Collingwood on Berkeley


Thus we get a wholly new metaphysical position. Taking the elements of the traditional seventeenth-century cosmology and simply rearranging them, Berkeley shows that, if substance means that which exists in its own right and depends on itself alone, only one substance need be asserted to exist, namely, mind. Nature as it exists empirically for our everyday perception is the work or creature of mind; nature in Galileo's sense, the purely quantitative material world of the physicist, is an abstraction from this, it is so to speak the skeleton or armature of the nature we perceive through our senses, and create in perceiving it. To sum up: we first, by the operation of our mental powers, create the warm, living, coloured, flesh-and-blood natural world which we know in our everyday experience; we then, by the operation of abstractive thinking, remove the flesh and blood from it and are left with the skeleton. This skeleton is the ‘material world’ of the physicist.
In the essence of Berkeley's argument as thus restated there is no flaw. He often expressed himself hastily, and often tried to support his contentions by argument that is far from sound; but no criticism of details touches his main position, and as soon as one understands the problem which confronted him one is bound to realize that he solved it in the only possible way. His conclusion may seem unconvincing, and the difficulties in which it places us are undeniable; but there is no way of escaping the admission that, if the conceptions of mind and matter are defined as they were defined by the cosmology of the seventh century, the problem of discovering an essential link between them can only be solved as Berkeley solved it. (The Idea of Nature, 1960: 114-115)

5 comments:

  1. Gene, the thing is, I'm totally willing to accept that the viewpoint expressed in the first paragraph is a coherent and internally self-consistent view-point. But what I'm hesitant to accept is the claim that "as soon as one understands the problem which confronted him one is bound to realize that he solved it in the only possible way".

    Fundamentally, this is my question: what is the argument that dualism cannot possibly be true? I can understand Berkeley offering a coherent alternative to dualism, but I just don't see why dualism is necessarily false.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have to delve into the historical context of these thoughts in some depth to understand what Collingwood is saying here Keshav, and I can't give you all that in a combox. But, for instance, what he is discussing is not really dualism, but the Lockean conception of matter. Why not the book this is from? The Idea of Nature: a marvelous book, only 192 pages, and only $10 on Amazon.

      Delete
    2. Ken: have you taken a philosophy of mind course? Dualism suffers just as greatly as physicalism, in my humble opinion, with respect to how it 'captures' the reality of mental states. I think that Gene has posted about this as well: once you have two totally different substances, the problem of how they interact becomes an enormous, and I think, unsolvable one. This is of course the 'mind/body' problem - a problem that I am becoming increasingly convinced was made up. Once you say that the mind exists independent of reality - or, at least, physical reality - then how you "get at" that physical reality becomes a profoundly difficult problem for seemingly both substance dualists and epiphenomenal dualists. In fact, the epiphenomenal-dualist account of mental states is just about the most absurd thing I have ever read about in philosophy: causation goes one way from the physical to the mental, but not from the mental to the physical. Why not the other way? I dunno. Various explanations have been given, but the arbitrariness of 'one way' causation between substances is enough to make most anyone scratch his head.

      A theory seems to be at least as good as it is going to get when it explains our experiences and the empirical evidence we gather about the 'physical' world. I think that idealism is not only flexible enough to deal with various metaphysical problems, but it also carries with it a profound implication: it's matter that is an unnecessary hypothesis. The only thing we can be sure of - in fact, it seems, the thing that we can be most sure of - is our mental states and experiences. The *inferences* made by those mental states could be incorrect, but there can be no doubt that we have mental states, or experiences, or beliefs, etc.

      Delete
  2. So if I understand this correctly, the empiricist model grew out of the intellectual climate of Galileo? And this eventually led to Locke's epistemology and his political ideas?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Collingwood is talking about Galileo's and Locke's conception of matter. This has nothing to do with empiricism or political ideas.

      Delete