Lesson II. Of the Distinction of Natural Notions

Lesson II: Of the Distinction of Natural Notions, and of the Reducing them under Ten Common Heads

  1. Every individual Thing not only (as was said) * [Less 1.2] imprints a Notion of it self in our Minds, but many diverse Notions, according to the Various Impressions it makes upon the same or diverse Senses. This is manifest by Experience; for we find that an Orange (for example) causes in us the several Notions of Yellow, Heavy, Round, Juicy, Hard, &c.
  2. We can consider One of those Notions, without considering the Others. For we experience, that we can abstract the Notion of Round from the notion of Heavy, (or any of the rest) and Consider it apart, and Discourse of it accordingly.
    1. Note, That since the Object or Thing in our Understanding is capable of being consider’d diversly, hence [Notion] gets the name of [Considerability] and diverse Notions are said to be diverse Considerabilities of the Thing; which yet is no more but the same Thing as diversly consider’d.
  3. Whether or no there be any Knower of a superiour Order, that can at one Intuitive View comprehend the whole thing, yet ‘tis certain that our Soul, in this state, can have no Science of any thing, otherwise than by these Abstracted Notions. For since * [Less. 1 Sect. 13-15] our Notions are the Ground of all our Knowledge or Science, and (as will be seen shortly) we have no Notion of any Object, but by Impressions on the Senses, and those Impressions do differently affect us, and so breed Different or Abstracted Notions; ‘tis manifest that we can no otherwise know any thing here, but by Different, that is, Abstracted, Partial or Inadequate Notions.
  4. ‘Tis necessary to Science, that it be Distinct and Clear, and not Gross and Confused. This is evident from the very Terms; for Science signifies a Distinct and Clear Knowledge.
  5. Our Soul cannot in this state wield more Notions at once, nor consider them, or Discourse clearly of them together; or rather, indeed, not at all. This will appear evidently, by an easie reflexion on our Interiour: For, we shall find, that we can Discourse of each single abstracted Notion in an Orange viz. on its Bigness, Roundness, Colour, Tast, &c. But if we would go about to Consider or Discourse of us Roundness and Tast both together, (and the same may be said of any other two that are Disparate, or not included one in the other) we shall find our selves at a loss, and in Confusion, not knowing how to begin, nor how to proceed.
  6. We cannot in this state know, even singly, every particular Considerability found in the thing: For, tho’ (for example) we can by our Common Sight discern the Colour or Figure of a thing, or of its Grosser parts, yet a Microscope will discover to us innumerable Particularities which escap’d our Common View; and had we a Glass that magnified more, there would be found still more and more Particularities than did appear when we observ’d it formerly. Wherefore, since every New Observation we can possibly make begets a New Notion in us, * [L. 1, S. 13-15] and all our Knowledge is grounded on our Notions, we can no more know the last Considerability, which is in the thing, than we can know the least Part that is to be found in Quantity, or in the Differences of Figure, Colour, and other Respects which each of those very least parts may have; and therefore they are not All knowable by us in this state.
  7. Much less can we, in this state, know perfectly, or discourse scientifically of any Whole Individual thing, or (as the Schools call it) the Suppositum, taken in bulk. For, * since all the Considerabilities that integrate it, and consequently the Notions it begets in us, are blended confusedly in the entire Notion of the Suppositum or Thing. Again, since these are † [Sect 6] innumerable, and many of them Unknowable by us; it follows, that no one of them (that is, Nothing in that whole Suppositum) can be distinctly or clearly known, while we discourse of that which has them all in bulk; that is, while we discourse of them all at once; and consequently, the Notion of the Suppositum, which contains them all, cannot be clearly or perfectly known by us, nor discoursed of scientifically.
  8. Wherefore we cannot know in this state any One entire Thing perfectly, since we can never have any perfect Science of it, * [ S. 7.] either taking it in bulk, † [S. 6.] or by Detail.
  9. Wherefore all we can do in this state, is to glean from the Objects by our Senses so many Notions of them as may suffice to distinguish them from one another; and may serve for our Common Use, Needful Speculation; or, lastly, for our Contemplation.
  10. Notwithstanding this, the Science attainable in this State may arrive to be in a manner Infinit. For, since our Notions * [L. 1. S. 6-8 ] are the very Natures of the Things, and the † [L. 1. S. 13, 14.] Natures of the Things are the Seeds of all Science, and diverse Truths spring from them, and other Truths do still follow by Connexion with the former; and, ‖ [B. 3. L. 4. S. 12-14] since no stint is assignable of the Connexion of Truths, or of our Deduction of one Truth from another; it follows that there is no Bound or Limit of our Science attainable here, but that (if Art and Industry be used) it may be in a manner Infinit.
  11. ‘Tis a most Fundamental Errour to fancy that there are many kinds of little Things in the Object, corresponding to all the different Notions or Considerations which we make of it. For, since the least Particle that is in it does ground diverse Notions of it, and every various Consideration of each Particle, either according to what is Intrinsecal or Extrinsecal to it, does still beget more: Again, since no Particle can be so small, but we can conceive or have distinct Notions of Two Halves, and many other proportionate Parts in it, and the Particles that are or may be conceiv’d to be in Quantitative Things are Numberless; it follows, that, were all the Distinct Considerabilities in the Object distinct Things, we could never pitch upon any of those Things (they still including others in them) which we could say is One or Undivided in its self; nor consequently could we know what Ens or Thing meant in Corporeal or Quantitative Things, with which we converse; which would Fundamentally destroy and pervert all Human Speech and Discourse about any Thing, and make all Science impossible.
  12. From what’s said ‘tis deduced, that it is one necessary and main Part of the Method to Science, to distinguish our Notions Clearly, and to keep them distinct Carefully. For, * [L. 1. S. 13-14] since all Science is grounded on our Notions, and Science must be Clear, and this cannot be † [S. 5. ] if any Two of them be confounded, or taken together at once; it is manifest, that ‘tis one necessary and main part of the Method to Science, to distinguish our Notions Clearly, and to keep them distinct carefully.
  13. The best way to do this, is to rank all our Notions under distinct common Heads. For, this done, it will be easie to know, to which of those common Heads they belong; and those common Heads being easily distinguish’t from one another, because they differ most vastly, or (as the Schools phrase it) toto genere, it will follow that the several Notions comprized under each of those Heads, must likewise, to a fair degree, be clearly known to be Distinct also.
  14. There is but one onely Notion that is perfectly Absolute, viz. that of Existence, and all the rest are in some manner or other, Respective: For, since all Notions that are, must be either of the Thing it self, or of what relates or belongs to it, and the Thing it self relates to Existence, of which (since only a Thing can be) it is a Capacity; and Existence, as being the last Actuality conceivable in the Line of Being, relates to no other or farther Notion; it follows that only the Notion of Existence is perfectly Absolute, and all the rest are some way or other Respective.
  15. Whence it follows, that the Notion of Existence is imprinted in the Soul before any other in priority of Nature. For, since * [Sect. 14.] all other Notions are Respective, and so consist in some (at least confused or rude) Comparisons, as it were, of that Notion to what it respects; to have which is much harder than to have that which is perfectly Absolute, more Simple and not Comparative at all; hence the Notion of Existence is the most Easie, and therefore the first in priority of nature. Again, since (as ‖ [Less. 8. Sect. 7.] will be shewn hereafter) the substance of all Operation is nothing but the Existence of the Object imprinted on the Patient, and the Soul must have a Notion of the Operation made upon her, that is, a Notion of the Existence of the thing imprinting it; it follows necessarily, that the Notion of the Existence of that thing is first in her.
  16. From this last Reason it is evinced, that the Notion of the Man’s own Existence is wrought in the Soul before the Notion of things without him, and this by the Man himself as his own Object, and is not imprinted by Outward ones. For * [Less. 1. Sect. 1, 3, 5.] since the Soul has Notions of Objects, not by Emission of its Virtue to them, but by their being Receiv’d in it, and Existing in it Intellectually; nor could it have a Notion of them, that is, they could not exist in the Soul, without its having a Notion first (in priority of Nature) of its own or the Man’s Existence; it follows, that the Notion of the Man’s Existence comes into the Soul before the Notion of other things, and consequently that it is imprinted by the Man himself, as his own Object, and is not caused by Outward ones. Again, since the Existence of the Man is Naturally in him, and consequently in the Soul, (when she has a Notion of him) after its manner, that is, intellectually; it follows, that it has (as it were) Naturally a Notion of the Man’s Existence, and consequently, before it has the Notion of any other thing.
    1. To explicate how this is done, and why it must be so, Anatomists tell us, that the Embryo lies in a manner round in the Womb; whence some parts of it do continually and necessarily touch some others. Wherefore as soon as the Soul is infus’d, and it is now from a meer Animal become a Man, and has got an Understanding Power capable to receive Notions of Objects; those Touches or Impressions of some parts of himself upon others, do naturally affect the Sense, and by it the Soul, and beget a blind Notion there of the Man; and by a natural kind of Consciousness or Experience, that he Operates thus upon himself, * [Less. 8 . Sect. 1.] of his own Existence.
    1. Hence follows, against the Cartesians, that there is no kind of Necessity of Innate Idea’s: For, having once got, by this means, the Notion of Existence, and all other Notions being Respective or Comparative to it; and the Soul being of its own nature a Comparative Power, since (as will be seen hereafter) both our Acts of Judging and of Discoursing are Comparative Acts; hence the Soul becomes provided with Means to have all other Natural Notions whatever, by what it has from the Object, and by it self. But of this Point more towards the end of this Lesson. Only it is to be remark’d, that it is not here intended that the Soul has only the Notion of Existence alone, and afterwards others; for at the same time it has the Notion of the Man existing, and existing thus by his operating thus. We only discourse which of those Notions is first in priority of Nature, that is, of its own Nature most Knowable or Perceptible.
  17. All other Notions of the Thing besides Existence, being Respective, are either of something Intrinsecally belonging to it, or else of something Extrinsecally refer’d to it by our Understanding. This is evident; for we can have no Notion of Non-Ens, or Nothing, nor consequently of what belongs to it.
  18. Intrinsecal Notions are but Four. For, since Existence is the only Absolute Notion, and can be refer’d to no other, all other Notions must either Immediately or Mediately refer to it; Wherefore all Intrinsecal Notions must either refer the Thing it self immediately to its Existence, by considering the Ens to be of such an Essence, as it is capable to recieve it; and then Essence being the Immediate Power to Existence, they are Essential Notions, and belong to that Common Head we call Ens or Substance. Or else they refer the Thing to some Common Manner or Modification (that is, Consideration) of it, in which all things we converse with do agree; that is, to its Bigness or Quantity. Or else they refer the thing to some Modification or Consideration belonging to its own peculiar Nature, denoting how it is well or ill dispos’d in that respect; which Common Head is called Quality. Or, lastly, they refer some one Individuum, according to something Intrinsecal to it, to another Individuum; which constitutes the Common Head of Relation. And more Common Heads of Intrinsecal Respects cannot be invented; therefore there are only Four Common Heads of Intrinsecal Notions.
  19. Those Notions that refer not something that is Intrinsecal to the thing, but what’s Extrinsecal to it, are conceiv’d to apply that Extrinsecal to it either by way of Motion, or in Rest. If by way of Motion, then, since Motion has two terms, it may be consider’d either as coming from the Mover, and ‘tis the Notion of Action; or as affecting the thing Moved, and then ‘tis called Passion. And, because the most Regular and most Equable, Motion, to our apprehension is that of the Sun, call’d Time, and therefore all Sublunary Motions must bear a proportion to it, and be measur’d by it, being perform’d while such a proportionable part of it was Flowing; and Mankind is forced to need and make use of such a Measure to Adjust, Proportion, and Design all their Motions or Actions by, and to know the determinate distance of them from known and notorious Periods; hence there must be a Common Head of the time When those Motions were perform’d, which we call Quando.
    If the Extrinsecal application be conceiv’d to be made to the Subject or thing in Rest, then, either that Extrinsecal thing is conceiv’d to be barely apply’d to the whole, that is, to be Immediate to it, or meerly to Contain it, which grounds the Notion, and answers to the Question Where, or Ubi: Or, it denotes some certain determinate Manners how it is apply’d to the whole or to some parts of it; and then either the whole, or at least some Parts of the Subject or thing, must be conceiv’d to be ply’d and accommodated to the parts of the Extrinsecal thing, and ‘tis call’d its Site or Situation; or else the Extrinsecal thing, or its parts, are conceiv’d to be Fitted, Ply’d, or Accommodated to the Subject or Thing, and then ‘tis call’d Habit.
  20. These ten Common Heads are call’d Predicaments, that is, Common Receptacles, which Contain, and whence we may draw, all our Predicates for the Common Subject, Thing: which we may briefly exemplifie thus: Peter1, tho’ but a yard2 and half high, yet a Ualiant3 Subject4, fought5 and was wounded6 yesterday7, in8 the Field, standing9 upon his guard, armed10.
  21. All these Notions, under whatever Head, if they be Corporeal ones, are Natural and Common to all Mankind. For, since they are made by Impressions on the Senses, which are Common to all Mankind, it follows, that the Notions which are the Effects of those Impressions, must be such also; since the same Causes upon the same-natur’d Subjects, must work the same Effects.
  22. Our Soul has in it a Power of Compounding those several Notions together, of Considering them diverse ways, of Reflecting on its own Thoughts and Affections; and, lastly, of joyning a Negative to its Natural Notions if there be occasion; such as are the Notions of Indivisible, Immaterial, Incorruptible, Unactive, Insignificant, &c. which particularly happens when we would strive to frame Notions of spiritual Things. All which is manifest by plain Experience, if we reflect never so little on what passes in our own Interiour.
  23. No Notions can be imagin’d that do not arise from one of these Heads: For Corporeal Notions are imprinted directly; Spiritual Notions by Reflexion on our Mind, and on its Operations or Affections; or else by joyning a Negative to our Positive natural Notions. And Mix’d or Compound Notions are framed by joyning our former simple Notions. Wherefore, since there can be nothing imagin’d which is not either Corporeal, Spiritual, or Mix’d, or Compounded of Former Notions, ‘tis manifest, that all the Notions we have or can have, do arise from one of those Heads.
  24. Wherefore ‘tis hence farther shewn, that there is no necessity at all of making some Notions to be Innate; and consequently that Conceit of the Cartesians is Groundless, who affirm, That by a Motion made on the Senses, the Soul, by an unknown Vertue peculiar to its self, Excites or awakens such and such an Innate Idea, which till then lay dormant in it, because they find that that Notion is nothing like to the Idea it excites: For, first, how do they prove that only Motion is communicated to the Brain from the Object, or, that that Motion does not carry along with it different-natur’d Particles or Effluviums of these several Bodies, which are (as it were) little Models of their Nature? It is certain this passes thus in the grosser Senses, and no more is requisite to do it in the subtiler, but that the Particles emitted be more subtil; which cannot shock the Fancy or Reason of a Natural Philosopher, who knows well into what almost-infinite smallness Body is Divisible: And, of all Men in the World, the Cartesians should not be startled at it: whose Principles do allow lesser Particles than those Effluviums, and to pass thro’ far lesser Pores than those within the Nerves, or even than such as are in the substance of the Nerves themselves. Now, this being granted, the whole contexture of this Doctrine of ours has a clear Coherence. For, such Particles bearing the nature of the thing along with them, are apt, when they are carried to the Seat of Knowledge, to breed in the Mind, or convey into it the Nature, (or an Intellectual Notion) of the Thing it self. To do which, there can need no more, than that every thing (according to the Maxim) be receiv’d according to the Nature or Manner of the Receiver; viz. that those Effluviums, by affecting the Body Corporeally, do affect the Soul Intellectually.
  25. Secondly, How is it conceivable, or any way Explicable, that a Motion, which they confess is utterly Unlike the Idea in the Mind, should be the Proper Exciter of such an Idea? Indeed, were those Motions of the Nature of our Signs, that are voluntarily agreed on and fore-known to the Users of them, they might have a Power to make such a peculiar Excitation of those Ideas, as our Words do now; or as any odd and disagreeing Things are made use of by us when we practise the Art of Memory. But here things are quite otherwise; for we have no Foreknowledge either by Agreement, nor by our voluntary Designation, that such Motions shall excite such Idea’s or Notions; nor, as is confess’d, are they Naturally alike; wherefore it is altogether inexplicable how they should ever come to excite such particular Idea’s. Add, That this hidden Virtue in the Soul, to make such a particular Idea start up as soon as that Motion is made in the Nerve, is both said gratis, and is as Obscure as an Occult Quality; and so far from Explicable, that even themselves (as far as I can learn) have not so much as attempted to explain it: but it seems to be in part taken up gratis, to make good their Doctrine of innate Idea’s, as the Tenet of such Idea’s is to prove the Soul is a distinct Thing from the Body.
    Lastly, Their Argument drawn from Experience, that the Idea in the Mind is quite different from that Impression in the Senses or any Bodily Faculty, is shewn to be Inconclusive, by alledging, (as was said lately) that the Nature of the Object found in those emitted Particles, and the Nature of it found in the Soul Intellectually (or as standing under Notion) are the self-same, and not so Unlike as they imagin. Add, That their Argument faulters in this too, that the makers of it did not duly reflect, when they advanced it, on that ‘foresaid Axiom, Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis [Ed. note: Literally, “Whatever is received is received accordingt ot he manner of the receiver.”]: For, had they done this, they could not have wonder’d that an Affection of the Body (which is imprinted directly) and an Affection of the Soul which is spiritual (and known only by Reflexion) should have a Different Appearance: The two Manners of Existing, with which the same Nature is vested, differing toto genere, that is as far as Body and Spirit (their subjects) can distance them.
    To explicate this more fully, and to shew the difference between Corporeal and Spiritual Idea’s, I offer to their thoughts this Reflexion concerning the distinct nature of a Phantasm, which is a Corporeal Resemblance, and the nature of the thing in the Mind (that is its Notion) express’d by a Definition, which is Intellectual and Spiritual. The Phantasm or Corporeal Resemblance of a Man is a kind of Picture of a thing with two Legs, two Arms, such a Face, with a Head placed uprightly, that grows, moves itself, &c. Let us regard next the Definition of a Man, or rather (which is, abating the Expression, the same) the Notion of him; which is, that he is a Rational Creature; and we shall easily discern of how different a shape it is from the other; how it abstracts from many Corporeal Qualities, Figures of the Parts, and other Considerations, which were Essential Ingredients to the Picture or Phantasm, and not at all Essential to It, nor found in the Definition; and how some Considerations too are added in the Definition, or imply’d in it (as to Apprehend, Judge, Discourse, &c.) which no more belong to the Phantasm, than it did to Zeuxis’s Grapes, to have the Definition of the Fruit of such a Vegetable predicated of them. In a word, one of them is a kind of Portraicture, outwardly resembling; the other speaks the most Intrinsecal Essence of the thing Defin’d. The one signifies Bodily Parts belonging to such an Animal, and therefore is Corporeal: the other does not signifie, but is the Nature signified; and this too by Words which denote to us the Mind or Meaning (that is, the Notion) of the speaker; which is therefore Spiritual, at least in part. Whence the Compleat Essence of Man could not be understood, nor a Definition of it fram’d, without making use of some of these Notions or Idea’s, which are made by our Understanding, reflecting upon its own Spiritual Operations.

Edited by Jonathan Vajda, 2021 (c). Last rev. 2021-02-22.