A Question about Bishop George Berkeley

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jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 12:05 am
I note that in many philosophy texts, Bishop George Berkeley is categorized as 'an empiricist'. This has always puzzled me; I would have thought that his idealist outlook which held that matter only exists in perception, would be antagonistic to empiricism.

Can anyone cast light on this?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 07:29 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
I note that in many philosophy texts, Bishop George Berkeley is categorized as 'an empiricist'. This has always puzzled me; I would have thought that his idealist outlook which held that matter only exists in perception, would be antagonistic to empiricism.

Can anyone cast light on this?


Empiricism (you have to remember) is the theory of knowledge that all of our knowledge is based on sense-perception. And, that is what Berkeley thinks too. He thinks also that on the basis of sense-perception that there is no matter (not that matter is only in the mind). So, he holds that strict empiricism give no reason to think that there are material objects independent of perception, since such objects would be impossible to perceive.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 24 Mar, 2009 04:16 am
@jeeprs,
Yes well I think he is about as empiricist as I am Martian.
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 24 Mar, 2009 07:25 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
Empiricism (you have to remember) is the theory of knowledge that all of our knowledge is based on sense-perception. And, that is what Berkeley thinks too. He thinks also that on the basis of sense-perception that there is no matter (not that matter is only in the mind). So, he holds that strict empiricism give no reason to think that there are material objects independent of perception, since such objects would be impossible to perceive.


I have two questions:

1. Is Berkeley saying that (a) the idea of matter makes no sense, or (b) it just happens that matter does not exist? Either way, there is a problem. If he means (a), the statement seems empty, for what does the word 'matter' then refer to? If he means (b), how can he know?

2. How does he explain the fact that we have the sense-perceptions we do, rather than others? In particular, how does he explain their coherence?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 24 Mar, 2009 09:56 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
Yes well I think he is about as empiricist as I am Martian.

Are you a Martian?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 24 Mar, 2009 10:02 am
@ACB,
ACB wrote:
I have two questions:

1. Is Berkeley saying that (a) the idea of matter makes no sense, or (b) it just happens that matter does not exist? Either way, there is a problem. If he means (a), the statement seems empty, for what does the word 'matter' then refer to? If he means (b), how can he know?

2. How does he explain the fact that we have the sense-perceptions we do, rather than others? In particular, how does he explain their coherence?


a. I think he believes there is no matter because "matter" makes no sense. He thinks that because he is a strict vericationist, and so, he thinks that what it is impossible to verify makes no sense.

b. He thinks that "matter" refers to nothing. Like (say) "mermaid".

c. He thinks that all ideas come from God. And that is is God who provides their coherence.
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 24 Mar, 2009 04:53 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
b. He thinks that "matter" refers to nothing. Like (say) "mermaid".


But 'mermaid' does refer to something. We all know what the word means; it makes sense. In the actual world mermaids do not exist, but there are (logically) possible worlds in which they do.

Likewise, 'matter' has an established definition. (Let us say, for present purposes, that it means 'that which is independent of perception'.) Now, unless the idea of matter contains a logical contradiction (and I can't see one), to dismiss it as nonsensical looks to me like rationalism rather than empiricism. To say that every apparent or conceivable instance of matter isn't really matter is to prejudge the issue.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 25 Mar, 2009 03:58 am
@jeeprs,
Thanks for your replies. No, I am not a Martian, and I am not sure that Berkeley is classified correctly when called an empiricist, either, but have no wish to argue the case nor indeed to pursue the question further. Can't refrain from quoting this splendid limerick about the matter, however:

"There was a young man who said, 'God
Must think it exceedindly odd
If he finds that this tree
continues to be
when there's no-one about in the Quad'

--REPLY--

'Dear Sir: your astonishment's odd
I am always about in the Quad
And that's why the tree
Shall continue to be
Since observed by
Yours Faithfully
GOD.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 25 Mar, 2009 06:53 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
Thanks for your replies. No, I am not a Martian, and I am not sure that Berkeley is classified correctly when called an empiricist,

You needn't be sure if you don't want. But since Berkeley holds that we can have no knowledge that is not based on our senses, and that is what empiricism is (nihil in intellectu nisi prius in sensu is the traditional motto of empiricism which translated means, "there is nothing in the mind which is not first in the senses") not only is he classified correctly when called an "empiricist" even better, he is an empiricist. And, Berkeley's definitive motto is, esse est precipi, which means, "to exist is to be perceived". Empiricism need not imply realism, as you seem to imagine it does.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 25 Mar, 2009 02:11 pm
@kennethamy,
Quote:
Empiricism need not imply realism, as you seem to imagine it does


Well I think you have nailed it, that is probably where I was mistaken. All the other empiricists that I studied are very much 'physical realists'.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Mar, 2009 08:10 am
@ACB,
ACB wrote:
But 'mermaid' does refer to something. We all know what the word means; it makes sense. In the actual world mermaids do not exist, but there are (logically) possible worlds in which they do.

Likewise, 'matter' has an established definition. (Let us say, for present purposes, that it means 'that which is independent of perception'.) Now, unless the idea of matter contains a logical contradiction (and I can't see one), to dismiss it as nonsensical looks to me like rationalism rather than empiricism. To say that every apparent or conceivable instance of matter isn't really matter is to prejudge the issue.


Yes, "mermaid" has a meaning. It is in the dictionary. But that doesn't mean it refers to anything. The meaning of a term is not its referent. "The Fountain of Youth" certainly has a meaning, but no one ever found the Fountain of Youth, and we now know there is no Fountain of Youth. So, the term, "Fountain of Youth" fails to refer to anything. To say that there are logically possible worlds in which mermaids exist, is only to say that it is logically possible for there to be a mermaid, which, so far as I know, is true, because the idea of mermaid does not imply a contradiction. But that does not mean that there are mermaids. And, even if you want to talk in what I think is a confusing way about possible worlds as if they existed, we were talking about the actual world, and there are no mermaids in the actual world, and, so, the term, "mermaid" does not refer to anything in the actual world, or, in other words, "mermaid" does not refer to anything. If you need me to add the phrase, "in the actual world", fine, if you are more comfortable with that.

The same thing is true of any noun or noun-phrase. And, according to Berkeley, it is as true of the term, "matter" as it is of "mermaid". In fact, he thinks that matter is a kind of evil delusion, and that delusion is the cause of atheism, because it masks the working of God in the universe.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 26 Mar, 2009 08:13 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
Well I think you have nailed it, that is probably where I was mistaken. All the other empiricists that I studied are very much 'physical realists'.


And so was Descartes. But he was not an empiricist. Far from it, he was a Rationalist. And he argued that empiricism led straight to skepticism, and Idealism.
 
 

 
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