An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke Book II: Of Ideas, Chapters 1-11

9. Primary Qualities of Bodies.

Concerning these qualities, we, I think, observe these primary ones in bodies that produce simple ideas in us, viz. SOLIDITY, EXTENSION, MOTION or REST, NUBMER or FIGURE. These, which I call ORIGINAL or PRIMARY qualities of body, are wholly inseperable from it; and such as in all the alterations and changes it suffers, all the force can be used upon it, it constantly keeps; and such as sense constantly finds in every particle of matter which has bulk enough to be perceived; and the mind finds inseparable from every particle of matter, though less than to make itself singly be perceived by our senses: v.g. Take a grain of wheat, divide it into two parts; each part has still solidity, extension, figure, and mobility: divide it again, and it retains still the same qualities; and so divide it on, till the parts become insensible; they must retain still each of them all those qualities. For division (which is all that a mill, or pestle, or any other body, does upon another, in reducing it to insensible parts) can never take away either solidity, extension, figure, or mobility from any body, but only makes two or more distinct separate masses of matter, of that which was but one before; all which distinct masses, reckoned as so many distinct bodies, after division, make a certain number.

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11. How Bodies produce Ideas in us.

The next thing to be considered is, how bodies operate one upon another; and that is manifestly by impulse, and nothing else. It being impossible to conceive that body should operate on WHAT IT DOES NOT TOUCH (which is all one as to imagine it can operate where it is not), or when it does touch, operate any other way than by motion.

12. By motions, external, and in our organism.

If then external objects be not united to our minds when they produce ideas therein; and yet we perceive these ORIGINAL qualities in such of them as singly fall under our senses, it is evident that some motion must be thence continued by our nerves, or animal spirits, by some parts of our bodies, to the brains or the seat of sensation, there to produce in our minds the particular ideas we have of them. And since the extension, figure, number, and motion of bodies of an observable bigness, maybe perceived at a distance by the sight, it is evident some singly imperceptible bodies must come from them; to the eyes, and thereby convey to the brain some motion; which produces these ideas which we have of them in us.

13. How secondary Qualities produce their ideas.

After the same manner that the ideas of these original qualities are produced in us, we may conceive that the ideas of SECONDARY qualities are also produced, viz. by the operation of insensible particles on our senses. For, it being manifest that there are bodies and good store of bodies, each whereof are so small, that we cannot by any of our senses discover either their bulk, figure, or motion, — as is evident in the particles of the air and water, and others extremely smaller than those; perhaps as much smaller than the particles of air and water, as the particles of air and water are smaller than peas or hail-stones; — let us suppose at present that, the different motions and figures, bulk and number, of such particles, affecting the several organs of our senses, produce: in us those different sensations which we have from the colours and smells of bodies; v.g. that a violet, by the impulse of such insensible particles of matter, of peculiar figures and bulks, and in different degrees and modifications of their motions, causes the ideas of the blue colour, and sweet scent of that flower to be produced in our minds. It being no more impossible to conceive that God should annex such ideas to such motions, with which they have no similitude, than that he should annex the idea of pain to the motion of a piece of steel dividing our flesh, with which that idea hath no resemblance.

14. They depend on the primary Qualities.

What I have said concerning colours and smells may be understood also of tastes and sounds, and other the like sensible qualities; which, whatever reality we by mistake attribute to them, are in truth nothing in the objects themselves, but powers to produce various sensations in us; and depend on those primary qualities, viz. bulk, figure, texture, and motion of parts and therefore I call them SECONDARY QUALITIES.

15. Ideas of primary Qualities are Resemblances; of secondary, not.

From whence I think it easy to draw this observation, — that the ideas of primary qualities of bodies are resemblances of them, and their patterns do really exist in the bodies themselves, but the ideas produced in us by these secondary qualities have no resemblance of them at all. There is nothing like our ideas, existing in the bodies themselves. They are, in the bodies we denominate from them, only a power to produce those sensations in us: and what is sweet, blue, or warm in idea, is but the certain bulk, figure, and motion of the insensible parts, in the bodies themselves, which we call so.

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