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§ 10. This faculty of laying up and retaining the ideas that are brought into the mind, several other animals seem to have to a great degree, as well as man. For to pass by other instances, birds learning of tunes, and the endeavours one may observe in them to hit the notes right, put it past doubt with me, that they have perception and retain ideas in their memories, and use them for patterns. For it seems to me impossible, that they should endeavour to conform their voices to notes (as it is plain they do) of which they had no ideas. For though I should grant sound may mechanically cause a certain motion of the animal spirits, in the brains of those birds, whilst the tune is actually playing; and that motion may be continued on to the muscles of the wings, and so the bird mechanically be driven away by certain noises, because this may tend to the bird’s preservation: yet that can never be supposed a reason, why it should cause mechanically, either whilst the tune is playing, much less after it has ceased, such a motion of the organs in the bird’s voice as should conform it to the notes of a foreign sound; which imitation can be of no use to the bird’s preservation. But which is more, it cannot with any appearance of reason be supposed (much less proved) that birds, without sense and memory, can approach their notes nearer and nearer by degrees to a tune played yesterday; which if they have no idea of in their memory, is no-where, nor can be a pattern for them to imitate, or which any repeated essays can bring them nearer to. Since there is no reason why the sound of a pipe should leave traces in their brains, which not at first, but by their after-endeavours, should produce the like sounds; and why the sounds they make themselves, should not make traces which they should follow, as well as those of the pipe, is impossible to conceive.
Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves.
§ 58. In the first place, I shall consider the wrong judgments men make of future good and evil, whereby their desires are misled. For, as to present happiness and misery, when that alone comes into consideration, and the consequences are quite removed, a man never chooses amiss; he knows what best pleases him, and that he actually prefers. Things in their present enjoyment are what they seem: the apparent and real good are, in this case, always the same. For the pain or pleasure being just so great, and no greater than it is felt, the present good or evil is really so much as it appears. And therefore, were every action of ours concluded within itself, and drew no consequences after it, we should undoubtedly never err in our choice of good; we should always infallibly prefer the best. Were the pains of honest industry, and of starving with hunger and cold, set together before us, nobody would be in doubt which to choose; were the satisfaction of a lust, and the joys of heaven offered at once to any one’s present possession, he would not balance, or err in the determination of his choice.
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§ 16. In matter we have no clear ideas of the smallness of parts much beyond the smallest that occur to any of our senses: and therefore when we talk of the divisibility of matter in infinitum, though we have clear ideas of division and divisibility, and have also clear ideas of parts made out of a whole by division; yet we have but very obscure and confused ideas of corpuscles, or minute bodies so to be divided, when by former divisions they are reduced to a smallness much exceeding the perception of any of our senses; and so all that we have clear and distinct ideas of, is of what division in general or abstractedly is, and the relation of totum and parts: but of the bulk of the body, to be thus infinitely divided after certain progressions, I think, we have no clear nor distinct idea at all. For I ask any one, whether taking the smallest atom of dust he ever saw, he has any distinct idea (bating still the number, which concerns not extension) betwixt the 100,000th, and the 1,000,000th part of it. Or if he thinks he can refine his ideas to that degree, without losing sight of them, let him add ten cyphers to each of those numbers. Such a degree of smallness is not unreasonable to be supposed, since a division carried on so far brings it no nearer the end of infinite division, than the first division into two halves does. I must confess, for my part, I have no clear distinct ideas of the different bulk or extension of those bodies, having but a very obscure one of either of them. So that, I think, when we talk of division of bodies in infinitum, our idea of their distinct bulks, which is the subject and foundation of division, comes, after a little progression, to be confounded, and almost lost in obscurity. For that idea, which is to represent only bigness, must be very obscure and confused, which we cannot distinguish from one ten times as big, but only by number; so that we have clear distinct ideas, we may say, of ten and one, but no distinct ideas of two such extensions. It is plain from hence, that when we talk of infinite divisibility of body, or extension, our distinct and clear ideas are only of numbers; but the clear distinct ideas of extension, after some progress of division, are quite lost: and of such minute parts we have no distinct ideas at all: but it returns, as all our ideas of infinite do, at last to that of number always to be added; but thereby never amounts to any distinct idea of actual infinite parts. We have, it is true, a clear idea of division, as often as we think of it; but thereby we have no more a clear idea of infinite parts in matter, than we have a clear idea of an infinite number, by being able still to add new numbers to any assigned numbers we have: endless divisibility giving us no more a clear and distinct idea of actually infinite parts, than endless addibility (if I may so speak) gives us a clear and distinct idea of an actually infinite number; they both being only in a power still of increasing the number, be it already as great as it will. So that of what remains to be added (wherein consists the infinity) we have but an obscure, imperfect, and confused idea, from or about which we can argue or reason with no certainty or clearness, no more than we can in arithmetic, about a number of which we have no such distinct idea as we have of 4 or 100; but only this relative obscure one, that compared to any other, it is still bigger: and we have no more a clear positive idea of it when we say or conceive it is bigger, or more than 400,000,000, than if we should say it is bigger than 40, or 4; 400,000,000 having no nearer a proportion to the end of addition, or number, than 4. For he that adds only 4 to 4, and so proceeds, shall as soon come to the end of all addition, as he that adds 400,000,000 to 400,000,000. And so likewise in eternity, he that has an idea of but four years, has as much a positive complete idea of eternity, as he that has one of 400,000,000 of years: for what remains of eternity beyond either of these two numbers of years is as clear to the one as the other; i. e. neither of them has any clear positive idea of it at all. For he that adds only four years to 4, and so on, shall as soon reach eternity, as he that adds 400,000,000 of years, and so on; or, if he please, doubles the increase as often as he will: the remaining abyss being still as far beyond the end of all these progressions, as it is from the length of a day or an hour. For nothing finite bears any proportion to infinite; and therefore our ideas, which are all finite, cannot bear any. Thus it is also in our idea of extension, when we increase it by addition, as well as when we diminish it by division, and would enlarge our thoughts to infinite space. After a few doublings of those ideas of extension, which are the largest we are accustomed to have, we lose the clear distinct idea of that space: it becomes a confusedly great one, with a surplus of still greater; about which, when we would argue or reason, we shall always find ourselves at a loss; confused ideas in our arguings and deductions from that part of them which is confused always leading us into confusion.