Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues

Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues

Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues

Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues

Synopsis

Berkeley's idealism started a revolution in philosophy. As one of the great empiricist thinkers he not only influenced British philosophers from Hume to Russell and the logical positivists in the twentieth-century, he also set the scene for the continental idealism of Hegel and even the philosophy of Marx. This edition of Berkeley's two key works has an introduction which examines and in part defends his arguments for idealism, as well as offering a detailed analytical contents list, extensive philosophical notes, and an index.

Excerpt

Berkeley is generally regarded as the inventor of subjective idealism; that is, of the theory that the physical world exists only in the experiences minds have of it. This is one version of the doctrine that reality is wholly mental: the other version is pan-psychism (which is from the Greek, meaning 'everythingmind-ism'). Pan-psychism holds that there are minds in everything. So the kitchen table has a mind, or is composed of minds, or is run through with the presence of mind in some other way. Pan-psychism accepts the autonomous existence of objects outside creatures that we normally think of as possessing minds, but says that these other things, contrary to general belief, also have consciousness in them, in some way or other. Amongst major philosophers, Leibniz and, perhaps, Spinoza are pan-psychists. Berkeley's idealism restricts mind to the usual list of humans, God, animals, and whatever other spirits there may commonly be thought to be, and says that everything else--the intrinsically non-mental--exists only as features of the experience of these minds.

This seems to be a very bizarre view, but, as we shall see, it arises naturally out of the philosophy and science of the seventeenth century. That science was articulated philosophically by John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Because it articulated the new knowledge in a fairly discursive style, it found a ready audience. But Berkeley, unlike Locke, was not a discursive thinker; he dealt in crisp and purportedly decisive abstract arguments. This meant that, in his first exposition of idealism in the Principles, his shocking doctrine was stated rather too nakedly and without the scene-setting that might have made it acceptable. Consequently, it was simply dismissed as eccentric. The Dialogues are his attempt to present his doctrine in a more persuasive way. In the Dialogues, therefore, he personifies the debate that leads from the fashionable scientific philosophy of . . .

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