The question of primary vs. secondary qualities in realism has drawn a battle on which of the two should be the REAL qualities of things. It is a very contentious paradox in the sense that both seam to inseparable in some instances, but almost all philosophers involved in this conundrum tend to go in the line of what exactly the distinction should be for rather than what it is. One such proposition looks like a way of differentiating the things’ appearance from their reality or even as a means of marking the differences between them, with equally the same conceptual schemes through which the world is explained.
Under careful consideration of the two schools of thought, I take the position that primary qualities are the real qualities of things as the following definitions and argument will elaborate. Primary qualities are those characteristics or properties that objects possess irrespective of the presence of the observer and which convey facts about the object. These include but are not limited to extension, figure (shape), solidity, number, and motion.
They represent existence which can, with certainty, be determined, as they exist in the objects themselves without relying on any possible subjective judgments (Bennett, 1971, 65). If for example we have a triangular piece of wood, no one can logically argue and convince beyond reasonable doubt that it is circular. Secondary qualities on the other hand refer to those properties in objects that have produce sensational effects in the observers. These are qualities such as taste, color, sound, and smell.
The major reason for which I hold primary qualities to be the genuine representations of reality in objects is the fact that they are the actual measurable characteristics or aspects of the physical reality. Secondary qualities will not under any circumstance provide objectivity of the objects or things under consideration. If we look at the principle underlying the concept of the prism, we realize that it is conventional to have different forms of colors (secondary attributes), but the TRUTH is that we have the void and atoms (Bennett, 1971, 66).
Furthermore, by convention we have bitter and sweet as well as cold and hot. In this respect, I beg to agree with Democritus who argued that tastes, colors, odors, etc are mere names in so far as the real object is concerned and in which these qualities are contained. These qualities fundamentally, according to Locke and Descartes, reside in our consciousness such that if the living observer is removed, these qualities will be annihilated and wiped away along the consciousness (Bennett, 1971, 69). Any body has some features which cannot be separated from it.
It is these qualities that make a part of a whole object similar in composition to the larger whole as they were before it was divided. The idea we have about primary qualities, solidity, figure, extension, motion, number, and rest, are all perceived through the sense of touch. Except solidity, all the rest are likewise perceived by sight (Bennett, 1971, 70). Because the operations of bodies is mechanistic in principle, we perceive these ideas on as a result of the object’s contact with our senses, and for the vision at a distance, this happens from an imperceptible particle of the object itself.
This is the classic fact that these are qualities that exist in form of the body’s features that are independent of our perception of them. Locke maintains that despite our systematic vocabulary ambiguity, we must at all times distinguish between the very ideas, the immediate thought objects as our minds entertain them, and the causal powers (the qualities) through which such objects produce their ideas in us (Bennett, 1971, 71). The secondary qualities are in themselves nothing but the causal power that produce certain sorts of ideas, just like the apparent powers that produce changes in other objects.
These are therefore mere effects which are products of the primary or genuine qualities of the specified bodies themselves. They are as a matter of fact just reifications of the natural ideas which are actually produced by the primary qualities in our minds, a view which was also equally held by Descartes. Descartes made his resolution concerning primary qualities from his methodical process of doubting everything till he arrived at the indubitable.
Just like he could not deny his existence and the relationship between the mind and the soul, likewise he postulated that primary and secondary qualities interrelate, although he emphasized that the real idea in us about objects caused the secondary effects we infer from objects. He found out that there was an alarming material falsity due to the confused prejudgmental obscure adventitious ideas. Primary qualities were thus representational of our reality ideas in our minds as manifested in the secondary qualities of the objects we observed and deciphered from our senses (Bennett, 1971, 72).
Berkeley is of the opinion that we are constantly under a veil of perception and he as thus concludes that for an object to be, it must consequently be perceived. In this kind of rhetoric, I tend to imagine that Berkeley only wanted to make some unnecessary fuss about Locke’s theory. This I hold so because after much circularity of his theories, he concludes what Locke is saying though in differently figured out words. He tried to show that extension exists independently of the mind as he thinks is the cause of seeing things at a distance.
My firm conclusion here is that it is the very idea of extension in our minds that results to the secondary extension quality of distance. Only primary qualities of objects (even with the fact that all individual things will demonstrate close similarities between primary and secondary qualities in darkness) can truly and genuinely explain REALITY of objects! Work cited: Bennett Jonathan. Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes: New York: Clarendon Press, 1971
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