Did Samuel Johnson REFUTE Berkeley

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Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 07:46 am
57. Refutation of Bishop Berkeley
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

Boswell: Life





In case you think this question is a case of deja vu all over again, it is not. There is a different question that is superficially similar, that is, whether Johnson misunderstood Berkeley. But clearly, the two questions ask different things. Of course, if Johnson misunderstood Berkeley, then he could not have refuted Berkeley. But not conversely.

So, did Johnson refute Berkeley by kicking that stone? Another way of putting it is, was kicking a stone a counterexample to Berkeley's view that the stone was just a compilation of (Johnson's) (subjective) sensations, and nothing over and above that, so Johnson did not show that the stone that the stone was something over than the sensations he had when he kicked the stone. And, of course, Johnson presumably held that by kicking the stone he was demonstrating that the stone was something other than his sensations, and that it was something that caused his sensations.

My own view is that Johnson did refute Berkeley because thre was very good reason to think that had he not kicked the stone, he would not have gotten the sensations he did get, And therefore, the best explanation for those sensations was that he was kicking something not identical with his sensations; namely an external object, the stone.

 
richard mcnair
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 08:11 am
@kennethamy,
No, he didn't.

Berkeley's idea is that the material world only exists in the mind, so the rock is ideal, but the point is, also is his own foot. I don't think Berkeley's idea was that everything only exists in the mind, but just everything in the way we experience it exists only in the mind, i.e. a division of phenomena, and noumena, later taken up by Kant.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 09:59 am
@kennethamy,
Berkeley as I understand his form of idealism held that the world existed independent of human perception because it was constantly being perceived by god. The world was really an idea in the mind of god and so the stone was independent of Johnsons mind and foot but not of Gods.
Hence the famous limerick about the tree does not cease to be because God is always about in the quad.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 10:05 am
@richard mcnair,
richard_mcnair;133540 wrote:
No, he didn't.

Berkeley's idea is that the material world only exists in the mind, so the rock is ideal, but the point is, also is his own foot. I don't think Berkeley's idea was that everything only exists in the mind, but just everything in the way we experience it exists only in the mind, i.e. a division of phenomena, and noumena, later taken up by Kant.


That is not what Berkeley says. "To be is to be perceived".

---------- Post added 02-28-2010 at 11:08 AM ----------

prothero;133555 wrote:
Berkeley as I understand his form of idealism held that the world existed independent of human perception because it was constantly being perceived by god. The world was really an idea in the mind of god and so the stone was independent of Johnsons mind and foot but not of Gods.
Hence the famous limerick about the tree does not cease to be because God is always about in the quad.


He held that whatever is not perceived by persons is always perceived by God, so it will exist even if not perceive by persons. But, he certainly held that objects were only in the mind. And that they were collections of sensation.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 10:55 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;133557 wrote:
He held that whatever is not perceived by persons is always perceived by God, so it will exist even if not perceive by persons. But, he certainly held that objects were only in the mind. And that they were collections of sensation.
Well that is all Johnson got when he kicked the rock; collections of sensations. When you bring God into the picture (and after all it was Bishop Berkeley) it changes the analysis of idealism.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 10:58 am
@prothero,
prothero;133573 wrote:
Well that is all Johnson got when he kicked the rock; collections of sensations. When you bring God into the picture (and after all it was Bishop Berkeley) it changes the analysis of idealism.


It may be that all Johnson got was a collection of sensations, but that doesn't mean that is all there was. There was also the matter of the cause of those sensations (supposing it was not God).
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 01:29 pm
@kennethamy,
[QUOTE=kennethamy;133574] but that doesn't mean that is all there was. [/QUOTE] But isn't that precisely what Berkeley objects to: the assumption that there is something else. That all you can experience and prove are constructs and sensations of the mind.


[QUOTE=kennethamy;133574] There was also the matter of the cause of those sensations (supposing it was not God). [/QUOTE] At least in analyzing Berkeley's presentation of idealism you cannot leave God out. Kant said experience is all you can know but was a realist (there was something else). Berkeley said experience is all there is and you only assume there is something else and that assumption is unjustified and not provable.


I think all metaphysical world views involve some axiomatic assumptions and independent external reality is the default commonsense, presupposed, hard core assumption with the burden of proof on idealists.
 
exile
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 02:50 pm
@kennethamy,
No he didn't.

Johnson could still have kicked the stone if he existed only in God's mind, or as a brain in a vat. The sensation would have been the same.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 28 Feb, 2010 06:20 pm
@prothero,
prothero;133603 wrote:
But isn't that precisely what Berkeley objects to: the assumption that there is something else. That all you can experience and prove are constructs and sensations of the mind.


At least in analyzing Berkeley's presentation of idealism you cannot leave God out. Kant said experience is all you can know but was a realist (there was something else). Berkeley said experience is all there is and you only assume there is something else and that assumption is unjustified and not provable.


I think all metaphysical world views involve some axiomatic assumptions and independent external reality is the default commonsense, presupposed, hard core assumption with the burden of proof on idealists.


Yes, Berkeley objects to that, but Johnson thought that kicking the stone showed Berkeley was wrong.

You can ask whether Berkeley's idealism would work unless Berkeley supposed God, and if it doesn't you can certainly point out that the need to make that supposition of God is a great weakness in his idealism, since it violates Occam's Razor. Berkeley not only has to prove idealism, he also has to prove there is a God. But Realism then, in that sense, does not violate Occam's Razor since it needs no such questionable assumption.
 
 

 
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