An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke Book II: Of Ideas, Chapters 12-33

36. No Ideas in our complex ideas of Spirits, but those got from Sensation or Reflection.

This further is to be observed, that there is no idea we attribute to God, bating infinity, which is not also a part of our complex idea of other spirits. Because, being capable of no other simple ideas, belonging to anything but body, but those which by reflection we receive from the operation of our own minds, we can attribute to spirits no other but what we receive from thence: and all the difference we can put between them, in our contemplation of spirits, is only in the several extents and degrees of their knowledge, power, duration, happiness, &c. For that in our ideas, as well of spirits as of other things, we are restrained to THOSE WE RECEIVE FROM SENSATION AND REFLECTION, is evident from hence, — That, in our ideas of spirits, how much soever advanced in perfection beyond those of bodies, even to that of infinite, we cannot yet have any idea of the manner wherein they discover their thoughts one to another: though we must necessarily conclude that separate spirits, which are beings that have perfecter knowledge and greater happiness than we, must needs have also a perfecter way of communicating their thoughts than we have, who are fain to make use of corporeal signs, and particular sounds; which are therefore of most general use, as being the best and quickest we are capable of. But of immediate communication having no experiment in ourselves, and consequently no notion of it at all, we have no idea how spirits, which use not words, can with quickness; or much less how spirits that have no bodies can be masters of their own thoughts, and communicate or conceal them at pleasure, though we cannot but necessarily suppose they have such a power.

37. Recapitulation.

And thus we have seen what kind of ideas we have of SUBSTANCES OF ALL KINDS, wherein they consist, and how we came by them. From whence, I think, it is very evident,

First, That all our ideas of the several SORTS of substances are nothing but collections of simple ideas: with a supposition of SOMETHING to which they belong, and in which they subsist; though of this supposed something we have no clear distinct idea at all.

Secondly, That all the simple ideas, that thus united in one common SUBSTRATUM, make up our complex ideas of several SORTS of substances, are no other but such as we have received from sensation or reflection. So that even in those which we think we are most intimately acquainted with, and that come nearest the comprehension of our most enlarged conceptions, we cannot go beyond those simple ideas. And even in those which seem most remote from all we have to do with, and do infinitely surpass anything we can perceive in ourselves by reflection; or discover by sensation in other things, we can attain to nothing but those simple ideas, which we originally received from sensation or reflection; as is evident in the complex ideas we have of angels, and particularly of God himself.

Thirdly, That most of the simple ideas that make up our complex ideas of substances, when truly considered, are only POWERS, however we are apt to take them for positive qualities; v.g. the greatest part of the ideas that make our complex idea of GOLD are yellowness, great weight, ductility, fusibility, and solubility in AQUA REGIA, &c., all united together in an unknown SUBSTRATUM: all which ideas are nothing else but so many relations to other substances; and are not really in the gold, considered barely in itself, though they depend on those real and primary qualities of its internal constitution, whereby it has a fitness differently to operate, and be operated on by several other substances.

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