Berkeley

Berkeley

Berkeley

Berkeley

Excerpt

At some time not precisely known, but certainly when he was in his very early twenties, if not earlier, George Berkeley, newly graduated B.A. of Trinity College, Dublin, had a metaphysical inspiration. It was one which seemed to him, on reflection, to be blindingly obvious; it served as a basis for answers to at least most of the outstanding problems of metaphysics; it removed the temptation to scepticism and atheism presented by current philosophical orthodoxy; it preserved, perhaps in a more sophisticated form, everything that either common sense or the revelations of the Christian religion maintained. This new insight was that there was no such thing as matter, that the concept of matter was totally superfluous and even unintelligible.

So stated, baldly, out of context and without explanation, this alleged insight will presumably appear utterly ridiculous to the reader not already acquainted with Berkeley’s thought. It appeared utterly ridiculous to, for example, Dr Johnson, who believed, ignorantly but not unnaturally, that he could refute it by kicking a stone. One of the principal aims of this book will be to show the reader how, in the context of the philosophical and scientific beliefs of his time, Berkeley’s thesis was a very rational one to adopt, and to show how ingeniously Berkeley developed it within the bounds of one of the most elegant, clear and simple metaphysical systems ever devised. The reader will not be asked to accept the doctrine, though some philosophers do accept it; but he should come to see that it is the work of one of the world’s great philosophical geniuses and worthy of admiring study.

To understand how Berkeley came to propound this, at first sight, absurd and irresponsible thesis we must first have some . acquaintance with the philosophical and scientific outlook of the vast majority of seventeenth-century thinkers against which Berkeley was revolting.

The seventeenth century, towards the close of which Berkeley was born, saw the birth of modern experimental science.

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