Berkeley & Idealism

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Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 12:46 am
John Locke believed that we experience the world through an indirect, representative realism, that our perceptions are all we actually know and that external objects may be quite different than we assume they are.
Berkeley took Locke's ideas a step further and argued that there is no material world.
He believed that there are only ideas and minds, and that to be is to be perceived.
I'm just curious what people think about his philosophy. Is there any evidence to the contrary? Are there any decent arguments to refute his reasoning?
Is his reasoning sound or does it contain hidden fallacies?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 12:59 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163311 wrote:

Berkeley took Locke's ideas a step further and argued that there is no material world.
He believed that there are only ideas and minds, and that to be is to be perceived.
I'm just curious what people think about his philosophy. Is there any evidence to the contrary? Are there any decent arguments to refute his reasoning?
Is his reasoning sound or does it contain hidden fallacies?


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
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 01:04 am
@kennethamy,
You and I both know that that is not a refutation of Berkeley's philosophy.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 01:14 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163324 wrote:
You and I both know that that is not a refutation of Berkeley's philosophy.


Well, I don't know that, at all. But you asked whether there is evidence to the contrary. Well, there it is. Maybe you don't think it is sufficient evidence. Well, that's different.

http://www.philosophyforum.com/philosophy-forums/branches-philosophy/metaphysics/7775-did-samuel-johnson-refute-berkeley.html
 
amist
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 03:18 am
@Mentally Ill,
You can't gather evidence against a metaphysical assumption. Metaphysical assumptions are interpretations of physical phenomena, and unfalsifiable as such.

A standard refutation of Berkeley goes thusly however.

Some of Berkeley's key assumptions.
1. To be is to be perceived.
2. The world is made of of perceivers and their perceptions.
3. The perceiver is unperceivable.
4. There is no external world, only minds.

A contradiction may be derived from these three assumptions which is devastating to Berkeley's position. If there is no external world, and to be is to be perceived how do perceivers come into existence. You can't say that perceivers being is not contingent on being perceived, because Berkeley's entire position is that to be is to be perceived. And if perceivers could be without being perceived, then why couldn't other things. But perceivers surely cannot be perceived, so then perceivers must not exist. However, we know that there exists at least one perceiver (you). So then being is not contingent upon being perceived.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 06:00 am
@amist,
amist;163343 wrote:
You can't gather evidence against a metaphysical assumption. Metaphysical assumptions are interpretations of physical phenomena, and unfalsifiable as such.



That seems a little dogmatic, don't you think? And why are interpretations of physical phenomena unfalsifiable. Can't there be mistaken interpretations of physical phenomena?

In any case, if kicking the stone does not show Berkley's view is wrong, then nothing does.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 08:34 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163311 wrote:
John Locke believed that we experience the world through an indirect, representative realism, that our perceptions are all we actually know and that external objects may be quite different than we assume they are.
Berkeley took Locke's ideas a step further and argued that there is no material world.
He believed that there are only ideas and minds, and that to be is to be perceived.
I'm just curious what people think about his philosophy. Is there any evidence to the contrary? Are there any decent arguments to refute his reasoning?
Is his reasoning sound or does it contain hidden fallacies?



There are several things wrong with what Berkeley states, some of which are revealed by reading Hume. (Berkeley, by the way, was great at revealing problems with some of his predecessors' views.)

Frankly, I think if Berkeley had followed his program more consistently, he would have ended up a solipsist and an atheist, as one does not directly experience other people or god more than one experiences matter. And then he should have also thrown out the self as well, as all he really experiences is, as Hume famously put it, "a bundle or collection of different perceptions". What some people imagine to be the self, or the "container" of these perceptions, is not experienced.

But, of course, it is another question whether or not he should have gone down the path that he did in the first place. For that, I will simply suggest reading articles about Berkeley and see what kinds of criticisms you can find. I will give you a hint: Most philosophers since Berkeley have been decidedly unconvinced by him.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 08:45 am
@Mentally Ill,
It is interesting how it is thought that only internal criticisms of Berkeley are even possible criticisms. I wonder why that is. It is as if metaphysical views are hermetically sealed off from the world. A criticism like Johnson's is supposed to show only what a backwoodsman he really is. As with G.E. Moore who shocked the British Academy by even venturing that by displaying his hands, he was proving the existence of the external world. Johnson a backwoodsman? Maybe. But G.E. Moore?
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 10:47 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;163413 wrote:
It is interesting how it is thought that only internal criticisms of Berkeley are even possible criticisms. I wonder why that is. It is as if metaphysical views are hermetically sealed off from the world. A criticism like Johnson's is supposed to show only what a backwoodsman he really is. As with G.E. Moore who shocked the British Academy by even venturing that by displaying his hands, he was proving the existence of the external world. Johnson a backwoodsman? Maybe. But G.E. Moore?


This appears to be directed toward me, as if I asserted that the only way to approach things was the way that I chose to do so. I made no such assertion. However, I think that the approach I took is often the best approach, which, perhaps, is best demonstrated by what I said about something else:

http://www.philosophyforum.com/philosophy-forums/secondary-branches-philosophy/philosophy-politics/8825-feminism.html#post163130

In short, an argument, if it is to be persuasive, needs to take into account what the audience is apt to accept. If one does not wish to persuade others, then such considerations may be ignored.


As for metaphysical assertions, many of them are well described by:

"Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them." - Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 1, Part 2, by Oscar Wilde.

Many "metaphysical assertions" are devoid of any content that is relevant to any experience. As such, they are, in a sense, hermetically sealed off from the world. Or devoid of real or meaningful content. Take your pick.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 02:07 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163311 wrote:

Is his reasoning sound or does it contain hidden fallacies?


I think it's a practical view, that is justified by its usefulness. Still, I wonder how he can speak so freely about a reality that can only be known via representation? He creates a dualism that he can only know one side of. And yet it makes perfect sense that he would do so.

I feel that Kant did the same sort of thing, and was criticized for the same reason. If reality-in-itself is unknowable, in what way does it exist? Except as a hypothetical cause of representation that must exist within this same zone of "representation"?
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 03:34 pm
@amist,
amist;163343 wrote:
You can't gather evidence against a metaphysical assumption. Metaphysical assumptions are interpretations of physical phenomena, and unfalsifiable as such.

A standard refutation of Berkeley goes thusly however.

Some of Berkeley's key assumptions.
1. To be is to be perceived.
2. The world is made of of perceivers and their perceptions.
3. The perceiver is unperceivable.
4. There is no external world, only minds.

A contradiction may be derived from these three assumptions which is devastating to Berkeley's position. If there is no external world, and to be is to be perceived how do perceivers come into existence. You can't say that perceivers being is not contingent on being perceived, because Berkeley's entire position is that to be is to be perceived. And if perceivers could be without being perceived, then why couldn't other things. But perceivers surely cannot be perceived, so then perceivers must not exist. However, we know that there exists at least one perceiver (you). So then being is not contingent upon being perceived.


"The perceiver is unperceivable."

Actually Berkeley suggested that we are all perceivers that are capable of being perceived as well.
He believed in God, which he suggested would serve as the ultimate perceiver, so even if no human mind is perceiving a thing, that thing would still exist as it is being perceived by God. His answer to your question of how could a perceiver come into existence would be God.
Being would remain contingent on being perceived by God.

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 02:41 PM ----------

kennethamy;163360 wrote:
That seems a little dogmatic, don't you think? And why are interpretations of physical phenomena unfalsifiable. Can't there be mistaken interpretations of physical phenomena?

In any case, if kicking the stone does not show Berkley's view is wrong, then nothing does.


Berkeley could easily argue away the kicking of the stone. The idea is that "physical" phenomena like a stone is simply an immaterial idea that we as perceivers are experiencing vividly. The stone does not exist physically, it exists as an idea, and your mind is interacting with the idea of a stone.


It would be like a character in a video game running into a wall. The wall is not physical, it was programmed to be perceivable by the character, and so the character perceives it as physical. The video game programmer would be God in Berkeley's view.

I actually thought you were being sarcastic when you posted that refutation originally, so that's why I said what I said, not to be facetious.

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 02:45 PM ----------

Pyrrho;163409 wrote:
There are several things wrong with what Berkeley states, some of which are revealed by reading Hume. (Berkeley, by the way, was great at revealing problems with some of his predecessors' views.)

Frankly, I think if Berkeley had followed his program more consistently, he would have ended up a solipsist and an atheist, as one does not directly experience other people or god more than one experiences matter. And then he should have also thrown out the self as well, as all he really experiences is, as Hume famously put it, "a bundle or collection of different perceptions". What some people imagine to be the self, or the "container" of these perceptions, is not experienced.

But, of course, it is another question whether or not he should have gone down the path that he did in the first place. For that, I will simply suggest reading articles about Berkeley and see what kinds of criticisms you can find. I will give you a hint: Most philosophers since Berkeley have been decidedly unconvinced by him.



"Frankly, I think if Berkeley had followed his program more consistently, he would have ended up a solipsist and an atheist, as one does not directly experience other people or god more than one experiences matter"

I don't think Berkeley would have led himself to Solipsism or Atheism.
Two of his primary assumptions that allowed him to suggest this philosophy in the first place were A) God Exists, and B) Many human minds exist with different perspectives.
Without God his entire philosophy breaks down into non sense.

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 02:51 PM ----------

Reconstructo;163545 wrote:
I think it's a practical view, that is justified by its usefulness. Still, I wonder how he can speak so freely about a reality that can only be known via representation? He creates a dualism that he can only know one side of. And yet it makes perfect sense that he would do so.

I feel that Kant did the same sort of thing, and was criticized for the same reason. If reality-in-itself is unknowable, in what way does it exist? Except as a hypothetical cause of representation that must exist within this same zone of "representation"?


I'm not sure I understand the dualism you mentioned. I thought that Berkeley was a monist, in that all is immaterial, as either an idea or a perceiver of ideas. Essentially his philosophy is that we are all independent entities created by God living in a matrix programmed with God's ideas.
But everything, in his view, is made of whatever material God is made of. There is no second thing...
Unless you have some insight that I'm missing.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 03:57 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163577 wrote:

I'm not sure I understand the dualism you mentioned. I thought that Berkeley was a monist, in that all is immaterial, as either an idea or a perceiver of ideas. Essentially his philosophy is that we are all independent entities created by God living in a matrix programmed with God's ideas.
But everything, in his view, is made of whatever material God is made of. There is no second thing...
Unless you have some insight that I'm missing.


Sorry, I was responding to Locke. My skullwires were crossed. My apologies. Yes, I agree that B was presenting a nondualist view. Sorry about the confusion. Smile

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 05:01 PM ----------

Mentally Ill;163311 wrote:

He believed that there are only ideas and minds, and that to be is to be perceived.


Now I will actually respond as I should have. I think B's position is reasonable, except that in this case, "ideas" and "minds" become somewhat useless words. Because if you dissolve the mind/matter dichotomy, you are left with something new. I suppose that "mind" is a good word to get the point across, but perhaps some word that doesn't reference the old distinction should have been applied. (I have a fondness for "absolute idealism." When idealism becomes absolute, it's no longer idealism. To me this is a great leap from Kant to Hegel. It may be useless practically, but it's quite poetic.)
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 04:12 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;163591 wrote:
Sorry, I was responding to Locke. My skullwires were crossed. My apologies. Yes, I agree that B was presenting a nondualist view. Sorry about the confusion. Smile

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 05:01 PM ----------



Now I will actually respond as I should have. I think B's position is reasonable, except that in this case, "ideas" and "minds" become somewhat useless words. Because if you dissolve the mind/matter dichotomy, you are left with something new. I suppose that "mind" is a good word to get the point across, but perhaps some word that doesn't reference the old distinction should have been applied. (I have a fondness for "absolute idealism." When idealism becomes absolute, it's no longer idealism. To me this is a great leap from Kant to Hegel. It may be useless practically, but it's quite poetic.)


I completely agree. Mind is just a concept that people are familiar with, so he used it, but for precision sake, he should have come up with a new word.

Metaphysical concepts like this seem useless at first, because there is no way we can use this information practically. But, our metaphysical foundation (what we think is metaphysically true) is what we build all other branches of philosophy on top of. If we change the foundation, all other things begin to change to, which would include how we relate to objects and life forms in the "physical world".
It's very important, in a subtle way.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 04:31 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163604 wrote:
I completely agree. Mind is just a concept that people are familiar with, so he used it, but for precision sake, he should have come up with a new word.

Metaphysical concepts like this seem useless at first, because there is no way we can use this information practically. But, our metaphysical foundation (what we think is metaphysically true) is what we build all other branches of philosophy on top of. If we change the foundation, all other things begin to change to, which would include how we relate to objects and life forms in the "physical world".
It's very important, in a subtle way.


Actually, I agree that it is important, especially as it changes our attitude toward the world. The Berkeley Locke connection reminds me of the Kant Hegel connection. A useful practical dualism is followed by a more logically consistent monism. I would personally argue that the practical and the logical aren't the same, however often they are associated.

I find it very tricky to talk about absolute idealism. I think it a radical beautiful idea. This ties in with the "self as the limit of the world." Or we could also say that the limit of the world is the limit of the self. In my opinion, it's right there in front of us, but practical ways of speaking obscure it. I'll stop there as I have a tendency to say too much on this pet subject of mine. Smile
 
Subjectivity9
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 06:51 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Aminst,

What is the perceiver and the perception is ONE, and the perceiver knows Self as Self intrinsically, and not as a separate objective perception from the perceiver, which is rather dualistic? After all, if something, or someone, were in fact the Ultimate, wouldn’t it be complete within Its Self?

So what outside world?

How Self was created, when was Self created, and by whom, is a whole other question and assumes that it wasn't always and forever or just IS.

S9

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 09:37 PM ----------

Mental Ill,

I think that there are three levels or ways of thinking that should be considered when we speak about separate paradigms about this world, what it is, and how it could be perceived.

One, of course, is dualistic and this is more of a conventional wisdom, which we of necessity comply with daily for practical purposes.

The second would be a monism, which we use like an island in order to step outside of this dream of dualism.

But let me add, if you will, a third paradigm, which becomes rather difficult to understand or to put into words, and I venture can only be approached through pure experience. Some have called this Pure Presence.

Pure Presence is not actually a One in the same way as one over against its opposite, esp. when the concept of one almost begs for a two to explain itself. This is a One without another, and so It puts ITS Self outside of time and space, and their child Change.

Mind has a hard time thinking such a thing. But as many mystics have said, over many centuries, mind is not the finally arbiter of Ultimate Truth.

Some might call such a thing God, but that is a terribly loaded word with far too many definitions to be useful. I prefer to call this intimate experience, that being the only way it is come upon, ME.

Warm Regards,
S9
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 07:57 pm
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;163612 wrote:
Actually, I agree that it is important, especially as it changes our attitude toward the world. The Berkeley Locke connection reminds me of the Kant Hegel connection. A useful practical dualism is followed by a more logically consistent monism. I would personally argue that the practical and the logical aren't the same, however often they are associated.

I find it very tricky to talk about absolute idealism. I think it a radical beautiful idea. This ties in with the "self as the limit of the world." Or we could also say that the limit of the world is the limit of the self. In my opinion, it's right there in front of us, but practical ways of speaking obscure it. I'll stop there as I have a tendency to say too much on this pet subject of mine. Smile


" Or we could also say that the limit of the world is the limit of the self. "

According to Berkeley the limit would not be the self, the limit would be God.

It seems to me that if we want to accept absolute idealism, we would have to admit that some force brought us perceivers into existence.
If we were to deny idealism, then we could say life was the product of an accidental chemical reaction and that consciousness is the result of millions of years of evolution.
But, if it's true that only ideas and minds exist, then there would have to be an initial creator, and we would be forced to accept a God-theory in some way or another.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 10:03 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163577 wrote:
...
Pyrrho;163409 wrote:
There are several things wrong with what Berkeley states, some of which are revealed by reading Hume. (Berkeley, by the way, was great at revealing problems with some of his predecessors' views.)

Frankly, I think if Berkeley had followed his program more consistently, he would have ended up a solipsist and an atheist, as one does not directly experience other people or god more than one experiences matter. And then he should have also thrown out the self as well, as all he really experiences is, as Hume famously put it, "a bundle or collection of different perceptions". What some people imagine to be the self, or the "container" of these perceptions, is not experienced.

But, of course, it is another question whether or not he should have gone down the path that he did in the first place. For that, I will simply suggest reading articles about Berkeley and see what kinds of criticisms you can find. I will give you a hint: Most philosophers since Berkeley have been decidedly unconvinced by him.

"Frankly, I think if Berkeley had followed his program more consistently, he would have ended up a solipsist and an atheist, as one does not directly experience other people or god more than one experiences matter"

I don't think Berkeley would have led himself to Solipsism or Atheism.
Two of his primary assumptions that allowed him to suggest this philosophy in the first place were A) God Exists, and B) Many human minds exist with different perspectives.
Without God his entire philosophy breaks down into non sense.
...


You seem to be forgetting his reason for rejecting matter. It is that matter, according to Berkeley, is not directly experienced, and therefore we have no reason to suppose it exists, and cannot even really make sense of the idea. If he applied the exact same reasoning to god, other minds, and the self (as a container of perceptions), he would reject all of those things as well. Yet he does not do that, so he is being inconsistent in his approach.

I will grant you, that Bishop Berkeley was not about to give up on those things. But that is only because he was committed to them for motives that do not fit with his professed arguments regarding matter.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 12 May, 2010 10:18 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;163675 wrote:
" Or we could also say that the limit of the world is the limit of the self. "

According to Berkeley the limit would not be the self, the limit would be God.


Yes, an according to absolute idealism, "god" is immanent. I would say in "man" but this would be to impose a contingent distinction. "No finite thing has genuine being."

However, I do see the difficulty in a practical sense.

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 11:22 PM ----------

Mentally Ill;163675 wrote:

If we were to deny idealism, then we could say life was the product of an accidental chemical reaction and that consciousness is the result of millions of years of evolution.


I see your point. But this same point is conceptual. It falls still within the limits of language. If we conceive the world that way, then for us it's true.

I'm not against the theory of evolution. And I don't take absolute idealism as some sort of doctrine. It's just the slickest piece of metaphysics on the market. I do feel one could argue for it, but I would hate to be mistaken as a "believer" in it. It's a piece of conceptual art that enhances my personal life. Smile

---------- Post added 05-12-2010 at 11:28 PM ----------

Mentally Ill;163675 wrote:

But, if it's true that only ideas and minds exist, then there would have to be an initial creator, and we would be forced to accept a God-theory in some way or another.


Well, I can only stress that absolute idealism is actually the same as absolute realism. It abolishes the distinction between mind and matter, the way I see it. There's just being which has an intelligible structure. And this same intelligle being is dynamic, dialectical. In my opinion, transcendental idealism and representational realism are less realist than absolute idealism. I take "absolute" to mean something like undiluted. Kant's idealism is diluted by the noumena, for instance. He has this concept of that which cannot be conceptualized, and this is paradoxical, because indeed we are still in the realm of concept. How do we talk or think beyond this realm?

In a way, I'm just working an interesting logical angle. I can't live my everyday life without logically questionable but psychologically justified distinctions like mind/matter, self/other, man/god. But I do enjoy an occasional foray into some impressive metaphysics.

As a metaphor, let's use the Continuum Hypothesis. Of what real use it? And yet it's fascinating..Continuum hypothesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
 

 
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