Berkeley Answers: Main ideas

This page provides the paragraph main ideas for the excerpt from Berkeley.

Main ideas

[1] Knowledge comes primarily from either sensory experience or awareness of our own emotional and cognitive states. Other truths may be derived from the elements of these with the aid of our memory or imagination. Regularly contiguous items of sensory perception are bundled together and given singular names such as ‘an apple’, or ‘a stone’. These experiences, once bundled together and thought of as singular object, can be the cause of different emotional states in the human mind.

[2] Apart from these ideas, there exists in the world minds that have or can perceive them. Ideas, by definition, depend on minds for their existence. An unperceived idea makes no sense; therefore, it follows that to be an idea is to be perceived.

[3] Berkeley makes a linguistic point about the meaning of the term ‘to exist’, which he takes to mean that when I say my table exists, I mean I perceive it when I am in my study, or some other mind perceives it.

[4] All that exists are perceptions and minds, so to speak of an unperceived perception is a contradiction.

[5] The idea of mind-independent things is an abstraction, and it is impossible to abstract the idea of something perceptible from the sensation or perception of it.

[6] All non-thinking things exist within either the mind of mortals or God. One cannot separate the existence of something from its being perceived.

[7] The only substances are minds, and perceptible qualities cannot exist in non-perceptible things because they are qualities that are perceived by the senses.

[8] What we perceive cannot be copies of something that is in a non-thinking substance, since it makes no sense to say that something that is coloured is a copy of something that is not coloured (and so on for the other perceptible qualities).

[9] Berkeley brings up Locke’s distinction of primary and secondary qualities. Secondary qualities are not caused by the primary qualities which inhere in matter because he has shown earlier (in 7.) that primary qualities are also ideas and depend on being perceived for their existence.

[10] Berkeley adds a further argument that primary and secondary qualities are inseparable, so if the latter exist only in the mind the former must too.

[11] It is generally agreed ‘large’ and ‘small’ etc are relative and mind-dependent. But that means if there is extension outside of the mind, it must be neither large nor small, which is incomprehensible.

[12] Numbers are entirely conventional, as we assign different numbers to the same object depending on how we divide it into units (a book, pages, lines, words).

[13] There is no idea of unity; it is an abstraction.

[14] Some qualities depend on the observer – the same bowl of water may seem hot or cold to different observers depending on the state of their bodies.

[15] B has tried to use his opponents views to show the incoherence of the idea of mind-independent matter, but in fact he says that all they show is that our senses can’t tell what an objects true qualities are. Instead, he says his own argument (that being perceived is the essence of an idea) is far more convincing.

[16] The term ‘matter’ has no positive or relative meaning, only a negative one = what is left after all the qualities are taken away. There is no sense to the notion that matter ‘supports’ the qualities.

[17] A restatement and partial summary of what has been said so far.

[18] Argument from scepticism – if materialism is true, how do we come by knowledge of it? Our senses only give us information about sensory qualities, and reason supplies us with an inference that is neither necessary nor well-supported. It is not necessary because it is possible that we could have all the perceptions we do have without anything being the cause of them (as in dreams), and it is not well-supported because again, dreams, hallucinations etc teach us directly that some ideas are mind-dependent, but nothing teaches us that others must be mind-independent.

[19] In rebuttal, B’s opponent might say that matter makes our experience easier to explain. But in fact matter does not explain anything, because materialists have no idea how mind and matter could causally interact. The cause of our perceptions remains a mystery with or without the supposition of matter.

[20] Summary and recourse to the main argument from scepticism about matter: we could be given all the same experiences without it, presumably by a supreme being, so the supposition is entirely suspect.

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