Berkeley: An Interpretation

Berkeley: An Interpretation

Berkeley: An Interpretation

Berkeley: An Interpretation

Synopsis

George Berkeley (1685-1753) held that matter does not exist, and that the sensations we take to be caused by an indifferent and independent world are instead caused directly by God. Nature has no existence apart from the spirits who transmit and receive it. In this book, Winkler presents these conclusions as natural (though by no means inevitable) consequences of Berkeley's reflections on such topics as representation, abstraction, necessary truth, and cause and effect. He offers new interpretations of Berkeley's views on unperceived objects, corpuscularian science, and our knowledge of God and other minds.

Excerpt

This book on Berkeley is an interpretation: an exposition of his arguments, an assessment of their significance, and an explanation-- inevitably partial--of their content and form. My explanations are proposed as hypotheses: I argue that Berkeley's writings are shaped by concerns they do not always acknowledge, and in such cases I defend my hypotheses as plausible explanations of a range of texts. I have tried throughout to make Berkeley's arguments as plausible as I can. This brings, I hope, a kind of understanding--the understanding that comes when we comprehend a belief by seeing how we ourselves might be brought to hold it.

My topics and their arrangement are a bit unusual. Berkeley wrote to Percival that in A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge he 'omitted all mention of the non-existence of matter in the title-page, dedication, preface, and introduction', so that 'the notion might steal unawares on the reader, who possibly would never have meddled with a book that he had known contained such paradoxes' (Works VIII, p. 36). The point, he confided in his notebooks, was to help the truth to glide insensibly into the soul (Philosophical Commentaries 185). Of course anyone meddling with my book does so precisely because of the paradoxes. But for a reason closely related to Berkeley's I postpone paradox for as long as possible. There is no real discussion of the non-existence of matter until Chapter 6. In the first five chapters I concentrate instead on topics which may seem remote from immaterialism: intentionality (Chapters 1 and 2); necessity (Chapters 3 and 4); and intelligibility (Chapter 5). My hope is that when I arrive in Chapter 6 at the views for which Berkeley is most famous, they will seem natural rather than outrageous. I do this partly because understanding a philosophical view is not so different from being convinced by it. 'I wonder not at my sagacity in discovery the obvious tho' amazing truth', Berkeley wrote of immaterialism. 'I rather wonder at my stupid inadvertency in not finding it out before. 'tis no witchcraft to see.' (Philosophical Commentaries 279.) What made it difficult to see was not inadvertency, but the fact that immaterialism, like most things we call obvious, is obvious only against a certain background. In Chapters 1 to 5 I try to fill that background in. Some of the . . .

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