100-02: Professor Savage
A Look at George Berkley’s Arguments for
Idealism is defined as a
metaphysical view that reality consists only of minds or spirits and mental
contents (Baker & Bonjour 2005). George Berkeley, was skeptical of just
this argument and defined idealism in a new way. Berkeley theorized that the
physical world exists only in the experiences minds have of it. His Idealism
restricts minds to God, human beings, animals, other common spirits but says
that everything else exists only as features of the experience of these minds.
I do not believe that all material objects are made up of perceptions and
reject the ideal of immaterialism. I believe Berkeley’s definition to be false because
it is largely defended by the existence of God, which no longer holds as much
value in an increasingly secular society.
Prior to Berkeley’s definition of
Idealism, the most widely accepted version of Idealism was made by René
Descartes. Descartes basically argued that humans can never get out of their
own heads, which lead people, like Berkeley, to build on the definition. If we
can never get out of our head, how do we know that our ideas and perceptions of
the external world of objects resemble what those external objects that cause
our perceptions are like. In his book, A
Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Berkeley, 1950) Berkeley
makes groundbreaking and influential conclusions about Idealism. He comes to
two major conclusions about Idealism, one being the rejection of matter.
Berkeley states that sensible objects are perceived by sense, anything that is
perceived by sense is an idea and hence sensible objects are ideas (Berkeley,
1950). Additionally, this definition is based on the existence of God stating
that God perceives everything always, and the perception by God guarantees the
continued existence of everything.
I believe that this definition is no
longer true because of the premises’ it was created in. Berkeley’s book was
originally published in 1710 where most people participated in organized
religion. The omnipresence of religion undoubtedly had an impact on his
definition (Jessop, 1973). However, times have changed. Society no longer
places as much of an emphasis on religion as it once did, which can be seen
through the yearly closings of thousands of churches across the country.
Furthermore, I believe that the assumption of God being real is an example of
begging the question fallacy. Berkeley assumes that God is real, to prove that
matter does not exist. The assumption leads to the fallacy, which is an example
of not a sound or valid argument. Additionally, I think that Berkley’s
definition is too vague, and leaves questions unanswered. If two people are in
a room and there is one chair in the room both people will perceive it but how
do, we know that they are perceiving the same chair? The application holds for
all things, there is no way to know whether people are perceiving the same
thing, and Berkeley offers no explanation for this.
Many people still believe that Berkeley’s
argument is valid. The argument that God perceives everything, and the
perception by God guarantees the continued existence of everything can be
argued either way. On one hand, it yields the question begging fallacy, on the
other hand it supports the claim that to be is to be perceived. Berkeley’s
argument is centered around the idea that material things do not exist, rather
people perceive things in their minds. Assuming that God exists, God is a
spiritual entity. It would make sense that a spiritual being cannot fathom material
things. Additionally, a counter argument to the idea that Berkeley’s definition
is too broad would be that it is a concise conclusion. The argument sort of
makes sense, a spiritual entity can only perceive things; something that is not
real cannot prove that matter exists.
Although both sides of this argument offer
evidence that support the specific claim, I still believe that the definition
does not hold. I believe this because the definition is outdated and based upon
assumption of the existence of God. Additionally, the concept of relating two
like things makes sense; two apples are the same because they are both apples.
However, I think the application of this, as Berkeley does, is difficult to
follow and results in too many unanswered questions. Additionally, the
definition results in some problems that I’m not sure how to answer or given
answers, I’m not sure I agree. The problem with arguing that there is no
physical material yields the question of a common world. If everything exists
due only to our perceptions is there such thing as a common world? How could
this be empirically tested? The claims made in the definition lead to too many
other problems. This is not to be said that people shouldn’t challenge ideas
because it gets too complicated, but I believe the definition raises questions
that Berkeley cannot address.
Berkeley’s definition of idealism and the
concept of objects being mind independent is a challenging one to address or
contradict. Most of philosophy is based around the finding of ancient
philosophers who were mavericks of the field. The problem with questioning the
definition provided by Berkeley is that other definitions now will be
challenged and results in theories being questioned. This is also a good thing
though, because that is how people learn; through constant questions and
challenging ideas. I believe that is a difficult argument to make, against or
for, because the basis of the argument is based around God; an entity we do not
specifically know how to prove. Yes, there are augments for the existence but
they are all mostly based on thought rather than physical empirical evidence.
Baker, Ann &
Bonjour, Laurence. Philosophical
Problems: An Annotated Anthology.
McGeehon, Priscilla, 2005.
Berkeley, G., In
Warnock, G. J., & Berkeley, G. (1950). A
Treatise Concerning the Principles of
Human Knowledge. Le Salle, III: Open court.
Jessop, T. E.
(1973). A bibliography of George
Berkeley, by T. E. Jessop. With inventory,
Berkeley’s manuscript remains, by
A. A. Luce. The Hague: M. Nijhoff.