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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.
Yes well I think he is about as empiricist as I am Martian.
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?
b. He thinks that "matter" refers to nothing. Like (say) "mermaid".
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.
Empiricism need not imply realism, as you seem to imagine it does
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.
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'.