Реферат: Philosophy Berkeley Essay Research Paper Dupee mozillaPhilosophy

Philosophy Berkeley Essay, Research Paper

Dupee, mozilla


The initial groundwork for Berkeley’s position is the truism

that the materialist is a skeptic. In the writing of his three

dialogues, Berkeley develops two characters: Hylas (the materialist)

and Philonous (Berkeley himself). Philonous draws upon one central

supposition of the materialist to formulate his argument of skepticism

against him; this idea is that one can never perceive the real essence

of anything. In short, the materialist feels that the information

received through sense experience gives a representative picture of

the outside world (the representative theory of perception), and one

can not penetrate to the true essece of an object. This makes logical

sense, for the only way to perceive this real essence would be to

become the object itself! Although the idea is logical, it does

contain a certain grounding for agnosticism. Let the reader consider

this: if there is no way to actually sense the true material essence

of anything, and all knowledge in empiricism comes from the senses,

then the real material essence can not be perceived and therefore it

can not be posited. This deserves careful consideration, for the

materialist has been self-proclaimed a skeptic! If the believer in

this theory were asked if a mythical beast such as a cyclops existed

he would most certainly say no. As part of his reply he might add that

because it can not be sensed it is not a piece of knowledge. After

being enlightened by the above proposed argument, though, that same

materialist is logically forced to agree that, because the “material

substratum1″ itself can not be sensed, its existence can not be

treated as knowledge. The materialist belief has, in effect, become as

futile as proving that the cyclops exists; his ideas have lead him

into skepticism.

Having proven that the materialist is, at best, a doubter,

Berkeley goes on to offer the compelling argument that primary and

secondary qualities are, together, one thing. As the materialist

believes, primary qualities of an object are those things that are

abstract (not sense oriented). Examples of these would be number,

figure, motion, and extension. Secondary qualities are those things

that are concrete (sense oriented), such as color, smell, sound, and

taste. The materialist feels that these primary qualities persist even

when the secondary ones are not there. Thus, if a person were blind,

then that individual would not be able to hear or to touch items; yet

the so-called real qualities such as figure would remain existent in

the objects. As previously shown, the materialist is agnostic in his

belief of these real (primary) qualities. It is here that Berkeley

directs an alternate hypothesis: that the abstract primary qualities

don’t exist at all. In fact, the immaterialist position states that

these qualities are merely secondary in nature, as they, too, can not

be perceived as being separate from an object. For instance, if a

person is asked to imagine a primary quality alone, as an abstraction,

it is impossible. To illustrate this point, suppose that a person is

asked to think simply of number alone. This person may reply that the

idea he is formulating is that of three red spheres. In truth this is

not an abstract idea, because when the qualities of color (red) and

shape (sphere) are taken away, all that is left is three of nothing!

Thus, it is impossible to think of the abstraction of number, given

that an abstract quality can not focus on anything concrete (such as

red spheres in the above mentioned example). Therefore, it follows

that, since no primary, abstract quality can exist alone, it is the

same as a secondary quality in which an actual object must first be


Berkeley moves on to show that the perceived qualities of an

object are ideas which exist only in a mind. To do this, he states

that a sensation is an idea. This is logical, for sensations can not

be felt by mindless objects. However, it is this point which Berkeley

scrutinizes in the materialist statement that an external object “is a

material substance with the sensible qualities inhering in it.2″ The

materialist is proclaiming that sensible qualities, which exist in the

mind only, are actually in the object. Logically, the only possible

way for this to occur is if the external object had a mind for the

qualities to be thought of and stored by. The notion that inanimate

objects have minds is ridiculous, and thus the materialists’ belief

has been reduced to absurdity. Let the reader consider this example to

reinforce the point. A ten-story building is erected, and a person who

lives in a single-story house in the country sees the new building. To

this person the structure may seem quite tall, as he has never seen

any building taller than three stories. However, a construction worker

comes across the same building and perceives its height quite

differently than the previous man. Since the second man usually works

on buildings about thirty stories high, he thinks that the building is

fairly short. Obviously, the new building can not be both tall and

short at the same time; yet this is the outcome if one believes that

the quality of tallness is inherent in the object. In fact, if the

idealist (immaterialist) position is considered it seems logical that

one person could view something differently than another. This is

because the idea concerning that thing could be different in the two

separate minds.

At this point Berkeley explains that the so-called tertiary

qualities of an external object are non-existent. The materialist

defines these qualities as the ability in one object to produce change

in another object. In the three dialogues, Hylas brings up the point

that these qualities are “perceive[d] by the sense… and exist in the

object that occasions [them]3.” An example of this quality would be a

burning candle. Suppose that a person puts his finger in the flame

long enough to feel the pain of a burn. The materialist would

attribute this pain to the lit candle itself, stating that the ability

to produce pain is inherent in it. However, this can not be the case.

As previously discussed, the external objects are merely ideas which

we perceive through sense experience. Just as these objects do not

possess any primary or secondary qualities, they also can not have the

ability to cause change in something else. In fact, these tertiary

qualities are also ideas perceived only in the mind.

Given that objects are ideas and humans possess minds to

perceive them with, the nature of both ideas and minds deserves

careful consideration. Berkeley assumes the view that ideas are

passive and only perceivable in a mind. He goes on to state that these

ideas are existent only when a mind is perceiving them. This is

logical, for when something is not being ruminated upon it does not

exist in the realm of knowledge at that particular time. As an

example, if I were to move to another country and, after some time,

forget about my old house in America, it would not exist to me

anymore. In accordance with the immaterialists’ view, my actively

perceiving mind would be electing not to reflect back upon the past.

Thus, only the active mind can create the purely passive idea.

Since an idea only exists when it is being perceived or

reflected upon, this brings into question the nature of reality. For

instance, assume that a person attends an art museum early on Sunday

morning. As that person views the artwork, the paintings themselves

are sensible things, or ideas, actively being perceived by a mind; in

short, they exist. However, when the museum closes and the person goes

home, does the artwork continue to exist? Obviously the person pursues

other activities of the day, and he ceases to think about what he did

earlier. However, at a certain time those paintings were part of what

the person knew to be true through sensation; the artwork was part of

the person’s reality. Do the paintings therefore cease to exist since

they are no longer being thought of?

Berkley argues that such objects still exist because the mind

of God is always perceiving them. Unlike the materialists’ view, the

immaterialist puts God at the center of his views. In truth, God is

the “omnipresent external mind which knows and comprehends all things,

and exhibits them to our view in such a manner and according to such

rules as He Himself has ordained and are by us termed the ‘laws of

nature.’4″ It is important to stress the idea that God shows people

the ideas in his mind, and these ideas make up the reality beheld by

the human mind. Therefore, for any person to perceive something, the

idea must be in the mind of God first.

The fact that there are two distinct minds raises questions

about the nature of these minds. The idealist proclaims that the human

mind is strictly finite in its ability to have sense experience. With

this being the case, a person can only have a single sensation at a

time. Since sensations are the same as ideas, humans can only have one

idea at once. On the other hand, God’s mind is infinite and is thus

able to have multiple perceptions. These perceptions of God are also

ideas, and it follows that these ideas comprise the reality beheld in

the finite human mind. Instead of the materialists’ belief in the

representative theory of perception, where a material object has real

(primary) qualities which humans perceive as sensible (secondary)

qualities, Berkeley has posited an alternate theory. This is that God

upholds all of the ideas which comprise human reality, and people

perceive these ideas as sensations directly from God’s infinite mind.

It should also be noted that just as the finite mind is

different from the infinite mind, the ideas in each mind have some

certain distinctions. The finite mind can only contemplate a limited

range of thoughts. To illustrate this, let the reader attempt to

imagine an infinite number of stars. After some intellection, the

reader will realize that it is an impossible task. This is because the

human mind can only think in terms of bounded entities; thus, in the

above mentioned case, the reader may have thought of a great many

stars. However, the stars were finite in number and could therefore

not represent the notion of infinity. In short, the finite mind can

only conceive finite thoughts. Not only this, but, as previously

disgussed, humans can perceive only one thought at a time. If the

reader does not think this to be the case, then let her attempt to

imagine a small boy and a thunderstorm as completely separate ideas.

Although both ideas may be thought of, the only way for this to occur

is when they are placed in the same mental picture. In summary, the

human mind has important limits which can easily be observed.

On the contrary, the infinite mind of God is limitless in its

ability to perceive ideas. In God’s mind, an infinite thought (a

thought without boundaries) can exist. This infinite idea’s existence

in God’s mind is more that possible; it must necessarily be the case.

This is because infinite concepts such as the number system and the

universe must come from, as do all thoughts, a mind. However, since

the human mind is finite and therefore incapable of conceiving

boundless thoughts, then those infinite ideas must arise from the

infinite mind of God. Not only does God’s mind contain infinite

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End Notes

1. George Berkeley. “Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous.”

Reason and Responsibility. Ed. Joel Feinberg p. 175.

2. Berkeley, p. 165.

3. Berkeley, p. 165.

4. Berkeley, p. 191.

5. Berkeley, p. 179.

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