Berkeley's argument against the material world

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Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 25 May, 2009 06:53 am
Part two of my attempt to understand 17th and 18th Century philosophy focuses on Berkeley's rejection of the material world. His argument is that while I believe, say, a table to exist, all that exists is the sum-total of the ideas I have about it: its extension; its colour; its texture; its hardness; its sound (e.g. when I knock on it); its smell; and, were I to lick it, its taste. These are nothing more than ideas - the belief in an actual material body causing and/or being represented by these ideas is unjustified.

But this is tantamount to saying induction is unjustified. We gather that material things exist by induction: the relationship between all these ideas are connected (I feel the texture of the table I see); the continuity of identity; the common experience with others; the similarity with other 'ideas' I understand as a table that are nonetheless different (tableness). These and more are the reasons we infer the material table. Berkeley's argument is simply that we have gone too far: only the ideas are present to us, so only the ideas exist - induction is invalid.

Which may be all well and good if Berkeley's whole philosophy didn't depend on by induction inferring the existence of something which is not present to us. In Berkeley's immaterialist world, ideas are perceived or had by us, but are created by an external mind. This external mind exists always irrespective of us. The exact argument Berkeley has against the material world - that all we perceive are the ideas we perceive so these are all that is real - should have disallowed Berkeley from even considering an unperceived external mind.

In truth, all Berkeley has done is said: It's the material world or God, so it's God. The line of reasoning that dismisses the material world is irrelevant - it too would dismiss the external mind, leaving us with nothing but ideas which, imo, would be much more compelling.
So if argument is irrelevant and it's a matter of choosing the most compelling, which is it? I'd like to examine the nature of the external mind Berkeley prefers.

1. In order to account for volition, the external mind must consistently act as per a set of volitions - it does not refuse to create the idea of the hand in front of my face despite me.

2. The external mind is only capable of producing ideas of limited types - I may imagine, that is create an idea of a ball released mid-air shooting straight upward, but the external mind can only create a sense idea of a ball falling downward. The external mind seems much less powerful than we.

3. Even among the things that are physically possible (in the rejected material world), only those pertaining to myself are possible ideas for the external mind to create - I cannot, despite any volition, wave somebody else's hand in front of their face.

4. The external mind only creates sense ideas that perfectly accord to the physical laws of the material world.

The external mind must converge in capability to the laws of the material world - it is limited to create ideas in accordance with these laws, and we are not. Since either the external mind or the material world may be arrived at only by induction, where lies the compulsion to believe in the external mind over the material world? The notion of a material world is much simpler since it contains naturally entities of highly limited possibility. Berkeley's immaterialism depends on an arbitrarily powerful external mind (HOW does it create ideas?) being inexplicably powerless beyond the laws of a material world.

I infer that Berkeley's entire system lies on two gut feelings: (i) dualism is wrong; (ii) the mind must be immaterial.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Mon 25 May, 2009 10:09 am
@Bones-O,
I just got done with my history of modern philosophy class a couple weeks ago, so this is relatively fresh in my mind. Berkeley runs into a problem between God and volition, which Hume addresses in Book VIII (maybe IX?) of An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. If God is responsible for our ideas, then God must be responsible for evil. But if evil is a defect, then God would not be perfect since he gives us defective ideas. Thus, God couldn't be responsible for our ideas of evil.

I think Berkeley would have been more effective by doing away with both God and the material world, leaving only ideas. Berkeley cannot account for both agency and God, which leads to many contradictions in his system.

I agree with you that Berkeley's system rests of the idea that dualism is wrong, and that the mind is immaterial. The former is in disagreement with Descartes, and the latter is an agreement.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 25 May, 2009 10:30 am
@Theaetetus,
Thanks The.

Theaetetus wrote:
I just got done with my history of modern philosophy class a couple weeks ago, so this is relatively fresh in my mind. Berkeley runs into a problem between God and volition, which Hume addresses in Book VIII (maybe IX?) of An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. If God is responsible for our ideas, then God must be responsible for evil. But if evil is a defect, then God would not be perfect since he gives us defective ideas. Thus, God couldn't be responsible for our ideas of evil.


Yes, I've read this criticism. I suppose one could use Leibniz's explanation of the best of all possible worlds, that if evil ideas are perceived, then evil ideas are necessary for us on the whole, and would not be considered evil when considered in their full context.

That said, Berkeley's external mind does not really warrant an all-powerful, good God, but simply supports it if you already believed in it. As per my above criticism, I suspect that the inconsistency in infering an external mind despite rejecting induction of a material world is probably a means to squeeze God in by hand. I'm less bothered by the theological problem his idea of God causes than the inconsistency and justifiability of the method.

Theaetetus wrote:
I think Berkeley would have been more effective by doing away with both God and the material world, leaving only ideas. Berkeley cannot account for both agency and God, which leads to many contradictions in his system.


Exactly. But I think Berkeley was against idealism. The ideas we perceive must be our perceptions of them only, not actual independently existing ideas. I find the idea that all minds create and perceive ideas much more powerful.

I worked through some thought experiments and it seems to hold up better than the external mind so long as we make all created ideas in principle available to other minds.

For instance, if you create the idea of a red ball in a room (i.e. you place a red ball in a room), and I seem to enter the room, I perceive your idea (since you still perceive it too) and you perceive mine of me being in the room.

But shared experience is probably not a huge problem if we create our own ideas. After all, if I perceive you saying you saw the same red ball, could I not have created this idea of you saying so?

Relational Quantum Mechanics has a similar idea. Instead of the cat actually becoming alive or dead, I simply perceive both alive and dead, but these perceptions are independent. You too perceive alive and dead, but the only perception of you that is associated to my perception of alive is the one that also perceived alive. Different, but some similarity.

Theaetetus wrote:
I agree with you that Berkeley's system rests of the idea that dualism is wrong, and that the mind is immaterial. The former is in disagreement with Descartes, and the latter is an agreement.

Thanks. Just checking. I suppose it's an understandable point of departure for the time.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Tue 29 Dec, 2009 02:16 pm
@Bones-O,
Bones-O!;64879 wrote:
Part two of my attempt to understand 17th and 18th Century philosophy focuses on Berkeley's rejection of the material world. His argument is that while I believe, say, a table to exist, all that exists is the sum-total of the ideas I have about it: its extension; its colour; its texture; its hardness; its sound (e.g. when I knock on it); its smell; and, were I to lick it, its taste. These are nothing more than ideas - the belief in an actual material body causing and/or being represented by these ideas is unjustified.

But this is tantamount to saying induction is unjustified. We gather that material things exist by induction: the relationship between all these ideas are connected (I feel the texture of the table I see); the continuity of identity; the common experience with others; the similarity with other 'ideas' I understand as a table that are nonetheless different (tableness). These and more are the reasons we infer the material table. Berkeley's argument is simply that we have gone too far: only the ideas are present to us, so only the ideas exist - induction is invalid.

Which may be all well and good if Berkeley's whole philosophy didn't depend on by induction inferring the existence of something which is not present to us. In Berkeley's immaterialist world, ideas are perceived or had by us, but are created by an external mind. This external mind exists always irrespective of us. The exact argument Berkeley has against the material world - that all we perceive are the ideas we perceive so these are all that is real - should have disallowed Berkeley from even considering an unperceived external mind.

In truth, all Berkeley has done is said: It's the material world or God, so it's God. The line of reasoning that dismisses the material world is irrelevant - it too would dismiss the external mind, leaving us with nothing but ideas which, imo, would be much more compelling.
...



There is an important difference between the ideas of God and material objects; you have direct experience of ideas, so the inference that there are other beings with ideas is not of the same type as an inference to the idea that there is something fundamentally different from ideas called "matter". So his rejection of matter is not the same as simply rejecting induction. He is saying that you have no experience of what philosophers have called "matter", so you do not have even one instance from which to do your induction, which would even then be the fallacy of hasty generalization. Of course, that leaves open the question of what, exactly, is a mind that is the container of these ideas, which makes me think of some ideas that Hume had a bit later on.
 
amist
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 08:04 am
@Bones-O,
I think there needs to be a distinction made between what Berkeley does and 'argument'. All of his so called arguments presuppose his conclusion. Someone please quote for me where Berkeley ever actually makes a serious, non question beggin argument. I'd be much obliged.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 08:51 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;64923 wrote:
If God is responsible for our ideas, then God must be responsible for evil. .



Not unless evil is just an idea. But isn't that false? You really ought to distinguish between actual evil, and the idea of evil.

---------- Post added 04-01-2010 at 10:52 AM ----------

amist;147070 wrote:
I think there needs to be a distinction made between what Berkeley does and 'argument'. All of his so called arguments presuppose his conclusion. Someone please quote for me where Berkeley ever actually makes a serious, non question beggin argument. I'd be much obliged.


Well, he argues that there really is not difference between primary and secondary qualities. I don't see how that is question begging.
 
amist
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 09:42 am
@Bones-O,
Quote:
Well, he argues that there really is not difference between primary and secondary qualities. I don't see how that is question begging.


I didn't encounter that in the text I read. Could you refer me to something please? Thanks in advance.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 10:06 am
@amist,
amist;147092 wrote:
I didn't encounter that in the text I read. Could you refer me to something please? Thanks in advance.


Epistemology

It seems to me that unless you are familiar with all of Berkeley's arguments, it was unwise of you to write that all of them beg the question.
 
amist
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 10:22 am
@Bones-O,
Quote:
unless you are familiar with all of Berkeley's arguments, it was unwise of you to write that all of them beg the question.


In my defense I read all of the Principles and Dialogues :/

Which one of those articles specifically are you referring me to?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 11:55 am
@amist,
amist;147101 wrote:
In my defense I read all of the Principles and Dialogues :/

Which one of those articles specifically are you referring me to?


The first (veil of perception) and this one:
Berkeley's Argument from Relativity

You mean you read Berkeley and don't know that he argued that Locke's distinction between primary and secondary properties does not work, since however you can determine a primary property, you can also determine a secondary property.

If you read Berkeley on your own, you did not understand him. People cannot just read philosophy like a novel. They need guidance. Have you read a book like, Berkeley by G.J. Warnock? He explains what is in Berkeley to someone who knows little or no philosophy.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 12:11 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;147125 wrote:
The first (veil of perception) and this one:
Berkeley's Argument from Relativity

You mean you read Berkeley and don't know that he argued that Locke's distinction between primary and secondary properties does not work, since however you can determine a primary property, you can also determine a secondary property.

If you read Berkeley on your own, you did not understand him. People cannot just read philosophy like a novel. They need guidance. Have you read a book like, Berkeley by G.J. Warnock? He explains what is in Berkeley to someone who knows little or no philosophy.


Given what you say in another thread, it is surprising that you would provide direction to an article in which it is stated:

[INDENT][INDENT]In reference to Berkeley's philosophy, Dr. Samuel Johnson once kicked a heavy stone and exclaimed, "I refute it thus!" Yet ultimately this refutes nothing (e.g., it could just be the "idea" of pain in kicking the "rock").
[/INDENT][/INDENT]


The Veil of Perception ? Berkeley and Locke: Does Matter Exist or is Matter Simply Ideas?

But my comment here is a digression.

You are, as usual, a good source of information.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 1 Apr, 2010 12:18 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;147131 wrote:
Given what you say in another thread, it is surprising that you would provide direction to an article in which it is stated:

[INDENT][INDENT]In reference to Berkeley's philosophy, Dr. Samuel Johnson once kicked a heavy stone and exclaimed, "I refute it thus!" Yet ultimately this refutes nothing (e.g., it could just be the "idea" of pain in kicking the "rock").
[/INDENT][/INDENT]


The Veil of Perception ? Berkeley and Locke: Does Matter Exist or is Matter Simply Ideas?

But my comment here is a digression.

You are, as usual, a good source of information.



I never noticed that. I disagree, of course. But my point was Berkeley's argument against the primary and secondary argument distinction, and that it did not beg the question.
 
 

 
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