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George Berkely (1685 – 1753)


Also known as Bishop Berkeley, was an influential Irish philosopher whose primary philosophical achievement is the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism".
George Berkely
Berkeley’s argument consists of two parts. On the one hand, he argues that we do not perceive material things, but only colours, sounds, etc., and that these are “mental” or “in the mind.” His reasoning is completely cogent as to the first point, but as to the second it suffers from the absence of any definition of the word “mental.” He relics, in fact, upon the received view that everything must be either material or mental, and that nothing is both.
Berkely quotes
Berkeley was... the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism.
Berkely
I come now to Berkeley’s empirical arguments. To begin with, it is a sign of weakness to combine empirical and logical arguments, for the latter, if valid, make the former superfluous. [Footnote: E.g., "I was not drunk last night. I had only had two glasses; besides, it is well known that I am a teetotaller."] If I am contending that a square cannot be round, I shall not appeal to the fact that no Square in any known city is round. But as we have rejected the logical arguments, it becomes necessary to consider the empirical arguments on their merits.




Berkely George quotes
When Bishop Berkeley said 'there was no matter,'
And proved it — 'twas no matter what he said.
Berkely George
In the second Dialogue Philonous sums up the discussion, so far as it has gone, in the words: “Besides spirits, all that we know or conceive are our own ideas.” He ought not, of course, to make an exception for spirits, since it is just as impossible to know spirit as to know matter. The arguments, in fact, are almost identical in both cases.
George Berkely quotes
When men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any suspicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other. ...This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of scepticism which are to be found either among the ancient or modern philosophers, Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his title page (and undoubtedly with great truth) to have composed his book against the sceptics as well as against the atheists and free-thinkers. But that all his arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit of no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of scepticism.
George Berkely
[Tar water] is of a nature so mild and benign and proportioned to the human constitution, as to warm without heating, to cheer but not inebriate.
Berkely George quotes
Berkeley discusses the view that we must distinguish the act of perceiving from the object perceived, and that the former is mental while the latter is not. His argument against this view is obscure, and necessarily so, since, for one who believes in mental substance, as Berkeley does, there is no valid means of refuting it. He says: “That any immediate object of the senses should exist in an unthinking substance, or exterior to all minds, is in itself an evident contradiction.” There is here a fallacy, analogous to the following: “It is impossible for a nephew to exist without an uncle; now Mr. A is a nephew; therefore it is logically necessary for Mr. A to have an uncle.” It is, of course, logically necessary given that Mr. A is a nephew, but not from anything to be discovered by analysis of Mr. A. So, if something is an object of the senses, some mind is concerned with it; but it does not follow that the same thing could not have existed without being an object of the senses.
Berkely
Berkeley, as we have seen, thinks that there are logical reasons proving that only minds and mental events can exist. This view, on other grounds, is also held by Hegel and his followers. I believe this to be a complete mistake. Such a statement as “there was a time before life existed on this planet,” whether true or false, cannot be condemned on grounds of logic, any more than “there are multiplication sums which no one will have ever worked out.” To be observed, or to be a percept, is merely to have effects of certain kinds, and there is no logical reason why all events should have effects of these kinds.
Berkely George
Truth is the cry of all, but the game of the few.
George Berkely
Westward the course of empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day:
Time's noblest offspring is the last.




George Berkely quotes
Doth the reality of sensible things consist in being perceived? or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears no relation to the mind?
George Berkely
Since therefore, as well those degrees of heat that are not painful, as those that are, can exist in a thinking substance; may we not conclude that external bodies are absolutely incapable of any degree of heat whatsoever?
Berkely quotes
When discussing how Berkeley's philosophy appeared to be self-evidently false, but impossible to refute, Dr. Johnson kicked out at a nearby stone, exclaiming "I refute it thus!"
Berkely George
That there is no such thing as what philosophers call material substance, I am seriously persuaded: but if I were made to see any thing absurd or skeptical in this, I should then have the same reason to renounce this, that I imagine I have now to reject the contrary opinion.
Berkely George quotes
Berkeley advances valid arguments in favour of a certain important conclusion, though not quite in favour of the conclusion that he thinks he is proving. He thinks he is proving that all reality is mental; what he is proving is that we perceive qualities, not things, and that qualities are relative to the percipient.
George Berkely
Schematically, the argument is as follows. Berkeley says: “Sensible objects must be sensible. A is a sensible object. Therefore A must be sensible.” But if “must” indicates logical necessity, the argument is only valid if A must be a sensible object. The argument does not prove that, from the properties of A other than its being sensible, it can be deduced that A is sensible. It does not prove, for example, that colours intrinsically indistinguishable from those that we see may not exist unseen. We may believe on physiological grounds that this does not occur, but such grounds are empirical; so far as logic is concerned, there is no reason why there should not be colours where there is no eye or brain.
George Berkely quotes
Bishop Berkeley destroyed this world in one volume octavo; and nothing remained after his time, but mind — which experienced a similar fate from the hand of Mr. Hume, in 1737.
George Berkely
Our youth we can have but to-day,
We may always find time to grow old.
Berkely George
Berkeley, after abolishing matter, is only saved from complete subjectivism by a use of God which most subsequent philosophers have regarded as illegitimate.


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