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Berkeley, George

Berkeley, George

(b. County Kilkenny, Ireland, March 1685; d Oxford, England, 14 January 1753)

philosophy of science.

Berkeley was a critic of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century philosophical, scientific, mathematical, moral, political, and theological, ideas and an important link in the development of general philosophy between the period of Descartes and Locke and that of Hume and Kant. From his earliest days at Trinity College, Dublin (1700–1713), he came under the influence of Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Locke, and Malebranche. In 1705 he helped to found a society with the aim of pursuing the inquiry into their “new philosophy”; the extent of this inquiry may be gauged from Berkeley’s Commonplace Book, kept during the first few years of that period. Subsequently, particularly in London. Berkeley formed intellectual associations with such prominent figures as Clarke. Swift, Addison, Steele, and Pope. After a brief interlude in America, connected with his abortive attempt to found a college in Bermuda (1729–1731), he retired to the bishopric of Cloyne in 1734. He moved to Oxford in 1752.

Berkeley’s interests (excluding political economy, and his epistemological and theological inquiries except insofar as they bear on science) ranged from those with a primarily scientific focus to the scientifico-philosophical. In the former category belongs A New Theory of Vision (1709), reckoned by Brett’s History of Psychology to have been “the most significant contribution to psychology produced in the eighteenth century,” being “the first instance of clear isolation and purely relevant discussion, of a psychological topic” (Peters ed., p. 409). The main problem examined in this work is the factors that determine our ability to see things at a distance, the assumption being that the sense of vision itself is incapable of doing so. Rather, seeing distant objects requires the suggestions supplied by other senses, especially that of touch, as well as such other experiences as visual distortion caused by failure of eye accommodation. We do not “judge” by means of quasi-optica1 calculation of the distance of objects (the traditional account of Berkeley’s predecessors); rather, we let one group of sensations suggest another, in virtue of experience and custom. Moreover, from saying that all visual sensations “seem to be in the eye,” Berkeley moves to his basic contention, later generalized in his Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), that visual ideas are in our minds. Given his general doctrine that the “being” of things amounts to their being perceived, i.e., being ideas in a mind (the ultimate reference is to the divine mind), he infers that external space is not basic, but is “only suggested” to us by visual ideas, via tactile and other ideas.

This close interweaving of science with epistemology, as well as of metaphysics with theology, is also very prominent in Berkeley’s last major work, Siris (1744), which begins as an investigation of the medicinal virtues of tar water and ends with a disquisition on Platonic philosophy. The body of the book consists, on the one hand, of a discussion of contemporary chemical theory and, on the other, of a critique of Newtonian principles of explanation, of space and time, and of the true interpretation of the concept of causation. The sections on chemistry are of particular interest, for they display considerable acquaintance with most of the major chemical doctrines of Berkeley’s period (e.g. Boerhaave, Homberg, Hales. The younger Lemery, etc.), including a discussion of acids, salts, alkalies, and air that leads to a discussion of fire and light, the latter providing a “bridge” to a spiritual interpretation of all phenomena. Siris thus involves an attempt to assimilate Newtonian concepts to the more complex phenomena of chemistry and animal physiology.

Apart from his more specifically scientific preoccupations, Berkeley Berkeley’s more general aim in these writings is to show that the goal of science can be no more than describing phenomena through the laws and theories (“hypotheses”) of science that govern them, and thus to trace the “grammar” or “language of nature” without intervening concepts, at least in so far as these concepts might be construed existentially or as sources of “active power,” which in Berkeley’s terminology would amount to giving an “explanation.” The opposition to a positive construction of such intervening concepts is paramount in Berkeley’s writing on mathematics, as exemplified in his critique of the foundations of the differential calculus, whether our concern be with Newtonian “fluxions” or with Leibnizian “infinitesimals.” Both, as Berkeley points out in The Analyst (1734), suffer from the fatal defect of demanding that certain “increments” vanish in a result whose demonstration requires these increments to have a finite value.

Berkeley’s basic objection is to a sequence that is imagined to continue indefinitely, yet at the same time is conceived as suddenly ending. This difficulty formed the starting point of many discussions of the foundations of mathematics that continued in England until the nineteenth century, and he himself initially participated in them through replies to objections made to The Analyst. Berkeley does not impugn the employment of the differential calculus for “practical” purposes; his objection is to the quasi-existential positing of the “differential” entities involved. In the Principles this had been stated as an opposition to “abstract ideas.” His fundamental thought (although he lacks the notion of the limit) is “operationalist,” a concentration on the imaginative process of dividing a finite line into finite parts indefinitely, by always, letting the new parts “grow” so that they remain finite lines; this conception is meant to replace “infinite divisibility” into the “infinitely small” (Principles, sec. 128). At a more technical level Berkeley developed an ingenious theory of compensating errors that was meant to explain the “correct” results of the calculus of fluxions, whose “faulty” foundations alone he deplored.

Berkeley’s opposition to abstract ideas is closely connected with a theory of meaning the most relevant component of which is the contention that we should not suppose that to every noun there corresponds a particular idea. In De motu this is applied with special emphasis to the Newtonian concepts of gravitational attraction, action and reaction, and motion in general. Basically, Berkeley regards all such concepts as elements in “mathematical hypotheses” (i.e., what would now be called theoretical terms implicitly defined by certain theoretical axioms). Sometimes he holds that theoretical concepts are simply reducible to individual laws of phenomena (reductionism); at other times he emphasizes their place in the systematic constructions of these laws in overarching theories (a forerunner of the modern instrumentalist position).

The instrumentalist approach affected Berkeley’s theory of explanation and causation, which also drew upon the basic doctrine that all phenomena must be construed as ideas. Since they stand in an accusative relation to a perceiver, the ideas are held to be inactive; this is the doctrine of essepercipi. The logical counter part of the doctrine that no idea can act on any other idea is that no necessary connections exist between any such ideas. As a result, causal explanation cannot be reducible to the “action” of any phenomenalagents, be they “attraction” or “insensible corpuscles.” Causal action reduces to uniform “law-like” association between ideas that function as signs for things signified; the logical center of gravity being again the theoretical system of scientific laws, laws whose ultimate inductive foundation Berkeley places in the uniform operation of the “Author of nature” (Principles, sec. 107).

It follows that the doctrine of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, so central to the thinking of the “Newtonian century/’ in Berkeley loses its metaphysical relevance, reducing at most to no more than a difference of degree, since the opposition to abstract general ideas and the unavailability of the theoretical “corpuscles” for explanation rendered the conception unimportant. Berkeley does not so much deny unobservable entities; once again he is opposed only to treating them as genuine sources of transeunt causal action, since they are in reality no more than abstractions.

These approaches more or less naturally lead to Berkeley’s critique of the Newtonian concepts of absolute space, time, and motion. For it follows at once that all motion must be relative and referred to a physical (phenomenal) system, a contention that Berkeley also urges against Newton’s example of rotatory motion, thus anticipating part of what is now called Mach’s principle. The impossibility of absolute motion is one of Berkeley’s arguments against absolute space; another is its being an abstract idea. Moreover, it is otiose if taken to be an entity “existing without the mind” (Principles, sec. 116). This (somewhat weakly) seems to fit in with the conclusion drawn from the theory that distance and space cannot be determined visually. At best, empty space denotes a mere “possibility” for a body to be in motion, and certainly it is nothing “given in itself,” separate from or prior to body.

Berkeley’s general influence extended to such writers as Hume, Maclaurin, and Kant in the eighteenth century, and Mill, Helmholtz, and Mach in the nineteenth. He also anticipated many of the ideas of twentieth-century philosophers of science.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. The standard edition of Berkeley’s writings is The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop, eds., 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1948–1957).

Berkeley’s major writings on science and mathematics and their philosophy are An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (Dublin, 1709); A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, pt. 1 (Dublin, 1710), the only part published; Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (London, 1713); De motu (London, 1721); Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher (London, 1732); Theory of Vision, or Visual Language, Vindicated and Explained (London, 1733); The Analyst (London, 1734); A Defence of Free-Thinking in Mathematics (London, 1735); Siris: A Chain of Philosophical Reflexions and Inquiries Concerning the Virtues of Tar-Water (London, 1744); Further Thoughts on Tat- Water (London, 1752); and Philosophical Commentaries [Commonplace Book], A. A. Luce, ed. (London, 1944).

Collections that include scientific writings are Selections From Berkeley Annotated, A. C. Fraser, ed. (Oxford, 1874); Berkeley: Philosophical Writings, T. E. Jessop, ed. (Edinburgh, 1952); Berkeley: Works on Vision, C. M. Turbayne, ed., in Library of Liberal Arts (Indianapolis, 1963); and Berkeley’s Philosophical Writings, D. M. Armstrong, ed., in Collier Classics in the History of Thought (New York, 1965).

II. Secondary Literature. The standard biography is A. A. Luce, The Life of George Berkeley (Edinburgh, 1949).

Discussions of aspects of Berkeley’s philosophy of science and mathematics since 1842 may be found in the following works: T. K. Abbott, Sight and Touch: An Attempt to Disprove the Received (or Berkeleian) Theory of Vision (London, 1864); G. W. Ardley, Berkeley’s philosophy of Nature (Auckland, 1962); D. M. Armstrong, Berkeley’s Theory of Vision (Melbourne, 1960); S. Bailey, A Review of Berkeley’s Theory of Vision (London, 1842); C. B. Boyer, The History of the Calculus (New York, 1959), ch. 6, pp. 224–229; Brett’s History of Psychology, R. S. Peters, ed. (London, 1953), pp. 408–414; British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 4 (May 1953), which honors the bicentenary of Berkeley’s death; G. Buchdahl, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. The Classical Origins; Descartes to Kant (Oxford, 1969), ch. 5; F. Cajori. A History of the Conceptions of Limits and Fluxions in Great Britain From Newton to Woodhouse (Chicago, 1919), pp. 57–95; D. W. Hamlyn, Sensation and Perception. A History of the Philosophy of Perception (London, 1961), pp. 104–116: T. H, Huxley, Hume; With Helps to the Study of Berkeley (London, 1894); G. A. Johnston. The Development of Berkeley’s Philosophy (London, 1923); A. A. Luce. Berkeley and Malebranche (Oxford, 1934); J. S. Mill, Dissertations and Discussions, IV (London, 1875), 154–187; A. D. Ritchie, George Berkeley. A Reappraisal (Manchester, 1967): G. Stammler, Berkeleys Philosophie der Mathematik (Berlin, 1922); C. M. Turbaync, The Myth of Metaphor (New Haven, 1962): and G. J. Warnock, Berkeley (London, 1953).

Gerd Buchdahl

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Berkeley, George

Berkeley, George

WORKS BY BERKELEY

WORKS ABOUT BERKELEY

Like many of his contemporaries, George Berkeley (1685–1753) was a man of wide intellectual and practical interests. Although his most significant contributions to human knowledge are to be found in his philosophical works, Berkeley displayed more than a passing interest in questions that were of an essentially economic nature.

Berkeley’s writings in the area of political economy are of a rather fragmentary nature. Two of his pamphlets, “An Essay Towards Preventing the Ruine of Great Britain” (1721) and “A Word to the Wise” (1749), contain some discussion of economic issues, but their main theme is moral or theological. His major work in political economy, “The Querist” (1735–1737), consists of 895 rhetorical questions reflecting the author’s thoughts on a wide variety of economic and social problems confronting Ireland during the early period of his tenure as bishop of Cloyne (a position he held from 1734 until just prior to his death, in 1753). Berkeley did not write a comprehensive theoretical work in political economy, and as a consequence it is hardly surprising that his writings in this area fall far short of such eighteenth-century treatises as Richard Cantillon’s Essai sur la nature du commerce en général, Sir James Steuart’s Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy, and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Berkeley displayed a sound grasp of a number of important tools of analysis, but the real significance of his work is to be found in his attempt to bring economic, moral, and theological concepts to bear on the broad problem of man’s material progress, that is, the question of economic development. In fact, Berkeley’s “Querist” represents one of the earliest attempts to focus attention on this important question, the study of which grew out of seventeenth-century philosophical discussions centering upon the idea of progress and the nature of the evolution of man.

To Berkeley, Ireland represented a picture of abysmal poverty and backwardness. Yet this, he felt, could be attributed not to a paucity of natural resources but rather to a failure to exploit these resources adequately. What was required, he argued, was the provision of a large and growing supply of labor; a satisfactory rate of saving; a higher degree of specialization and division of labor; the provision, especially by the government, of vital investment projects, particularly in the area of transportation; and the establishment of a sociological environment conducive to a greater degree of industry, ingenuity, and frugality on the part of the Irish people.

In his attempt to seek a solution to Ireland’s economic problems Berkeley made use of a number of important analytical concepts. Among these concepts were (1) the “relative” doctrine of luxury, which sought to distinguish between, on the one hand, that element of luxury expenditure, in the form of a modest amount of “conveniences and superfluities,” which acts as an inducement to both productive effort and ingenuity and, on the other hand, that consumption of luxury goods and services which takes the form of prodigality and dissipation by the wealthier classes and therefore simply serves to check the rate of saving in the community; (2) the dichotomy between productive and unproductive consumption, which Berkeley accepted tentatively; (3) the division of labor and its role in the establishment and growth of an exchange, or market, economy; (4) the metaphor that money is simply a ticket facilitating exchange; and (5) the possibility of deriving economic gains from international specialization, even when the major obstacles to initiating and maintaining economic growth lie in the domestic rather than the international sector of the economy.

In contrast to Hume, Smith, and Francis Hutcheson, Berkeley rejected the doctrine of natural harmony. He was also sharply critical of the Mandevil-lean theory that private vices are public benefits. Rather, he saw the need for the government to intervene if the bottlenecks inhibiting Irish economic progress were ever to be removed. In order to facilitate the implementation of government policy, particularly in the area of money and credit, Berkeley advocated the establishment of a national bank. It is important to note, however, that the interventionist program outlined in “The Querist” appears to rest essentially on his pragmatic assessment of the problems facing the Irish economy rather than being a derivative of a commitment to any particular philosophical doctrine.

One important theme running through all of Berkeley’s economic writings is the significance of sound moral values as a precondition for social and economic progress. Many of the problems facing Ireland, such as idleness and prodigality, might be traced, he felt, to an absence of moral fiber and public spirit. Thus, in Berkeley’s view, it was not simply the government but also the church that would have to take the lead in initiating and maintaining the forces of economic growth.

One must be careful not to overemphasize the significance of Berkeley’s contributions within the context of eighteenth-century economic thought. Although his work contains a number of analytical insights and a sound understanding of certain aspects of the development problem, his writings, compared to the work of some of the eighteenth-century economic thinkers mentioned above, seem to have had little impact upon later scholars. Nonetheless, in Berkeley we have a great scholar who, had he chosen to devote himself more fully to questions of political economy, would almost certainly have become one of the great figures in eighteenth-century economic thought.

Ian D. S. Ward

[For the historical context of Berkeley’s work, see the biographies ofHume; Smith, Adam; for discussion of related ideas, seeEconomic growth.]

WORKS BY BERKELEY

(1721) 1953 An Essay Towards Preventing the Ruine of Great Britain. Volume 6, pages 61–85 in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. London: Nelson.

(1735–1737) 1953 The Querist. Volume 6, pages 105–154 in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. London: Nelson.

(1749) 1953 A Word to the Wise: Or, an Exhortation to the Roman Catholic Clergy of Ireland. Volume 6, pages 231–249 in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. London: Nelson.

The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. 9 vols. Edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. London: Nelson, 1948–1957.

WORKS ABOUT BERKELEY

Hutchison, T. W. 1953 Berkeley’s The Querist and Its Place in the Economic Thought of the 18th Century. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4, no. 13:52–77.

Ward, IanD. S. 1959 George Berkeley: Precursor of Keynes or Moral Economist on Underdevelopment? Journal of Political Economy 67:31–40.

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Berkeley, George (1685–1753)

BERKELEY, GEORGE (16851753)

BERKELEY, GEORGE (16851753), bishop of Cloyne, Anglo-Irish philosopher and cleric. Berkeley was born near Kilkenny; little is known of his parents, but they seem to have been minor gentry who claimed some allegiance to the powerful English aristocrats of the same name. In any case Berkeley went to good schools, studying first at Kilkenny College and then Trinity College, Dublin, where he took his B.A. (1704) and M.A. (1707) and became a junior fellow. In his early years at Trinity he wrote An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), in which he argues that our perception of depth is a matter of inference from experience, and the two works in which he expounds his "immaterialism," A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713), the latter deploying the dialogue form to render his philosophy more attractive and accessible. In the years ahead Berkeley was often absent from Trinity, but he kept his fellowship, eventually becoming Doctor of Divinity (1721).

Berkeley left Ireland for the first time in 1713, spending time in Londonwhere he was quickly drawn into literary circles by his countrymen, satirist Jonathan Swift (16671745) and essayist Richard Steele (16721729)before embarking on extensive continental tours as a chaplain and tutor. Serious preferment within the church did not come until 1724, when he was appointed to the deanery of Derry, but by then Berkeley's ambitions lay across the Atlantic. He was proposing to found and preside over a college in Bermuda to educate the sons of settler and indigenous families from throughout the English colonies, partly with an eye to better establishing the English Church in America. Berkeley raised considerable sums by public subscription, but a government grant promised by prime minister Robert Walpole (16761745) was not forthcoming.

In 1728, in an attempt to force Walpole's hand, Berkeley sailed for America, where he was to live in Rhode Island for several years. Here he passed his time writing Alciphron: or, the Minute Philosopher (1732), an extended defense of Christianity, directed in part against the ethical writings of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury (16711713) and Bernard de Mandeville (16701733). The Bermuda college was never built. In 1734, three years after his return to England, Berkeley was nominated to the bishopric of Cloyne, an impoverished see in the south of Ireland, where he spent the remainder of his life. His last major work was Siris (1744), an extremely popular medical essay, densely packed with maxims from ancient philosophy, which promoted tar-water as a panacea.

Berkeley is known for the concise and highly original, even idiosyncratic, metaphysical system expounded in the Principles and the Three Dialogues and usually referred to as "immaterialism." This system is best understood as an intervention in late seventeenth-century doctrines of substance, reacting specifically to the thought of the English epistemologist and political theorist John Locke (16321704) and the French Cartesian philosopher Nicholas Malebranche (16381715). These philosophers adhered to a dualism that proposed two fundamentally different kinds of substance in the worldmatter and spirit. They also accepted that our knowledge of material substances was tenuous at best: we have mind-dependent "ideas" that might somehow represent external objects, but since we have no immediate access to those objects apart from our ideas, we can only surmise their existence. Berkeley proposed a radical simplification: there are only active minds and the passive ideas they entertain; material substances simply do not exist. Berkeley observed that there are ideas we make up ourselveswe can dream of a unicorn or imagine a treebut there are also the more vivid and orderly ideas of sense experiencethe ball we turn in our hands. Since ideas can only be the properties of mind, these potent ideas of sense must come from another, more powerful mind. For Berkeley, the only possible explanation is that our sense experience is a direct communication from the mind of God.

Berkeley vigorously defended immaterialism as vindicated by common sense: our ideas of things are surely sufficient for the business of life, in which we never make reference to the elusive material substances of philosophy. Alarmed by what he saw as the growing skepticism of his generation, he also promoted his theocentric system as an antidote to atheism. But despite all this, Berkeley won no adherents. An age that embraced the philosophy of John Locke and the physics of Isaac Newton (16421727) naturally found the elimination of matter difficult to digest. Many refused to take Berkeley seriouslyliterary critic Samuel Johnson (17091784) famously refuted immaterialism by kicking a stonebut English philosophers, notably David Hume (17111776) and John Stuart Mill (18061873), have studied Berkeley's writings carefully and adapted many of his arguments, even as they refused to admit his conclusions.

See also Hume, David ; Locke, John ; Newton, Isaac.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Berkeley, George. The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. Edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. 9 vols. London, 19481957. The definitive edition.

Secondary Sources

Luce, A. A. The Life of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. London, 1949.

Tipton, I. C. Berkeley: The Philosophy of Immaterialism. 1974. Reprint: Bristol, 1994. A thorough and accessible study of Berkeley's metaphysics.

Peter Walmsley

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George Berkeley

George Berkeley

The Anglo-Irish thinker and Anglican bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) developed a unique type of idealism based on an empirically oriented attack on abstract philosophizing combined with a defense of immaterialism.

Although born on March 3, 1685, at Dysert Castle in County Kilkenny, Ireland, George Berkeley considered himself to be English. He entered the county school at the age of 11 and in 1700 went to Trinity College, Dublin. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1704 and a master of arts degree in 1707, the year in which he became a fellow. Berkeley maintained his appointment until 1724, when he became dean of Derry, but taught at Dublin only until 1712. During this time he formed a club to discuss the "new philosophy" and wrote his most important works: Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709); Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, pt. 1 (1710); and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713).

Berkeley traveled to England in 1713. He was an intellectual and social success in London; he met the essayists Joseph Addison and Richard Steele and later contributed articles to the Guardian. The poet Alexander Pope described the young philosopher as possessed of "every virtue under heaven." Most of Berkeley's introductions to English literati were arranged by his older Dublin colleague and fellow clergyman, the satirist Jonathan Swift. The most important of these contacts was Lord Peterborough, whom Berkeley accompanied to Europe as chaplain in 1714-1715. During this journey he may have met the French philosopher Nicholas Malebranche. Between 1716 and 1720 Berkeley resided mainly in Italy and France, and while traveling he lost the manuscript of the second part of Principles of Human Knowledge, which was never rewritten.

In 1721 he published a short treatise on natural philosophy, De motu. and an anonymous book on social reformation, Essay towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain. About this time Berkeley conceived the idea of establishing a college in the Bermudas to reform the manners of the English colonists and introduce the gospel to the "American savages." Through the influence of his friends he received the necessary patents from Parliament and promises of financial assistance. In September 1728 he married Anne Foster, and shortly thereafter he sailed for the New World. From January 1729 until the fall of 1731 he lived in Newport, R. I. During this period he wrote Alciphron, a series of dialogues directed against freethinkers. The financing of the Bermuda scheme eventually failed and, after donating his books and property to Yale College, he returned with his family to London.

In 1734 Berkeley returned to Ireland as bishop of Cloyne, and he remained there for the next 18 years. Distressed at the widespread famine and disease in Ireland, he devoted himself to social and medical studies. In 1744 he created a considerable stir by publishing Siris, a work that extolled the virtues of tar-water as a cure for virtually all bodily ills and presented his final metaphysical and religious ideas. On the occasion of fighting between Catholics and Protestants, he wrote several liberal tracts promoting tolerance and humanity. Berkeley retired to Oxford University in 1752 and died suddenly on Jan. 14, 1753.

His Philosophy

The "new way of ideas" of British empiricism had been prepared for Berkeley by John Locke. In a broad sense empiricism is an attempt to derive all knowledge from experience. According to Locke, all knowledge is derived from the external five senses or the internal sense of reflection. But from a psychological viewpoint both sensations and concepts are found in the mind. Thus, even sensations are ideal as images which re-present external objects.

The ubiquity of ideas, as sense images as well as concepts, led Berkeley to original psychological and metaphysical views. In Essay towards a New Theory of Vision he argued that man does not immediately perceive either the distance of objects from him or their spatial relations to others. He states that distance and magnitude are suggested by past experience of the correlation between sight and touch.

According to Berkeley, it was a short step for him from the psychological recognition of the ideality of sense perceptions to the metaphysical acknowledgement of the immateriality of all reality. He was the first thinker to take the position of denying material reality. In Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues he argues that if the only evidence for an object's existence is its being perceived, then the conclusion is that existence consists entirely in being perceived or perceiving and that minds and their ideas constitute reality.

This immaterialist thesis, Esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived), is more important as a criticism of materialism than as an exposition of his own spiritualism. In Berkeley's view it is God and His active perception who preserves man from vanishing worlds when objects are not being perceived by him. This means that minds and ideas, which can be empirically verified, are the only realities and that reality is identical with appearance.

Further Reading

The standard edition of Berkeley is edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop, The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, (9 vols., 1948-1957). The best biography is by A. A. Luce, The Life of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne (1949). See also J. Wild, George Berkeley: A Study of His Life and Philosophy (1936); A. A. Luce, Berkeley's Immaterialism (1945); E. A. Sillem, George Berkeley and the Proofs for the Existence of God (1957); D. M. Armstrong, Berkeley's Theory of Vision (1960); and A. A. Luce, The Dialectic of Immaterialism (1963). □

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Berkeley, George

George Berkeley (bär´klē, bûr–), 1685–1753, Anglo-Irish philosopher and clergyman, b. Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he became a scholar and later a fellow there. Most of Berkeley's important work in philosophy was done in his younger years. His Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), and the famous Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713) are among his more important works. At considerable personal sacrifice he organized a movement to establish a college in the Bermudas to convert the indigenous peoples, going to Rhode Island in 1728 to wait for promised support. This support never came, and after three years he returned to England. He was made bishop of Cloyne in 1734. Berkeley in his subjective idealism went beyond Locke, who had argued that such qualities as color and taste arise in the mind while primary qualities of matter such as extension and weight have existence independent of the mind. Berkeley held that both types of qualities are known only in the mind and that therefore there is no existence of matter independent of perception (esse est percipi). The observing mind of God makes possible the continued apparent existence of material objects. God arouses sensations in us in a regular coherent order. Selves and God make up the universe. Berkeley felt that his argument constituted a complete disproof of atheism. He believed that qualities, not things, are perceived and that the perception of qualities is relative to the perceiver.

See edition of his works by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (9 vol., 1948–57); G. Pitcher, ed., The Philosophy of George Berkeley (8 vol., 1988–89); biographies by J. O. Urmson (1982) and G. J. Warnock (1983).

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Berkeley, George

Berkeley, George (1685–1753). Philosopher and bishop. One of the most renowned philosophers of his day, Berkeley was born in Kilkenny of English descent. He became a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, but spent 1713–20 in London or on continental travel, becoming well acquainted with Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot. In 1720 his essay ‘Towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain’, provoked by the South Sea crisis, attacked luxury and the new commercialism. In 1724 he was appointed dean of Derry but his main interest was in raising support for a college in Bermuda to preach the gospel and he was in America 1728–32. From 1734 he was bishop of Cloyne and spent almost all his later years in the diocese, apart from a last few months in Oxford. His idealist philosophy, attacking the materialism of Locke and Newton, is to be found largely in Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues (1713).

J. A. Cannon

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"Berkeley, George." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Berkeley, George

Berkeley, George (1685–1753) Irish philosopher and cleric. Drawing on the empiricism of John Locke, he argued that there is no existence independent of subjective perception (esse est percipi). For Berkeley, the apparently ordered physical world is the work of God. This standpoint is often called subjective idealism.

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"Berkeley, George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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