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REVEREND SIR, You have very comprehensively expressed, in six or seven lines, all the difficulties of iny letter, which I should have endeavored to have made shorter, had I not been afraid an improper impression might possibly occasion a mistake of my meaning. I am very glad the debate is come into so narrow a compass ; for I think now it entirely turns upon this, whether our ideas of space and duration are partial, so as to presuppose the existence of some other thing. Your similitude of the blind man is very apt to explain your meaning (which I think I fully understand,) but does not seem to come entirely up to the matter. For, what is the reason that the blind man concludes there must be somewhat external, to give him that idea of hardness? It is because he supposes it impossible for him to be thus affected, unless there were some cause of it; which cause, should it be removed, the effect would immediately cease too; and he would no more have the idea of hardness, but by remembrance. Now, to apply this to the instance of space and duration : Since a man, from his having these ideas, very justly concludes that there must be somewhat external, which is the cause of them; consequently, should this cause (whatever it is) be taken away, his ideas would be so too: therefore, if what is supposed to be the cause be removed, and yet the idea remains, that supposed cause cannot be the real one. Now, granting the self-existent substance to be the substratum of these ideas, could we make the supposition of its ceasing to be, yet space and duration would still remain unaltered : which seems to show, that the self-existent substance is not the substratum of space and duration. Nor would it be an answer to the difficulty, to say, that every property of the self-existent substance is as necessary as the substance itself ; since that will only bold, while the substance itself exists : for there is implied in the idea of a property, an impossibility of subsisting without its substratum. 1 grant, the supposition is absurd : but how otherwise can we know whether any thing be a property of such a substance, but by examining whether it would cease to be, if its supposed substance should do so ? Notwithstanding what I have now said, I cannot say that I believe your argument not conclusive ; for I must own my ignorance, that I am really at a loss about the nature of space and duration. But did it plainly appear that they were properties of a substance, we should have an easy way with the atheists : for it would at once prove demonstrably an eternal necessary self-existent Being; that there is but one such; and that he is needful in order to the existence of all other things. Which makes me thiuk, that though it may true, yet it is not obvious to every capacity ; otherwise it would have been generally used, as a fundamental argument, to prove the being of God.
I must add one thing more: that your argument for the omnipresence of God seemed always to me very probable. But being very desirous to have it appear demonstrably conclusive, I was sometimes forced to say what was not altogether my opinion. Not that I did this for the sake of disputing, (for, besides the particular disagreeableness of this to my own temper, I should surely have chosen another person to have trifled with ;)
but I did it to set off the objection to advantage, that it might be more fully answered. I heartily wish you as fair treatment from your opponents in print, as I have had from you : though, I must own, I cannot see, in those that I have read, that unprejudiced search after truth, which I would have hoped foc.
I am, Reverend Sir,
Your most humble Servant. February 3, 1714.
THE FIFTH LETTER.
SIR, In a multitude of business, I mislaid your last letter; and could not answer it, till it came again to my hands by chance. We seem to have pushed the matter in question between us as far as it will go ; and, upon the whole, I cannot but take notice, I have very seldom met with persons so reasonable and unprejudiced as yourself, in such debates as these.
I think all I need say in answer to the reasoning in your letter is, that your granting the absurdity of the supposition you were endeavoring to make, is consequently granting the necessary truth of my argument. If* space and duration necessarily remain, even after they are supposed to be taken away, and be not (as it is plain they are not) themselves substances; then thet
* Ut partium temporis ordo est immutabilis, sic etiam ordo partium spatii. Moveantur hæ de locis suis, et movebuntur (ut ita dicam) de seipsis.-NEWTON. Princip. Mathemat. Schol. ad definit. 8.
† Deus non est æternitas vel infinitas, sed æternus et infinitus ; mon est duratio vel spatium, sed durat et adest. Durat semper, et adest ubique ; et existendo semper et ubique, durationen et spatium, æternitatem et infinitatem, constituit. Cum unaquæque; spatii particula, sit semper; et unumquodque; durationis indivisible momentum, ubique ; certe rerum omnium fabricator ac Dominus, non
substance, on whose existence they depend, will necessarily remain likewise, even after it is supposed to be taken away : which shows that supposition to be impossible and contradictory.
As to your observation at the end of your letter, that the argument I have insisted on, if it were obvious to every capacity, should have more frequently been used as a fundamental argument for a proof of the being of God; the true cause why it has been seldom urged, is, I think, this : that the universal prevalency of Cartes's absurd notions (teaching that matter* is necessarily infinite and necessarily eternal, and ascribing all things to mere mechanic laws of motion, exclusive of final causes, and of all will, and intelligence, and divine Providence from the government of the world) hath incredibly blinded the eyes of common reason, and prevented men from discerning him in whom they live and move, and have their being. The like has happened in some other instances. How universally have men for many ages believed, that eternity is no duration at all, and infinity no amplitude ? Something of the like kind has happened in the matter of transubstantiation, and (I think) in the scholastic notion of the Trinity, &c.
I am, Sir,
Your affectionate Friend and Servant, April 8, 1714.
erit numquam nusquam. Omni præsens est, non per virtutem solam, sed etiam per substantiam : nam virtus sine substantia subsistere non potest. In ipso continentur et moventur universa, &c.—NEWTON, Princip. Mathemat. Schol. general. sub. finem.
* Pluto implicare contradictionem, ut mundus (meaning the material world) sit finitus. Cartes, Epist. 69. Partis Prime.