a certain point he began to ponder the world around him. Of course, these first
excavation of “the external world” began. As the authoritarinism of the ancients
gave way to the more liberal views of the modernists, two main positions
senses. In opposition, the rationalists maintained that knowledge comes purely
quite separate and distinct ideas concerning the nature of the substratum of
things were composed of material substance, the basic framework for the
materialist position. The main figure who believed that material substance did
seems the most logical when placed under close scrutiny.
The initial groundwork for Berkeley’s position is the truism that the
develops two characters: Hylas (the materialist) and Philonous (Berkeley
himself). Philonous draws upon one central supposition of the materialist to
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
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
figure, motion, and extension. Secondary qualities are those things that are
materialist feels that these primary qualities persist even when the secondary
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
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
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 perceived.
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
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
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
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
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,
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 thoughts, but it
also must possess the ability to think of, in the least, many thoughts at once.
This is necessarily the case for the collection of God’s ideas which people call
reality to exist; if God did not have this ability then external objects would
not exist when the finite mind was not perceiving them.
Thus far the immaterialist position has been considered in its parts; at this
point it shall be viewed as one simple model. Let the reader picture an
isosceles triangle which is divided into three parts: the top, middle, and
bottom. At the apex of the figure is God’s infinite mind. The middle portion of
the triangle is occupied by the finite minds of people. Lastly, the bottom
section contains the ideas perceived by humans. Because God is at the pinnacle
of the figure, He also perceives the ideas that people do. However, since the
human mind is finite, it can not conceive of the infinite ideas in God’s mind at
the apex of the triangle. Now, the concepts of either perceiving or being
perceived can be added to the picture. Both the top and middle portions of the
figure are minds, so both of these sections are perceivers. At the bottom of the
model are ideas, and since they do not act of their own volition, they are
perceived. As previously shown, perceivers are active and the perceived is
passive. Lastly, the concept of existence can be applied to the triangle. Since
existence is that which is either perceived or perceives5, and each part of the
model has been shown to meet one of these criteria, then the entire triangle
must be considered to exist.
In the final analysis, it is evident that Berkley’s immaterialist position is
logically feasible. From his definitions of minds and ideas to his careful
compelling argument for his views. However, this is not all that he has done; in
fact, Berkeley has shown the necessary importance of God. In the materialist
view, a belief in God is not logically necessary to uphold the “material
substratum2.” Berkeley shows that God must exist, for He is at the heart of
Berkeley’s position. In short, the materialist view allows for atheism as a
Responsibility. Ed. Joel Feinberg p. 175.
2. Berkeley, p. 165.
3. Berkeley, p. 165.
4. Berkeley, p. 191.
5. Berkeley, p. 179.