Philosophical Doctrine of George Berkley


George Berkeley was born on March 12, 1685 in the south of Ireland in Kilkren. He was the eldest of seven children in the family of a small nobleman, William Berkeley. In 1675, George began his studies in Kilkenny, and five years later he continued her studies at Trinity College in Dublin.

In 1704, Berkeley received the first academic degree of a bachelor of arts, in 1707 the title of research scientist and began teaching at the college. In the same year, his first scientific works were published anonymously – two treatises on mathematics. Two years later, Berkeley received the first rank of priest.

In 1709 the first work of Berkeley was published, foreshadowing his philosophical doctrine – “New Theory of Vision”. The following year, Berkeley publishes A Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge, where he expresses his philosophical views, a new philosophical concept.

In 1713, Berkeley as chaplain to Lord Peterborough, ambassador extraordinary at the court of the Sicilian king, sent to Italy. At the same time he wrote one of his most important works – “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonus”. The following year, Berkeley returned to his homeland, and in 1716 he went to Italy again, this time as a tutor (from where he returned to London in 1721).

In September 1728, Berkeley sent to Rhode Island for missionary work. Shortly before his departure, forty-three Berkeley married Anna Forster. Their family life was happy. As in the family of his father, Berkeley had seven children, whom he treated with great love.

Without waiting for the promised appropriations for the construction of the college, Berkeley returned to London in the fall of 1731. Immediately after his arrival, Berkeley publishes his work, Alsifron, where he advocates Christian dogma and religious morality. For “Alcifron” followed the philosophical and mathematical work “Analyst”.

In May 1734, Berkeley was ordained as a bishop of Kloyn, after which he returned to Ireland and settled in – the 4th town of Kloyn, where he spent almost the rest of his life.

The latest work of Berkeley was published in 1744 “Sayris”, in which therapy, philosophy and mysticism were intricately intertwined.

In August 1752, George Berkeley left his diocese and moved to Oxford, where on January 14, 1753 he died.


Starting positions.

The philosophical teachings of George Berkeley is aimed at refuting materialism and justifying religion. For these purposes, he used the nominalistic principles established by William Ockham.

“All that exists is single.” This nominalist position serves as a starting point for Berkeley, from which it follows that nothing corresponding to reality can be non-unit and the abstract concepts are the essence of the notion false. But they, according to Berkeley, are not only false, but also impossible, these are philosophical phantoms. “… I cannot form abstract ideas at all …” “If you can form a mentally distinct abstract idea … then I concede … Can you? And if you cannot, then it would be unwise for you to insist on the existence of what you have no idea. ” Berkeley distinguishes between general and abstract ideas. The first is those that can be perceived as visual representations.

“I absolutely deny,” he writes in the Treatise, the existence of not general ideas, but only abstract general ideas … ” Berkeley distinguishes between two types of distraction. In the first of these, separate parts or properties of an object are presented, which in reality may exist separately. In the second form of distraction, such that are in fact inseparable from each other. That is what Berkeley rejects as illusory, as empty words that no perception corresponds to.

Examples of such abstract concepts include: extension, movement, number, space, time, happiness, good. Berkeley assures that it is impossible to form a distinct abstract idea of ​​movement or stretch without concrete sensory qualities, such as fast and slow, large and small, round and quadrangular, etc. It is also impossible to form an abstract idea of ​​a circle, four or a triangle, “which is neither equilateral, nor non-equilateral, nor isosceles”.

In contrast to the fiction of abstract concepts, common concepts are single images, characterized in that they serve as representatives of homogeneous things in our consciousness, examples of many particular ideas: “… a well-known idea, being a private in itself, becomes common when it represents or replaces all other particular ideas of the same kind. ” Since behind words such as “this”, “thing”, or “number”, “infinity”, there were no visual images – these are nothing more than empty words used as ideas. “If people did not use words instead of ideas, they would never come up with abstract ideas.”

But what does it mean: general ideas represent particular ideas of the “same kind”? For nominalism, the “race” is not something common to the things themselves, due to the presence of objective identity in them.

Homogeneity is not detected, but is established by the comparing consciousness, based on its coordinating attitudes. For Berkeley, the general is not a reflection of the real unity, uniformity inherent in the things themselves, but an artificial creation of the human mind.

Hence Berkeley’s denial of the role of abstract thinking in the knowledge of the world. “I don’t think either,” he writes, “so that abstract ideas are more needed to expand knowledge.”

“There is no such thing,” says Berkeley, as a ten-thousandth part of an inch, but there is a ten-thousandth part of a mile … ” Why so? Yes, because “we will find with exact research, perhaps, that we cannot imagine the most inch consisting of thousands of parts.” “There is no such thing,” since we are “unable to imagine”: the possibility of representation determines the possibility of being. Berkeley’s whole theory of abstraction aims to prove that only that which is perceived or represented is real, but that which is not conceivable.

The concept reduces them to a representation, rational to empirical; common to the individual.

Secondly, from what Berkeley relied on to build his philosophical concept, was Locke’s sensualism. Locke divided qualities into two genders, one of which is recognized as primary, inherent in things in itself, and the second is regarded as secondary, derivative, inadequate. The primary qualities, objective and objectively reflected in perception, are, according to Locke, stretch, density, movement (interpreted only as mechanical), figure and number. All the rest of sensory diversity gives inadequate reproduction in consciousness of the listed primary forms of existence of matter.

Berkeley builds his theory of idealistic sensationalism, based on the Lokov concept of secondary qualities. Berkeley denies the separation of qualities into primary and secondary, reducing the former to the latter. At the same time, he absolutizes Lokkov’s opposition of secondary qualities to the primary. Berkeley completely removes the secondary qualities from their objective basis, gives them a completely subjective interpretation. Then he tries to prove that the subjectivity characterizing the secondary qualities is equally inherent in the primary, and thus all qualities are equally secondary, i.e. subjective. Anti-mechanicism directly develops into anti-materialism here. All qualities at Berkeley are essentially no longer secondary, since the primary qualities are annulled, they are no longer as objective reality. Subjective qualities do not appear to be different from objective ones, they are not opposed to them, in view of the annihilation of the latter. The sphere of qualities becomes an unequivocal sphere of subjectivity.

Proceeding from Locke, he breaks with the Locke division of qualities, using the relativity of perception of any qualities.

All the ideas of Berkeley were aimed at ending not with mechanism, as such, but with mechanism as the only form of materialism at that time. What exists, according to the mechanists, outside and independent of consciousness? Matter reduced to extension. That is why the assumption of stretch beyond thinking is being attacked by Berkeley.

T. o. first interpreting secondary qualities as pure subjectivity, then reducing primary to secondary, Berkeley – 7 transformed sensations from the primary means of communication of the subject with the object into a subjective reality, turned into an object itself and excluding the real object as such. As a result of the idealistic refinement of sensationalism, sensations from what knowledge is realized through, have turned into what is known.

Absolutising sensationalism, Berkeley recognizes immediate sensory perception as the only true and reliable one, not allowing any other criterion of truth.

The sensation that he identifies with quality appears in Berkeley called “the idea”: “Sensual objects, being things directly perceived, are otherwise called ideas.” “Idea” in this sense is the central concept of his entire teaching. Thanks to this terminology, “quality” immediately acquires its subjective content. Quality for Berkeley “idea”, an element of sensuality, and not a property of things. Calling the quality “idea”, he immediately becomes on an idealistic ground.

The “idea” is primary. A “thing” is nothing but a combination, a complex of “ideas.” The “thing” is thus secondary. Not qualities imply the thing that possesses them, but, on the contrary, the “thing” is nothing more than a combination of qualities, “ideas.” Berkeley annuls the indivisible bi-unity of qualities and things.

Attack on matter.

Idealistically reworking nominalism and sensationalism, Berkeley concluded that there was no matter. For him, there is no more abstract, more abstract (and therefore less justified) concept than being as such, than the concept of the carrier qualities as something different from the qualities as substance. “The general idea of ​​being seems to me the most abstract and incomprehensible of all ideas,” Berkeley says.

To this, Berkeley attaches also sensationalistic arguments. If a thing is nothing more than a collection of “ideas”, it does not imply anything beyond sensory qualities, no special owner, a substrate. And since none of our feelings introduce us to her, we know nothing about her and cannot be known.

The basis of Berkelean denial of matter is its nominalistic-sensualistic concept of knowability: our knowledge does not give any grounds for recognizing the existence of matter, since matter as a substance is not an “idea”, it is not what we can assert about the existence of something. If matter cannot be perceived, if it is something invisible, intangible, etc., then on what basis can we say that it exists?

Berkeley does not deny the substance at all, but is limited to the denial of the material substance. He declares: “I do not eliminate substance. I should not be accused of withdrawing substance from the world comprehended by reason. I reject only the philosophical meaning (which is actually nonsense) of the word“ substance ”as the material carrier of qualitative diversity, as the basis of the unity of the world.

By using the term “idea” to impart a subjective meaning to the concept of “qualities”, Berkeley assures that “there can be no substratum of these qualities except spirit … I deny therefore that there is some kind of non-thinking substrate of sensible objects, and I deny in this sense, the existence of any material substance. ” “… It is proved that there is no corporeal, or material, substance, it remains, therefore, to recognize that the cause of ideas is an incorporeal active substance, or spirit.” “From what has been said, it is obvious that there is no other substance than the spirit …”.

At this key point, subjective idealism is transformed into objective objectiveism by moving away from the nominalist and sensualistic assumptions that have served their service in the criticism of materialism. Rehabilitation of the spiritual substance removes not only phenomenalism, but also sensationalism. From the very beginning, Berkeley’s philosophy was conceived as clearing the path to objective idealism with subjectively idealistic means, as a phenomenalistic refutation of materialism, which makes it possible to build an objectively idealistic system.

The inequality of both substances is justified in Berkeley by the doctrine of causality, which will serve as a bridge from phenomenalism to spiritualism.

Material substance, Berkeley assures, is not only unknowable, but unreal. Reducing qualities to sensations, he thus comes to the conclusion that the cause of ideas cannot be matter: “But how matter can act on the spirit or cause any idea in it, no philosopher will undertake to explain it.” The cause of ideas can only be a homogeneous spiritual principle. Consequently, matter is unacceptable not only as the basis for the existence of things, but also as the basis for the emergence and change of these bundles of sensory qualities.

But matter cannot be not only the cause of ideas, it cannot be the cause of anything at all. For causation implies activity, effectiveness. Matter by its very essence is conceived as a passive, inert principle. Berkeley opposes matter to spirit as a passive principle to an active one.

“… Matter … is passive and stagnant and therefore cannot be a doer or an actual cause.” “And even if its existence were recognized, how can that which is inactive be the cause? ..”. This also applies to all attributes attributed to matter: “It is quite convincingly proven that materiality, size, figure, movement, etc., do not contain an activity or a force with which they would be able to perform any action in nature”.

The only pattern of activity recognized by Berkeley is volitional activity. “Once there is action, there must be an act of will.” “There is no concept of action, separate from the act of will.” And this activity Berkeley attributes exclusively to the spirit. “I cannot imagine an act of will rooted elsewhere than in the spirit.”

About being.

How does Berkeley solve the question “what is being?”. His initial, preliminary decision is phenomenalistic, it says: “esse est percipi” (“to be is to be perceived”). Thus, the distinction between the content of perception and the object of perception disappears: they are one and the same.

But esse est percipi is fraught with solipsism, inexorably – 10 leads to it, and consistent solipsism, together with matter, eliminates God. Berkeley is not happy. Berkeley therefore rejects the logical conclusions of phenomenalism, but does not at the same time reject his premises, but only limits them, complementing his original formula of being.

Contrary to the formula for Berkeley esse and percipi, to be and be perceived, not identical concepts. Being is not only being perceived, but also something else. Ideas, it turns out, are not the only form of knowledge and not the only primary element of being. In addition to ideas, sensory perceptions, we also understand “concepts” (notions). Under this term, Berkeley appears to comprehend the spirit of his own activities.

Our soul, according to Berkeley, knows itself not through “ideas.” What we know about the spirit is not ideas.

“Spirits” are completely different from “ideas”, there is nothing similar or common between them. The idea is completely passive, inactive, and its existence is that it is perceived. The concept is a form of cognition of an active being, the existence of which consists not in that it is perceived, but in that it perceives ideas.

It means that the being of spirits is not the being of ideas, it does not consist in their perceptibility, from esse is not their percipi. This earlier formula of being expands: “Existence is percipi or percipere”, to exist to be perceived or perceived, to be is to be perceived or perceived.

Solipsism, Berkeley believes, can be avoided without going beyond idealism. The path to this is through the introduction of other selves. “When I denied the existence of sensible things outside the mind, I did not mean my mind in particular, but all minds.”

Thus, Berkeley expands its concept of being beyond the limits of the perceived, and practically proceeds to objective idealism. However, it should be noted that if the existence of the Berkeley self is based on direct comprehension in the “concept”, then the existence of others of the Self is nothing more than an assumption by analogy.

The question arises: are there things if they are not perceived not only by me, but also by other people, if they are not ideas for me or for us? Do they go into oblivion? No, Berkeley replies. Even if the “idea” fell out of the “field of vision” of all the subjects, it would continue to exist in the mind of the god of the subject, who always exists and “puts” into the consciousness of individual subjects the content of their sensations. This means that a third definition is added to being as percipi and as percipere: posse percipi is the possibility of perception. Thus, answering the question posed, Berkeley practically takes the position of objective idealism.

Summarizing the above, we can say that Berkeley’s teaching on being is an idealistic monism, which considers the unity of the world in its spirituality.

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