Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
An Essay towards a new Theory of Vision (Author: George Berkeley)

Section 91

It remains, therefore, that we look for some other explication of this difficulty: and I believe it not impossible to find one, provided we examine it to the bottom, and carefully distinguish between the ideas of sight and touch; which cannot be too oft inculcated in treating of vision: but more especially throughout the consideration of this affair we ought to carry that distinction in our thoughts: for that from want of a right understanding thereof the difficulty of explaining erect vision seems chiefly to arise.

Section 92

In order to disentangle our minds from whatever prejudices we may entertain with relation to the subject in hand, nothing seems more apposite than the taking into our thoughts the case of one born blind, and afterwards, when grown up, made to see. And though, perhaps, it may not be an easy task to divest ourselves entirely of the experience received from sight, so as to be able to put our thoughts exactly in the posture of such a one's, we must, nevertheless, as far as possible, endeavour to frame true conceptions of what might reasonably be supposed to pass in his mind.

Section 93

It is certain that a man actually blind, and who had continued so from his birth, would by the sense of feeling attain to have ideas of upper and lower. By the motion of his hand he might discern the situation of any tangible object placed within his FI reach. That part on which he felt himself supported, or towards which he perceived his body to gravitate, he would term lower, and the contrary to this upper; and accordingly denominate whatsoever objects he touched.

Section 94

But then, whatever judgments he makes concerning the situation of objects are confined to those only that are perceivable by touch. All those things that are intangible and of a spiritual nature, his thoughts and desires, his passions, and in general all the modifications of the soul, to these he would never apply the terms UPPER and LOWER, except only in a metaphorical sense. He may, perhaps, by way of allusion, speak of high or low thoughts: but those terms in their proper signification would never be applied to anything that was not conceived to exist without the mind. For a man born blind, and remaining in the same state, could mean nothing else by the words HIGHER and LOWER than a greater or lesser distance from the earth; which distance he would measure by the motion or application of his hand or some other part of his body. It is therefore evident that all those things which, in respect of each other, would by him be thought higher or lower, must be such as were conceived to exist without his mind, in the ambient space.

Section 95

Whence it plainly follows that such a one, if we suppose him made to see, would not at first sight think anything he saw was high or low, erect or inverted; for it hath been already demonstrated in sect. 41 that he would not think the things he perceived by sight to be at any distance from him, or without his mind. The objects to which he had hitherto been used to apply the terms UP and DOWN, HIGH and LOW, were such only as affected or were some way perceived by his couch: but the proper objects of vision make a new set of ideas, perfectly distinct and different from the former, and which can in no sort make themselves perceived by touch. There is, therefore, nothing at all that could induce him to think those terms applicable to them: nor would he ever think it till such time as he had observed their connexion with tangible objects, and the same prejudice began to insinuate itself into his understanding, which from their infancy had grown up in the understandings of other men.

Section 96

To set this matter in a clearer light I shall make use of an example. Suppose the above-mentioned blind person by his touch perceives a man to stand erect. Let us inquire into the manner of this. By the application of his hand to the several parts of a human body he had perceived different tangible ideas, which being collected into sundry complex ones, have distinct names annexed to them. Thus one combination of a certain tangible figure, bulk, and consistency of parts is called the head, another the hand, a third the foot, and so of the rest: all which complex ideas could, in his understanding, be made up only of ideas perceivable by touch. He had also by his touch obtained an idea of earth or ground, towards which he perceives the parts of his body to have a natural tendency. Now, by ERECT nothing more being meant than that perpendicular position of a man wherein his feet are nearest to the earth, if the blind person by moving his hand over the parts of the man who stands before him perceives the tangible ideas that compose the head to be farthest from, and those that compose the feet to be nearest to, that other combination of tangible ideas which he calls earth, he will denominate that man erect. But if we suppose him on a sudden to receive his sight, and that he behold a man standing before him, it is evident in that case he would neither judge the man he sees to be erect nor inverted; for he never having known those terms applied to any other save tangible things, or which existed in the space without him, and what he sees neither being tangible nor perceived as existing without, he could not know that in propriety of language they were applicable to it.

Section 97

Afterwards, when upon turning his head or eyes up and down to the right and left he shall observe the visible objects to change, and shall also attain to know that they are called by the same names, and connected with the objects perceived by touch; then indeed he will come to speak of them and their situation, in the same terms that he has been used to apply to tangible things; and those that he perceives by turning up his eyes he will call upper, and those that by turning down his eyes he will call lower.

Section 98

And this seems to me the true reason why he should think those objects uppermost that are painted on the lower part of his eye: for by turning the eye up they shall be distinctly seen; as likewise those that are painted on the highest part of the eye shall be distinctly seen by turning the eye down, and are for that reason esteemed lowest; for we have shown that to the immediate objects of sight considered in themselves, he would not attribute the terms HIGH and LOW. It must therefore be on account of some circumstances which are observed to attend them: and these, it is plain, are the actions of turning the eye up and down, which suggest a very obvious reason why the mind should denominate the objects of sight accordingly high or low. And without this motion of the eye, this turning it up and down in order to discern different objects, doubtless ERECT, INVERSE, and other the like terms relating to the position of tangible objects, would never have been transferred, or in any degree apprehended to belong to the ideas of sight: the mere act of seeing including nothing in it to that purpose; whereas the different situations of the eye naturally direct the mind to make a suitable judgment of the situation of objects intromitted by it.

Section 99

Farther, when he has by experience learned the connexion there is between the several ideas of sight and touch, he will be able, by the perception he has of the situation of visible things in respect of one another, to make a sudden and true estimate of the situation of outward, tangible things corresponding to them. And thus it is he shall perceive by sight the situation of external objects which do not properly fall under that sense.

Section 100

I know we are very prone to think that, if just made to see, we should judge of the situation of visible things as we do now: but we are also as prone to think that, at first sight, we should in the same way apprehend the distance and magnitude of objects as we do now: which hath been shown to be a false and groundless persuasion. And for the like reasons the same censure may be passed on the positive assurance that most men, before they have thought sufficiently of the matter, might have of their being able to determine by the eye at first view, whether objects were erect or inverse.