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intimate also some real existence, from which was derived their original pattern. But the names of mixed modes terminate in the idea that is in the mind, and lead not the thoughts any farther, as we shall see more at large in the following chapter.
§. 3. Secondly, The names of simple ideas and modes signify always the real as well as nominal essence of their species. But the names of natural substances signify rarely, if ever, any thing but barely the nominal essences of those species; as we shall show in the chapter that treats of the names of substances in particular.
2. Names of
and modes signify always both
3. Names of simple ideas undefinable.
§. 4. Thirdly, The names of simple ideas are not capable of any definition; the names of all complex ideas are. It has not, that I know, been yet observed by any body, what words are, and what are not capable of being defined; the want whereof is (as I am apt to think) not seldom the occasion of great wrangling and obscurity in men's discourses, whilst some demand definitions of terms that cannot be defined; and others think they ought not to rest satisfied in an explication made by a more general word, and its restriction, (or, to speak in terms of art, by a genus and difference) when even after such definition made according to rule, those who hear it have often no more a clear conception of the meaning of the word than they had before. This at least I think, that the showing what words are, and what are not capable of definitions, and wherein consists a good definition, is not wholly besides our present purpose; and perhaps will afford so much light to the nature of these signs, and our ideas, as to deserve a more particular consideration.
If all were definable, it would be a process in in
§. 5. I will not here trouble myself to prove that all terms are not definable from that progress in infinitum, which it will visibly lead us into, if we should allow that all names could be defined. For if the terms of one definition were still to be defined by
another, where at last should we stop? But I shall from the nature of our ideas, and the signification of our words, show, why some names can, and others cannot be defined, and which they are.
What a definition is.
§. 6. I think, it is agreed, that a definition is nothing else but the showing the meaning of one word by several other not synonymous terms. The meaning of words being only the ideas they are made to stand for by him that uses them, the meaning of any term is then showed, or the word is defined, when by other words the idea it is made the sign of, and annexed to, in the mind of the speaker, is as it were represented, or set before the view of another; and thus its signification ascertained: this is the only use and end of definitions; and therefore the only measure of what is, or is not a good definition.
Simple ideas why undefinable.
7. This being premised, I say, that the names of simple ideas, and those only, are incapable of being defined. The reason whereof is this, that the several terms of a definition, signifying several ideas, they can all together by no means represent an idea, which has no composition at all: and therefore a definition, which is properly nothing but the showing the meaning of one word by several others not signifying each the same thing, can in the names of simple ideas have no place. Instances; §. 8. The not observing this difference motion. in our ideas and their names, has produced that eminent trifling in the schools, which is so easy to be observed in the definitions they give us of some few of these simple ideas. For as to the greatest part of them, even those masters of definitions were fain to leave them untouched, merely by the impossibility they found in it. What more exquisite jargon could the wit of man invent, than this definition, The act of a being in power, as far forth as in power?" which would puzzle any rational man, to whom it was not already known by its famous absurdity, to guess what word it could ever be supposed to be the explication of. If Tully, asking a Dutchman
what" beweeginge" was, should have received this explication in his own language, that it was "actus "entis in potentia quatenus in potentia;" I ask whether any one can imagine he could thereby have understood what the word beweeginge" signified, or have guessed what idea a Dutchman ordinarily had in his mind, and would signify to another, when he used that sound.
§. 9. Nor have the modern philosophers, who have endeavoured to throw off the jargon of the schools, and speak intelligibly, much better succeeded in defining simple ideas, whether by explaining their causes, or any otherwise. The atomists, who define motion to be a paffage from one place to another, what do they more than put one synonymous word for another? For what is passage other than motion? And if they were asked what passage was, how would they better define it than by motion? For is it not at least as proper and significant to say, passage is a motion from one place to another, as to say, motion is a passage, &c.? This is to translate, and not to define, when we change two words of the same signification one for another; which when one is better understood than the other, may serve to discover what idea the unknown stands for; but is very far from a definition, unless we will say every English word in the dictionary is the definition of the Latin word it answers, and that motion is a definition of motus. Nor will the successive application of the parts of the superficies of one body to those of another, which the Cartesians give us, prove a much better definition of motion, when well examined.
§. 10. "The act of perspicuous, as far Light. forth as perspicuous," is another peripatetic definition of a simple idea; which though not more absurd than the former of motion, yet betrays its uselessness and insignificancy more plainly, because experience will easily convince any one, that it cannot make the meaning of the word light (which it pretends to define) at all understood by a blind man; but the definition of motion appears not at first sight so useless, because it escapes this way of trial. For this simple idea, entering by the touch as well as sight, it is impossible
possible to show an example of any one, who has no other way to get the idea of motion, but barely by the definition of that name. Those who tell us, that light is a great number of little globules, striking briskly on the bottom of the eye, speak more intelligibly than the schools, but yet these words ever so well uuderstood would make the idea the word light stands for no more known to a man that understands it not before, than if one should tell him, that light was nothing but a company of little tennis-balls, which fairies all day long struck with rackets against some men's foreheads, whilst they passed by others. For granting this explication of the thing to be true; yet the idea of the cause of light, if we had it ever so exact, would no more give us the idea of light itself, as it is such a particular perception in us, than the idea of the figure and motion of a sharp piece of steel would give us the idea of that pain which it is able to cause in us. For the cause of any sensation, and the sensation itself, in all the simple ideas of one sense, are two ideas; and two ideas so different and distant one from another, that no two can be more so. And therefore should Des Cartes's globules strike ever so long on the retina of a man, who was blind by a gutta serena, he would thereby never have any idea of light, or any thing approaching it, though he understood what little globules were, and what striking on another body was, ever so well. And therefore the Cartesians very well distinguish between that light which is the cause of that sensation in us, and the idea which is produced in us by it, and is that which is properly light.
Simple ideas, why undefi nable, far
§. 11. Simple ideas, as has been shown, are only to be got by those impressions objects themselves make on our minds, by the proper inlets appointed to each sort. If
they are not received this way, all the words in the world, made use of to explain or define any of their names, will never be able to produce in us the idea it stands for. For words being sounds, can produce in us no other simple ideas, than of those very sounds; nor excite any in us, but by that voluntary
connexion which is known to be between them and those simple ideas, which common use has made them signs of. He that thinks otherwise, let him try if any words can give him the taste of a pine-apple, and make him have the true idea of the relish of that celebrated delicious fruit. So far as he is told it has a resemblance with any tastes, whereof he has the ideas already in his memory, imprinted there by sensible objects not strangers to his palate, so far may he approach that resemblance in his mind. But this is not giving us that idea by a definition, but exciting in us other simple ideas by their known names; which will be still very different from the true taste of that fruit itself. In light and colours, and all other simple ideas, it is the same thing; for the signification of sounds is not natural, but only imposed and arbitrary. And no definition of light, or redness, is more fitted, or able to produce either of those ideas in us, than the sound light or red by itself. For to hope to produce an idea of light, or colour, by a sound, however formed, is to expect that sounds should be visible, or colours audible, and to make the ears do the office of all the other senses. Which is all one as to say, that we might taste, smell, and see by the ears; a sort of philosophy worthy only of Sancho Pança, who had the faculty to see Dulcinea by hearsay. And therefore he that has not before received into his mind, by the proper inlet, the simple idea which any word stands for, can never come to know the signification of that word by any other words or sounds whatsoever, put together according to any rules of definition. The only way is by applying to his senses the proper object, and so producing that idea in him, for which he has learned the name already. A studious blind man, who had mightily beat his head about visible objects, and made use of the explication of his books and friends, to understand those names of light and colours, which often came in his way, bragged one day, that he now understood what scarlet signified. Upon which his friend demanding, what scarlet was? the blind man answered, It was like the sound of a trumpet. Just such an underVOL. II. standing