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CHAPTER IV (190] That what the author of The Search for Truth says about the nature
That what the author of The Search for Truth says about the nature of
ideas in his Book lJl, is based only on fantasies which we retainfrom the
prejudices of childhood.
Since all men were first children, and at that time were concerned almost
only with their bodies and with what struck their senses, they lived for
a long time without knowing any vision other than bodily vision, which
they attributed to their eyes, and they could not avoid noticing two things
about that vision. First, the object had to be in front of their eyes for
them to see it, a requirement which they
called presence. This made them
consider that presence of the object as a necessary condition of seeing.
(21) Second, they sometimes saw visible things in mirrors, in water or in other
things which represented them. As a result, they
it was not the bodies themselves that they saw,
mistakenly believed that
but their images. For a
long time that was their only idea of what they called seeing, whence they
became accustomed, by long habit, to join to
the idea expressed by this
word one or other of these two circumstances, that the object be present in
direct vision, or that it be seen only through its image, in reflected vision
by means of mirrors. But we know how hard it is to separate ideas
we are accustomed to finding together in our mind, and that this is one of
the most common causes of our errors.
But in time, men came to realize that they knew diverse things which
they could not see with their eyes, either because they were too small
or were invisible, like the air, or because they
were too far away, like
cities in foreign countries we have
never visited. That is what made them
believe that
would have
there are things we see by the mind and not by the eyes. They
done better to conclude that they saw nothing by the eyes, and
everything by the mind, although in diverse ways. But it has taken them
a good deal of time to get that far. Nevertheless, since they imagined that
mental vision is rather similar to the vision they had attributed to the eyes,
they followed the customary procedure and transferred this word to the
ON TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS 13 mind, together with the same conditions they had imagined accompanied
mind, together with the same conditions they had imagined accompanied
it when it was
applied to the eyes.
The first was the presence of the object: they took it as a certain and
undoubted principle, for the mind just as for the eyes, that an object must
be present to be seen. But the philosophers, i.e., those who believed they
knew nature better than the vulgar and who never ceased being taken in
by that principle without ever having examined it well, were brought to a
halt when they tried to use it to explain mental visi6n, because some of
them had recognized that the soul was immaterial, while the others, who
believed that it was corporeal,
in the body. They thought that
it could
that it was a subtle matter, trapped
not get out to seek external objects,
and that external objects could not come
could it see them, since an object cannot
in to be joined to it. How then
be seen if it is not present? To
escape from this difficulty, they had recourse to another way of seeing
which they associated with this word in connection with bodily vision,
namely, seeing things not through themselves but through their images,
as when we see a body in a mirror. As I have already said, they believed,
and almost everyone still believes, that in that case we do not see the
bodies, but only their images. They were confirmed in that position, and
this prejudice had so much power over their mind that they did not think
there was the least reason to doubt it. Thus, assuming it as a certain and
incontestable truth, they were concerned only to inquire about what
images could be, those beings representative of bodies, which the mind
needs in order to perceive bodies.
This prejudice was further strengthened by another factor, which is
connected with what we have just mentioned and is hardly different from
it, namely, our natural tendency to want to know things by means of
examples and comparisons.
Thus, if we pay close attention, we will
recognize that it is always hard to believe something which is unusual and
unexampled. Therefore when
men began to realize that we see things by
means of the mind, they did not consult themselves and attend to what
they saw clearly happening in their own mind when they had knowledge
of things, but instead imagined that they would understand it better by
means of some comparison. Now ever since the scourge of sin, our love
of the body has increased our interest in it, and this has made us think that
we know bodily things better and more easily than spiritual ones. So they
thought that they ought to search in the bodily realm for some comparison
which would make us understand how we see, by means of the mind,
everything that we conceive, and principally how we see material things.
They failed to note that this was not the way to illuminate, but rather to
14 Antoine Arnauld obscure, what would have been very clear to them if they had been
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obscure, what would have been very clear to them if they had been content
to study it in themselves. Mind and body are two very different and, as
it were, opposed natures, whose properties consequently are not likely
have anything in common, so that the attempt to explain one by means
of the other can only cause confusion. It is also one of the most general
sources of error, that on a thousand occasions we attribute the properties
of mind to body and the properties of body to mind.
Be that as it may, they were not enlightened
With all their heart, they wanted a comparison
enough to avoid that trap.
drawn from bodies which
would enable both themselves and others better to understand (as they
thought) how our mind can see material things. That is what they found,
and what people still find, the most difficult thing to understand. They
had no trouble finding
a comparison. It seemed to offer
itself, through that
other prejudice, the belief that there must be at least a great resemblance
between things which have the same name. But, as I have already pointed
out, they had given the same name to bodily vision and to spiritual vision,
which made them reason thus: Something
rather similar must happen in
mental vision and in bodily vision. Now in the latter, we can only see
what is present, i.e., what is in front of our eyes,
or, if we do sometimes
see things which are not in front of our eyes, it is only through images
which represent them to us. Therefore it must be the same in the case of
mental vision. That was sufficient to make a certain principle out of this
maxim: that by our mind, we see only objects which are present to our
soul, not in the sense of an objective presence, according to which a thing
is objectively in our mind merely because our mind knows it, so that to
say that a thing is objectively in our mind (and consequently is present to
it) and to say that it is known by
the mind,
is only to say
the same thing in
different ways. They did not take the word presence in that way. Rather
they understood it in the sense of a presence prior to the perception of the
object, which they judged necessary in order that the object be in a position
to be perceived, as they thought they had discovered was necessary in
vision. Thence they passed quickly to the other principle, that since the
bodies which our souls know cannot be present through themselves, they
must be present through images which represent them. The philosophers
even more confirmed in this opinion than the people, because they
had the same thought about bodily vision. They imagined that even our
eyes perceive their objects only by means of images which they called
intentional species,
of which they thought they had a convincing proof
from what happens in a room which is entirely closed off except for one
hole, in front of which is placed a lens. If a white cloth is spread a
ON TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS 15 certain distance back from the lens, the light from outside
certain distance back from the lens, the light from outside forms images
on the cloth which perfectly represent to people inside the room the objects
outside opposite the hole.
Therefore they took this other principle to be undeniable:
that the
soul sees bodies only through images or species which represent them.
drew different conclusions from it, depending on their different
of philosophizing, some of them very dangerous.
how Gassendi reasons, or rather those whose thoughts he puts forward
objections which he wants Descartes to satisfy: Our soul
has knowledge of
bodies only through the ideas which represent them. But those ideas could
not represent extended things unless they were material and extended them-
selves. Therefore they are of that kind. But in order to enable the soul to
know bodies, they
be present to the soul, i.e., be received in the soul.
Therefore the soul must be extended and consequently corporeal. However
damnable that conclusion, I do not see that it can easily be avoided if the
principles are accepted. That ought to make us judge that the principles
cannot be true.
Nevertheless, the other philosophers, who would have been horrified
at such a consequence, thought they could avoid it by saying that the
ideas of bodies are at first material and extended, but are spiritualized
before being received into the soul, just as gross matter is made subtle by
passing through a still. I do not know whether they used that comparison,
but it amounts to the same thing when they say: that the ideas of bodies,
which they call impressed species, being at first material and sensible,
are rendered intelligible and immaterial by the agent intellect, and by that
means become suitable for being received into the patient intellect.
I am not surprised that most philosophers have reasoned in that way,
after blindly accepting these two principles as incontestable: that the soul
can perceive bodies only if they are present,
and that bodies can be present
only through certain representative beings, called ideas or species, which
are similar
their stead
to them and take their place, and which are intimately united in
with the soul. But it is most astonishing that the author of The
Search for Truth, who professes to follow a completely different path, has
accepted them, like the other philosophers, without any other examination.
For he, better than anyone else, knows that the comparison of bodily
with spiritual vision on which all this seems to be founded, is false in
every way, not only because it is the soul which sees, and not the eyes,
but also because, even if vision occurred in the eyes, or in the soul insofar
as it is in the eyes, there would be nothing in this vision which could
justify the two claims made by the scholastic philosophers about what
16 Antoine Arnauld must take place in bodily vision. The first is the presence of the
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must take place in bodily vision. The first is the presence of the object,
which they say must be intimately united to the soul. But it is quite the
opposite in bodily vision, for although when speaking in a popular way
we say that
the object must be present to the eyes in order for us to see it,
which was the cause of their error, nevertheless, speaking in an exact and
philosophical way, it is entirely the opposite. The object must be absent
from them, since it must be at a distance, and if it were in the
eye or too
close to the eye, it could not be seen.
It is the same in the case of the second condition, which has to do with
certain representative beings which cause us to know objects because they
are similar to them. He very well knows that our eyes see nothing of the
sort, nor our soul through
in a mirror, it is ourselves
our eyes. He knows that when we see ourselves
we see, and not our image. He very well knows
that those small entities flying through the air, which the scholastics call
intentional species, are only chimeras. Finally, he very well knows that,
although the objects we look at form quite perfect images at the back of
our eyes, our eyes certainly do not see those small images painted on
the retina, and that they do not contribute to vision in that way but in a
different way, which Descartes has explained in his Dioptrics.
Thus it is quite surprising that he, who knew so well the falsehood
all that has given rise to those prejudices, let himself be so persuaded
them that he took
them without hesitation as the unshakable foundation of
everything he says on this topic. That is what he does in Book III, Part II,
which deals with The Nature of Ideas, and whose first chapter bears the
title: What is meant by an idea. That they truly exist and are necessaryfor
the perception of material objects, from which one can see what he plans
to prove. Observe how he tries to establish it on certain principles.
I believe, he says, that everyone will agree (note how they speak who
want us to judge of things according to common prejudices) that we do
not perceive objects outside of us through themselves. Wesee the sun, the
stars and countless objects outside of us, and it is not likely that the soul
leaves the body and, so to speak, goes for a stroll in the sky in order to
contemplate all those objects there. Hence it does not see them through
themselves, and the immediate object of our mind, when it sees the sun, for
example, is not the sun, but rather something which is intimately united to
our soul, and that is what I call the idea. So, by the word idea, I here mean
nothing other than the immediate object, or the object closest to the mind,
when it perceives something. It must be carefully noted that in order for
the mind to perceive some object, it is absolutely necessary that the idea
of that object be actually present to it. That cannot be doubted.
ON TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS 17 Behold, Sir, his approach. He does not examine whether his
Behold, Sir, his approach. He does not examine whether his assumption
ought to be accepted without scrutiny. He takes it as indubitable because
it is ordinarily thought to be so. He has no doubt about it. He takes it (31)
as a first principle which requires only a little attention to be put
doubt. Therefore he does not take the trouble to persuade us by any proof.
He is content to tell
us that he thinks everyone agrees.
Nevertheless, you see that after having told us in the very
first chapter of
his work, that
the idea of an object was the same thing as
the perception
of that object, he here gives us an entirely different notion of it. No
longer is it the perception of bodies which he calls their idea; rather it is a
certain being representative of bodies, which
up for the absence of bodies because they
he claims is needed to make
cannot be intimately united
to the soul in the same way as the representative being, which, for that
reason, is the immediate object and the object closest to the mind when it
perceives something. He does not say that it is in the mind, and that it is
a modification of the mind, as he ought to say if by it he meant only the
perception of the object; but only that it is the closest
to the mind, because
he regards that representative being as something really distinct from our
mind as well as from the object.
That is apparent again in what he says on the following page, that the
soul and everything in it, such as its thoughts and its modes of thinking,
are seen without ideas. That would be an obvious contradiction if, by
the idea of an object, he meant only the perception of the object, for that
would be to say that the soul perceives itself without perceiving itself, and
that it knows itself without knowing itself. Therefore it is clear that he
wanted to indicate that in order to know itself, the soul does not need a
representative being to make up for its own absence, because it is always
present to itself.
Finally, what he says at the end of the chapter shows that what he
means by
the word idea in that place cannot be the perception of the
object, but that he means a representative being, which takes the place of
the object in the knowledge of material things,
because they are absent
and the soul can see only what is present to it. 3 Here I speak principally
of material things, which certainly cannot be united to our soul in the way
necessary for them to be perceived, because, since they are extended and
the soul is not, there is no proportion between them. Furthermore our
soul does not leave the body in order to take the measure of the heavens,
and consequently it can see the bodies outside of itself only through ideas
3 Book III, Part II, Chapter I, p. 190.
18 Antoine Arnauld which represent them. Everyone should agree with this. One could not speak with
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which represent them. Everyone should agree with this. One could not
speak with greater confidence if he were proposing only things as clear
the axioms of geometry. He continues in the same tone.
Therefore we affirm that it is absolutely necessary that our ideas of
bodies and of all other objects that we do not perceive through themselves,
come from the same bodies and objects, or otherwise that our soul has
the power of producing those ideas, or that God produced them with the
soul when he created it, or that he produces them whenever we think of
an object, or that the
soul has in itself all the perfections that it sees in
bodies, or finally that the soul is united with a supremely perfect being
who contains in general all the perfections of created beings.
If those assumed
beings representative of bodies were not pure chimeras,
I would admit that they would have to be in the soul in one of those five
ways. But since I believe that nothing is more chimerical, I am astonished
at what
our friend, who has destroyed so many other chimeras, has put
in this case.
The conclusion has the same air of confidence, but it is accompanied
by some modest terms not used by those who are fully convinced that
they are putting forward nothing which is not of the greatest clarity.
We can see objects only in one of these ways. Let us examine which
seems the most likely, without anxiety and without fear of the difficulty of
the question. Perhaps we will resolve it clearly enough, even though we do
not claim here to give demonstrations
unquestionable for every sort of per-
son, but only proofs very convincing for those at least who meditate upon
them with serious attention, for it would perhaps appear presumptuous to
speak otherwise.
For my part, Sir, I am not afraid to seem presumptuous in saying two
One, that those ideas, taken in the sense of representative beings,
distinct from perceptions, are not needed by our soul in order to see bodies,
and consequently that it is not necessary that they be in the soul in any
of those five ways. The other, that the least likely of all those ways and
that by which one can least explain how our soul sees bodies, is the one
which our friend prefers above all the others.
CHAPTER V That we can prove geometrically the falsity of ideas, taken in the sense of
That we can prove geometrically the falsity of ideas, taken in the sense
of representative beings. Definitions, Axioms and Postulates to serve as
principles for the demonstrations.
I believe, Sir, that I can demonstrate to our friend the falsity of those
representative beings, provided that he agrees to follow in good faith what
he himself has said so many times we ought to observe in order to discover
truth in metaphysics as well as in the other natural sciences, namely, that
we ought to accept as true only what is clear and evident, and not make
use of assumed entities, of which we have no clear idea, to explain the
effects of nature, bodily or spiritual. I will
method of the geometers.
even attempt to prove it by the
The substance which thinks, I call soul
or mind.
To think, to know, to perceive, are the same thing.
I also take the idea of an object and the perception of an object to
be the same thing. I set aside the question of whether there
are other
which can be called
ideas. But it is certain that there
are ideas
in my sense and that these
ideas are attributes or modifications of our
I say that an object is present to our mind when our mind perceives and
knows it. I postpone the question of whether there is another presence
of the object, prior to knowledge and necessary for the object to be
in a position to be known. But the way in which I sayan object is
present to the mind
when it is known
is beyond question. This sort of
we love is often present to our
presence makes us say that a person
mind because we often think of him.
I say that a thing is objectively in my mind when I conceive of it.
When I conceive of the sun, of a square or of a sound, then the sun,
the square or that sound is objectively in my mind whether or not it
20 Antoine Arnauld exists outside of my mind. 6. I have said that I take the
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exists outside of my mind.
I have said that
I take the perception and the idea to be the same thing.
Nevertheless it must be noted that this thing, although only one, has
two relations: one to the soul which it modifies, the other to the thing
perceived insofar as it is objectively in the soul; and that the word
perception indicates more directly the first relation and the word idea
the second. So the perception of a square indicates more directly my
soul as perceiving a square and the idea of a square indicates more
directly the square insofar as it is objectively in my mind. This remark
is very important for the solution of many difficulties which are based
only on the fact that it is not well enough understood that these are not
two different entities but one and the same modification of our soul,
which includes essentially the two
perception which is not at the same
relations, because I cannot have a
time the perception of my mind, as
perceiving, and the perception of some thing, as perceived, and nothing
can be objectively in my mind (which is what J call the idea) unless
my mind perceives it.
When J attack representative beings as superfluous, I am referring to
which are assumed to be really distinct from ideas taken in the
of perceptions.
I am careful
sentative being or modality, since
not to attack every kind of repre-
I hold that it is clear to whoever
reflects on what takes place in his own mind, that all our perceptions
are modalities which are essentially representative.
When it is said that our ideas and our perceptions (for I take them to be
the same thing) represent to us the things that we conceive, and are the
images of them, it is in an entirely different sense than when we say that
pictures represent their originals and are images of them, or that words,
spoken or written, are images of our thoughts. With regard to ideas,
it means that the things that we conceive are objectively in our mind
and in our thought. But this way of being objectively in the mind, is
so peculiar to mind and to thought, being what in particular constitutes
their nature, that we would look in vain for anything similar in the
realm of what is not mind and thought. As I have already remarked,
what confuses this entire matter of ideas is that people want to use
comparisons with corporeal things
are represented by our ideas, even
to explain the way in which objects
though there can be no true relation
here between bodies and minds.
When I say that the idea is the same thing as the perception, I mean by
the perception, anything that my mind conceives by the first apprehen-
sion that it has of things, by the judgments which it makes about them,
ON TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS 21 or by what it discovers about them in reasoning. Thus
or by what it discovers about them in reasoning. Thus although there
are infinitely many shapes whose nature I know only by long processes
of reasoning, yet when I have carried out the reasoning, I have as true
an idea of those figures as I have of a circle or a triangle, which I can
conceive straightaway. Although perhaps I am entirely sure that there
truly is an earth, a sun and stars outside my
mind only by reasoning,
the idea which represents to me the earth, the sun and the stars as truly
existing outside my mind no less merits the name 'idea' than if I had
it without need of reasoning.
There is another ambiguity to clear up. The idea of an object must
not be confused with the object conceived, unless one adds, insofar
as it is objectively in the mind. For to be conceived, with regard to (39)
the sun
which is in the sky, is only an extrinsic denomination, which
is only a relation to the perception that I have of it. But this is not
what should be understood when one says that
the idea of the sun is
the sun itself, insofar as it is objectively in my mind. What is called
being objectively in the mind, is not only being the object, at which
my thought terminates, but it is being in my mind intelligibly, in the
specific way in which objects are in the mind. The idea of the sun is
the sun, insofar
as it is in my mind, not formally as it is in the sky, but
objectively, i.e., in the way that objects are in our thought, which is a
way of being much more imperfect than that by which the sun is really
existent, but which nevertheless we cannot say is nothing and does not
need a cause.
When I say that the soul does this or that, and that it has the faculty
of doing this or that, I mean by the word to do the perception that it
has of objects, which is one of its modifications, without concerning
myself about the efficient cause of that modification, i.e., with whether
God gives it to the soul or the soul gives it to itself. That does not
concern the nature of ideas, but only their origin, which is an entirely
different question.
What I cal1 a faculty is the power I know that a spiritual or corporeal
thing certainly has, either to act or be acted on, or to exist in one way
or in another, i.e., to have a modification of one sort or another.
When that faculty is certainly a property of the nature of the thing, I
say that the thing has it from the author of its being, who can only be
1. When we claim to know what is true by science, we ought to accept
22 Antoine Arnauld only what we conceive clearly. 2. Nothing should make us doubt something if
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only what we conceive clearly.
Nothing should make us doubt something if we know that it is so with
entire certainty, no matter what difficulties can be put forward against
To want to explain what is clear and certain by things obscure and
uncertain is an obvious disorder of the mind.
We ought to reject as imaginary, certain entities of which we do not
have any clear idea and which we see very well were invented only to
explain things we fancied could not be well understood without them.
That is even more indubitable when we can very well explain those
things without those entities, invented by the new philosophers.
Nothing is more certain than our knowledge of what takes place in
our soul when we pause there. It is very certain, for example, that I
conceive of bodies when I think I conceive of bodies, even though it
may not be certain that the bodies that I conceive either truly exist, or
are such as
I conceive them to be.
lt is certain, either by reason, assuming that God is not a deceiver, or at
least by faith, that I have a body and that the earth, the sun, the moon
and many other bodies which I know as existing outside of my mind,
truly exist outside my mind.
From act to power the consequence is necessary, i.e., it is certain that he
who does something (taking the word 'to do' in a large sense according
to the eleventh definition) has the power to do it, and consequently one
ought to say that he has that faculty, according to the twelfth definition.
I ask that everyone reflect seriously upon what happens in his mind
when he knows diverse things, that he consider everything that he notices
by simple vision, without reasoning and without seeking elsewhere for
comparisons taken from corporeal things, and that he accept only what he
sees to be so certain that he cannot doubt it.
And if anyone cannot do that for himself, I ask that he follow me and
examine in good faith whether what I say is clear to me is not also clear
and certain to him.
1. I am sure that I am because I think, and so I am a substance which
(42) 2. I am more certain that I am than that I have a body, or that there are
other bodies, for I could doubt whether there are bodies, but I could
not for all that doubt that I am.
23 ON TRUE AND FALSE IDEAS 3. I know perfect being, being itself, universal being, and
I know perfect being, being itself, universal being, and so I cannot
doubt that I have the idea of it, taking the idea of an object to be the
of an object, according to the third definition.
I am sure that I know bodies even though I could doubt whether there
are any which exist, for it suffices that I know them as possible. Should
I know a body as existing, though it did not exist, I would be mistaken,
but it would be no less true
that this body was objectively in my mind
even though it did not exist outside my mind, and so I would know it,
according to the fourth definition.
Even if my senses were unable to assure
me of the existence of material
things, reason would
fact that God cannot
assure me of it by adding to my sensations the
be a deceiver. If I were not entirely assured of
it by reason, I would know that they exist at least by faith (which I
say in order to give it the highest certainty even for the author of The
Search for Truth). Consequently, for me, who have faith in addition to
reason, it is very certain that when I see the earth, the sun, the stars and
men who converse with me,
I do not see imaginary bodies or men, but
works of God and true men whom God has created like me. It does
not matter to me that one in a thousand of these might be only in my
mind; it suffices for what I claim that I cannot doubt that ordinarily the
bodies I believe
I see are true bodies which exist outside me, whether
the source of my certainty be reason or faith.
It is no
less certain that I know countless objects in general, and not
only in particular, like the even number in general,
an infinity of numbers, a square number in general,
which includes
etc. The same
holds for bodies, since I certainly know a cube in general, a cylinder
in general and a pyramid in general, even though there is an infinity of
different sizes for each of these species.
Nor can I doubt that I know things in two ways, by a direct vision
and by an explicitly reflexive vision, as when I reflect upon the idea or
the knowledge I have of a thing, and examine it with more attention
in order to recognize what is included in the idea, taken in the sense
specified in the third definition.
If I had a little Eraste here, I would question him, as was done so
ingeniously in the Christian Conversations, and I am sure that he would
reply regarding all these things that he is perfectly sure of them. If I asked
him instead whether it was necessary, in addition to all that, to admit those
other ideas, which are representative beings, etc., I am no less sure that
he would answer that he made nothing of them, that he had nothing to
say about them and that he had a reply only about things of which he had
24 Antoine Arnauld clear notions, not about those representative beings. As for the author of The
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clear notions, not about those representative beings. As for the author of
The Search for Truth, I think I would do him an injustice if I had any
doubt that he recognized in good faith that all the above matters are quite
But I must
still explain
several other terms and ways of speaking about
which I said nothing in the definitions, because it seemed to me that
it would require a longer discussion to explain them well and
to warn
against difficulties which are based only on certain ambiguities not yet
sufficiently cleared up by what I have said. I will treat of these in the
following chapter.