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Lecture 17

PHIL 2160 Lecture Notes - Lecture 17: Hylas

Course Code
PHIL 2160
Patricia Sheridan

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Lecture – Berkeley’s Idealism
Categorical vs. ontological
For Berkeley there are mind(s), ideas in mind(s) – these are the kinds of things we can think about as
having unique identities
His ontology (what’s real) consists of minds, and the ideas in them – there are perceptions(ideas) and
there are perceivers(minds)
He is an empiricist – all of the contents of the mind arise from experience, so the ideas must be
experiential ideas from perceptions. Like the empiricism in Locke, we are working with a simple
account of ideas – all our perceptions are singular, unitary, and specific to a single sensory perception
Matter is a fundamentally empty concept; matter has no explanatory value in how we understand the
world, so Berkeley is given us an anti-materialist account of perception and concept formation
He thinks his anti-materialism is consistent with common sense
Phelonus is the one that expresses Berkeley’s view – Philonous asks Hylus… are you ready to adopt
an opinion that is not only consistent with common sense, but also defeats scepticism? He replies that
he does deny the existence of material substances, but that does not make him a sceptic
We passively receive sensations – Berkeley agrees with this point by Locke. Locke also says that
although these ideas are relative to us and subjective, they seem to point to a world outside the mind,
but Locke doesn’t commit himself to any kind of certainty to what that might be that is outside the
mind. All we have for Locke are singular ideas that are not necessarily related to what is outside us.
We end up, on Locke’s account, with a constructivist account of reality because we can’t get beyond
our perceptual limits – this is a sceptical view
Berkeley says this does not cohere with common sense and he says this creates problems – is it a
helpful view? His answer is no, so his solution is to get rid of it
The world as we understand it is the world of perceptual experience – to say that something exists is
to say that it is an object of perceptual experience
God and spirits have no perceivable qualities – we can think about abstract concepts like power,
infinitude, and perfection, but these ideas are empty because experiences are particular things, and I
cannot perceive abstract things
The world of matter of fact will always be unpredictable in some sense – we could be wrong about
the connections we’re making between things – the world of perception involves particular objects
and experiences, not abstract concepts
Berkeley says if we stop asserting that there is something beyond the veil of perception, then the
problem is solved - the world that’s real is the world inside the mind, so when we talk about
existence, the only thing we could possibly be talking about is perceptibility (no more appearance vs.
reality distinction)
Berkeley wants to eliminate the idea of matter – when we leave a room, all of the stuff inside the
room ceases to exist. The room doesn’t have robust existence
We must presume that things like strings in string theory are perceivable, and have perceivability to
“Esse is percipi” – to be is to be perceived
Causation – events follow each other in a pattern to us, but they are not caused by each other. Discrete
perceptual experiences do not indicate anything beyond, and they do not imply that certain causal
stories will take place
How would we bring matter and causation into this account of the world? And if we do, what
difference would that make? Berkeley says this will make no difference because he thinks everything
can be done and can make sense in our mind
Berkeley’s anti-materialism
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