Relation Space. 1678
Besides the considering things barely and separately in themselves, the mind considers them also with respect, i. e. at the same time looking upon some other, and this we call relation. So that if the mind so considers anything that another is necessarily supposed, this is relation; there is that which necessarily makes us consider two things at once, or makes the mind look on two things at once, and hence it is that relative terms or words that signify this relation so denominate one thing, as that they always intimate or denote another; viz. father, countryman, bigger, distant;
so that whatsoever necessarily occasions two things, looked on as distinct, this connection in our thoughts of whatsoever it be founded in, that is properly relation, which perhaps may serve to give a little light to that great obscurity which has caused so much dispute about the nature of space, whether it be something or nothing, created or eternal. For when we speak of space (as ordinarily we do) as the abstract distance, it seems to me to be a pure relation, and we call it distance; but when we consider it as the distance or space between the extremities of a continued body,
whose continued parts do, or are supposed to, fill all the interjacent space, we call it extension, and it is looked on to be a positive inherent property of the body, because it keeps constantly with it, always the same, and every particle has its share of it; whereas, whether you consider the body in whole mass, or in the least particles of the body, it appears to me to be nothing but the relation of the distance of the extremities. But when we speak of space in general, abstract and separate from all consideration of any body at all or any other being; it seems not then to be any real thing, but the consideration of a bare possibility of body to exist: to this, I foresee, there will lie two great objections:-
1st. The Cartesians will except against me as speaking of space without body, which they make to be the same thing; to whom let me say, that if spacium be corpus, and corpus spacium, then it is as true too that extensio is corpus, and corpus extensio, which is a pretty harsh kind of expression and that which is so distant from truth, that I do not remember that I have anywhere met with it from them; and yet I would fain know any other difference between extensio and spacium than that which I have above mentioned. If they will say omne extensum et omnis res positiva extensa corpus, et vice versâ,
I fully consent. But then it is only to say that body is the only being capable of distance between its own parts, which is extension (for I do not know why angels may not be capable of the relation of distance, in respect of one another), which shows plainly the difference of the words extension, which is for distance, a part of the same body, or that which is considered but as one body, and that of space, which is the distance between any two beings, without the consideration of body interjacent.
Besides this, there seems to me this great and essential difference between space and body, that body is divisible into separable parts, but space is not. This, I think, is so plain that it needs no proof; for if one take a piece of matter, of an inch square, for example, and divide it into two, the parts will be separated if set at further distance one from another; but yet nobody, I think, amongst those who are most for the reality of space, say the parts of space are or can be removed to a further distance one from another. And he that, imagining the idea of a space of an inch square, can tell how to separate the parts of it, and remove them one from another, has, I confess, a much more powerful fancy than I.
It is no more strange, therefore, that extension, which is the relation of distance between parts of the same being, should be proper only to body, which alone has parts, than that the relation of filiation should be proper only to men.
To my supposition, that space, as it may be conceived antecedent to and void of all bodies, or, if you will, all determinate beings, is nothing but the idea of the possibility of the existence of body; for, when one says there is space for another world as big as this, it seems to me to be no more than there is no repugnancy why another world as big as this might not exist; and in this sense space may be said to be infinite; and so in effect space, as antecedent to body, or some determinate being, is in effect nothing-To this I say will be objected, that space being, as it is, capable of greater and less, cannot properly be nothing.
To this I say, that space, antecedent to all determinate beings, is not capable of greater or less. The mistake lies in this, that we, having been accustomed to the measures of a foot, an ell, a mile, &c. &c., can easily frame ideas of them, where we suppose no body to be even beyond the bounds of the world, but our having ideas in our head proves not the existence of anything without us. But you will say, is not the space of a foot beyond the extremity of the universe less than the space of a yard? I answer, yes; that the idea of one, which I place there, is bigger than the idea of the other;
but that there is anything real there existing, I deny; or by saying or imagining the space of a foot or yard beyond the extremity of the world, would suppose or mean anything more than that a body of a foot or a yard (of which I have the idea) may exist there, I deny. Indeed, should a body be placed a foot distant from the utmost extremity of the universe, one might say it was a foot distant from the world, which seems to me to be a bare relation, resulting from its position there, without supposing that space to be any real being existing there before, and interposed between them, but only that a real body of such dimensions may be placed between them without removing them further one from the other. For the relation makes itself appear in this, that whatsoever is so spoke of requires its correlative; and therefore, speaking of the universe, one cannot say it is distant, because without it we suppose no other determinate or finite being which may be the other term of this relation.
It will be answered, perhaps, that one may suppose a point in that empty space, and then say it is a foot from that point. I answer, one may as easily suppose a body as a point, if the point be quid reale; if not, it being nothing, one cannot say the extremity or superficies of the world is a foot from nothing; so that be it a point, or body, or what other being one pleases, that is supposed there, it is evidence there is always required some real existence to be the other term of the relation.
And after all the suppositions that can be made, it can never truly be said that the utmost superficies of the world is a foot distant from anything, if there be nothing really existing beyond it, but only that imaginary space.
That which makes us so apt to mistake in this point, I think, is this, that having been all our lifetime accustomed to speak ourselves, and hear all others speak of space, in phrases that import it to be a real thing, as to occupy or take up so much space, we come to be possessed with this prejudice, that it is a real thing, and not a bare relation. And that which helps to it is, that by constant conversing with real sensible things, which have this relation of distance one to another, which we, by the reason just now mentioned, mistake for a real positive thing,
we are apt to think that it as really exists beyond the utmost extent of all bodies, or finite beings, though there be no such beings there to sustain it, as it does here amongst bodies, which is not true. For though it be true that the black lines drawn on a rule have the relation one to another of an inch distance, they being real sensible things; and though it be also true that I, knowing the idea of an inch, can imagine that length without imagining body, as well as I can imagine a figure without imagining body; yet it is no more true that there is any real distance in that which we call imaginary space, than that there is any real figure there.