The Dialectic of Immaterialism

The Dialectic of Immaterialism

The Dialectic of Immaterialism

The Dialectic of Immaterialism

Excerpt

Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge was five or six years in the making. The documented story of the build-up of its main argument is told in the following pages. Minor supporting arguments and literary details are not stressed. I have concentrated on the dialectical development of Berkeley's immaterialism, as he turned its key doctrines over and over in his mind prior to publication. Our chief source-material is the pair of notebooks, now known as Berkeley Philosophical Commentaries.

Berkeley's notebooks have a good deal in common with those of Wittgenstein. Both sets have authorship in view, and contain notes for projected books. Either set sheds light on the growth and march of its author's thought. Both men were lonely thinkers, as they filled their notebooks, wrestling with stubborn problems. Both rise easily from homely conceits to speculative heights. Both were deeply interested in language and thought, in words and signs, and both experimented in wordless thinking. Both wrote on sense-impressions and physical objects, on the understanding and the will, on doubt and certainty, on voluntary movement of legs and arms, and even on vanishing chairs. Wittgenstein had it in mind, he says, to "publish those old thoughts and the new ones together", because the new ones could be seen in the right light only "against the background of my old way of thinking". Here the parallel is very close; for Berkeley's "second thoughts", as he called them, can be seen in the right light only against the background of his old way of thinking, that he called "my first arguings".

As a series Berkeley's notes are relatively compact. Coming to the Philosophical Commentaries fresh from reading the Philosophical Investigations or the Blue Book or the Brown, one feels the self-discipline of Berkeley's preparations for authorship, and the point, purpose and method of his preliminary studies. Both men . . .

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