Berkeley was a defender of common sense

"Moreover, the Dialogues are filled with passages in which Berkeley, through Philonous, makes reference to the view of common folk, which Berkeley accepts, that the things they see, feel, and otherwise perceive are real objects, that is, physical objects." -- George S. Pappas, "Berkeley and common sense", from Berkeley: Critical and interpretive essays, p. 9

14 comments:

  1. I take it Berkeley gets a lot of flak for some the things he said.

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    1. Today I will post Kant's description of Berkeley, and you'll see what happened.

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  2. Gene, i took your suggestion to look at Collingwood's book "The Idea of Nature". Here is how Collingwood describes the core of Berkeley's argument for idealism, on pages 113 -114:

    "Accepting the seventeenth century account of nature as a complex composed of inert matter ... a complex describable throughout in purely quantitative terms and wholly devoid of qualitative differences, he pointed out that this idea was an abstract idea, the idea of something essentially incomplete, which must therefore be a partial account and not a complete account of the thing it professed to represent.... Nowhere in nature ... do we find pure quantity devoid of quality. Quantity without quality is an abstraction, and a world of quantity without quality is an ens rationis, not a self-existing reality but a schematic view of certain selected aspects of reality."

    The argument seems to be roughly the following: our experiences cannot be caused by inert matter which has quantity but not quality, because nowhere in our experiences "do we find pure quantity devoid of quality."

    But why is it impossible that our experiences are caused by our mind interacting with objects with pure quantity, in such a way as to produce experiences with both quantity and quality?

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    1. How could an object be pure quantity? What would it even mean to call such a thing an object?

      It is not because we abstracted the idea that Collingwood is saying that: it is that such a ghostly object IS an absrtation. Real objects feel heavy, have a color, smell like something, are hard or soft. That IS concrete reality.

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    2. I more or less agree with Gene on this point but id might be angling towards Landsburg's idea that everything is math.

      More or less because I don't think id's suggestion is logically impossible, just that it has no basis I can see and seems superfluous. My icon is Occam's Razor and I am applying it.

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    3. "How could an object be pure quantity? What would it even mean to call such a thing an object?" I don't see why such a thing can't be an object, but if you don't want to call it an object I'm fine with calling it a "thing" or an "entity". The point is, why is it impossible that our experiences are caused by interacting with things which have quantity but not quality?

      "Real objects feel heavy, have a color, smell like something, are hard or soft." Is that just an assumption or do you have some argument for it? Why must the causes of our experience have the qualities we perceive them to have? Why is it impossible that the causes of our experience don't inherently have color, but we have experiences of color by virtue of our interaction with them?

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  3. Keshav, I don't believe your thinking this through: how in the world can e.g. 5.789 "cause" a color?! How could 1.535688 "cause" a feeling of heaviness?

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    1. Well, what I'm proposing is that the senses operate according to a "lookup table": different sets of numbers generate different experiences. If the number called "frequency of light", for instance, has a certain value, then the mind may have an experience involving the color red.

      Now you may disagree wifh this view, but why is it impossible?

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    2. But according to your view, "the senses" THEMSLEVES are simply quantities too. How can a set of numbers interacting with another set of numbers produce the color red or a great weight? Think about what you are really saying: it is preposterous. Where in the world did the color or the weight come from? What you are proposing is along the lines of "Well, just suppose magic!"

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    3. And why should this suggestion be taken seriously at all? I assert I live in the real world, and that the things I see are real things. You suggest that all of this is sheer illusion, that the only real things are numbers, that I generate everything else from my own mind, and you assert this on the basis of... nothing at all! Why would anyone take this suggestion seriously?

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    4. "Where in the world did the color or the weight come from? What you are proposing is along the lines of "Well, just suppose magic!"" Yeah, that is pretty much what I'm suggesting: the things outside the mind are describable purely by numbers, and through some magical process, certain sets of numbers trigger certain experiences in the mind. Why is that impossible?

      "you assert this on the basis of... nothing at all! Why would anyone take this suggestion seriously?" But isn't the burden on you to convince me that the view I'm proposing can't possibly be true? Isn't that the point of Berkeley's argument?

      And you're asking why anyone would take this suggestion seriously, but the fact is that vast numbers of people do take it seriously. Large numbers of people today believe that apples don't have some inherent property called redness, but rather it's the fact that the atoms reflect a certain frequency of light that causes us to see apples as red. That view may be right or it may be wrong, but isn't Berkeley's goal to refute it?

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    5. A lot of people thought the world was supported on the back of a turtle.

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  4. I suspect you were still thinking of these as being units "of" something. But there is nothing left to be units of once we have entered the world of pure quantity. Yes, they have labels next to them (such as kG) but those labels just indicate how the numbers should be fit into the equations of physics: they have no other properties.

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  5. Keshav, at least at this point, you should understand why Berkeley claim to be a defender of common sense: he (and I) claim to live in the real world. The oak table in the kitchen feels heavy because IT REALLY IS HEAVY. It looks brown because IT REALLY IS BROWN.

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