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Under this last head I comprehend their situation as well as relations, their external position as well as the independence of their existence and operation.
These two questions concerning the continued and distinct existence of body are intimately connected together.
For if the objects of our senses continue to exist, even when they are not perceived, their existence is of course independent of and distinct from the perception: and vice versa, if their existence be independent of the perception and distinct from it, they must continue to exist, even though they be not perceived.
But though the decision of the one question decides the other; yet that we may the more easily discover the principles of human nature, from whence the decision arises, we shall carry along with us this distinction, and shall consider, whether it be the senses, reason, or the imagination, that produces the opinion of a continued or of a distinct existence.
These are the only questions, that are intelligible on the present subject.
For as to the notion of external existence, when taken for something specially different from our perceptions [Part. II. SECT. 6.], we have already shewn its absurdity.
To begin with the SENSES, it is evident these faculties are incapable of giving rise to the notion of the continued existence of their objects, after they no longer appear to the senses.
For that is a contradiction in terms, and suppose that the senses continue to operate, even after they have ceased all manner of operation.
These faculties, therefore, if they have any influence in the present case, must produce the opinion of a distinct, not of a continued existence; and in order to that, must present their impressions either as images and representations, or as these very distinct and external existences.
That our senses offer not their impressions as the images of something distinct, or independent, and external, is evident; because they convey to us nothing but a single perception, and never give us the least intimation of any thing beyond.
A single perception can never produce the idea of a double existence, but by some inference either of the reason or imagination.
When the mind looks farther than what immediately appears to it, its conclusions can never be put to the account of the senses; and it certainly looks farther, when from a single perception it infers a double existence, and supposes the relations of resemblance and causation betwixt them.
If our senses, therefore, suggest any idea of distinct existences, they must convey the impressions as those very existences, by a kind of fallacy and illusion.
Upon this bead we may observe, that all sensations are felt by the mind, such as they really are, and that when we doubt, whether they present themselves as distinct objects, or as mere impressions, the difficulty is not concerning their nature, but concerning their relations and situation.
Now if the senses presented our impressions as external to, and independent of ourselves, both the objects and ourselves must be obvious to our senses, otherwise they coued not be compared by these faculties.
The difficulty, then, is how fax we are ourselves the objects of our senses.
It is certain there is no question in philosophy more abstruse than that concerning identity, and the nature of the uniting principle, which constitutes a person.
So far from being able by our senses merely to determine this question, we must have recourse to the most profound metaphysics to give a satisfactory answer to it; and in common life it is evident these ideas of self and person are never very fixed nor determinate.
It is absurd, therefore, to imagine the senses can ever distinguish betwixt ourselves and external objects.
Add to this, that every impression, external and internal, passions, affections, sensations, pains and pleasures, are originally on the same footing; and that whatever other differences we may observe among them, they appear, all of them, in their true colours, as impressions or perceptions.
And indeed, if we consider the matter aright, it is scarce possible it should be otherwise, nor is it conceivable that our senses should be more capable of deceiving us in the situation and relations, than in the nature of our impressions.