Item 17 - Letter from William Whewell

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R./2.99/17

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Letter from William Whewell

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  • 24 Sept. [1822] (Creation)

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4 pp.

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WW is 'sorry that you are so much puzzled to chuse between ideas and things that you are making up your mind to be content with words which so far as I understand it is the Platonic resource. I cannot tell you what people in general believe about Berkeley [George Berkeley] and Reid [Thomas Reid] but the two appear to me to come to much the same result - B. says that what we perceive are ideas and that there is nothing else. R. reports that we perceive things and that there is nothing else. But they both agree that what we perceive, exists, and they deny any other objects. The important question is whether the objects wh. we perceive are independent of us in their relations and sequences and of that we have complete evidence as far as the proposition is intelligible. I would never desire to prove a proposition farther. But I will tell you what the mischief is - (very likely I have told it you before -) almost all the quarrelling in this world arises from propositions - are not all your theological disputes questions of in and by and with and from & so on? So likewise in this instance - people chuse to ask whether the objects we perceive are without the mind or not. What the devil do they mean? I know what is meant by a church steeple being on the outside of the eye or a dead dog on the outside of the nose; and if the mind reside in the eye or the nose you may in the same sense say that these objects are exterior to it; not in point of fact the relation between the mind & object is not one which can be expressed by any such beggarly part of speech - it is that of perceiving and perceived. The only externality which is worth lifting an eyelid for is the constancy of the laws of nature by which certain qualities perceived by the different senses are inseparably connected and act upon each other in the way of cause and effect. Have you read Brown's book's? They are dashing, and on some material points strongly wrong, but about cause and effect he has an admirable clearness of view and happiness of illustration'. Samuel Coleridge can publish whenever he wants - 'as he takes all the conceivable elements of unintelligibility it is hard if any envious ray of meaning finds its way through the theologico - metaphysico - etymologico - Coleridgical thatch with wh. he will cover his Platonic hut'.

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