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Berkeley: Critical and Interpretive Essays

Colin M. Turbayne editor
Copyright Date: 1982
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In contemporary philosophy the works of George Berkeley are considered models of argumentative discourse; his paradoxes have a further value to teachers because, like Zeno’s, they challenge a beginning student to find the submerged fallacy. And as a final, triumphant perversion of Berkeley’s intent, his central contribution is still commonly viewed as an argument for skepticism - the very position he tried to refute. This limited approach to Berkeley has obscured his accomplishments in other areas of thought - his account of language, his theories of meaning and reference, his philosophy of science. These subjects and others are taken up in a collection of 20 essays, most of them given at a conference in Newport, Rhode Island, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Berkeley’s American sojourn of 1728-31. The essays constitute a broad survey of problems tackled by Berkeley and still of interest to philosophers, as well as topics of historical interest less familiar to modern readers. Its comprehensive scope will make this book appropriate for text use.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6475-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Colin M. Turbayne

    • 1 Berkeley, Perception, and Common Sense
      (pp. 3-21)
      George Pappas

      Berkeley elaborated an idealist metaphysics, which, when coupled with his nominalism, yields the thesis of Berkeleyan idealism, viz., that the only existing individuals are infinite and finite spirits or perceivers, and nonactive, nonperceiving ideas and collections of them. Ideas are themselves construed as nonmaterial mental entities each of which exists when and only when it is perceived. Yet Berkeley also claimed that his philosophy is consistent with common sense. Indeed, he repeatedly claims that he was a defender or champion of the views of common sense. But it is most difficult to see how Berkeleyan idealism is to be reconciled...

    • 2 Berkeley’s Commitment to Relativism
      (pp. 22-32)
      Richard T. Lambert

      George Berkeley’sPrinciplesandDialoguescontain many allusions to the “relativity” of sensible qualities, by which perceived features of objects vary for different observers. Commentators have differed, however, on the significance of these references. Berkeley’s editors Luce and Jessop, for instance, dismiss his relativity arguments as meread hominemsand the perceptual differences he cites as “accidental”; they point to Berkeley’s apparent claims that public and continuous sensible objects exist independently of their varying perceptions by this or that finite mind.¹

      Other scholars have considered the relativity factor in Berkeley more serious and have made lengthy analyses of the logic...


    • 3 On Taking Ideas Seriously
      (pp. 35-47)
      Désirée Park

      If one proposes, as I do, to give serious attention to Berkeley’s termidea, sooner or later his dictum‘esseispercipi’must be dealt with satisfactorily. This requires the sorting out of his several uses of the word ‘idea’ as it appears in the works that he published and in the manuscript remains.

      The ordinary uses of the word ‘idea’ are easily detected. Berkeley, like most English speakers, not infrequently means by ‘idea’ any thought that he might be entertaining. Again he sometimes means a relatively complex object which he has in mind, such as a tree or a...

    • 4 The Concept of Immediate Perception in Berkeley’s Immaterialism
      (pp. 48-66)
      Georges Dicker

      At the outset of Berkeley’sThree Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, Hylas says:

      . . . [B]y “sensible things” I mean those only which are perceived by sense, and . . . in truth the senses perceive nothing which they do not perceive immediately, for they make no inferences.¹

      Berkeley is here putting forward a general principle that Philonous frequently invokes in the ensuing arguments; namely, that

      (P) Whatever is perceived by the senses is immediately perceived.

      The import of (P) depends, of course, upon the meaning given to Berkeley’s ubiquitous technical term, “immediately perceived.” This term can be interpreted...


    • 5 Microscopes and Philosophical Method in Berkeley
      (pp. 69-82)
      Geneviève Brykman

      As early as 1728, Chambers noticed that Berkeley had gone a long way toward setting philosophy on a new footing.¹ More recently, A. J. Ayer stated that Berkeley was essentially not a metaphysician and that, if what Berkeley discovered was that material things must be definable in terms of sense contents, then the doctrines of Russell and Wittgenstein might be considered as the “logical outcome” of Berkeley’s philosophy.² Along these lines, I shall assume the analysts’ distinction between philosophy and metaphysics in order to display how the philosophical method referred to in the title was initially drawn from the “minute...

    • 6 Berkeley and Tymoczko on Mystery in Mathematics
      (pp. 83-92)
      Theodore Messenger

      Not all philosophical questions are equally relevant to all times and places. In George Berkeley we have a philosopher many of whose interests coincide with our own (partly, of course, because his interests helped to shape ours). But in addition we find, as I shall show, that some of Berkeley’s inquiries, which at first glance seem only to relate to issues of his own day, turn out on closer inspection to address some of our most current philosophical perplexities. The work of Berkeley’s that I have chosen for this demonstration isThe Analyst,¹ and the theme I have selected is...


    • 7 Berkeley on the Limits of Mechanistic Explanation
      (pp. 95-107)
      Nancy L. Maull

      An emerging consensus among recent commentators is that many of Berkeley’s criticisms of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities were misdirected.¹ It turns out, for example, that Locke never intended to justify his assertion that secondary quality ideas do not resemble bodies with a claim that only the secondary quality ideas (and not the primary quality ideas) are relative to the perceiver. Berkeley, in offering his “counter-argument” (that the shapes and distances of thingsalsovary with the observer’s state and with perceptual conditions) misleads us, and perhaps even knowlingly. Neither Locke nor, in fact, any other early modern...

    • 8 Did Berkeley Completely Misunderstand the Basis of the Primary-Secondary Quality Distinction in Locke?
      (pp. 108-124)
      Margaret D. Wilson

      According to leading seventeenth-century philosophers and scientists, our sensory “ideas” of physical objects are of two importantly different types. Certain sorts of ideas, the “ideas of primary qualities,”resemblequalities actually existing in the object. While there are some differences about whatexactlythese comprise, size, shape, motion or rest, and number are among the accepted examples. (Locke, notoriously, includes “solidity”; he sometimes mentions position. Gravity, as we will see below, was sometimes included later.) On the other hand, the “ideas of secondary qualities” do not resemble any quality really existing in the object, although they are systematically produced by...


    • 9 The Spaces of Berkeley’s World
      (pp. 127-147)
      Gary Thrane

      In a rightly admired¹ passage in the second of theThree Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, Philonous vividly conjures up various conceptions of the spatial universe.

      How vivid and radiant is the lustre of the fixed stars! How magnificent and rich that negligent profusion, with which they appear to be scattered throughout the whole azure vault! Yet if you take the telescope, it brings into your sight a new host of stars that escape the naked eye. Here they seem contiguous and minute, but to a nearer view immense orbs of light at various distances, far sunk in the abyss...

    • 10 On Being “Embrangled” By Time
      (pp. 148-156)
      E. J. Furlong

      During the period 1729-1730, four quite long letters passed between George Berkeley and his American friend Samuel Johnson (Works, II, pp. 271-94).¹ The first letter from Johnson ranged widely over difficulties that Johnson and a group of friends had found in Berkeley’s immaterialism. Berkeley replied at length to this letter. In his second letter, Johnson declares (ibid., p. 285) that he is “content to give up the cause of matter . . . ” and he adds that “of all the particulars I troubled you with before, there remain only these that I have any difficulty about,viz. archetypes, space...


    • 11 The “Philosopher by Fire” in Berkeley’s Alciphron
      (pp. 159-173)
      I. C. Tipton

      There is a passage in Berkeley’sAlciphron(bk. VI, sects. 13-14) in which Lysicles, one of the “minute” philosophers, claims that the human soul is subject to death in the ordinary course of nature. This, he says, has been revealed by “a modern free-thinker, a man of science,” whose views he proceeds to outline. We are not surprised when Crito, speaking for Berkeley, fails to be impressed. We know it to be Berkeley’s view that “the soul of man is naturally immortal.”¹

      The passage inAlciphronhas not been much discussed, but Hone and Rossi, and, later, Jessop, do comment...

    • 12 Locke, Berkeley, and Corpuscular Scepticism
      (pp. 174-194)
      Daniel Garber

      It is no news to be told that much of Berkeley’s thought derives from his acquaintance with Locke’sEssay Concerning Human Understanding. Berkeley’s debt to Locke, both negative and positive, both as a source of positions to criticize and as an inspiration for positions taken, has been studied at great length. It is thus particularly strange that Berkeley’s commentators have given so little attention to one of the central concerns of Locke’s writings. What I have in mind is the particular brand of scepticism with respect to our knowledge of external objects that infects theEssay. Unlike the sceptical problems...


    • 13 Berkeley’s Idealism Revisited
      (pp. 197-206)
      Edwin B. Allaire

      In a 1963 issue ofTheoria, there appeared an essay, “Berkeley’s Idealism,” which has attracted considerable attention. Some have used it; others have abused it. The former have taken it as a starting point for explorations of Berkeley’s treatements or nontreatments of solipsism, individuation, and so on. The latter have attacked it for advancing the so-called inherence interpretation of Berkeley.

      Upon recently becoming aware of just how much attention has been given to that 1963 essay, I decided to reread it. (I use ‘reread’ because, having once had a bit more than a passing interest in Berkeley, I suspect I...

    • 14 Berkeley and Others on the Problem of Universals
      (pp. 207-228)
      Joseph Margolis

      The famous problem of universals is too complex to be captured by a single formulation. But the impulse of the empiricists—in rather different ways focused on the notion of natural kinds orsorts(to use a term that Locke and Berkeley appear to share)—may reasonably be taken to be the locus for the most promising and most sensible (and even the most appropriately earthly) speculations on the issue. Whatever else may be true about classification, universals, essences, properties in common, predicates uniformly used, the recognition of natural kinds represents the beginning of responsible reflection on the nature of...


    • 15 Berkeley’s Doctrine of Signs
      (pp. 231-246)
      William McGowan

      In Rhode Island some 250 years ago, George Berkeley, exempt from public haunt, penned this sentence for the seventh dialogue of hisAlciphron:

      I am inclined to think the doctrine of signs a point of great importance and general extent, which, if duly considered, would cast no small light upon things, and afford a just and genuine solution of many difficulties.¹

      This sentence echoed a passage on the doctrine of signs in the final chapter of John Locke’sEssay concerning Human Understanding(1690):

      The Consideration then ofIdeasandWords, as the great Instruments of Knowledge, makes no despicable part...

    • 16 Dynamical Implications of Berkeley’s Doctrine of Heterogeneity: A Note on the Language Model of Nature
      (pp. 247-260)
      Lawrence A. Mirarchi

      Berkeley’s analysis of the Newtonian concept of force continues to pose a problem for contemporary commentators. On the one hand, Berkeley insists that there are no physical forces in nature: “Force, gravity, attraction, and terms of this sort are useful for reasonings and reckonings about motion and bodies in motion, but not for understanding the simple nature of motion itself or for indicating so many distinct qualities.”¹ On the other hand, he accepts Newtonian dynamics with its distinction between force-free and accelerated motion and even appears to invoke the presence of a force as a criterion of absolute motion: “For...

    • 17 Berkeley’s Argument from Design
      (pp. 261-270)
      Michael Hooker

      While he was in Newport, Berkeley spent a good part of his time in composingAlciphron, a work that is as sadly neglected by philosophers today as Berkeley was by King and Parliament during his stay in Newport. AlthoughAlciphronis foremost an apologia for the Christian faith, it is also rich in discussion of philosophical issues related to theistic doctrine. My aim here is to focus on Berkeley’s discussion of the existence of God in Dialogue IV, which bears the title “The Truth of Theism.” In my view, the arguments presented there are at first more intersting and more...

  13. IX MIND

    • 18 Is Berkeley’s a Cartesian Mind?
      (pp. 273-282)
      Willis Doney

      Classical British empiricism has been viewed as a progressive undermining or step-by-step razing of Descartes’s metaphysic of substance. In Descartes, we find a trichotomy of uncreated substance—substance in the strict sense or God—on the one hand and created substances (in a sense and as it were) on the other, the two varieties of which are mind or finite spirits—a second part of the trichotomy—and matter or bodies, the third.¹ From one long-range, all-encompassing perspective, Berkeley, pursuing Locke’s probing questions regarding the idea of corporeal substance in general, rejects outright this part of Descartes’s trichotomy and retains...

    • 19 Hylas’ Parity Argument
      (pp. 283-294)
      Phillip Cummins

      This paper explores some aspects of a well-worn topic—Berkeley on spirit. It is concerned with that familiar episode in the third of theThree Dialogueswhen Hylas propounds and Philonous parries a series of objections to what may be called Berkeley’s official account of mind. Three arguments are stated by Hylas. The final two were inserted at the third (1734) printing of theDialogues.¹ Of these additional criticisms, the first differs from the original only in being more general in scope and thorough in formulation. Appropriately, Philonous’ response to the original limited version, which explicitly concerns only God, is...

    • 20 Lending a Hand to Philonous: The Berkeley, Plato, Aristotle Connection
      (pp. 295-310)
      Colin M. Turbayne

      Modern philosophy is sometimes characterized as a gradual abandoning of the metaphysics of substance. In this scenario, we begin with Descartes, who set down two distinct substances and formulated the traditional mind/body dichotomy. With Hume we reach a logical conclusion in the disappearance of the two substances and,a fortiori, the disappearance of a metaphysic of substance.

      Berkeley occupies an interesting position in this “history of substance” because, while he has at heart Descartes’ ulterior motive to keep mind as a substance, he shares Hume’s desire to drop matter as substance. And since Anglo-American philosophy sees Hume as one of...

  14. A Bibliography of George Berkeley 1963-1979
    (pp. 313-330)
    Colin M. Turbayne
  15. Name Index
    (pp. 333-336)
  16. Subject Index
    (pp. 337-340)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 341-341)