Term Paper: George Berkeley's Principal Metaphysical Position

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For Berkeley, the great obstacle to knowledge is the misuse of words, particularly the substitution of words for ideas. "It is the mist and evil of words that has chiefly obscured from us the nature of reality."

Berkeley is saying that a reality exists beyond the imagination or in ideas through the words and the perception of the words and their meaning put on objects. All our ideas are really particular and concrete; it is only because we have been content to accept words in place of ideas that we have imagined the possibility of abstract general ideas. Locke himself is the victim of such verbalism and abstraction, for what else is this material substance but an abstract idea, or a mere words which represents no idea at all?

Berkeley's discussion of abstract ideas are a refute to Locke's thinking. For Locke an idea is whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks, hence the term expresses. For Berkeley ideas means an object presented to the senses or represented in imagination. It is not a figment of the imagination if it can be represented and have a concrete idea or memory to attach to it. An abstract idea although abstract still exists.

It is not part of Berkeley's polemical purpose in the discussion of abstract ideas to develop the realistic implications of this position, or to show how it is that an idea in itself particular, is qualified to represent other particular ideas of the same class. The abstract terms which he is concerned to invaluable are merely general. Of these the best example is Locke's abstract matter, from which all particular and therefore all general qualities have been removed. The reality of all external things, then, consists in the particular sensations from which they derive these names, and by which they are distinguished from one another, think away these particular ideas. Berkeley retorts with the question, "what can be the support of ideas or sensations but percipient mind? The thing is nothing but the sum of its qualities, what is true of each of the qualities is true of their sum. The thing itself is far as we can intelligently speak of it, depends for its existence upon percipient mind.

Berkeley disagreed with Locke on the perception of what exists. Berkeley's thoughts on the existence of an apple or a tree seem contradictory until his thoughts on what is real are examined deeper. Berkeley's contention was that even in the most abstract sense an object exists if it can be attached to a real memory or idea. They are not figments of your imagination if they can be perceived as real ideas and sensory objects. Berkeley asks "what it is for a man to be happy, or an object good, every one may think he knows. But to frame an abstract idea of happiness, prescinded from all particular pleasure, or if goodness from everything that is good, this is what few can pretend to. So likewise a man may be just and virtuous without having precise ideas of justice and virtue. The opinion that those and the like words stand for general notions, abstracted from all particular person and actions, seems to have rendered morality difficult and the study thereof of less use to mankind.

Berkeley's views about inmateralism and idealism did change in his later writings. He questioned how closely idealism related to his earlier doctrine of immaterilsm. He asked how the one is rather a development that a negation of the other. He had always insisted that the interpretability of the data of sensation, upon their symbolic or significant character as the future which makes possible science, on the one hand, and the practical conduct o life. He also instead that the necessity of supplementing the idea with the notion, the perceptual with the conceptual apprehension of reality, holding that only through such notions can we apprehend relations or penetrate to spiritual substance and true causes. In summary, although it seems contradictory in some respects, Berkeley's view of an apple and mountain can lead you to the conclusion that an apple is not just an apple but more an object with thoughts, ideas and perceptions attached to it.

Bibliography

Atherton, Margaret (Editor). The Empiricists: Critical Essays on Locke, Berkeley, and Hume (Critical Essays on the Classics Series) Rowman… [END OF PREVIEW]

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