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Of our complex Ideas of Substances.

§ 1. THE mind being, as I have declared, furnished with a great number of the simple ideas, conveyed in by the senses, as they are found in exterior things, or by reflection on its own operations, takes notice also, that a certain number of these simple ideas go constantly together; which being presumed to belong to one thing, and words being suited to common apprehensions, and made use for quick despatch, are called, so united in one subject, by one name; which, by inadvertency, we are apt afterward to talk of, and consider as one simple idea, which indeed is a complication of many ideas together; because, as I have said, not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from which they do result; which therefore we call substance (1).

Ideas of substances how


(1) This section, which was intended only to show how the individuals of distinct species of substances came to be looked upon as simple ideas, and so to have simple names, viz. from the supposed substratum or substance, which was looked upon as the thing itself in which inhered, and from which resulted that complication of ideas, by which it was represented to us, hath been mistaken for an account of the idea of substance in general; and as such, hath been represented in these words; but how comes the general idea of substance to be framed in our minds? Is this by abstracting and enlarging simple ideas? No: "But it is by a complication of many simple



Our idea of

§ 2. So that if any one will examine substance in himself concerning his notion of pure subgeneral. stance in general, he will find he has no other idea of it at all, but only a supposition of he

ideas together; because, not imagining how these simple ideas can subsist by themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and from whence they do result; which therefore we call substance." And is this all, indeed, that is to be said for the being of substance, that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum? Is that custom grounded upon true reason, or not? If not, then accidents or modes must subsist of themselves; and these simple ideas need no tortoise to support them: for figures and colours, &c. would do well enough of themselves but for som fancies men have accustomed themselves to.

To which objection of the bishop of Worcester, our author* answers thus: Herein your lordship seems to charge me with two faults: one, that I make the general idea of substance to be framed, not by abstracting and enlarging simple ideas, but by a complication of many simple ideas together: the other, as if I had said, the being of substance had no other foundation but the fancies of men.

As to the first of these, I beg leave to remind your lordship, that I say in more places than one, and particularly Book III. chap. 3. § 6. and Book I. chap. 11. § 9. where, ex professo, I treat of abstraction and general ideas, that they are all made by abstracting, and therefore could not be understood to mean, that that of substance was made any other way; however my pen might have slipt, or the negligence of expression, where I might have something else than the general idea of substance in view, might make me seem to say so.

That I was not speaking of the general idea of substance in the passage your lordship quotes, is manifest from the title of that chapter, which is, Of the complex ideas of substances: and the first section of it, which your lordship cites for those words you have set down.

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

* In his first letter to the bishop of Worcester.

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knows not what support of such qualities, which are capable of producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called accidents. If any one should be asked, what is the subject wherein colour or

up of distinct complications of modes, yet they are looked on as one idea, called by one name, as making distinct sorts of substance.

But that my notion of substance in general is quite different from these, and has no such combination of simple ideas in it, is evident from the immediate following words, where I say, "The idea of pure substance in general is only a supposition of we know not what support of such qualities as are capable of producing simple ideas in us.' And these two I plainly distinguish all along, particularly where I say, 66 Whatever therefore be the secret and abstract nature of substance in general, all the ideas we have of particular distinct substances are nothing but several combinations of simple ideas, coexisting in such, though unknown cause of their union, as makes the whole subsist of itself."

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


The being then of substance being safe and secure, notwithstanding any thing I have said, let us see whether the idea of it be not so Your lordship asks, with concern, and is this all, indeed, that is to be said for the being (if your lordship please, let it be the idea) of substance, that we accustom ourselves to suppose a substratum? Is that custom grounded upon true reason or no? I have said that it

* B. II. c. 23. § 2.

† Ib. § 29.

weight inheres, he would have nothing to say, but the solid extended parts: and if he were demanded, what is it that that solidity and extension adhere in, he would not be in a much better case than the Indian before-mentioned, who, saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was, a great tortoise. But being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied, something, he knew not what. And thus here, as in all other cases where we use words without having clear and distinct ideas, we talk like children; who being questioned what such a thing is, which they know not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something: which in truth signifies no more, when so used either by children or men, but that they know not what; and that the thing they pretend to know and talk of is what they have no distinct idea of at all, and so are perfectly ignorant of it, and in the dark. The idea then we have, to which we give the general name substance, being nothing but the supposed, but unknown support of those qualities we find existing, which we imagine cannot subsist, "sine re substante," without something to support them, we call that support substantia; which, according to the true import of the

is grounded upon this,* "That we cannot conceive how simple ideas of sensible qualities should subsist alone; and therefore we suppose them to exist in, and to be supported by, some common subject; which support we denote by the name substance." Which, I think, is a true reason, because it is the same your lordship grounds the supposition of a substratum on, in this very page; even on the repugnancy to our conceptions, that modes and accidents should subsist by themselves. So that I have the good luck to agree here with your lordship; and consequently conclude, I have your approbation in this, that the substratum to modes or accidents, which is our idea of substance in general, is founded in this, "that we cannot conceive how modes or accidents can subsist by themselves."

* B. II. c. 23. § 4.

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