George Berkeley on Several Queries Proposed to the Public, 1735-1737

By George Berkeley; Jacob H. Hollander | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

In the development of economic thought as in the history of philosophy, Berkeley may be described as "the successor of Locke and the predecessor of Hume."1 The continuity is less apparent with respect to specific doctrines than in the matter of that common sense rationalism which distinguishes the best English economic thought of the eighteenth century. Berkeley sought to formulate no system -- in his economic very much less even than in his philosophical writings: "What I have done," he wrote to a friend, "was rather with a view of giving hints to thinking men who have leisure and curiosity to go to the bottom of things and pursue them in their own minds."2 It was this quality in the most important of Berkeley's economic writings which led Sir James Mackintosh, in an oft-quoted passage, to declare: "Perhaps the Querist contains more hints, then original, still unapplied in legislation and political economy, than are to be found in any equal space."3

Professor Fraser's scholarly studies4 have made accessible the details of Berkeley's remarkable career. Born in 1685 in Ireland of English extraction, he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He remained at Trinity in various academic offices until he was twenty-eight, before which time he had written his three important philosophical works. He came to England in 1713, was warmly received in literary and political circles and spent the next seven years in travel on the continent and residence in London. In 1721 he returned to Ireland, receiving preferment in the church, and developing that curious religious-educational enthusiasm which culminated in the project of a college, to be located in the Bermudas, for the training of missionaries to convert "the savage Americans." In vain pursuit of this fantasy he spent three years, 1728- 1831 in America, living in and near

____________________
1
Balfour, Biographical Introduction" to "The Works of George Berkeley, edited by George Sampson ( London, 1897-8).
2
See "Preface" (ix) to the 1901 ( Oxford) edition of Professor Fraser "The Works of George Berkeley".
3
Ibid., vol. iv, p. 420.
4
"Life and Letters of George Berkeley" ( Oxford, 1871), being vol. 4 of "Works".

-3-

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