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Berkeley’s Idealism
Idealism: what I have to teach you
• Berkeley’s idealism: the immediate objects of
perception (i.e. ordinary objects such ...
George Berkeley (1685-1753)
• Second of key triumvirate of C17/C18 British
Empiricists – Locke Berkeley Hume
• Philosopher...
Idealists, defined by Bertrand Russell
• ‘…they think there can be nothing real--or at any
rate nothing known to be real e...
Berkeley’s arguments
that secondary qualities exist
1. Pleasure and pain are attached to all objects but
cannot be in them...
Berkeley’s variations on the perceptual variation
argument.
1. Locke’s about placing a hot and cold hand in the same bowl ...
Berkeley’s attack on the PQ/SW distinction
• Berkeley then applies the perceptual variation
argument to primary qualities:...
Berkeley: Primary qualities are really
secondary
• Size is perceiver-dependent, as
– the apparent size of objects is relat...
Berkeley: Primary qualities are really
secondary
• Motion is relative to a perceiver (to flies, we are
slow…)
– Phil.: Isn...
Berkeley’s conclusion
• Berkeley’s conclusion: we can’t therefore say that objects have one
real size, shape, motion, inde...
Berkeley’s argument summarised
• Our senses provide us with perceptions or
ideas of physical objects.
• Perceptions or ide...
An issue with Locke’s view that mind-dependent
objects resemble mind-independent ones
• Remember: Locke asserts that prima...
Another issue with Locke’s view that mind-dependent
objects are caused by mind-independent ones
• This issue is raised by ...
• Philonous (Berkeley’s mouthpiece) has another sophisticated
argument which derives from Berkeley’s empiricist account of...
The (empiricist) maxim that every
thing that exists is particular
Phil: What distinguishes one instance of motion, or of e...
Berkeley’s conceivability or ‘Master’ argument
• the term ‘Master Argument’ was first used by
Berkeley scholar Andre Gallo...
Berkeley’s ‘Master argument’ in
outline
Berkeley argues:
• the concept of matter includes the idea that it exists
unpercei...
The Treatise’s 1710 formulation of the
argument
…they will have our ideas of the primary qualities to be
patterns or image...
Berkeley’s Master Argument continued
That neither our thoughts, nor passions, nor ideas formed by
the imagination, exist w...
Berkeley’s ‘Master’ argument, continued
It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that
houses, mountains, ...
Being Hylas…
But look into your own thoughts, and so try whether you can
conceive it possible for a sound, or figure, or m...
Issues with Berkeley’s master
argument
Russell thinks that Berkeley has tied himself in conceptual knots by not
distinguis...
This objection to Berkeley put another
way: ontological categories
• Berkeley is confusing thoughts and what the
thoughts ...
Berkeley’s account of perception
Or: why are our perceptions consistent?
• (Ideas) of physical objects must be caused by
e...
Issues with Idealism
Issues, including:
• it leads to solipsism
• it does not give an adequate account of illusions
and ha...
Objection 1: It leads to solipsism
• Solipsism defined: we can have no objective evidence of the existence of
any other mi...
Russell: The Problem of Solipsism
Other people are represented to me by certain sense-data, such as the sight
of them or t...
Objection 2- Illusions and Hallucinations are not
well-explained
• Realist theories of perception have a strong account of...
Objection 3: Objective space and time are not
secured
• Realist theories of perception have a strong account of why it is ...
Objection 4: can God be used to play the role he
does?
• What role does God play within Berkeleian idealism?
• Is the intr...
God in the Quad: odd
There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should contin...
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Perception 2016 revision 3. idealism

  1. 1. Berkeley’s Idealism
  2. 2. Idealism: what I have to teach you • Berkeley’s idealism: the immediate objects of perception (i.e. ordinary objects such as tables, chairs, etc) are mind-dependent objects. • Berkeley’s attack on the primary/secondary property distinction • Berkeley’s ‘master’ argument. • Issues, including: – it leads to solipsism – it does not give an adequate account of illusions and hallucinations – it cannot secure objective space and time – whether God can be used to play the role He does.
  3. 3. George Berkeley (1685-1753) • Second of key triumvirate of C17/C18 British Empiricists – Locke Berkeley Hume • Philosopher and also Bishop of Clonmerle • Key texts: – ‘A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ (1710) – ‘Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous’ (1713) • ‘Hylas’ – derived from ancient Greek for ‘matter’ – prob. intended to be Locke • ‘Philonous’ – ‘mind-lover’ – nous= mind, intellect, intelligence – Berkeley himself
  4. 4. Idealists, defined by Bertrand Russell • ‘…they think there can be nothing real--or at any rate nothing known to be real except minds and their thoughts and feelings. We might state the argument by which they support their view in some such way as this: 'Whatever can be thought of is an idea in the mind of the person thinking of it; therefore nothing can be thought of except ideas in minds; therefore anything else is inconceivable, and what is inconceivable cannot exist.‘ (The Problems of Philosophy, chapter 1)
  5. 5. Berkeley’s arguments that secondary qualities exist 1. Pleasure and pain are attached to all objects but cannot be in them. – All secondary qualities (e.g. heat, bright light) are accompanied (at base) by pleasure or pain. – Pleasure or pain can’t be in the objects the qualities represent, so secondary qualities must be perceiver- dependent. – Philonous: Degrees of heat that aren’t painful and also ones that are can exist only in a thinking substance! 2. The perceptual variation argument. Task: in pairs, anticipate or give this argument.
  6. 6. Berkeley’s variations on the perceptual variation argument. 1. Locke’s about placing a hot and cold hand in the same bowl of warm water. Philonous: Well, now, suppose that one of your hands is hot and the other cold, and that they are both at once plunged into a bowl of water that has a temperature between the two. Won’t the water seem cold to one hand and warm to the other? [To the Direct Realist] the water really is both cold and warm at the same time…an absurdity? 2. Clouds seen from a distance looking different from ones seen close up: Hylas: I must admit, Philonous, that those colours aren’t really in the clouds as they seem to be at this distance. They are only apparent colours…Phil: And I suppose that real colours are ones that are revealed by looking carefully from close up? 3. Objects seen through a microscope have different colours: Philonous: But a microscope often reveals colours in an object different from those perceived by unassisted sight. [And also reveals little animals] 4. Animal perception is different: Philonous: So isn’t it highly probable that animals whose eyes we see to be differently structured from ours, and whose bodily fluids are unlike ours, don’t see the same colours as we do in every object? 5. Different colours of light change the apparent qualities of objects: Philonous: And everyone knows that the same bodies appear differently coloured by candle- light from what they do in daylight. [Or light from a prism can cause] the whitest object to appear deep blue or red to the naked eye.
  7. 7. Berkeley’s attack on the PQ/SW distinction • Berkeley then applies the perceptual variation argument to primary qualities: – Hyl:. Colours, sounds, tastes—in a word, all that are termed ‘secondary qualities’—have no existence outside the mind…Primary qualities are extendedness, shape, solidity, gravity, motion, and rest…and really exist in bodies. – Phil: But what if the arguments that are brought against secondary qualities hold against these also?
  8. 8. Berkeley: Primary qualities are really secondary • Size is perceiver-dependent, as – the apparent size of objects is relative to body size. Phil: Can a single thing have different sizes at the same time? Hyl: It would be absurd to think so. Phil: But from what you have said it follows that the true size of the insect’s foot is the size you see it having and the size the insect sees it as having, and all the sizes it is seen as having by animals that are even smaller… your own principles have led you into an absurdity. – objects vary in size according to distance. Philonous: But as we move towards or away from an object, its visible size varies, being at one distance ten or a hundred times greater than at another. Doesn’t it follow from this too that size isn’t really inherent in the object? • Shape is perceiver-dependent – things look different under the microscope – ...infer that there is no size or shape in an object from the premise that to one eye it seems little, smooth, and round, while to the other eye it appears big, uneven, and angular…You can at any time find out that it does, by looking with one eye bare and with the other through a microscope.
  9. 9. Berkeley: Primary qualities are really secondary • Motion is relative to a perceiver (to flies, we are slow…) – Phil.: Isn’t the speed at which a body moves inversely proportional to the time it takes to go any given distance? …And isn’t time measured by the succession of ideas in our minds? …And isn’t it possible that ideas should succeed one another twice as fast in your mind as they do in mine, or in the mind of some kind of non-human spirit? • Solidity is relative to the perceiver: – Phil.: it is obvious that what seems hard to one animal may appear soft to another that has greater force and firmness of limbs; and it is equally obvious that the resistance I feel when I press against a body is not in the body.
  10. 10. Berkeley’s conclusion • Berkeley’s conclusion: we can’t therefore say that objects have one real size, shape, motion, independently of how they’re perceived. Primary qualities are just as mind-dependent as secondary ones. – let any one consider those arguments which are thought manifestly to prove that colours and taste exist only in the mind, and he shall find they may with equal force be brought to prove the same thing of extension, figure, and motion. In fact they show it to be impossible that any sensible quality whatsoever, should exist in an unthinking subject without the mind. (Treatise, 1710) • Can you think of a rejoinder to Berkeley’s attack on the PQ/SQ distinction? – Hint: mensuration/measurement, ideal observers
  11. 11. Berkeley’s argument summarised • Our senses provide us with perceptions or ideas of physical objects. • Perceptions or ideas are either of primary or secondary qualities. • But both primary and secondary qualities are mind-dependent. • So the objects of perception are entirely mind- dependent: physical objects cannot exist independently of the mind.
  12. 12. An issue with Locke’s view that mind-dependent objects resemble mind-independent ones • Remember: Locke asserts that primary qualities resemble our experiences of them, but that secondary qualities don’t. • Berkeley asks how something (he says) we can’t experience (i.e. the shape of a physical object in itself) – be known to resemble something that we can experience (the various perspectives we have on the object)? • He asks: which of the various perspectives is correct? – How can fleeting and variable sensations be known to resemble a constant object, when there is no more constancy in our perceptions of primary qualities than there is of our perceptions of secondary ones? Take shape. Objects can look both circular and ovoid. • Locke is saying that one of these resemblances is the true shape of the object. But how can we tell which is which? – Which of the many is the true size, shape, motion, solidity?
  13. 13. Another issue with Locke’s view that mind-dependent objects are caused by mind-independent ones • This issue is raised by philosophers as disparate as Descartes and Berkeley. • It hinges on the notion that minds and physical objects are utterly different in nature. • And then asks how things so different in nature can meaningfully be said to causally interact: what is the nature of this causation? – Thoughts only lead to other thoughts. – Physical events only to other physical events. • How can it make sense to suggest that physical events are caused by mental events, and vice-versa? • This problem is studied in the philosophy of mind, and does not have an agreed solution, three centuries later. • Some philosophers, such as the philosopher of mind David Chalmers, call this problem ‘The Hard Problem’ of consciousness. Chalmers: ‘It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises.
  14. 14. • Philonous (Berkeley’s mouthpiece) has another sophisticated argument which derives from Berkeley’s empiricist account of concept formation. – Mind-independent qualities depend on mind-dependent qualities to be known. – Berkeley argues that our notions of primary qualities are derived from secondary ones (not the other way around). – He then enquires after the empirical evidence that Locke is drawing on to formulate these abstract ideas of motion, extendedness (3D presence etc) and suggests that it’s not sufficient to explain how we have these abstract ideas – So we can’t really have them… Another issue with Locke’s view that mind-dependent objects resemble mind-independent ones
  15. 15. The (empiricist) maxim that every thing that exists is particular Phil: What distinguishes one instance of motion, or of extendedness, from another? Isn’t it something sensible—for instance some speed, or some size and shape? …[yet] these qualities—namely, absolute motion and absolute extendedness—which are stripped of all sensible properties, have no features making them more specific in any way... they are extendedness in general, and motion in general. ...But everyone accepts the maxim that every thing that exists is particular. How then can motion in general, or extendedness in general, exist in any corporeal substance? …If you can form in your thoughts a distinct abstract idea of motion or extendedness, using none of those sensible qualities which we agree exist only in the mind, then I’ll capitulate. But… if you can’t, it will be unreasonable for you to insist any longer on something of which you have no notion… Can you even separate the ideas of extendedness and motion from the ideas of all the so-called secondary qualities? Is Berkeley right to suggest that primary qualities are abstract ones, and we cannot form them apart from our secondary perceptions of them?
  16. 16. Berkeley’s conceivability or ‘Master’ argument • the term ‘Master Argument’ was first used by Berkeley scholar Andre Gallois in 1974. – Also known as the ‘conceivability’ argument – ‘Master Argument’ as it’s the most important of his arguments – And Berkeley makes it in several places • in ‘A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ (1710). • And in ‘Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous’ (1713)
  17. 17. Berkeley’s ‘Master argument’ in outline Berkeley argues: • the concept of matter includes the idea that it exists unperceived • but to conceptualise is to perceive as both are activities of the mind. • so the notion of unperceived concepts is contradictory • and what is contradictory cannot be real NB he is not arguing for the unreality of the world, but for the reality of ideas
  18. 18. The Treatise’s 1710 formulation of the argument …they will have our ideas of the primary qualities to be patterns or images of things which exist without the mind, in an unthinking substance which they call Matter. By Matter, therefore, we are to understand an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist. But it is evident from what we have already shown, that extension, figure, and motion are only ideas existing in the mind, and that an idea can be like nothing but another idea… Hence, it is plain that that the very notion of what is called Matter or corporeal substance, involves a contradiction in it.
  19. 19. Berkeley’s Master Argument continued That neither our thoughts, nor passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist without the mind, is what everybody will allow. And it seems no less evident that the various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose), cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them…as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percepi, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them. Write down a couple of key phrases
  20. 20. Berkeley’s ‘Master’ argument, continued It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects, have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding. [But does this idea not] involve a manifest contradiction? For, what are the fore- mentioned objects but the things we perceive by sense? What do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations? and is it not plainly repugnant that any one of these, or any combination of them, should exist unperceived?…just as it is impossible for me to see or feel anything without an actual sensation of that thing, so is it impossible for me to conceive in my thoughts any sensible thing or object distinct from the sensation or perception of it. From what has been said it follows there is not any other Substance than Spirit, or that which perceives. Restate Berkeley’s ‘Master’ argument’
  21. 21. Being Hylas… But look into your own thoughts, and so try whether you can conceive it possible for a sound, or figure, or motion, or colour to exist without the mind or unperceived. This easy trial may perhaps make you see that what you contend for is a downright contradiction. …I insist, to wit, that the absolute existence of unthinking things are words without a meaning, or which include a contradiction. Discuss: can you think of a thing that exists without you perceiving it?
  22. 22. Issues with Berkeley’s master argument Russell thinks that Berkeley has tied himself in conceptual knots by not distinguishing adequately between the object of knowledge and the act of perception "If we say that the things known must be in the mind, we are either un-duly limiting the mind's power of knowing, or we are uttering a mere tautology. We are uttering a mere tautology if we mean by 'in the mind' the same as by 'before the mind', i.e. if we mean merely being apprehended by the mind. But if we mean this, we shall have to admit that what, in this sense, is in the mind, may nevertheless be not mental. Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley's argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that 'idea'-i.e. the objects apprehended-must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favour of the idealism may be dismissed.“ – ‘Problems of Philosophy’
  23. 23. This objection to Berkeley put another way: ontological categories • Berkeley is confusing thoughts and what the thoughts represent or are about. • Take Hylas’s tree, existing unperceived. – A thought of the tree is clearly not mind-independent. – But what the thought is about, or of, or represents, is not the same thing as the thought – thoughts and things are in different ontological categories. • So even if a thought of the tree is mind- dependent, what the thought is of could perfectly well be mind-independent.
  24. 24. Berkeley’s account of perception Or: why are our perceptions consistent? • (Ideas) of physical objects must be caused by either ideas, my own mind, another’s mind. – Ideas can’t cause anything as they need minds to exist. – I don’t control most of my ideas. – So another mind must be causing my ideas. – These ideas are pretty complicated. God is the only entity complex enough to explain these ideas.
  25. 25. Issues with Idealism Issues, including: • it leads to solipsism • it does not give an adequate account of illusions and hallucinations • it cannot secure objective space and time • whether God can be used to play the role He does. Homework: Investigate each of these issues. Write a short paragraph about each outlining them.
  26. 26. Objection 1: It leads to solipsism • Solipsism defined: we can have no objective evidence of the existence of any other minds than our own. • This solipsism arises from Berkeley’s claim – as a good empiricist – that we can make no claim that anything exists unless we can have direct experience of that thing. – So we can have no direct experience of matter  it does not exist. – Yet we can have no direct experience of any minds other than our own  other minds do not exist. • Berkeley’s response to this objection would probably focus on the notion that – as minds we have an idea of what other minds might be like (objection: how can we know this notion to be accurate, given that we are generalising on the basis of the experience of one mind alone…) – our perceptions aren’t controlled by our minds so originate elsewhere, and are so complex that only God can ultimately explain them (objection: this might demonstrate at best that God exists, but no more)
  27. 27. Russell: The Problem of Solipsism Other people are represented to me by certain sense-data, such as the sight of them or the sound of their voices, and if I had no reason to believe that there were physical objects independent of my sense-data, I should have no reason to believe that other people exist except as part of my dream. Thus, when we are trying to show that there must be objects independent of our own sense-data, we cannot appeal to the testimony of other people, since this testimony itself consists of sense-data, and does not reveal other people's experiences unless our own sense-data are signs of things existing independently of us. We must therefore, if possible, find, in our own purely private experiences, characteristics which show, or tend to show, that there are in the world things other than ourselves and our private experiences. In one sense it must be admitted that we can never prove the existence of things other than ourselves and our experiences. No logical absurdity results from the hypothesis that the world consists of myself and my thoughts and feelings and sensations, and that everything else is mere fancy.
  28. 28. Objection 2- Illusions and Hallucinations are not well-explained • Realist theories of perception have a strong account of why it is that illusions and hallucinations exist. – What is this account? (Perception is of what is external to the mind, Hallucination of what is internal to ie. – Does Idealism have recourse to the same account? • Idealism does not have recourse to the appearance/reality distinction. • Illusions: the idealist view – Bent pencils (in water) are bent. – And yet are not when they are removed. – So illusions are hard to account for. • Hallucinations: the idealist view – Hallucinations are imaginary, yet not voluntary. – We can tell we’re having them because they are unclear, and inconsistent with our other senses. – But Berkeley can offer us no deeper explanation of why we have them (and the realist can)
  29. 29. Objection 3: Objective space and time are not secured • Realist theories of perception have a strong account of why it is that time and space are objective. – What is this account? – Does the idealist have recourse to it? • In contrast, the idealist says that space and time only exist in the space of individual experience. – So no two people ever see the same things: space varies according to perspective. – And individual time-sense is widely variant. • Berkeley’s likely reply: our perceptions are copies of ideas of things in God’s mind. Regularities and consistencies in our shared perception of the world arise because God’s ideas are consistent (except in most of the Old Testament…etc…)
  30. 30. Objection 4: can God be used to play the role he does? • What role does God play within Berkeleian idealism? • Is the introduction of God satisfactory? • Berkeley infers God’s existence because – Objects are only ideas yet are consistent. – Our perceptions are infinitely varied and so must be produced by a powerful entity. – We know our own minds and can imagine a mind more powerful therefore. • Yet: – our experience of the world is very limited, and limited to our own minds alone. – It is changeable (whereas God’s view of things is not) – We experience pain and other limitations (and God does not) • A theological response: – We perceive copies of ideas in God’s mind. – God does not so much perceive the world but maintain it perfectly in His understanding, simultaneously. He knows but does not feel our pain.
  31. 31. God in the Quad: odd There was a young man who said "God Must find it exceedingly odd To think that the tree Should continue to be When there's no one about in the quad." Reply: "Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd; I am always about in the quad. And that's why the tree Will continue to be Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

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