“It terrifies me, the fragility of these moments in our lives.”
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
To be is to be perceived...Berkeley’s Philosophy..the Imp of Perversity......
Berkeley’s Philosophy..the Imp of Perversity
There is often a gap between the popular perception of a philosopher’s teaching and his own conception of his teaching. But the gap in Berkeley’s case is particularly wide.
On the one hand, there is his own professed plan to justify common sense and combat skepticism. He reiterates this intention in the first of his three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. The latter, who represents Berkeley’s position, gets Hylas to agree that the opinion must be true that “upon examination shall appear most agreeable to common sense, and remote from scepticism.” Hylas agrees. Berkeley elsewhere claims to agree with “the Mob” that what he sees and feels and smells is real. He attacks skeptics, who divide sense impressions from the real thing, and thus make it impossible for us to ever be sure we know that we have experienced the thing itself.
On the other hand, a large part of his philosophical output is an attack on the philosophical concept of matter. Berkeley insists that nothing exists “outside mind” and his fundamental thesis is summarized as “esse is percipi” (to be is to be perceived). This was understood by many to be not common-sensical but nonsensical.
What is he really up to?
Berkeley He states in the preface to the Principles of Human Knowledge that his aim is to answer those tainted with skepticism and who want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God. His aim is to make a philosophically compelling a case against materialism, and it will help us to see a couple of the errors that Berkeley thinks are produced by materialism. These are not the arguments he uses to justify his position or attack materialism. Although they anticipate the detailed arguments, they display Berkeley’s deeper motives. He is a God-intoxicated philosopher, wanting to formulate an ontology in which God plays the leading role. He sees his battle with materialists is atheological battle.
Regarding skepticism: Berkeley believes that the distinction betwen the intelligble existence of objects and their “real” and independent existence is the root of skepticism. If the real thing is something “behind” the sensible appearance of things, and if all we are able to perceive and experience is the sensible appearance, then we can never get to the “thing in itself.” We can never know whether our experience of the world is really experience of the world. Perhaps it’s just the experience of our minds. This skepticism arises if we believe we are always behind the “veil of perception.” Berkeley solves the problem by removing the “thing in itself” from his account of the world, and making the veil of perception reality itself. He thinks he has arrived at a non-skeptical system.
Just as important are the religious and theological consequences of materialism, but Berkeley's complaints are not obvious ones. Obviously, if someone is a materialist in the sense that he believes that there is nothing but material reality, then God is excluded. But God can be excluded from consideration, shoved to the edges of reality, in more subtle ways.
The notion of material substance, he thinks, encourages atheism, and removing it from philosophy will undermine atheism. Doubt about creation has arisen because man cannot conceive of matter being produced from nothing, and so philosophers have posited an eternal and uncreated matter alongside God. But if there is no matter, there is no philosophical problem in the creation of matter. The issue simply evaporates, since we don’t have to puzzle how a spirit can produce matter, or how matter can be created from nothing.
This becomes clearer in subsequent arguments. Man complains that he cannot see God. On Berkeley’s terms, all we have to do is open our eyes to see God. All the sensations we have come from Him, all perceptions are product of the divine spirit. Thus, though we do not see God directly and immediately, everything we do see is an effect of God, or, as he puts it elsewhere, a sign or mark. “God’s visible language.”
For Berkeley, then, God is the most evident thing in the world, the most verifiable, the existence for which there is the most evidence. We miss this because we are too nattentive and stupid to see God when “such clear manifestations” are everywhere.
“Nature” is introduced by heathen philosophers who do not have proper notion of Providence. They don’t believe in a God who is ever active in the details of creation, and therefore attribute the effects they see to something distinct from God called nature. Scripture, however, talks about the effects as being produced by God. Men have an “aversion from believing that God concerns himself so nearly in our affairs.” Christians should have no such aversion.
In the Third Dialogue, he claims that the question between Berkeley and materialists is not the existence of something without the mind of this or that person, but whether anything has anabsolute, we might say “autonomous” existence, apart from the mind of God. This B strenuously denies. Esse is percipi is a theological statement.
In short, for Berkeley, materialism is an effort to remove God further and further from the world, to explain the world more and more without reference to Him, to suggest that, even if God did not exist and rule the world, the world would exist and continue pretty well on its own. This is appalling to his religious convictions, and he thinks he has a set of arguments that shows this to be philosophical nonsense. He wants to demonstrate the utter dependence of the world on God. Materialism, as he sees it, replaces God as the ground of all things with some immanent principle of order, with inert and senseless matter.
Philosophically, the crucial biblical text for Berkeley is “in Him we live and move and have our being.” He wants to take this as absolutely literal: Nothing has independent existence, nothing exists “absolutely,” i.e., apart from God’s perception of it. Berkeley's opposition to matter is only the negative side of his affirmation of the Pauline conviction that “in Him we live and move and have our being.”