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Thread: About Bishop Berkeley's Reality

  1. #1 About Bishop Berkeley's Reality 
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    I hope I can make sense of this because it leads to a couple of questions for which I need answers.

    Up until last night, I knew only a small tidbit of Bishop Berkeley's theory that if no one is present to sense an object, the object does not exist. To me it seemed a tad ridiculous and I let it ride off into the sunset. Then I found a chapter in Tom Morris's "Philosophy for Dummies. Discussing the question of the proverbial falling tree in the forest, he said that tree does not even exist because there is no creature present to see, hear, or feel it. From there he quotes Bishop Berkeley and I see a new word that we were not told at university. Or I think we were not. Berkeley said/wrote (in part):

    "All the choir of heaven and furniture of earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any substance without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known ......so long as they are not perceived by me or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit .........?

    Underlining is mine. This seems to say that even though no creature is present, if some creature is thinking about the object it does exist. Am I right so far? I interpret "some eternal spirit" as God which would, of course, fit into Berkeley's profession. My thought then: IF (note the "IF") an eternal spirit (God) exists and IF that God was creator of all the universe, then he has all his creation in mind, meaning (I think) that everything does indeed exist despite no earthly creature being present. Would anyone agree?

    Or, IF we do not allow for an "eternal spirit", we have a harder problem to put together but it might be done. If there is a forest in Helsinki which I know nothing of, it can still exist because those living nearby do know of it and likely talk about it. This part I have to leave open as I do not know what to do with it. I just cannot conceive of something not existing simply because no one is sensing or thinking about it. I am reminded, though, of the story of the student who - after hearing Bishop Berkeley's theory - worriedly asked his professor "Please tell me. Do I exist?" The professor replied "Who wants to know?" (The mind at work?)

    And that gets me to the basic question that I wanted to ask. Hopefully someone will know. Q: Is Bishop Berkeley's theory of non-existence unless experienced by someone's senses or thoughts still accepted by any group of philosophers today?

    I would so much appreciate any thoughts on the topic but especially would like an answer to the last question. Has his theory been set aside as untenable? Or is it still taught and believed in by some philosophers?

    Thank you. hazelm


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  3. #2  
    exchemist
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    Quote Originally Posted by hazelm View Post
    I hope I can make sense of this because it leads to a couple of questions for which I need answers.

    Up until last night, I knew only a small tidbit of Bishop Berkeley's theory that if no one is present to sense an object, the object does not exist. To me it seemed a tad ridiculous and I let it ride off into the sunset. Then I found a chapter in Tom Morris's "Philosophy for Dummies. Discussing the question of the proverbial falling tree in the forest, he said that tree does not even exist because there is no creature present to see, hear, or feel it. From there he quotes Bishop Berkeley and I see a new word that we were not told at university. Or I think we were not. Berkeley said/wrote (in part):

    "All the choir of heaven and furniture of earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any substance without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known ......so long as they are not perceived by me or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit .........?

    Underlining is mine. This seems to say that even though no creature is present, if some creature is thinking about the object it does exist. Am I right so far? I interpret "some eternal spirit" as God which would, of course, fit into Berkeley's profession. My thought then: IF (note the "IF") an eternal spirit (God) exists and IF that God was creator of all the universe, then he has all his creation in mind, meaning (I think) that everything does indeed exist despite no earthly creature being present. Would anyone agree?

    Or, IF we do not allow for an "eternal spirit", we have a harder problem to put together but it might be done. If there is a forest in Helsinki which I know nothing of, it can still exist because those living nearby do know of it and likely talk about it. This part I have to leave open as I do not know what to do with it. I just cannot conceive of something not existing simply because no one is sensing or thinking about it. I am reminded, though, of the story of the student who - after hearing Bishop Berkeley's theory - worriedly asked his professor "Please tell me. Do I exist?" The professor replied "Who wants to know?" (The mind at work?)

    And that gets me to the basic question that I wanted to ask. Hopefully someone will know. Q: Is Bishop Berkeley's theory of non-existence unless experienced by someone's senses or thoughts still accepted by any group of philosophers today?

    I would so much appreciate any thoughts on the topic but especially would like an answer to the last question. Has his theory been set aside as untenable? Or is it still taught and believed in by some philosophers?

    Thank you. hazelm
    Hello Hazel and Happy New Year!

    I don't pretend any special knowledge of Berkeley but reading the Wiki article it does rather look as if what he was trying to convey is that perception is the only "reality". This, it seems to me, is quite a reasonable position to take, insofar as something unperceived, and exerting no perceptible influence, might as well not be there, to all intents and purposes. As for whether God perceives everything and so makes everything permanently real, I"m not sure if that is what he intended, though there is an Oxford limerick about it:

    There was a young man who said, "God
    Must find it exceedingly odd,
    When he sees that this tree
    just ceases to be
    When there's no one about in the quad."

    "Dear Sir, your astonishment's odd.
    I am always about in the quad,
    And that's why this tree
    Continues to be
    Since observed by,

    Yours faithfully,

    God."

    I quote one sentence from the article: " .....a material thing such as an apple consists of a collection of ideas (shape, color, taste, physical properties, etc.) which are caused in the spirits of humans by the spirit of God."

    It would appear that many of Berkeley's ideas were taken up in the c.20th. For instance I was intrigued to see he argued against Newton's (implicit) concept of absolute space. Indeed he seems to have anticipated Mach and Einstein in this respect!


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