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2. Berkeley

M. HUGHES


Subject Philosophy

People Berkeley, Bishop George

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00005.x


Extract

Berkeley was a bishop and a defender of orthodox Christianity in an age when science was beginning to be claimed as an ally by those who called themselves “freethinkers": people who wanted to modify religion and to discard awkward dogmas, or who might even be drawn towards atheism. Berkeley's philosophy revolves around his attempt to prove the existence of God by a new argument. This argument starts by claiming that our perceptions exist only insofar as they are perceived, and being perceived is a passive state. Therefore perceptions have no power. It may be supposed that perceptions are related to material objects; but this supposed relationship cannot be understood unless it involves resemblance or likeness between perception and object. But there is, he argues, no likeness except between perceptions; indeed, nothing could be more unlike than something perceived and something unperceived. Therefore, since there is no likeness, the supposed relationship cannot be understood at all, and hence does not exist. Thus the very concept of material objects is to be rejected; we cannot use any concept which cannot be related to our perceptions, the sole basis of our information and knowledge. Thus we cannot say that the power which causes our perceptions resides in material objects. But some power causes our perceptions, since we have very little choice about what we perceive. If that power ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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