Kant on Berkeley

Here are three quotes from Berkeley's Dialogues:

"Let me be represented as one who trusts his senses, who thinks he knows the things he sees and feels, and entertains no doubts of their existence…"

"I do therefore assert that I am a certain as of my own being that there are bodies or corporeal substances..."

"I might as well doubt of my own being as of the being of those things I actually see and feel."

And what does Kant have to say about a thinker who repeatedly asserts things like the above?

"The dictum of all genuine idealists, from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in the formula: 'All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion...'"(Prolegemona to Any Future Metaphysics, 2001: 107, emphasis mine).

"experience, according to Berkeley, can have no criteria of truth because its appearances (according to him) have nothing a priori at their foundation, whence it follows that experience is nothing but sheer illusion…" (Prolegemona to Any Future Metaphysics, 2001: 108, emphasis mine).

It is hard to see how any description of Berkeley’s views could be further from Berkeley’s views than is Kant’s. And it is clear why anyone who knows Berkeley only through Kant knows him wrongly. But what is the cause of this vast gulf between what Berkeley wrote and what Kant wrote about what Berkeley wrote? Some have concluded that Kant was almost completely unfamiliar with Berkeley’s works and was relying on hearsay.

In an intriguing alternate hypothesis, Colin Turbayne contends that Kant actually knew Berkeley well, and was anxious to create separation between his views and Berkeley's, given that critcisms of Berkeley such as Johnson kicking the rock were in the air. So he set up a strawman Berkeley so he could kick him around for a bit, and show how different his philosophy was. As Turbayne says:
This brings us to the question of Kant's promise, in the first edition of the Critique, to deal with Berkeley's doctrine, and his failure to do so. In the fourth Paralogism, Kant's position is made to resemble Berkeley's more closely than anywhere else. We now know that there is, not only resemblance, but Kant's awareness of it. If he had sought to refute Berkeley in the next section, he must have ended in hopeless confusion, for he would have been refuting himself. He therefore did not even try. A niggardly description of Berkeley's doctrine was his only recourse. (Turbayne, Colin M. 1955. “Kant’s Refutation of Dogmatic Idealism.” The Philosophical Quarterly 5 (20) (July 1): 225–244. doi:10.2307/2957436.)

16 comments:

  1. Ah, so they basically misinterpret him, whether purposefully or subconsciously. So are Kant's views on metaphysics similar to Berkeley's?

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    1. I don't know Kant well, but Turbayne says their views are very similar.

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  2. Since we're speaking about Immanuel Kant, I'm quoting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Kant's view justification for property:
    "The “Doctrine of Right” begins with a discussion of property, showing the importance of this right for the implementation of the innate right to freedom. Property is defined as that 'with which I am so connected that another's use of it without my consent would wrong me' (6:245). In one sense, if I am holding an object such as an apple, and another snatches it from my hand, I have been wronged because in taking the object from my physical possession, the other harms me (Kant does not specify whether this harm is because one's current use of the apple is terminated or because one's body is affected, but the latter fits the argument better). Kant calls this 'physical' or 'sensible' possession. It is not a sufficient sense of possession to count as rightful possession of an object. Rightful possession must be possession of an object so that another's use of the object without my consent harms me even when I am not physically affected and not currently using the object. If someone plucks an apple from my tree, no matter where I am and no matter whether I am even aware of the loss I am prevented from using that apple. Kant calls this 'intelligible possession'.



    Intelligible possession, then, is required by right in order for free beings to be able to realize their freedom by using objects for their freely chosen purposes. This conclusion entails the existence of private property but not any particular distribution of private property. All objects must be considered as potential property of some human being or other. Now if one human being is to have intelligible possession of a particular object, all other human beings must refrain from using that object. Such a one-sided relation would violate the universality of external right. Kant further worries that any unilateral declaration by one person that an object belongs to that person alone would infringe on the freedom of others. The only way that intelligible possession is possible without violating the principle of right is if there is an agreement that puts all under an obligation to recognize each other's intelligible possessions. Each person must acknowledge an obligation to refrain from using objects that belong to another. Since no individual will can rightfully make and enforce such a law obligating everyone to respect others' property, this mutual obligation is possible only in accordance with a 'collective general (common) and powerful will', in other words, only in a civil condition. The state itself obligates all citizens to respect the property of other citizens. The state functions as an objective, disinterested institution that resolves disputes about individual property and enforces compliance with those determinations. Without a state to enforce these property rights, they are impossible."

    What do you think? This sound like any of libertarianism's offered arguments for ownership? Anything like JJR?

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    1. Also, would you just mind answering this question, too?

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  3. On another note, how can you explain Berkeley's idealist metaphysics—that of the world existing in the mind of God—as being compatible with the idea that the world is also physical? The two concepts just seem a little opposed to one another.

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    1. Sampson, Berkeley never said, and I never said that he said, that "the world is physical." What he does say is that he does not go to assistance of the tables and chairs around him. The conception, in brief, is that if an all-powerful being wants a wall to be solid, and me unable to pass through it, then it will be so, and that THAT is exactly what constitutes the "physicality" of the wall.

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  4. That was supposed to read "doubt the existence." Siri!

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    1. Yeah, at first I wondered what you were saying and came up with some interpretation that seemed to make sense (now I realize it doesn't).

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  5. In other words, the physical world is as it is for us because God wants it to be so. Things are heavy or impenetrable or green or stinky because that is what God wills. And that willing is what makes rocks and trees and limburger cheese real physical objects.

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    1. And note, I am not here pushing Berkeley's metaphysics, just trying to correct the misunderstandings of his view.

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    2. Holy ****. I think I know exactly what you're talking about here! In fact, I think I've thought it before. God, being omnipotent, is a reality warper. He can make reality any way he wants it to be just by making it so.

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  6. Well Sampson, in all three near Eastern monotheistic religions, the general idea is that God is the reality CREATOR. In this view, there simply is no reality to "warp" prior to God making it so.

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  7. "…near Eastern monotheistic religions…"

    What does this mean? The three Abrahamic religions?

    "…the general idea is that God is the reality CREATOR. In this view, there simply is no reality to "warp" prior to God making it so."

    It's simply fan lingo for that particular superpower. It's not quite the same as omnipotence, but it's close enough to describe it…sort of.

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    1. "The three Abrahamic religions?"

      Yes.

      "It's simply fan lingo for that particular superpower."

      Cool.

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    2. The three Abrahamic religions are Eastern? Middle Eastern, sjre, but I'd consider Eastern religions to be Bhuddism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Shintoism.

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    3. Near Eastern, Samson.

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