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$ 6. Berkeley, like Descartes and Locke, begins with the assumption of the knower and his ideas, and feels the
difficulty of establishing the existence of anyBerkeley's Refutation of thing else.
thing else. But Berkeley parts company with
his predecessors, and with common-sense, in concluding that the difficulty is insuperable, and the attempt to overcome it gratuitous. He asserts, in short, that all existence may adequately be comprehended under the knower and his ideas; and in this assertion modern idealism first sees the light.
With Berkeley, as with Locke, the question primarily concerns nature. Is there an existent nature over and above the idea of nature? The answer may be formulated as a dilemma. If, as Descartes would have it, existent nature agrees with the ideas of nature, then what is the difference? But if, as Locke suggests, existent nature does not agree with the ideas of nature, then what is it, and how can it be proved ? Furthermore, why must a thing be other than idea in order to exist? In the case of nature, Berkeley asserts, it would appear that esse est percipi.
Berkeley's argument is too well-known to require detailed restatement, but it is highly important to discover just what it proves. That Berkeley believed that he had established idealism is beyond question; his whole religious philosophy depended on a reduction of nature to spirit. But it is certainly true of much of Berkeley's argument, that while it serves to refute the dualism of Descartes and Locke, it nevertheless does not establish idealism. There is a haltingplace short of that theory, where the issue is altered, and where new alternatives arise and diverge. Consistently with our purpose of disentangling the cardinal principle of idealism, and of isolating the evidence offered in support of it, we must therefore separate Berkeley the idealist
i Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge was published in 1710. Malebranche, Norris, and Collier should be credited with original contributions to this doctrine, but Berkeley gave it its prominence and classic
from another Berkeley, who is simply the vanquisher of dualism.
The dualistic position is thus summarized by Hylas, the advocatus diaboli in Berkeley's well-known dialogue: “To speak the truth, Philonous, I think there are two kinds of objects: — the one perceived immediately, which are likewise called ideas; the other are real things or external objects, perceived by the mediation of ideas, which are their images and representations. Now, I own ideas do not exist without the mind; but the latter sort of objects do."i In attacking this position Berkeley first shows that whatever answers to the name of a natural object, such, for example, as “tulip,” is perceived immediately, and hence is idea. Its color is seen, its shape and size both seen and felt, its odor smelt, and so with every quality or element that is attributed to it. What, then, is the "real" or "external" tulip "without the mind?” And what ground is there for affirming it? There are, Berkeley believes, only two conceivable alternatives, both of which are untenable.
In the first place, one may contend, after the manner of Descartes, that an idea, if it be clear and distinct, is a trustworthy likeness of something that exists "without the mind." But how can a thing that is in its substance or essence non-mental be like a thing that is essentially mental? Surely a copy which must necessarily miss the essence of the thing copied is no copy at all. Does it mean anything to speak of absolutely invisible color, or inaudible sound? In general, does it mean anything to speak of an object that is like ideas in all particular qualities and attributes, and yet possesses a fundamentally and radically different nature? By means of these and similar considerations, Berkeley shows that a non-mental world which corresponds with the mental world but never coincides with it, is both arbitrary and meaningless. And is it not also gratuitous?
· Dialogue between Hylas and Philonous (1713), Fraser's edition, Vol. I, p. 414.
This raises the question in the form in which it presents itself to Locke.
For, in the second place, it may be contended that certain ideas, sensations, namely, have an extra-mental cause. They are forced upon the mind, and are not of its own making. In this Berkeley is empiricist enough to agree with Locke. But what is the cause? If it be conceived as matter, then it reduces itself to an unknown substratum, because everything that is known of matter is, as we have seen, contained within ideas. And why should a cause, to which none of the properties of matter can be attributed, be regarded as material at all? Since here it is not required that the extra-mental reality shall be like the ideas, but only that it shall be their cause, why should it not be conceived after the analogy of the only cause of ideas with which we are directly acquainted, namely, will or spirit? In this case, matter or physical nature would simply coincide with perceptions caused by God. There would be no matter behind appearance, no duplication of known matter through the assumption of a likeness or prototype of it, and no discrediting of knowledge through the assumption of an unknown and unknowable essence.
8 7. Now without doubt Berkeley meant to assert that whatever is content of ideas, such as matter in the above Epistemological sense, is necessarily or essentially ideal; its
esse is percipi. But this does not follow from the argument as thus far outlined. For it is entirely possible that the real tulip should be, as Berkeley argues, identical, element for element, with the idea of tulip, and yet not require to be perceived in order to be. It is only necessary to conceive of idea as an office, or relationship, instead of as a kind of substance. It is then possible to suppose that a thing may occupy that office or relationship, and thus assume the status of idea, without being identified with it.
1 The view adopted by pragmatism. Cf. below, pp. 200-203.
The principle involved is a very common one, and never disputed in its more familiar applications. Thus when a citizen of the United States becomes President, the citizen and President are identical. There is no 'presidential' entity substituted for the citizen — no correspondence or representation. The simple fact is that a citizen, without forfeiting his citizenship, may assume the status of President. But no one would think of contending that therefore being President is a condition of citizenship, or that citizens are essentially presidential, or that there can be no citizens that are not presidents. Similarly, tulips may be known, and when known called 'ideas of tulips. There is, as Berkeley justly contends, no substitution or representation, no duplication or mystification. The tulip simply assumes a certain status, definable by the special relationship percipi, and involving no forfeiture of its nature or identity. But this does not at all imply that whatever assumes the status of idea, must be idea in order to be at all, or that there are no things that are not ideas. The confusion doubtless arose from a convention to the effect that mind and nature are different 'substances,' or different domains, lying wholly outside of one another, and therefore mutually exclusive in their content. It would follow from such a supposition that whatever belongs to mind or to nature belongs to it absolutely and irrevocably. But once this supposition is abandoned, there is nothing whatsoever to prevent a thing's belonging both to nature and to mind; in which case it is impossible to argue that because a thing belongs to mind it therefore owes its existence to the fact
Now the doctrine which results from the rejection of the dualism between idea and existence, but which stops short of idealism, deserves independent recognition and a name that shall distinguish it. For it is accepted by contemporary
Descartes is mainly responsible for the prominence of this notion in modern philosophy; but it probably arose mainly from the emphasis given to "the inner life” by introspective Christianity.
thinkers of opposing schools and can therefore be eliminated from most present-day controversy. The phrase 'epistemological monism' has the virtue of suggesting that the doctrine in question is essentially a doctrine about knowledge, and not about being or existence, and also of suggesting that the doctrine arose historically as a refutation of dualism. Epistemological monism means
means that when things are known they are identical, element for element, with the idea, or content of the knowing state. According to this view, instead of there being a fundamental dual division of the world into ideas and things, there is only the class of things; ideas being the sub-class of those things that happen to be known. That which is commonly called the 'object' of knowledge merges, according to this view, with the idea, or is the whole thing of which the idea is a part. Thus when one perceives the tulip, the idea of the tulip and the real tulip coincide, element for element; they are one in color, shape, size, distance, etc. Or, if one so desires, one may reserve the name of 'real tulip' for the whole of the tulip, as distinguished from whatever portion of it is actually embraced within the idea. But in this doctrine nothing whatsoever is asserted or implied of the tulip, except as respects this particular question. Whether it be essential or accidental to the tulip that it should be perceived, and thus become an idea – whether all tulips are ideas - is a wholly different question which must be decided on different grounds. And it is an answer to this second question which constitutes the cardinal principle of idealism. We may now turn to that principle as it is formulated and defended in the philosophy of Berkeley.
$ 8. Berkeley only infrequently isolates his strictly Berkeley's idealistic arguments, but the passages in which Proofs of Ideal- he does so are of the greatest historical imism. “Definition by Initial portance. In the dialogue to which we have Predication'
already referred, we read: — "That the colors are really in the tulip which I see is manifest. Neither
1 This doctrine is discussed more fully below, p. 308 ff.