Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Persistence of Error (Barzun Again)

As I'm writing my paper on Berkeley, I have discovered that the idea that Berkeley thought the physical world was "an illusion," or something of the sort, has been debunked many times, but is like a zombie, in that it just won't stay killed. (In this sense, it is much like the idea that Rousseau "worshipped the primitive," as discussed in the previous post.) In any case, here is Barzun on Berkeley:
As Coleridge put it, matter is like an invisible pincushion that we suppose necessary to hold the various "pins" that are our sensations... Berkeley asked: is the pincushion needed? Dr. Johnson -- no professional philosopher -- hearing of Berkeley's critique of matter, kicked a large stone "with mighty force until he rebounded from it," and said, "I refute it thus." But Berkeley never denied that things were real, hard as stone and heavy as Dr. Johnson. He pointed out -- and he has never been refuted -- that matter is a notion added to what the senses actually report. -- From Dawn to Decadence, p. 367

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