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An Essay Concerning Human Understanding - Book II Chapter XVIII: Other Simple Modes

1. Other simple modes of simple ideas of sensation. Though I have, in the foregoing chapters, shown how, from simple ideas taken in by sensation, the mind comes to extend itself even to infinity ; which, however it may of all others seem most remote from any sensible perception, yet at last hath nothing in it but what is made out of simple ideas : received into the mind by the senses, and afterwards there put together, by the faculty the mind has to repeat its own ideas ; – Though, I say, these might be instances enough of simple modes of the simple ideas of sensation, and suffice to show how the mind comes by them, yet I shall, for method’s sake, though briefly, give an account of some few more, and then proceed to more complex ideas.

2. Simple modes of motion. To slide, roll, tumble, walk, creep, run, dance, leap, skip, and abundance of others that might be named, are words which are no sooner heard but every one who understands English has presently in his mind distinct ideas, which are all but the different modifications of motion. Modes of motion answer those of extension ; swift and slow are two different ideas of motion, the measures whereof are made of the distances of time and space put together ; so they are complex ideas, comprehending time and space with motion.

3. Modes of sounds. The like variety have we in sounds. Every articulate word is a different modification of sound ; by which we see that, from the sense of hearing, by such modifications, the mind may be furnished with distinct ideas, to almost an infinite number. Sounds also, besides the distinct cries of birds and beasts, are modified by diversity of notes of different length put together, which make that complex idea called a tune, which a musician may have in his mind when he hears or makes no sound at all, by reflecting on the ideas of those sounds, so put together silently in his own fancy.

4. Modes of colours. Those of colours are also very various : some we take notice of as the different degrees, or as they were termed shades, of the same colour. But since we very seldom make assemblages of colours, either for use or delight, but figure is taken in also, and has its part in it, as in painting, weaving, needleworks, &c. ; those which are taken notice of do most commonly belong to mixed modes, as being made up of ideas of divers kinds, viz. figure and colour, such as beauty, rainbow, &c.

5. Modes of tastes. All compounded tastes and smells are also modes, made up of the simple ideas of those senses. But they, being such as generally we have no names for, are less taken notice of, and cannot be set down in writing ; and therefore must be left without enumeration to the thoughts and experience of my reader.

6. Some simple modes have no names. In general it may be observed, that those simple modes which are considered but as different degrees of the same simple idea, though they are in themselves many of them very distinct ideas, yet have ordinarily no distinct names, nor are much taken notice of, as distinct ideas, where the difference is but very small between them. Whether men have neglected these modes, and given no names to them, as wanting measures nicely to distinguish them ; or because, when they were so distinguished, that knowledge would not be of general or necessary use, I leave it to the thoughts of others. It is sufficient to my purpose to show, that all our simple ideas come to our minds only by sensation and reflection ; and that when the mind has them, it can variously repeat and compound them, and so make new complex ideas. But, though white, red, or sweet, &c. have not been modified, or made into complex ideas, by several combinations, so as to be named, and thereby ranked into species ; yet some others of the simple ideas, viz. those of unity, duration, and motion, &c., above instanced in, as also power and thinking, have been thus modified to a great variety of complex ideas, with names belonging to them.

7. Why some modes have, and others have not, names. The reason whereof, I suppose, has been this, – That the great concernment of men being with men one amongst another, the knowledge of men, and their actions, and the signifying of them to one another, was most necessary ; and therefore they made ideas of actions very nicely modified, and gave those complex ideas names, that they might the more easily record and discourse of those things they were daily conversant in, without long ambages and circumlocutions ; and that the things they were continually to give and receive information about might be the easier and quicker understood. That this is so, and that men in framing different complex ideas, and giving them names, have been much governed by the end of speech in general, (which is a very short and expedite way of conveying their thoughts one to another), is evident in the names which in several arts have been found out, and applied to several complex ideas of modified actions, belonging to their several trades, for dispatch sake, in their direction or discourses about them. Which ideas are not generally framed in the minds of men not conversant about these operations. And thence the words that stand for them, by the greatest part of men of the same language, are not understood : v.g. coltshire, drilling, filtration, cohobation, are words standing for certain complex ideas, which being seldom in the minds of any but those few whose particular employments do at every turn suggest them to their thoughts, those names of them are not generally understood but by smiths and chymists ; who, having framed the complex ideas which these words stand for, and having given names to them, or received them from others, upon hearing of these names in communication, readily conceive those ideas in their minds ; – as by cohobation all the simple ideas of distilling, and the pouring the liquor distilled from anything back upon the remaining matter, and distilling it again. Thus we see that there are great varieties of simple ideas, as of tastes and smells, which have no names ; and of modes many more ; which either not having been generally enough observed, or else not being of any great use to be taken notice of in the affairs and converse of men, they have not had names given to them, and so pass not for species. This we shall have occasion hereafter to consider more at large, when we come to speak of words.


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