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