Merlin, good work in this article!
From Berkeley’s Three Dialogues
Hylas. Light and colours, as immediately perceived by us, I grant cannot exist without the mind. But in themselves they are only the motions and configurations of certain insensible particles of matter.
Philonous. Colours then, in the vulgar sense, or taken for the immediate objects of sight, cannot agree to any but a perceiving substance.
Hyl. That is what I say.
Phil. . . . . I would advise you to bethink yourself, whether, considering the inquiry we are upon, it be prudent for you to affirm the red and blue which we see are not real colours, but certain unknown motions and figures which no man ever did or can see, are truly so. . . .
Hyl. I frankly own, Philonous, that it is in vain to stand out any longer. Colours, sounds, tastes, in a word, all those termed secondary qualities, have certainly no existence without the mind. But by this acknowledgment I must not be supposed to derogate any thing from the reality of matter or external objects, seeing it is not more than several philosophers maintain, who nevertheless are the furthest imaginable from denying matter. For the clearer understanding of this, you must know sensible qualities are by philosophers divided into primary and secondary. The former are extension, figure, solidity, gravity, motion, and rest. And these they hold exist really in bodies. The latter are those above enumerated; or briefly, all sensible qualities beside the primary, which they assert are only so many sensations or ideas existing no where but in the mind. . . .
Phil. You are still then of opinion, that extension and figures are inherent in external unthinking substances.
Hyl. I am.
. . . .
Phil. Again, have you not acknowledged that no real inherent property of any object can be changed, without some change in the thing itself?
Hyl. I have.
Phil. But as we approach to or recede from an object, the visible extension varies, being at one distance ten or a hundred times greater than at another. Doth it not therefore follow from hence likewise, that it is not really inherent in the object?
Hyl. I own I am at a loss what to think.
Phil. Your judgment will soon be determined, if you will venture to think freely concerning this quality, as you have done concerning the rest. Was it not admitted as a good argument, that neither heat nor cold was in the water, because it seemed warm to one hand, and cold to the other?
Hyl. It was.
Phil. Is it not the very same reasoning to conclude, there is not extension or figure in an object, because to one eye it shall seem little, smooth, and round, when at the same time it appears to the other, great, uneven, and angular?
Hyl. The very same. But doth this latter fact ever happen?
Phil. You may at any time make the experiment, by looking with one eye bare, and with the other through a microscope.
Hyl. I know not how to maintain it, and yet I am loath to give up extension, I see so many odd consequences following upon such a concession.
Phil. . . . Should it not seem very odd, if the general reasoning which includes all other sensible qualities did not also include extension? If it be allowed that no idea nor any thing like an idea can exist in an unperceiving substance, then surely it follows, that no figure or mode of extension, which we can either perceive or imagine, or have any idea of, can be really inherent in matter . . . . Be the sensible quality what it will, figure, or sound, or colour; it seems alike impossible it should subsist in that which doth not perceive it.
Hyl. I give up the point for the present . . .
Phil. . . . Figures and extension being despatched, we proceed next to motion. . . .
Kant Takes Charge
“Only from the human standpoint, therefore, can we speak of space, of extended beings, etc. If we depart from the subjective condition under which alone we can—viz., as far as we may be affected by objects—acquire outer intuition, then the presentation of space means nothing whatsoever. This predicate is ascribed to things only insofar as they appear to us, i.e., only insofar as they are objects of sensibility. The constant form of this receptivity which we call sensibility is a necessary condition of all relations in which objects are intuited as outside us; and if we abstract from these objects, then the form of that receptivity is a pure intuition that bears the name of space. We cannot make the special conditions of sensibility to be conditions of the possibility of things, but only of the possibility of their appearances. Hence we can indeed say that space encompasses all things that appear to us externally, but not that it encompasses all things in themselves, intuited or not, or intuited by whatever subject. . . . The proposition, All things are side by side in space, holds under the limitation: if these things are taken as objects of our sensible intuition. If I here add the condition to the concept and say, All things considered as outer appearances are side by side in space, then this rule holds universally and without limitation. Accordingly, our exposition teaches that space is real (i.e., objectively valid) in regard to everything that we can encounter externally as object, but teaches at the same time that space is ideal in regard to things when reason considers them in themselves, i.e., without taking into account the character of our sensibility. Hence we assert than space is empirically real (as regards all possible outer experience), despite asserting that space is transcendentally ideal, i.e., that it is nothing as soon as we omit [that space is] the condition of the possibility of all experience and suppose space to be something underlying things in themselves.” (B42–44 A26–28, translated by Werner Pluhar) (See also the two succeeding paragraphs for Kant’s wise-up for and superseding of Berkelyean idealism.)
A. D. Smith writes in The Problem of Perception (Harvard 2002): “There is a long string of philosophers from Berkeley, through Whitehead, to the present day who have railed heatedly against the primary / secondary quality distinction’s denuding our world of its familiar, loveable, character. . . . If such a position is indeed intolerable, we should be clear what is involved in rejecting it: that we must reject Realism about the physical world as such. For even Direct Realism, in its only viable form, entails the distinction.” (63–64)
Related notes: A, B, C
Related paper: “Sensory Qualities, Their Relation to Sensory System and World”
(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 6/09, 10:20am)