George Berkeley to Samuel Johnson

[March 24, 1730]

Reverend Sir,

Yours of Feb. 5th came not to my hands before yesterday; and this afternoon, being informed that a sloop is ready to sail towards your town, I would not let slip the opportunity of returning you an answer, though wrote in a hurry.

1 I have no objection against calling the ideas in the mind of God archetypes of ours. But I object against those archetypes by philosophers supposed to be real things, and to have an absolute rational existence distinct from their being perceived by any mind whatsoever; it being the opinion of all materialists that an ideal existence in the Divine Mind is one thing, and the real existence of material things another.

2 As to Space. I have no notion of any but that which is relative. I know some late philosophers have attributed extension to God, particularly mathematicians, one of whom, in a treatise, De Spatio Reali, pretends to find out fifteen of the incommunicable attributes of God in Space. But it seems to me that, they being all negative, he might as well have found them in Nothing; and that it would have been as justly inferred from Space being impassive, increated, indivisible, etc., that it was Nothing as that it was God.

Sir Isaac Newton supposeth an absolute Space, different from relative, and consequent thereto; absolute Motion different from relative motion; and with all other mathematicians he supposeth the infinite divisibility of the finite parts of this absolute space; he also supposeth material bodies to drift therein. Now, though I do acknowledge Sir Isaac to have been an extraordinary man, and most profound mathematician, yet I cannot agree with him in these particulars. I make no scruple to use the word Space, as well as all other words in common use; but I do not thereby mean a distinct absolute being. For my meaning I refer you to what I have published.

By the K << I suppose to be implied that all things, past and to come are actually present to the mind of God, and that there is in Him no change, variation, or succession. A succession of ideas I take to constitute Time, and not to be only the sensible measure thereof, as Mr. Locke and others think. But in these matters every man is to think for himself, and speak as he finds. One of my earliest inquiries was about Time, which led me into several paradoxes that I did not think fit or necessary to publish; particularly the notion that the Resurrection follows the next moment to death. We are confounded and perplexed about time. (1) Supposing a succession in God. (2) Conceiving that we have an abstract idea of Time. (3) Supposing that the Time in one mind is to be measured by the succession of ideas in another. (4) Not considering the true use and end of words, which as often terminate in the will as in the understanding, being employed rather to excite, influence, and direct action, than to produce clear and distinct ideas.

3 That the soul of man is passive as well as active, I make no doubt. Abstract general ideas was a notion that Mr. Locke held in common with the Schoolmen, and I think all other philosophers; it runs through his whole book of Human Understanding. He holds an abstract idea of existence; exclusive of perceiving and being perceived. I cannot find I have any such idea, and this is my reason against it. Descartes proceeds upon other principles. One square foot of snow is as white as a thousand yards; one single perception is as truly a perception as one hundred. Now, any degree of perception being sufficient to Existence, it will not follow that we should say one existed more at one time than another, any more than we should say a thousand yards of snow are whiter than one yard. But, after all, this comes to a verbal dispute. I think it might prevent a good deal of obscurity and dispute to examine well what I have said about abstraction, and about the true sense and significance of words, in several parts of these things that I have published, though much remains to be said on that subject.

You say you agree with me that there is nothing within [sic;? without] your mind but God and other spirits, with the attributes or properties belonging to them, and the ideas contained in them.

This is a principle or main point, from which, and from what I had laid down about abstract ideas, much may be deduced. But if in every inference we should not agree, so long as the main points are settled and well understood, I should be less solicitous about particular conjectures. I could wish that all the things I have published on these philosophical subjects were read in the order wherein I published them; once, to take in the design and connexion of them, and a second time with a critical eye, adding your own thought and observation upon every part as you went along.

I send you herewith the bound books and one unbound. You will take yourself what you have not already. You will give the Principles, the Theory, and the Dialogues, one of each, with my service, to the gentleman who is Fellow of Newhaven College, whose compliments you brought to me. What remains you will give as you please.

If at any time your affairs should draw you into these parts, you shall be very welcome to pass as many days as you can spend at my house. Four or five days' conversation would set several things in a fuller and clearer light than writing could do in as many months. In the meantime, I shall be glad to hear from you or your friends, whenever you please to favour, 

Reverend Sir,
Your very humble servant,

George Berkeley.

Pray let me know whether they would admit the writings of Hooker and Chillingworth into the library of the College in Newhaven.

Rhode Island, March 24, 1730.