Dilemma 1b: To maintain that all objects constantly conjoined are to be regarded as causes and effects. If we choose Dilemma 1b, then we affirm that there is no such thing as a cause or even the deity himself, because our idea of that supreme Being is derived from impressions.

These impressions would now have no effect, nor any connection with any other existence. It has been said that the connection between the idea of an infinitely powerful being and the idea of his actions is necessary and unavoidable. I answer that we have no idea of a being endowed with any power, much less of one endowed with infinite power. But if we will change expressions, we can only define power by connection. The idea of an infinitely powerful being is connected with the idea of every effect that he wills. A being, whose will is connected with every effect, is connected with every effect. But this is an identical proposition. It gives us no insight into the nature of this power or connection. If the deity were the great and effective principle which supplies the deficiency of all causes, this leads us into the grossest absurdities. We would: have recourse to him in natural operations, assert that matter cannot of itself communicate motion, or produce thought because there is no apparent connection between these objects, and acknowledge that the deity is the author of all our volitions and perceptions since they have no connection: with one another, or with the substance of the soul. This agency of the supreme Being has been asserted by several philosophers (Father Malebranche and other Cartesians) with relation to all the mind’s actions, except volition, or rather an inconsiderable part of volition. This exception is a mere pretext to avoid the dangerous consequences of that doctrine. If only apparent power is active, then thought would be as inactive as matter. This inactivity would make us have recourse to a deity since the supreme being is the real cause of all our actions, good and bad. We are left with Dilemma 1b, that all objects constantly conjoined are only to be regarded as causes and effects.

All objects which are not contrary are susceptible of a constant conjunction. All real objects can be conjoined by the mind. It follows that anything can be the cause or effect of anything This gives the advantage to the materialists. The question on the soul’s substance is absolutely unintelligible.

All our perceptions do not have to be united with what has space or no space. Some of them have space, some have no space. The constant conjunction of objects is the very essence of cause and effect. Matter and motion may often be regarded as the causes of thought, as far as we know that conjunction. Philosophers should:

apologize for their offending conclusions, and justify themselves to every art and science, which may be offended at them. Philosophers such as these are like a king arraigned for high-treason.

There is only one occasion when philosophy will think it necessary and even honourable to justify herself. That is when religion is offended. The rights of religion are as dear to philosophy as her own, and are the same. Therefore, if anyone thinks that my arguments are dangerous to religion, I offer the following apology.

There is no foundation for any conclusion a priori, on the operations or duration of any object of which it is possible for the human mind to form a conception. Any object may be imagined to: become entirely inactive, or be annihilated in a moment. Whatever we can imagine is possible. This is true whether we imagine: matter (a physical compounded substance), or spirit (a simple substance that occupies no space). In both cases: the metaphysical arguments for the immortality of the soul are equally inconclusive, and the moral arguments and those derived from the analogy of nature are equally strong and convincing. Therefore, if my philosophy makes no addition to the arguments for religion, it at least takes nothing from them. Everything remains precisely as before.


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