Berkeley Paper

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Berkeley

Berkeley


As man progressed through the various stages of evolution, it is assumed that at
a certain point he began to ponder the world around him. Of course, these first
attempts fell short of being scholarly, probably consisting of a few grunts and
snorts at best. As time passed on, though, these ideas persisted and were
eventually tackled by the more intellectual, so-called philosophers. Thus,
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
concerning epistemology and the nature of the world arose. The first view was
exemplified by the empiricists, who stated that all knowledge comes from the
senses. In opposition, the rationalists maintained that knowledge comes purely
from deduction, and that this knowledge is processed by certain innate schema in
the mind. Those that belonged to the empiricist school of thought developed
quite separate and distinct ideas concerning the nature of the substratum of
sensible objects. John Locke and David Hume upheld the belief that sensible
things were composed of material substance, the basic framework for the
materialist position. The main figure who believed that material substance did
not exist is George Berkeley. In truth, it is the immaterialist position that
seems the most logical when placed under close scrutiny.

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 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
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.
Continues for 6 more pages >>




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