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pri mary and secondary qualities

A. P. D. Mourelatos (Garden City, NY: Anchor have a prima facie duty to keep our promises
Press/Doubleday, 1974), 118–31. if every action of promise-keeping is to that
Furth, M.: “Elements of Eleatic Ontology,” Journal extent right – if all actions of promise-keeping
of the History of Philosophy 6: 3 (1968), 1–32. are the better for it. An action may be a prima
Hamlyn, D. W.: Sensation and Perception (London: facie duty (in virtue of some property it has)
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961).
in this sense even though it is wrong overall,
Huffman, C.: “The Role of Number in Philolaus’
Philosophy,” Phronesis 33 (1988), 1–29. and so not a “duty proper”, in Ross’s terms.
Hussey, E.: “The Beginnings of Epistemology: Those who speak of prima facie reasons
From Homer to Philolaus,” in Epistemology, may do so in either of the above senses, but
ed. S. Everson (Cambridge: Cambridge University they should be clear which they intend since
Press, 1990), 11–38. the two senses are so different. The main
Kahn, C.: The Art and Thought of Heraclitus (Cam- difference is that reasons of the first sort may
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). collapse completely under scrutiny, so that
Kirk, G. S., Raven, J. E. and Schofield, M.: The something that seemed to be a reason (was a
Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge prima facie reason) ceases to be so on further
University Press, 1957; 2nd edn 1983).
enquiry; those of the second sort always
Lesher, J. H.: “Heraclitus’ Epistemological Voc-
abulary,” Hermes III (1983), 155–70. remain as reasons, though they may be over-
Long, A. A.: “The Principles of Parmenides’ ridden by stronger prima facie reasons on the
Cosmology,” Phronesis 8 (1963), 90–107. other side.
Mackenzie, M. M.: “Heraclitus and the Art of
Paradox,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 6
(1988), 1–37. b ibliography
Mourelatos, A. P. D.: The Route of Parmenides (New
Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, Dancy, J.: “Intuitionism in Meta-epistemology,”
1970). Philosophical Studies 42 (1982), 395–408.
Nussbaum, M.: “Eleatic Conventionalism and Ross, W. D.: The Right and the Good (Oxford:
Philolaus on the Conditions of Thought,” Clarendon Press, 1930), ch. 2.
Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 83 (1979),
63–108. jonathan dancy
Owen, G. E. L.: “Eleatic Questions,” Classical
Quarterly 10 (1960), 84–102.
Snell, B.: The Discovery of the Mind, trans. T. G. primary and secondary qualities A meta-
Rosenmeyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, physical distinction was drawn in antiquity
1953). between qualities which really belong to
j. h. lesher objects in the world and qualities, which
only appear to belong to them, or which
human beings only believe to belong to them,
prima facie reasons There are two because of the effects those objects produce in
notions of the prima facie used in epistemology. human beings, typically through the sense
The first is familiar from the law. For someone organs. Thus Democritus: “by convention
to be committed to stand trial, a prima facie case (nomoi) colour, by convention the sweet, by
has to be made against them. A case of this convention bitter; but in truth (eteei) atoms and
sort is one which is strong enough to need an the void”. Colour, sweetness, bitterness are
answer. It is called a prima facie case because here said to exist only “by convention”: as
of the Latin meaning of the terms: a prima facie something that does not hold everywhere by
case is one which at first sight looks impressive nature, but is produced in or contributed by
enough to need an answer. Such a case may human beings in their interaction with a
collapse completely under further scrutiny. world which really contains only atoms of
The second notion of the prima facie is a tech- certain kinds in a void. To think that some
nical use that derives from the moral philo- objects in the world are coloured, or sweet, or
sophy of W. D. Ross. He introduced a notion bitter is to attribute to objects qualities which
of a prima facie duty in the following way: we on this view they do not actually possess.

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pr i m a r y a n d seco ndar y q ualities

Objects must possess some qualities or to objects those very effects which they bring
other in order to produce their effects, so the about through the senses. The “sensations”
view is not that there are no qualities at all in caused in people’s minds by the qualities of
the objects which cause perceivers to impute bodies which affect them could not themselves
certain qualities to them. Rather, it is only that be in the external objects. Nor does it make
some of the qualities which are imputed to sense to suppose that bodies could in some
objects (e.g. colour, sweetness, bitterness) are way “resemble” those sensory effects. For
not possessed by those objects. Knowledge of Descartes the essence of body is extension, so
nature is knowledge of what qualities objects no quality that is not a mode of extension
actually have, and of how they bring about could possibly belong to body at all. Colours,
their effects. For Democritus, atoms really pos- odours, sounds, etc., are on his view nothing
sess those qualities (e.g. shape, size, motion) but sensations. “When we say that we perceive
which are responsible for their having all the colours in objects, this is really just the same
effects they have. To claim such knowledge as saying that we perceive something in the
is to impute certain qualities to objects; the objects whose nature we do not know, but
richer one’s knowledge, the more such qual- which produces in us a certain very clear and
ities will be imputed. But when the imputation vivid sensation which we call the sensation of
is true, or amounts to knowledge, the quali- colour.” If we try to think of colours as some-
ties are not merely imputed; they are also in thing real outside our minds “there is no way
fact present in the objects. The metaphysical of understanding what sort of things they are”.
view holds that those are the only qualities This again is not a distinction between two
which objects really have. The rest of our kinds of qualities which belong to bodies; it is
conception of the world has a human source. a distinction between qualities which belong
Galileo drew a similar distinction in ex- to bodies (all of which are modes of extension
plaining the wide gap between the way the such as shape, position, motion, etc.) and
world normally appears to perceiving beings what we unreflectively and confusedly come
on earth and the truth revealed about it by the to think are qualities of bodies.
“new science”. If the sense organs of animals The term “secondary quality” appears to
were taken away, he said, the figure, the have been coined by Robert Boyle (1627–91)
number, and the motions of bodies would whose “corpuscular philosophy” was shared
remain, but all colours, odours, sounds, etc., by Locke. But it is not easy to say what either
would be “abolished and annihilated”. For he or Locke meant by the term. They were not
him, all such qualities, “without the living consistent in their use of it. Locke (see Locke),
animal”, are “nothing but names”. Although like Boyle, distinguished an object’s qualities
we have words for such things, we do not from the powers it has to produce effects. It
succeed in speaking of anything that really has such powers only in virtue of possess-
belongs to objects in the world. Objects possess ing some “primary” or “real” qualities. The
only those qualities referred to in a perfected effects it is capable of producing occur either
mathematical science which would explain in other bodies or in minds. If in minds, the
why everything in the world happens as it does. effects are “ideas” (e.g. of colour or sweetness
This is so far not a distinction between or bitterness, or of roundness or squareness or
two kinds of qualities (“primary” and “sec- motion). These ideas in turn are employed in
ondary”) which objects possess, or between thoughts to the effect that the object in ques-
qualities which are imputed to objects and tion is, e.g., coloured or sweet or bitter, or
qualities which are not, but rather be- round or square or moving. We have such
tween qualities which objects really have thoughts, according to Locke, by thinking
and qualities which are merely imputed to that the object in question “resembles” the
them but which they do not in fact possess. It idea we have in the mind.
is a claim about what is really so. Boyle and Locke sometimes call colour,
Descartes (see Descartes) found nothing sweetness, bitterness, etc., “secondary” qual-
but confusion in the attempt even to impute ities. In the view of Democritus, Galileo and

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Descartes, colour, sweetness, bitterness, etc. are but not the former, “there is nothing like our
only mistakenly or confusedly believed to ideas, existing in the bodies themselves”
belong to objects. That would imply that (Essay, 2.8.15). This is Locke’s way of saying
objects do not really have such “secondary” what really belongs to the objects around us:
qualities. But Locke also identifies “secondary only what the “corpuscular philosophy” says
qualities” as “such qualities which in truth are about them is so. We only mistakenly impute
nothing in the objects themselves but powers “secondary” qualities to objects; but in the
to produce various sensations in us by their case of the “primary” qualities the imputations
primary qualities” (Essay, 2.8.9). This can be are true. But that is inconsistent with the
taken in at least two ways. It could mean idea that the “secondary” qualities which we
that, in addition to its “primary” qualities, all impute are nothing but powers, since the
there really is in an object we call coloured, imputations would then be imputations of
sweet, or bitter, etc. is its power to produce ideas certain powers, and so would be true of all
of colour, sweetness, or bitterness, etc. in us objects with the appropriate “primary” or
by virtue of the operation of those “primary” “real” qualities.
or “real” qualities. That is compatible with Berkeley (see Berkeley) objected to Locke
the earlier view that colour, sweetness, bit- that it is nonsense to speak of a “resem-
terness, etc. are not really in objects. Or it blance” between an idea and an object, just as
could (and does seem to) mean that “sec- Descartes had ridiculed the idea that a sensa-
ondary qualities” such as colour, sweetness, tion could resemble the object that causes it.
bitterness, etc. are themselves nothing more “An idea can be like nothing but an idea,”
than certain powers which objects have to Berkeley says (Principles §8). This is a general
affect us in certain ways. But such powers, on rejection of Locke’s account of how we are able
Locke’s view, really do belong to objects to think of things existing independently of
endowed with the appropriate “primary” or the mind. It it is correct, it works as much
“real” properties. To identify “secondary against what Locke says of our ideas of
qualities” with such powers in this way “primary” qualities as it does against what
would imply that such “secondary qualities” he says of our ideas of “secondary” qualities.
as colour, sweetness, bitterness, etc., since Boyle speaks of the “texture” of a body
they are nothing but powers, really do belong whose minute corpuscles are arranged in a
to or exist in objects after all. Imputations of certain way. It is in virtue of possessing that
colour, sweetness, etc. to objects would then “texture” that the body is “disposed” or has the
be true, not false or confused, as on those power to produce ideas of certain kinds in
earlier views. perceivers, even if no one is perceiving it at the
A distinction drawn in this way between moment. For Locke, objects have the powers
“primary” and “secondary” qualities would they have only because their minute parts
not be a distinction between qualities which are arranged in the ways they are (and the laws
objects really possess and qualities which we of nature are what they are). In each case there
only mistakenly or confusedly think they is acknowledged to be a categorical “base” of
possess. Nor would it even be a distinction the power; the object can do such-and-such
between two kinds of qualities, strictly speak- only because it is so-and-so, even if the rele-
ing. Rather it would be a distinction between vant way it is happens to remain unknown
qualities and (certain kinds of ) powers, both to us. This has tempted some philosophers in
of which really belong to objects. But Locke recent years to identify “secondary” qualities,
confusingly sometimes calls both of them not with the powers which objects have to
“qualities”. affect us in certain ways, but with the qual-
He also held that our ideas of “primary” itative “bases” of those causal powers. The
qualities such as bulk, figure, motion, etc. colour or sweetness or bitterness, etc. of an
“resemble” qualities in bodies, but our ideas of object would then be some real (but possibly
“secondary qualities” such as colour, sweet- unknown) quality of the object which is
ness, bitterness, etc. do not. In the latter case, responsible for the specific effects it has on us.

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This again would imply that “secondary” “sensible qualities” do not exist outside the
qualities, so understood, are really in objects. mind.
And it would have the consequence that Two main strategies remain for accounting
“secondary” qualities are true qualities, not just for such “secondary” qualities as colour,
powers. But it would seem to leave no room sweetness, bitterness, etc. in a world contain-
for a distinction between “secondary” and ing only objects with nothing but the “primary”
“primary” or “real” qualities of bodies. The or “real” qualities mentioned in a compre-
“bases” of all the causal powers of objects are hensive physical science. One, in the spirit
to be understood in terms of their “primary” of Democritus, Galileo and Descartes, is to
or “real” qualities. grant that we do have perceptions of and
Defence of a distinction between those beliefs about such qualities, and to argue that
qualities which really belong to objects and all of them can none the less be explained
qualities which are only mistakenly thought without having to assume that any object
to belong to them faces the epistemic problem anywhere actually has any colour, sweetness
of how we can know, of any particular kind or bitterness, etc. The explanations would
of quality, whether it belongs to the first proceed solely in terms of the “primary” or
group or the second. Scientific knowledge of “real” qualities mentioned in the preferred
nature purports to tell us what objects there comprehensive physical science. They would
are and what sorts of qualities they have. thereby expose the perceptions as illusory
Democritus, Galileo, Descartes, Locke and and the beliefs as false or confused. This
most other philosophers who have invoked the raises large issues about the relation between
distinction thought they possessed some such the mental and physical, and about the pos-
knowledge. They relied on it to identify the first sibility of explaining psychological phenomena
group of qualities. But atomistic or corpuscu- in exclusively physical terms.
lar or nuclear or any other specific physical sci- Another strategy is to show that the qual-
ence at best says only what is so; it does not ities said to be perceived or thought about in
also say what qualities objects do not have. So such cases are really qualities that do belong
the metaphysical theory must establish in to objects after all. This can take the form of
addition the further claim that the kinds of arguing that, e.g., the word “coloured” just
qualities mentioned in the preferred science are means the same as “has the power to produce
the only kinds of qualities which objects have. perceptions of colour in human beings”, or
Some have apparently thought that the means the same as “has that quality which
wide variability among humans’ perceptions produces perceptions of colour in human
of the colours, sweetness or bitterness, etc. of beings”, or means the same as that physical
objects, as contrasted with the uniformity in term, whatever it is, which denotes that
their perceptions of their shape, size, or posi- quality which in fact produces perceptions of
tion, etc., is enough to show that the former colour in human beings. These are all theses
qualities do not belong to objects, while the about the meanings of terms for allegedly
latter do. But such appeals to “the relativity of “secondary” qualities. Or it might be held
perception” alone are at best inconclusive. It only that a so-called ‘secondary’ quality term
is not clear that there is in fact greater vari- in fact denotes the very same quality as is
ability among our perceptions of the one kind denoted by some purely physical term. This
of qualities than there is among those of the would simply identify the very quality in
other. But even if there were, the most it question with some physical quality or power
would show is that we cannot tell by a single (not two different qualities, but only one),
perception alone that an object is coloured, or without holding that the terms that denote it
sweet, or bitter, etc., not that it has no such must have the same meaning. In either case
qualities at all. Berkeley argued in this way it would have the consequence that when
against “modern philosophers” who tried to we see colour, or believe that an object is
prove on “relativity” grounds that certain coloured, what we see, or what we believe to

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belong to the object, is that very physical supposed to be holistic (see holism) on the
quality or power which colour is said to be. This intended interpretation, which is that “most
again would leave no distinction between of the sentences” means a lot of them. It is pri-
qualities which really belong to objects and marily on the grounds that the principle of
qualities which are only mistakenly or con- charity is constitutive of intentional ascription,
fusedly imputed to them. but not of the ascription of physicalistic prop-
erties, that Davidson denies the possiblity of
See also Molyneux’s problem; naturalism; psycho-physical laws. And it also has striking
noumenal /phenomenal; objective/subjec- consequences for epistemology; if it is right,
tive; objectivity; subjectivity. then the refutation of scepticism requires
only the weak premise of belief coherence.

bi b l i o g r a p h y See also Davidson; social sciences.

Bennett, J.: Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes


(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). b ibliography
Berkeley, G.: Principles of Human Knowledge
(1710), in Berkeley: Philosophical Writings, ed. Davidson, D.: “Radical Interpretation,” in his
M. R. Ayers (London: Dent, 1975). Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford:
Boyle, R.: “Experiments and Observations upon Oxford University Press, 1984).
Colours” and “The Origins and Forms of Qualit- Davidson, D.: “Belief and the Basis of Meaning,” in
ies,” in his Works, vols 1, 3 (London: Birch, 1772). ibid.
Descartes, R.: “Optics” and “Principles of Philo-
ernest lepore
sophy,” in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes,
vol. 1, ed. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and
D. Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University principle of contradiction This is a law of
Press, 1985). truth. Roughly speaking, a contradictory of a
Galileo, G.: “The Assayer,” in Discoveries and proposition p is one that can be expressed in
Opinions of Galileo, ed. S. Drake (New York:
the form not-p, or, if p can be expressed in the
Doubleday, 1957).
Locke, J.: An Essay Concerning Human Under- form not-q, then a contradictory is one that can
standing (1690), ed. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: be expressed in the form q. Thus, e.g., if p is
Clarendon Press, 1975). 2 + 1 = 4, then 2 + 1 = 4 is the contradictory
Mackie, J.: Problems from Locke (Oxford: Oxford of p, for 2 + 1 ≠ 4 can be expressed in the form
University Press, 1976). not-(2 + 1 ≠ 4). If p is 2 + 1 ≠ 4, then 2 + 1 =
Williams, B.: Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry 4 is a contradictory of p, since 2 + 1 ≠ 4 can
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978). be expressed in the form not-(2 + 1 = 4).
barry stroud Thus, mutually contradictory propositions
can be expressed in the form, r, not-r. The
Principle of Contradiction says that mutually
principle of charity Davidson thinks – contradictory propositions cannot both be
and this is one of his most characteristic doc- true and cannot both be false. Thus, by this
trines – that ceteris paribus a sentence of the principle, since if p is true, not-p is false, no
form “L-speakers hold S true in circumstance proposition p can be at once true and false
C” licenses the corresponding T-sentence “S (otherwise both p and its contradictory
is true (in L) iff C”, but only if a “constitutive would be false). In particular, for any predicate
principle” of intentional ascription is presup- p and object x, it cannot be that p is at once
posed; namely, that truth-conditions must be true of x and also false of x. This is the
assigned to formulas of L under the con- classical formulation of the Principle of Con-
straint that most of the sentences held true by tradiction. There are some senses in which
a speaker of L are true (by the interpreter’s own the Principle of Contradiction is not above
lights). This is the principle of charity. It is controversy (see Priest, 1985).

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