George Berkeley


George Berkeley “Existence Of Matter” Essay, Research Paper

Magregoir Simeon July 31, 2000

Hume, Kant and the 18th Century Paper Topic #3

George Berkeley held that all the qualities of the object depend of the mind. Since objects have stable and regular existence, the mind they depend on must be divine rather than human (Immaterialism). In Berkeley?s view, therefore, the existence of a divine mind follows directly from the commonsense belief that physical objects exist when no one perceives them ?it is but to look into your own thoughts, and so trying whether you can conceive it possible for a sound, or figure, or motion, or color, to exist without the mind, or unperceived?(sect.22). Berkeley held that it was direly possible to have the power to imagine or forming ideas in your mind but it does not show that you can conceive it possible. The objects of your thought may exist without your mind. To make this so, it is intensely essential that you conceive them existing unconceived or thought of, which is an apparent repugnancy.

Let us say that an object is material if it has all the qualities of body, extension figure, motion, rest, solidity and whatever other qualities a body has. A material thing is a corporeal thing, which is independent of the mind. Berkeley thinks that a little attentiveness will bring to light the truth and evidence of his theory (Immaterialism). Berkeley proposes that the mind takes no notice of itself, the mind is unenlightened to think it can and does conceive matter existing unthought of or without the mind.

Berkeley offers many suppositions for Immaterialism. The argument that the only substance is spirit and mind, the likeness principle, the primary and secondary distinction, concept of material is unintelligible, the ideas of sense and the existence of god and finally Berkeley?s ?Master? argument. If it was unclear in the introduction of my paper the denouncement that I make and will support, is Berkeley?s ?Master? argument for Immaterialism.

The advantage that Berkeley views he holds in his immaterialistic theory is that it could explain the production of ideas by inserting a supreme spirit, since we are already familiar with it from our own experience with the dependence of ideas on spirits. Berkeley?s hypothesis is simpler and it does not allow the existence of more than one type of matter. The bare fact that Berkeley uses God as his anchor for his theory gives hardship to disprove his theory. After all, how can one disprove God, but Berkeley cannot factually prove Gods function to our Ideas as well. Berkeley had recognized himself as a spirit, which is an active substance, and his ideas as being passive, depend on being perceive for their existence. I would have to ask Berkeley to explain how he knows he is not the one that causes some of his ideas. In fact, Berkeley?s response was that we observe this to be so. Would not this answer depend on the transparency of the mind? That what goes on in the mind can be detected through self-observation. Spirits, in Berkeley?s words are active beings and ideas are passive ?A spirit is one simple, undivided, active being: as it perceives ideas, it is called the understanding, and it produces or otherwise operates about them, it is called the will? (sect.27). Berkeley?s argument for immaterialism considered, depends on the inability of ideas to represent anything active. Berkeley covers his tracts by bring in notion. Spirits are known through notion, we have a notion of things when we know the meanings of the words used to refer to it. Nevertheless, Berkeley does not explain how we have come to know this meaning.

Berkeley makes a mistake by supposing we cannot conceive the unexperience. I disagree; for certain, we can conceive many things that we cannot experience. To conceive is to define it without contradiction, we can define infinity, galaxy and God but we cannot experience any of them. Conceptualizations, or pure concepts, would seem to be necessary to our thinking and knowing but are excluded Berkeley?s view of ideas. Furthermore, how do we arrive at universal Ideas based on our limiting and fluctuating experience of particular things? Berkeley?s being of ideas is to be perceived, what am I to think when I do not attend class, that the class only exists because my classmates perceive it. Every person in the classroom is immaterial to me because I do not perceive it. A better example would be the one we used in class. What should I say about the book in my closet, where no finite mind perceives it right now? Does God perceives everything all the time. To reemphasize, Ideas exist only insofar they are perceived, physical objects are collection of ideas, therefore, physical objects only exist when perceive. If this proposal holds, Berkeley is force to think about the book that exists in my closet that is perceived by some other divine spirit. God is not really an option, how can the all infinite have ideas. There is nothing passive in Gods nature. How than can God be the recipient of ideas. If god perceives it would have to be in a different form than idea. The certainty remains if we feel pain how can God the infinite being who feel no pain possibly give us the idea of pain.

Things that are unperceived exist if they could be perceived in the proper circumstance. If I am in class, I can still perceive of a book in my closet. Berkeley?s theory would mean there is absolutely nothing real or substantial in nature, how would we explain a tornado, hurricane, a monsoon, are this not created and in fact matter without us perceiving it or. Before spirits where formed was not the earth and Universe first created and other bodies. Berkeley would contend that they where existing because God was perceiving it, the infinite mind which created these bodies does not have to perceive it in order to exist. In class, I questioned why is it than we can perceive certain gases and not others; same would apply to colors. Why would God allow us to perceive some but not the whole? They are all of the same Idea gases and colors. Surely, God can perceive this things, why does he not bless us alike all the other ideas and perception of bodies. In fact, Berkeley?s entire reasoning is, in a sense, a gigantic proof for the existence of God. For only on the hypothesis of God as an infinite mind, which constantly perceives all things, can we believe both, that all things are ideas existing in the mind, and that they continue to exist even when unperceived by us?


George Berkeley

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