Hauptli’s Lecture Supplement on Berkeley’s Principles [1710, second edition: 1734][1]


     Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli


The full title is A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.  It is usually referred to as the Principles—thus easily distinguishing it from Locke’s Essay [1690] and David Hume’s Treatise [1739-1740].[2]  We will be reading the Introduction and the first thirty-three sections of Part I (as well as sections 139-149 of Part I).  Berkeley characterized Part I as that “wherein the chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences, and the Grounds of Skepticism, Atheism and Irreligion, are inquir’d into.”  There was a Part II which Berkeley told the American Philosopher Samuel Johnson he lost on a trip to Italy[3]—it dealt with ethics, freedom of the will, and the nature of the deity he believes to be so important.  He intended still more parts, but the work was not well-received, and he dropped the longer project. 


     The reading assignment from Berkeley’s Principles will be:


Introduction (all)

Part I sections 1-33, 89, and 139-149. 


     The version we have has an excellent introduction by Kenneth Winkler,[4] and an excellent Glossary (beginning on p. 89) which is of great help given some of the now archaic words (and some of the now archaic senses of words he uses).  In addition, the text includes an Analytical Table of Contents (which I have revised in places for my lectures on the Principles):


Introduction (1-25):


1-5 Philosophers are disturbed by doubts caused by false principles. 

6-12 One such principle is the doctrine of abstract ideas—they are impossible, and are not necessary for communication. 

13-17 They are contradictory, and are not required for communication or for the enlargement of knowledge. 

18-20 The source of the doctrine of abstract ideas is a mistaken view of language. 

21-25 Advantages of considering ideas instead of words. 


Part I.


1-2 Ideas and spirits compared.  Ideas cannot exist outside the mind. 

3 First argument, from the meaning of the word exist. 

4 Second argument: sensible things are those things we perceive, but we perceive only our own ideas. 

5-6 The belief in unperceived objects depends on abstraction. 

7 Spirit is the only substance. 

8 An objection: ideas represent external objects.  But an idea can represent nothing but another idea. 

9-15 The distinction between primary and secondary qualities:

i) 9 The distinction explained.  It has already been shown that no quality can exist outside the mind

ii) 10 Primary qualities cannot be conceived apart from secondary qualities, and cannot exist apart from them. 

iii) 11 Great and small, swift and slow. 

iv) 12 Number. 

v) 13 Unity

vi) 14 Arguments from perceptual relativity work as well for extension and figure as they do for color and taste. 

vii) 15 That is, they do not work at all.  And my earlier arguments apply to the distinction between primary and secondary qualities as a special case. 

16-17 Third argument: the notion of matter is either empty or incomprehensible. 

18-20 Fourth Argument: If matter existed, we could neither know it nor have reason to believe it. 

21-24: Fifth argument: The notion of physical substance is contradictory [a direct attack upon the belief in such objects—we cannot even conceive of an object existing “outside the mind]:”

23-33 How are ideas caused? 

i) 25 They cannot be caused by extension, figure, and motion.  These qualities are ideas, and all ideas are inactive. 

ii) 26 Ideas must therefore be caused by a substance or spirit. 

iii) 27 We can have no idea of spirit. 

iv) 28 We are the cause of some of our ideas. 

v) 29-32 But God is the cause of the ideas of sense.  He produces them according to set rules or laws of nature, enabling us to regulate our actions for the benefit of life. 

Supplement to Section 30: Sections 145-149. 

vi) 33 Ideas of sense are real things.  They are more regular, vivid, and constant than ideas of imagination. 


The Text:


I. Introduction (1-25):


1-5: Philosophers are disturbed by doubts caused by false principles:


1. When we leave common sense behind for abstruse reason, skepticism results. 


3. Our errors are due to our misuse of our faculties rather than to the fact that our faculties are inadequate. 


6-12: One such abuse of our faculties is the doctrine of abstract ideas—they are impossible, and are not necessary for communication:


In his “Notes: The Principles,” Jonathan Dancy maintains that in sections 7-9 “...Berkeley lays out the account of abstraction that he wants to reject.  First, we are supposed to be able to consider separately each of the properties of an object: its extension apart from its colour or its motion, for instance ([section] 7).  Then we can consider the extensions of different objects, and make a ‘most abstract idea of extension’ as that which is common to all particular extensions ([section] 8).  Finally, we can consider abstract ideas of ‘compounded beings’, i.e. of man and of horse, by considering together the qualities common to all men, and leaving out any respects in which one man differs from another ([section] 9).  In [section] 10 Berkeley gives his reasons for rejecting these claims about abstraction.  We can do none of these things, because we cannot separate in the mind (i.e. abstract from each other) qualities that cannot exist separately.  In [section] 11 Berkeley considers the main reason offered by Locke for supposing us able to abstract in these ways, which is that we cannot otherwise explain the existence of general words or concepts.  In [section] 12 Berkeley offers an alternative explanation of general words, one which involves no appeal to or use of abstraction.[5] 


-10: Abstract ideas are impossible because what they represent is impossible.  All our ideas are particular: “but then whatever hand or eye I imagine, it must have some particular shape and color.  Likewise the idea of man that I frame to myself, must be either of a white, or a black, or a tawny, a straight, or a crooked, a tall, or a low, or a middle-sized man.  I cannot by any effort of thought conceive the abstract idea above described.  And it is equally impossible for me to form the abstract idea of motion distinct from the body moving....I own myself able to abstract in one sense, as when I consider some particular parts or qualities separated from others, with which though they are united in some object, yet, it is possible they may really exist without them.  But I deny that I can abstract one from another, or conceive separately, those qualities which it is impossible should exist so separated....” 


-11. Berkeley discusses Locke’s view on general terms and language and maintains that “...a word becomes general by being made the sign, not of an abstract idea but, of several particular ideas, any one of which it indifferently suggests to the mind.” 


-12. That is, he maintains that there are general ideas, but denies that there are abstract ones: “...an idea, which considered in itself is particular, becomes general, by being made to represent or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort.”  Berkeley offers the example of a geometrician who is demonstrating the technique for dividing a line into two equal parts.  The line used in such a demonstration is used as a sign for all lines.  It is, nonetheless, a particular line.  According to him, the geometrician “...draws, for instance, a black line of an inch in length, this which in itself is a particular line is nevertheless with regard to its signification general, since as it is there used, it represents all particular lines whatsoever; so that what is demonstrated of it, is demonstrated of all lines, or, in other words, of a line in general....[it] owes its generality, not to its being the sign of a abstract or general line, but of all particular...lines that may possibly exist....” 


--Locke holds that there are particular, general, and abstract ideas.  Berkeley, really, holds that there are only the former.  General and abstract terms are differing uses of our particular ideas, but, he contends, they are not, really, ideas themselves. 


--Hume calls Berkeley’s account of general terms here “...one of the greatest and most valuable discoveries that has been made of late years in the republic of letters.”[6]  As Jonathan Dancy notes, however, “we should note that this remark does not endorse Berkeley’s attack on our supposed powers of abstraction.  Hume is agreeing with Berkeley that general terms do not need to be abstract.  Berkeley could be right about that, and wrong about the impossibility of abstraction.”[7] 


13-17: Abstract ideas are contradictory, and are not required for communication or for the enlargement of knowledge:


13. He discusses the general (or abstract) idea of a triangle, and points out that the “abstract idea” here involves contradictions.  Berkeley appeals to our experience to show that no one has such an abstract idea: “if any man has the faculty of framing in his mind such an idea of a triangle as is here described, it is in vain to pretend to dispute him out of it, nor would I go about it.  All I desire is, that the reader would fully and certainly inform himself whether he has such an idea or no.  And this, methinks, can be no hard task for anyone to perform.  What [could be] more easy than for anyone to look a little into his own thoughts, and there try whether he has, or can attain to have, an idea that shall correspond with the description that is here given of the general idea of a triangle, which is neither oblique, nor rectangle, equilateral, equicural, nor scalenon, but all and none of these at once?” 


15. Berkeley maintains that “abstract ideas” are no more necessary for the “enlargement of knowledge” than they are necessary for communication. 


-16. Berkeley responds to the contention that abstract ideas are necessary if there is to be universal knowledge (knowledge of universal truths) by contending that it arises as we pay attention to certain features of particular things. 


18-20: The source of the doctrine of abstract ideas is a mistaken view of language:


18. He contends that mistaken views about language (especially views about naming) lead many to the doctrine of abstract ideas. 


20. Berkeley points out that language is not used exclusively for the communication of ideas of ideas by words: “there are other ends, as the raising of some passion, the exciting to, or deterring from an action, the putting the mind in some particular disposition; to which the former is in many cases subservient, and sometimes entirely omitted, as I think does not infrequently happen in the familiar use of language.”  


-Of course, claiming that there are other uses of language than the one Locke asserted to be primary (the communication of ideas), does not establish either that this is not a use, or that it is not the primary use.  Berkeley’s remarks here, however, are taken by many to be a precursor of twentieth century views of language—both J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein contend that it is the practical use of language which is primary.[8] 


21-25: Advantages of considering ideas instead of words:


22. He would avoid “verbal controversies” and restrict himself to ideas.  He holds that abstract ideas are impossible, not useful, and arise from mistaken views about language. 


25. Berkeley asks us not to be misled by language but, instead, encourages us to pay attention to our experience (ideas). 


II. Criticism of Berkeley’s Rejection of Abstract Ideas:


While there is much virtue in Berkeley’s critique (and, as noted above, while Hume richly praises it and partially agrees with it), the overall nominalism which is supposed to be supported by the critique (that is the claim that there are only particular ideas) may not be warranted.[9]  In his “After Empiricism,” Hilary Putnam maintains that:


according to Berkeley and Hume, I do not have such a thing as an “abstract idea” or a “general idea” of green.  When a particular token—be it a green color-patch or a token of the word “green”—occurs in my mind, and is used as a symbol for the whole class of green sense-data, all that happens is that the token is associated with a certain class of other tokens to which it is similar or which are similar to one another.  Ayer and Russell depart from Berkeley and Hume on this point—and with good reason.  For they see that if I can think of a particular relation of “similarity,” then I am able to recognize at least one universal.  Thus universals cannot really be avoided in the way Berkeley and Hume wanted to do.[10] 


Thus Putnam, and others, contend that some universal(s) are required—at least that of “similarity.”  Some contemporary theorists endeavor to “get by” with the fewest number of such universals as they try and account for the richness of human language and conceptualization.[11] 


III. Part I. Wherein the chief causes of error and difficulty in the sciences, with the grounds of skepticism, atheism, and irreligion, are inquired into:


1-2: Ideas and spirits compared.  Ideas cannot exist outside the mind:


1. The objects of human knowledge are ideas.  Where ideas originate: senses, passions, memory and imagination [reflection]. 


2. Minds/Spirit: where ideas exist: “...the existence of an idea consists in its being perceived.” 


-Cf., sections 27, 89, 145, and 139-140. 


3: First argument against the “notion” of physical substance—from the meaning of the word ‘exist’: Esse est percipi “...attend to what is meant by the term ‘exist’ when applied to sensible things.”  Here he begins his phenomenalistic analysis of “material thing.” 


This section raises an interpretive question or problem, however.  It suggests that Berkeley is a phenomenalist rather than an idealist (this suggestion is seconded by what he says in section 58, which I recommend that you read in this regard).  In his “Editor’s Introduction” [to another edition of Berkeley's Principles], Jonathan Dancy maintains that: “this looser view would have it that for a physical thing to exist is for it to be able to be present to some mind, not for it actually to be doing so.  Both conceptions of physical existence require a relation to a mind; so both involve a rejection of realism, which conceives the existence of a physical thing in terms of its taking its place in the mind-independent spatio-temporal matrix which constitutes the natural world. 

  The looser view is called phenomenalism, the tighter one idealism.”[12]  I will follow the main tradition of Berkeley interpretation, and read him as an idealist. 


4: Second argument: sensible things are those things we perceive, but we perceive only our own ideas: “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 with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever this principle may be entertained in the world, yet whoever shall find in his heart to call it in question may, if I mistake not, perceive it involve a manifest contradiction.  For what are the forementioned objects but the things we perceive by sense, and 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?” 


Here we get Berkeley’s elaboration of his “phenomenalistic analysis of “things.” 


In his “Idealism: A Victorian Horror Story (Part One),” David Stove maintains that: “philosophical idealism demands...the identity of reality with thought or with something thought-like.  It is not enough for idealism that a billiard ball, and everything else, ‘be thought’, in a predicative sense: I mean that the billiard ball, while being (for example) round and hard and shiny, be thought as well—supposing we could understand even that.  Still less is it enough for idealism that a billiard ball, and everything else, ‘be thought’ in a relational sense: I mean, that it be thought of, by someone or something.  What idealism requires is that billiard balls, and everything else, be thoughts (or experiences, or ideas, etc.), in the sense of ‘be identical with.’  Idealism is an identity-claim, or it is nothing: nothing but some variety or other of dualism.”[13]  Stove offers an extended critique of this identity claim. 


5-6: The belief in unperceived objects depends on abstraction:


5. “...can there be a nicer strain of abstraction[14] than to distinguish the existence of sensible objects from their being perceived, so as to conceive them existing unperceived?” 


-“But my conceiving power does not extend beyond the possibility of real existence or perception.  Hence, as it is impossible for me to see or feel anything without an actual sensation of that thing, so it is impossible for me to conceive in my thoughts any sensible thing or object distinct from the sensation or perception of it.” 


-According to W.T. Jones, “Locke wrote as if he believed that what is before the mind when it thinks “triangle” is a generalized image—a triangle that is neither scalene nor equilateral.  According to Berkeley, no such general image exists.  What is before the mind is always some particular triangle, which stands for, or represents, every other particular triangle. 

  Thus, when Berkeley denied that men have the “faculty of abstracting their ideas,” he was actually making two distinct assertions, though he did not distinguish them.  He was asserting both a psychological thesis—that there are no generalized images, only specific ones—and an epistemological [metaphysical?] thesis—that there are no universals, only particulars.  As regards the former, he and Locke differed.  As regards the latter...they were in agreement.... 

  Since all ideas are concrete particulars, and since there are no real universals, it follows that a general name simply refers to (is the sign of) several particular ideas, all of which it indifferently represents, and some one of which is always actually present to the mind when it thinks about the meaning of this name.  But if what is before the mind is always a particular, how can we ever know any general truths at all....Berkeley’s answer was that we can be sure that what is true of one is true of the other because the particular properties that differ in the two triangles...do not enter into the proof.”[15] 


6. Ideas need to be in a mind.  “...all the choir of heaven and furniture of earth have not any subsistence without the mind...their being is to be perceived or known.” 


7: Spirit is the only substance.  Of course, if there are no bodies, then “spirits” are the only things “left” to “have” the ideas. 


8: An objection: ideas represent external objects: “But, say you, though the ideas themselves do not exist without the mind, yet there may be things like them, whereof they are copies or resemblances which things exist without the mind in an unthinking substance.  I answer, an idea can be like nothing but an idea....”  Some secondary sources refer to this as Berkeley’s “likeness principle.” 


Look at your thoughts and you will see this.  Suppose the idea is to be like something (an original), if that thing is perceivable we can make sense of this; if not, we can not make sense of it (to assert that a color is like something that is invisible and intangible is to cease to talk sense). 


In his “Notes: The Principles,” Jonathan Dancy maintains that Berkeley’s principle “...is the main weapon in his attack on the view that ideas can represent material things.  Those who maintained, with Locke, that the mind is primarily acquainted with its own ideas had to say how it is was possible for it also to be acquainted...with things....The normal account was that the ideas represented the material things to the mind....But if one says this one has to give some story about what it is for an idea to represent....The story that was normally given appealed to two concepts: resemblance and causation....Berkeley’s...principle, if sound. undermines all this talk of ideas representing material objects by resembling them.”[16]  Of course, since there is no adequate understanding of how things cause ideas, the “normal story” is flawed on this aspect also! 


-Here we need to consider whether it is important to distinguish between “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description.”  More generally, in discussing “knowledge”, we should distinguish: propositional knowledge from: knowledge by acquaintance (e.g., knowing your uncle Fred, or French, your migraine headaches, your best friend, etc.); know-how (sometimes called “competence” or “procedural” knowledge—e.g., knowing-how to ride a bike); knowing what (e.g., knowing what a piano sounds like), knowing-why (having an explanation as to why some thing, event, etc., came about—e.g., knowing why you must go to bed without supper), and knowledge by description (wherein one places the described item in the space of reasons, justifications, narrations, or depictions).  Propositional knowledge, the stable for many philosophers, is a sub-class of the latter type—one where the emphasis is placed upon descriptions which are to elucidate and lumen the essential nature of things.  In her “Relocating Aesthetics: Goodman’s Epistemic Turn,” Catherine Elgin maintains that:


contemporary realists are prone to think that literal language at its best partitions its domain into natural kinds, or divides nature at the joints, or discloses the true and ultimate structure of reality.  Somehow, the world is supposed to dictate its proper description.  [Nelson] Goodman denies this.  He believes that any order we find is an order we impose.  Systems of categories are contrived to impose order.  They divide a domain into individuals and group these individuals into kinds.  They thereby equip us to describe, predict, explain, and complain about the entities thus recognized.  But the success of one category scheme does not preclude the success of others.  There is no unique way the world is, hence no privileged way the world is to be described.  A single domain may be organized in multiple ways; and for different purposes, different classifications may be best.[17] 


  I find a lot to agree to in this viewpoint, and I believe one shouldn’t assume that knowledge is a “natural kind” but, rather, note that it may be a “nominal” one.  If this is the case, of course, a “unitary analysis” may not be the right way to go.  Moreover, in his “The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge,” Fred Dretske develops a contextualistic analysis of knowledge suggesting that we:


...think of knowledge as an evidential state in which all relevant alternatives (to what are known) are eliminated.  This makes knowledge an absolute concept but the restriction to relevant alternatives makes it, like empty and flat, applicable to this epistemically bumpy world we live in.[18] 


The social or pragmatic dimension to knowledge, if it exists at all, had to do with what counts as a relevant alternative, a possibility that must be evidentially excluded, in order to have knowledge.  It does not change the fact that to know one must be in a position to exclude all such possibilities.  It does not alter the fact that one must have, in this sense, an optimal justification—one that eliminates every relevant) possibility of being mistaken.[19] 


9-15: The distinction between primary and secondary qualities does not support the “notion” of a physical substance:


i) 9: The distinction explained: it has already been shown that no quality can exist outside the mind.  What Locke means by matter involves a contradiction: “...extension, figure, and motion are only ideas existing in the mind, and that an idea can be like nothing but another idea, and that consequently neither they nor their archetypes can exist in an unperceiving substance.  Hence it is plain, that the very notion of what is called matter or corporeal substance involves a contradiction in it.” 


ii) 10: Primary qualities cannot be conceived apart from secondary qualities, and cannot exist apart from them: “but I desire anyone to reflect and try whether he can, by any abstraction of thought, conceive the extension and motion of a body without all other sensible qualities.  For my own part, I see evidently that it is not in my power to frame an idea of a body extended and moving, but I must withal give it some color or other sensible quality which is acknowledged to exist only in the mind.  In short, extension, figure, and motion abstracted from all other qualities are inconceivable.” 


-In his “Notes: The Principles,” Jonathan Dancy notes that “commentators have often supposed that Berkeley’s position here depends on taking ideas to be mental images, pictures in the mind, so that all conception is imagination.  It would be comparatively easy to show that one cannot form a mental image of an object existing without colour; colour seems essential to an image, even if it be only black and white.  It is much harder to show that one cannot conceive of something extended but uncoloured, if conceiving is different from imagining.”[20] 


iii) 11: Great and small, swift and slow exist in the mind: “...thus we see how much the tenet of extended movable substances depends on the strange doctrine of abstract ideas.” 


iv) 12: Number is relative and depends on the mind (one yard, three feet, 36 inches). 


v) 13: Similarly for “unity.” 


vi) 14: Arguments from perceptual relativity work as well for extension and figure as they do for color and taste.  Berkeley provides additional examples of the mind dependence of ideas. 


vii) 15: He contends that his earlier arguments apply to the distinction between primary and secondary qualities as a special case: “but the arguments foregoing plainly show it to be impossible that any color or extension at all, or other sensible quality whatsoever, should exist in an unthinking subject without the mind, or in truth, that there should be any such thing as an outward object.” 


16-17: Third argument: the notion of matter is either empty or incomprehensible:


16. The notion of “matter’s supporting extension,” etc., are without meaning.  Those who propose such notions have nothing positive in mind.   


17. They mean by this simply “...the idea of substance being in general, together with the relative notion of its supporting accidents.”  But this is the most abstract of ideas, and the most incomprehensible. 


18-20: Fourth Argument [Epistemic]: If matter existed, we could neither know it nor have reason to believe it:


Up to this point, Berkeley as argued “linguistically” against materialism: he has claimed that the meaning of ‘exists’, the phenomenalistic analysis of ‘things’, and the meaning of ‘physical substance,” all show that the materialists are engaged in meaningless (and abstract) discourse.  These arguments aim to show that the materialists have no real meaning attached to their words.  Berkeley now switches to a new sort of argument—he argues that we can have no evidence for the “notion” of a physical substance.  Since we can have no evidence for it, and could not know it if it existed, he contends, we should not be committed (certainly not “fundamentally committed”) to such things! 


-Discuss Occam’s razor and Plato’s beard. 


18. Even if it made any sense to say that “physical substance supports the accidents,” there would be no way to know substance: “but though it were possible that solid, figured, movable substances may exist without the mind, corresponding to the ideas we have of bodies, yet how is it possible for us to know this?  Either we must know it by sense or by reason.  As for our senses, by them we have the knowledge only of our sensations, ideas, or those things that are immediately perceived by sense; but they do not inform us that things exist without the mind....it must be by reason, inferring their existence from what is immediately perceived by sense.  But what reason can induce us to believe the existence of bodies without the mind, from what we perceive, since the very patrons of matter themselves do not pretend there is any necessary connection betwixt them and our ideas?” 


19. [Additional argument:] Moreover, even if we suppose the notion of substance, it does not do its job!  Those who propose such a “notion” “...by their own confession are never the nearer knowing how our ideas are produced, since they own themselves unable to comprehend in what manner body can act upon spirit, or how it is possible it should imprint any idea in the mind.  Hence it is evident the production of ideas or sensations in our minds can be no reason why we should suppose mater or corporeal substances, since it is acknowledged to remain equally inexplicable with or without this supposition.  If therefore it were possible for bodies to exist without the mind, yet to hold they do so must needs be a very precarious opinion: since it is to suppose without any reason at all, that God has created innumerable beings that are entirely useless, and serve to no manner of purpose.” 


-20. Material objects do not serve as an explanatory tool: “in short, if there were external bodies, it is impossible we should ever come to know it; and if there were not [such bodies], we might have the very same reasons to think there were that we have now.” 


--Suppose a mind with our same ideas, but with no physical causes.  It would have the very evidence that we have for physical substances (and, of course, its evidence would be misleading)! 


21-24: Fifth argument: The notion of physical substance is contradictory [a direct attack upon the belief in such objects—we cannot even conceive of an object existing “outside the mind]:”


Whereas we have had “linguistic,” and “epistemic” arguments, we now come to a stronger sort of argument—at least so Berkeley suggests.  He wants to argue against the “metaphysical possibility” of material substance!  He will contend that the concept involves a contradiction, and, thus, there can be no such things. 


22. Try to imagine something existing unperceived—if you succeed, it exists perceived! 


23. A tree falling in the woods with no one around—no woods!  In short, be careful as you engage in the recommended experiment. 


24. There is a contradiction involved in “matter:”


1. Phenomenalistic analysis of “things”—they are “nothing but” collections of ideas. 

2. Ideas are “in” minds—they can not “be” “outside” of minds. 

3. Materialists contend that “things” “exist” “outside” of minds. 

Therefore, materialists contradict themselves, and (since contradictory things can not exist), there are no such things. 


--This argument can be “attacked” by rejecting (i) the phenomenalistic analysis of “things”, criticizing the claim that ideas are “in” minds (and the substance metaphysics which is in the background), or, perhaps, by criticizing the connection between “contradiction” and “nonexistence.” 


25-33: How are ideas caused? 


i) 25: They cannot be caused by extension, figure, and motion.  These qualities are ideas, and all ideas are inactive—there is nothing of power or agency in them.  Look at your ideas and you will see this! 


ii) 26: Ideas must therefore be caused by a substance or spirit.  There is substance: “we perceive a continual succession of ideas, some are anew excited, others are changed or totally disappear.  There is therefore some cause of these ideas, whereon they depend, and which produces and changes them.  That this cause cannot be any quality or idea or combination of ideas, is clear from the preceding section.  It must therefore be a substance; but it has been shown that there is no corporeal or material substance; it remains therefore that the cause of ideas is an incorporeal active substance or Spirit.” 


-Note the presuppositions here! 


iii) 27:A spirit “...is one simple, undivided, active being: as it perceives ideas it is called the understanding, and as it produces or otherwise operates about them, it is called the will.” 


Berkeley contends that we can have no idea of spirit.  “A spirit is one simple, undivided, active being....”  We can have no idea of substance or spirit (logically): “though it must be owned at the same time that we have some notion of soul, spirit, and the operations of the mind such as willing, loving, hating....” 


-Cf., section 89 where Berkeley clarifies his conception of substance and his way of “knowing” the self: “we comprehend our own existence by inward feeling or reflection, and that of other spirits by reason.  We may be said to have some knowledge or notion of our own minds, of spirits and active beings, whereof in a strict sense we have not ideas.  In like manner we know and have a notion of relations between things or ideas, which relations may be perceived by us without our perceiving the former.” 


-Cf., section 145: “from what has been said, it is plain that we cannot know the existence of other spirits, otherwise than by their operations, or the ideas by them excited in us.  I perceive several motions, changes, and combinations of ideas, that inform me there are certain particular agents like myself, which accompany them, and concur in their production.  Hence the knowledge I have of other spirits is not immediate, as is the knowledge of my ideas: but depending on the intervention of ideas, by me referred to agents or spirits distinct from myself, as effects or concomitant signs.”[21] 


-Cf., sections 139-140, and p. xxxiii of Kenneth Winkler’s “Editor’s Introduction.”[22]  In these sections Berkeley elaborates upon why we can not have an idea of soul, spirit, or mental substance. 


-Berkeley expands upon his discussion of our “notion” of the self, soul, or spirit in his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous [1713] where he explicitly replies to an objection which holds that his reasons for rejecting corporeal substance seem to apply to incorporeal substance as well.  In this discussion he maintains that: “...I do not deny the existence of material substance merely because I have no notion of it, but because the notion of it is inconsistent, or, in other words, because it is repugnant that there should be a notion of it.  Many things, for aught I know, may exist whereof neither I nor any other man has or can have any idea or notion whatsoever.  But then those things must be possible, that is, nothing inconsistent must be included in their definition.  I say, secondly, that although we believe things to exist which we do not perceive, yet we may not believe that any particular thing exists without some reason for such belief; but I have no reason for believing the existence of matter. I have no immediate intuition thereof, neither can I immediately from my sensations, ideas, notions, actions, or passions infer an unthinking, unperceiving, inactive substance, either by probable deduction or necessary consequence.  Whereas, the being of my self, that is, my own soul, mind, or thinking principle, I evidently know by reflection....In the very notion or definition of “material substance” there is included a manifest repugnance and inconsistency.  But this cannot be said of the notion of spirit.  That ideas should exist in what does not perceive, or be produced by what does not act, is repugnant.  But it is no repugnancy to say that a perceiving thing should be the subject of ideas, or an active thing the cause of them....I have a notion of spirit, though I have not, strictly speaking, an idea of it.  I do not perceive it as an idea, or by means of an idea, but know it by reflection.”[23]  


-“...I know or am conscious of my own being, and that I myself am not my ideas, but something else, a thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wills, and operates about ideas.  I know that I, one and the same self, perceive both colors and sounds, that a color cannot perceive a sound, nor a sound a color, that I am therefore one individual principle distinct from color and sound, and, for the same reason from all other sensible things and inert ideas.  But I am not in like manner conscious either of the existence or essence of matter.  On the contrary, I know what nothing inconsistent can exist, and that the existence of matter implies an inconsistency.  Further, I know what I mean when I affirm that there is a spiritual substance or support of ideas, that is, that a spirit knows and perceives ideas.  But I do not know what is meant when it is said that an unperceiving substance has inherent in it and supports either ideas or the archetypes of ideas.  There is, therefore, upon the whole no parity of case between spirit and matter.”[24] 


-In his “Editor’s Introduction,” Jonathan Dancy contends that Berkeley doesn’t succeed in putting the issue to rest, however—he contends that the conclusion which it seems appropriate to draw from Berkeley’s argument is that his “positive” notion of a mental substance must go the way of Locke’s (and others’) notion of a material one.[25] 


iv) 28: We are the cause of some of our ideas. 


v) 29-32: But God is the cause of the ideas of sense.  He produces them according to set rules or laws of nature, enabling us to regulate our actions for the benefit of life. 


-29. “...whatever power I may have over my own thoughts, I find the ideas actually perceived by sense have not a like dependence on my will....There is therefore some other will or spirit that produces them.” 


--It is worth noting that Berkeley’s proof of the deity here is (i) a posteriori; and (ii) in many ways, really not a proof of existence but, rather of the nature of the deity (existence is established by our inability to cause these ideas). 


--Jonahan Dancy notes in his “Editor’s Introduction: “there is one weakness in Berkeley’s proof, which it shares with the others [other a posteriori proofs]....even if we agree that ideas of sense need a [different] cause [than ourselves] and that only minds can be causes, we surely want to know what it is that tells us that one and the same mind is the cause of all the ideas of sense.  Might there not be several very powerful minds, all at work at once?”[26] 


--30. “The ideas of sense are more strong, lively, distinct, than those of imagination: they have likewise a steadiness, order, coherence, and are not excited at random, as those which are the effects of human wills often are, but in a regular train or series, the admirable connection whereof sufficiently testifies the wisdom and benevolence of its Author.” 


--“...the set rules or established methods wherein the mind we depend on [his deity] excites in us the ideas of sense, are called the laws of nature; and these we learn by experience, which teaches us that such and such ideas are attended with such and such other ideas, in the ordinary course of things.” 


-31. We learn the laws of nature through experience, not a priori by studying relations amongst ideas! 


-32. Our most frequent mistake in regard to these laws is to “...attribute power and agency to the ideas themselves....” 


-Cf., sections 56-57. 


vi) 33. Ideas of sense are real things.  They are more regular, vivid, and constant than ideas of imagination.  “The ideas imprinted on the senses by the Author of nature are called real things; and those excited in the imagination, being less regular, vivid, and constant, are more properly termed ideas, or images of things, which they copy and represent.” 


-“The ideas of sense are allowed to have more reality in them, that is, to be more strong, orderly, and coherent than the creatures of the mind; but this is no argument that they exist without the mind.  They are also less dependent on the spirit, or thinking substance which perceives them, in that they are excited by the will of another...spirit....”  Nonetheless, they are ideas. 


Sections 34 through 84 provide Berkeley’s “responses” to a number of “objections” he anticipated, and in Sections 86-156 he provides an account of the “advantages” he claims for his immaterialism over materialism.  We will largely skip over these sections in this class.  I have already discussed section 89, however, and we need to look at sections 139-149 as here he elaborates upon his account of minds (spirits) and of a deity. As Jonathan Dancy notes in his “Editor’s Introduction:”


in the remainder of the Principles Berkeley considers three main threats [to the acceptability of his theory].  His views may be in breach of common sense; they may be in opposition to established scientific opinions and results; and they may be in opposition to religion.  In each of these cases he argues that his philosophy leaves things either no worse, or else notably better, than they were before [on the supposition of materialism].  In the second part [sections 34-84], where he is considering objections, he is still fairly defensive.  In the third part [sections 86-156], where he is listing advantages, things are rather more positive.[27]  I will only discuss the final seven of the sections in this "third part."


139-140 While we don’t have an idea of spirit, we do have a notion here. 


142 Spirits are not known in the same way as ideas, but nonetheless they are known and exist.  Here he argues from effects to their causes.  The spirits are what relate the ideas to one another. 


145 “...we cannot know the existence of other spirits otherwise than by their operations, or the ideas by them excited in us.” 


146. “...if we attentively consider the constant regularity, order, and concatenation of natural things, the surprising magnificence, beauty, and perfection of the larger, and the more exquisite contrivance of the smaller parts of the creation, together with the exact harmony and correspondence of the whole, but above all the never-enough-admired laws of pain and pleasure, and the instincts or natural inclinations, appetites, and passions of animals; I say if we consider all these things, and at the same time attend to the meaning and import of the attributes: one, eternal, infinitely wise, good, and perfect, we shall clearly perceive that they belong to the aforesaid spirit, “who works all in all,” and “by whom all things consist.”” 


147. Therefore it is evident, he says, that a deity exists. 


148. Human beings are not perceived by sense.  Similarly with the deity. 


149. Those who don’t see this truth are “blinded by the light.” 


(end of reading assignment)


Appendix: Summary of Berkeley’s Arguments Against Substance:


1. Phenomenalistic analysis of sensible objects and assertion that ideas can not exist unperceived (section 4). 


2. Critique of abstract ideas and assertion that “physical substance is such an idea” (sections 5, 10-15). 


3. Assertion that ideas are signs and not copies—way around problem of representationalism (section 8). 


4. Primary/secondary qualities argument (sections 9-15). 


5. What do they (Locke, et. al.) mean by “supporting?” (sections 16, 17). 


6. There is no way to know substance (section 18). 


Here is the core of idealism—the view that if “something” is not in mind, it does not exist!  THIS POINT IS WORTHY OF ELABORATION! 


7. Even if we suppose such a notion, it doesn’t do its job (section 19). 


8. A spirit which had ideas only “internally” and was never exposed to physical substance might have the same evidence as one which was, thus we have no evidence for such substance (section 20). 


9. Try to imagine something existing unperceived—but be careful (sections 22-24). 




Notes: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

[1] These notes are to George Berkeley, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [1710, 1734], ed. Kenneth Winkler (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1982).  Throughout these notes refer to the section numbers of the Introduction, or of Part I, rather than to pages in the text. 

[2] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature [1739], L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1888, second edition: 1978).  Further references to this work will refer to it as the “Treatise” and, following the standard model, will refer to the Book, Part, and Section—thus “Treatise I I 7” refers to Book I, Part I, Section 7 of this work. 

[3] Cf., Berkeley’s November 25, 1729 letter to Johnson, in George Berkeley: Principles, Dialogues, and Philosophical Correspondence, ed. Colin M. Turbayne (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 228. 

[4] Kenneth Winkler, “Introduction” [1982], in George Berkeley, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [1710], ed. Kenneth Winkler, op. cit., pp. xi-xxxiv. 

[5] Jonathan Dancy, “Notes: The Principles,” in George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [1710, 1734], ed. Jonathan Dancy (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1998), p. 194. 

[6] David Hume, Treatise I I 7, op. cit. 

[7] Jonathan Dancy, “Notes: The Principles,” op. cit., pp. 195-196. 

[8] Cf., J.L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1962).  He contends that human beings use language primarily to do things—they engage in “speech acts” where they call out warnings, make promises, offer excuses, and name things.  In the case of warning, obviously, the goal is not to communicate an idea (a la Locke), but, rather, to, for example, to get someone to duck.  Cf., Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscome (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1953).  He contends that our simplest uses of language are entirely practical—rather than communicating images or ideas, we want to get people to “do something.” 

[9] It is to be noted that since Berkeley holds that there are two sorts of “things” (ideas and minds), the discussion of the introduction would, at best, only give us a nominalism about the former—it leaves open the question of whether there are “general minds.”  Berkeley, of course, rejects any such talk, and thus wants to maintain that whatever is, is particular. 

[10] Hilary Putnam, “After Empiricism,” in his Realism With A Human Face (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1990), pp. 43-53, p. 46.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[11] Cf., W.V. Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960). 

[12] Jonathan Dancy, “Editor's Introduction,” in George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [1710, 1734], ed. Jonathan Dancy op. cit., pp. 5-69, p. 42.  Cf. pp. 42-44 for Dancy's extended argument about the rival interpretations of Berkeley here. 

[13] David Stove, “Idealism: A Victorian Horror Story,” in his The Plato Cult (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp.  83-133, p. 123. 

[14] Of course, he does not mean this in a complementary fashion.  This “nice strain of abstraction” is, for him, the most serious sort of linguistic confusion. 

[15] W.T. Jones, Hobbes to Hume (second edition) (New York: Harcourt, 1969), p. 285. 

[16] Jonathan Dancy, “Notes: The Principles,” op. cit., pp. 199-200. 

[17] Catherine Elgin, “Relocating Aesthetics: Goodman’s Epistemic Turn” [1993], in her Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary (Ithaca: Cornell U.P., 1997), pp. 63-80, pp. 67-68.  The essay originally appeared in Revue Internatiolale de Philosophie v. 46 (1993), pp. 171-186. 

[18] Fred Dretske, “The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge, Philosophical Studies v. 40 (1981), pp. 363-378, p. 367. 

[19] Ibid., pp. 367-368. 

[20] Jonathan Dancy, “Notes: The Principles,” op. cit., pp. 200-210. 

[21] Here, it should be noted, we have a window to a problem which many who follow our empiricists inherit.  Since they begin with an individual's ideas, they find it difficult to prove that there are other individuals (the “problem” is often called “the problem of other minds”).  There is, of course, a direct parallel here to the problem of representationalism (also called the problem of the external world) which we discussed in Locke. 

[22] Kenneth Winkler, “Editor's Introduction,” in his edition of Berkeley's Principles, op. cit., pp. xi-xxxvi, p. xxxiii. 

[23] George Berkeley, Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous [1713, 1734], in Berkeley: Principles, Dialogues, and Correspondence, ed. Colin Turbayne, op. cit., pp. 177-178.  The passage is on pp. 115-116 of the Dancy edition [Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous [1713, 1734], ed. Jonathan Dancy (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 1998)]. 

[24] Ibid., pp. 178-179 (p. 117 of the Dancy edition). 

[25] Cf., Jonathan Dancy, “Editor's Introduction,” op. cit., pp. 56-58. 

[26] Jonathan Dancy, “Editor's Introduction,” op. cit., p. 39—emphasis added to passage twice.  Indeed, Berkeley has a problem with personal identity which is similar here--cf. Dancy's footnote 19 on p. 117 of his edition of Berkeley's Three Dialogues, op. cit., p. 173. 

[27] Jonathan Dancy, “Editor's Introduction,” op. cit., pp. 17-18. 

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