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George Berkeley
Full name George Berkeley
Born March 12, 1685(1685-03-12),
Kilkenny, Ireland
Died January 14, 1753 (aged 67)
Oxford, England
Era 18th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Idealism, Empiricism
Main interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Language, Mathematics, Perception
Notable ideas Subjective Idealism, The Master Argument

George Berkeley (pronounced /ˈbɑrkli/) (12 March 1685 – 14 January 1753), also known as Bishop Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne), was an Anglo-Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others). This theory contends that individuals can only know directly sensations and ideas of objects, not abstractions such as "matter". The theory also contends that ideas are dependent upon being perceived by minds for their very existence, a belief that became immortalized in the dictum, "Esse est percipi" ("To be is to be perceived"). His most widely-read works are A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713), in which the characters Philonous and Hylas represent Berkeley himself and his older contemporary John Locke. In 1734, he published The Analyst, a critique of the foundations of infinitesimal calculus, which was influential in the development of mathematics.



Berkeley was born at his family home, Dysart Castle, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, the eldest son of William Berkeley, a cadet of the noble family of Berkeley. He was educated at Kilkenny College and attended Trinity College, Dublin, completing a Master's degree in 1707. He remained at Trinity College after completion of his degree as a tutor and Greek lecturer.

His earliest publication was a mathematical one but the first which brought him into notice was his Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, first published in 1709. In the essay, Berkeley examined visual distance, magnitude, position and problems of sight and touch. Though giving rise to much controversy at the time, its conclusions are now accepted as an established part of the theory of optics.

The next publication to appear was the Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge in 1710, which was followed in 1713 by Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, in which he propounded his system of philosophy, the leading principle of which is that the world as represented to our senses depends for its existence, as such, on being perceived.

Of this theory, the Principles gives the exposition and the Dialogues the defence. One of his main objectives was to combat the prevailing materialism of the time. The theory was largely received with ridicule; while even those, such as Samuel Clarke and William Whiston, who did acknowledge his "extraordinary genius," were nevertheless convinced that his first principles were false.

Shortly afterwards, Berkeley visited England, and was received into the circle of Addison, Pope and Steele. In the period between 1714 and 1720, he interspersed his academic endeavours with periods of extensive travel in Europe, including one of the most extensive Grand Tours of the length and breadth of Italy ever undertaken. In 1721, he took Holy Orders in the Church of Ireland, earning his doctorate in divinity, and once again chose to remain at Trinity College Dublin, lecturing this time in Divinity and in Hebrew. In 1724, he was made Dean of Derry.

In 1725, he formed the project of founding a college in Bermuda for training ministers for the colonies, and missionaries to the Indians, in pursuit of which he gave up his deanery with its income of £1100.

In 1728, he married Anne Forster, daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He then went to America on a salary of £100. He landed near Newport, Rhode Island, where he bought a plantation – the famous "Whitehall." He lived at the plantation while he waited for funds for his college to arrive. The funds, however, were not forthcoming and in 1732 he returned to London. While living on London's Saville Street, he took part in the efforts to create a home for the city's abandoned children. The Foundling Hospital was founded by Royal Charter in 1739 and Berkeley is listed as one of its original governors. In 1734, he was appointed Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland. Soon afterwards, he published Alciphron, or The Minute Philosopher, directed against both Shaftesbury and Bernard de Mandeville; and in 1735–37 The Querist.

His last two publications were Siris: Philosophical reflexions and inquiries concerning the virtues of tar-water, and divers other subjects connected together and arising from one another (1744) and Further Thoughts on Tar-water (1752). Pine tar is an effective antiseptic and disinfectant when applied to cuts on the skin, but Berkeley argued for the use of pine tar as a broad panacea for disease in general. It is said that his 1744 book on the medical benefits of pine tar was his best-selling book in his lifetime.[1]

He remained at Cloyne until 1752, when he retired and went to Oxford to live with his son. He died soon afterward and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. His affectionate disposition and genial manners made him much loved and held in warm regard by many of his contemporaries.

Contributions to philosophy

As a young man, Berkeley theorized that individuals cannot know if an object is; they can only know if an object is perceived by a mind. He stated that individuals cannot think or talk about an object's being, but rather think or talk about an object's being perceived by someone. That is, individuals cannot know any "real" object or matter "behind" the object as they perceive it, which "causes" their perceptions. He thus concluded that all that individuals know about an object is their perception of it.

Under his theory, the object a person perceives is the only object that the person knows and experiences. If individuals need to speak at all of the "real" or "material" object, the latter in particular being a confused term that Berkeley sought to dispose of, it is this perceived object to which all such names should exclusively refer.

This raises the question whether this perceived object is "objective" in the sense of being "the same" for fellow humans. In fact, is the concept of "other" human beings, beyond an individual's perception of them, valid? Berkeley argued that since an individual experiences other humans in the way they speak to him —something which is not originating from any activity of his own —and since he learns that their view of the world is consistent with his, he can believe in their existence and in the world being identical or similar for everyone.

It follows that:

  1. Any knowledge of the world is to be obtained only through direct perception.
  2. Error comes about through thinking about what individuals perceive.
  3. Knowledge of the world of people, things and actions around them may be purified and perfected merely by stripping away all thought, and with it language, from their pure perceptions.

From this it follows that:

  1. The ideal form of scientific knowledge is to be obtained by pursuing pure de-intellectualized perceptions.
  2. If individuals would pursue these, we would be able to obtain the deepest insights into the natural world and the world of human thought and action that is available to man.
  3. The goal of all science, therefore, is to de-intellectualize or de-conceptualize, and thereby purify, human perceptions.

Theologically, some believe that one consequence of Berkeley's views is that they require God to be present as an immediate cause of all our experiences. God is not the distant engineer of Newtonian machinery that in the fullness of time led to the growth of a tree in the university quadrangle. Rather, my perception of the tree is an idea that God's mind has produced in mine, and the tree continues to exist in the quadrangle when "nobody" is there, simply because God is an infinite mind that perceives all.

The philosophy of David Hume concerning causality and objectivity is an elaboration of another aspect of Berkeley's philosophy. As Berkeley's thought progressed, his works took on a more Platonic character: Siris, in particular, displays an interest in highly abstruse and speculative metaphysics which is not to be found in the earlier works. However, A.A. Luce, the most eminent Berkeley scholar of the twentieth century, constantly stressed the continuity of Berkeley's philosophy. The fact that Berkeley returned to his major works throughout his life, issuing revised editions with only minor changes, also counts against any theory that attributes to him a significant volte-face.

Over a century later Berkeley's thought experiment was summarized in a limerick by Ronald Knox and an anonymous reply:

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue 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 the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

In reference to Berkeley's philosophy, Dr. Samuel Johnson kicked a heavy stone and exclaimed, "I refute it thus!" A philosophical empiricist might reply that the only thing that Dr. Johnson knew about the stone was what he saw with his eyes, felt with his foot, and heard with his ears. That is, the existence of the stone consisted exclusively of Dr. Johnson's perceptions. What the stone really consisted of (given that such a question can in fact be asked sensibly) could be entirely different in construction to what was perceived - it existed, ultimately, as an idea in his mind, nothing more and nothing less.

John Locke (Berkeley's predecessor) states that we define an object by its primary and secondary qualities. He takes heat as an example of a secondary quality. If you put one hand in a bucket of cold water, and the other hand in a bucket of warm water, then put both hands in a bucket of lukewarm water, one of your hands is going to tell you that the water is cold and the other that the water is hot. Locke says that since two different objects (both your hands) perceive the water to be hot and cold, then the heat is not a quality of the water.

While Locke used this argument to distinguish primary from secondary qualities, Berkeley extends it to cover primary qualities in the same way. For example, he says that size is not a quality of an object because the size of the object depends on the distance between the observer and the object, or the size of observer. Since an object is a different size to different observers, then size is not a quality of the object. Berkeley refutes shape with a similar argument and then asks: if neither primary qualities nor secondary qualities are of the object, then how can we say that there is anything more than the qualities we observe?

Berkeley's Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge was published three years before the publication of Arthur Collier's Clavis Universalis, which made assertions similar to those of Berkeley's. However, there seemed to have been no influence or communication between the two writers.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote of him: "Berkeley was, therefore, the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism…"[2].

The Analyst controversy

In addition to his contributions to philosophy, Bishop Berkeley was also very influential in the development of mathematics, although in a rather indirect sense. In 1734, he published The Analyst, subtitled A DISCOURSE Addressed to an Infidel Mathematician. The infidel mathematician in question is believed to have been either Edmond Halley, or Isaac Newton himself, although if to the latter, the discourse would then have been posthumously addressed, as Newton died in 1727. The Analyst represented a direct attack on the foundations and principles of Infinitesimal calculus and, in particular, the notion of fluxion or infinitesimal change, which Newton and Leibniz had used to develop the calculus. Berkeley coined the phrase Ghosts of departed quantities, familiar to students of calculus (see Ian Stewart's book From Here to Infinity, chapter 6) which captures the gist of his criticism.

Berkeley regarded his criticism of calculus as part of his broader campaign against the religious implications of Newtonian mechanics – as a defence of traditional Christianity against deism, which tends to distance God from His worshippers.

The difficulties raised by Berkeley were still present in the work of Cauchy whose approach to infinitesimal calculus was a combination of infinitesimals and a notion of limit, and were eventually resolved by Weierstrass in terms of his (ε, δ) approach, which eliminated infinitesimals altogether. More recently, Abraham Robinson restored infinitesimal methods in his 1966 book Non-standard analysis by showing that they can be used rigorously.


Berkeley's influence is reflected in the institutions of education named in his honour. Both University of California, Berkeley, and the city that grew up around the university, were named after him, although the pronunciation has evolved to suit American English--(pronounced /bûrkli/ like Burke-Lee). The naming was suggested in 1866 by a trustee of the then College of California, Frederick Billings. Billings was inspired by Berkeley's Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America, particularly the final stanza: "Westward the course of empire takes its way; The first four Acts already past, A fifth shall close the Drama with the day; Time's noblest offspring is the last." A residential college and an Episcopal seminary at Yale University also bear Berkeley's name, as does the Berkeley Library at Trinity College, Dublin.

Berkeley's Writings

Writings on Berkeley

See also


  1. ^ See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. ^ Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 12


Ewald, William B., ed., 1996. From Kant to Hilbert: A Source Book in the Foundations of Mathematics, 2 vols. Oxford Uni. Press.

  • 1707. Of Infinites, 16–19.
  • 1709. Letter to Samuel Molyneaux, 19–21.
  • 1721. De Motu, 37–54.
  • 1734. The Analyst, 60–92.


  • This article incorporates public domain text from : Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.
  • R.H. Nichols and F A. Wray (1935). The History of the Foundling Hospital. London: Oxford Univ. Press.   p. 349.
  • John Daniel Wild (1962). George Berkeley: a study of his life and philosophy. New York: Russell & Russell.  
  • Edward Chaney (2000), 'George Berkeley's Grand Tours: The Immaterialist as Connoisseur of Art and Architecture', in E. Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance, 2nd ed. London, Routledge.
  • Costica Bradatan (2006), The Other Bishop Berkeley. An Exercise in Reenchantment, Fordham University Press, New York

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

George Berkeley (12 March 168514 January 1753), also known as Bishop Berkeley, was an influential Irish philosopher whose primary philosophical achievement is the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others).



  • Westward the course of empire takes its way;
    The four first acts already past,
    A fifth shall close the drama with the day:
    Time's noblest offspring is the last.
    • On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919). Compare: "Westward the star of empire takes its way", Epigraph to Bancroft's History of the United States; "What worlds in the yet unformed Occident / May come refin'd with th' accents that are ours?", Samuel Daniel, Musophilus (1599), Stanza 163.
  • Our youth we can have but to-day,
    We may always find time to grow old.
    • Can Love be controlled by Advice?, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • [Tar water] is of a nature so mild and benign and proportioned to the human constitution, as to warm without heating, to cheer but not inebriate.
    • Siris, paragraph 217. Compare: "Cups / That cheer but not inebriate", William Cowper, The Task, book iv, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713)

  • I entirely agree with you, as to the ill tendency of the affected doubts of some philosophers, and fantastical conceit of others. I am even so far gone of late in this way of think, that I have quitted several of the sublime notions I had got in their schools for vulgar opinions. And I give it you on my word, since this revolt from metaphysical notions to the plain dictates of nature and common sense, I find my understanding strangely enlightened, so that I can now easily comprehend a great many thing which before were all mystery and riddle.
    • Said by Philonous (Berkeley) to Hylas in the opening of dialog 1 with reference to the recent surge philosophic endeavors (Locke, Newton, et al) that seemed to lead to skepticism about the existence of the world
  • That there is no such thing as what philosophers call material substance, I am seriously persuaded: but if I were made to see any thing absurd or skeptical in this, I should then have the same reason to renounce this, that I imagine I have now to reject the contrary opinion.
    • Philonous to Hylas
  • Doth the reality of sensible things consist in being perceived? or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears no relation to the mind?
    • Philonous to Hylas
  • Seeing therefore they are both [heat and pain] immediately perceived at the same time, and the fire affects you only with one simple, or uncompounded idea, it follows that this same simple idea is both the intense heat immediately perceived, and the pain;and consequently, that the intense heat immediately perceived, is nothing distinct from a particular sort of pain.
    • Philonous to Hylas
  • Since therefore, as well those degrees of heat that are not painful, as those that are, can exist in a thinking substance; may we not conclude that external bodies are absolutely incapable of any degree of heat whatsoever?
    • Philonous to Hylas. Hylas replies with, "So it seems."

About Berkeley

  • When discussing how Berkeley's philosophy appeared to be self-evidently false, but impossible to refute, Dr. Johnson kicked out at a nearby stone, exclaiming "I refute it thus!"
    • Boswell's Life
  • "Berkeley was, therefore, the first to treat the subjective starting-point really seriously and to demonstrate irrefutably its absolute necessity. He is the father of idealism..."

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GEORGE BERKELEY (1685-1753), Irish bishop and philosopher, the eldest son of William Berkeley (an officer of customs who had, it seems, come to Ireland in the suite of Lord Berkeley of Stratton, lord lieutenant, 1670-1672, to whom he was related), was born on the 12th of March 1685, in a cottage near Dysert Castle, Thomastown, Ireland. He passed from the school at Kilkenny to Trinity College, Dublin (1700), where, owing to the peculiar subtlety of his mind and his determination to accept no doctrine on the evidence of authority or convention, he left the beaten track of study and was regarded by some as a dunce, by others as a genius. During his career at Dublin the works of Descartes and Newton were superseding the older text-books, and the doctrines of Locke's Essay were eagerly discussed. Thus he "entered on an atmosphere which was beginning to be charged with the elements of reaction against traditional scholasticism in physics and in metaphysics" (A. C. Fraser). He became a fellow in 1707. His interest in philosophy led him to take a prominent share in the foundation of a society for discussing the new doctrines, and is further shown by his Common Place Book, one of the most valuable autobiographical records in existence, which throws much light on the growth of his ideas, and enables us to understand the significance of his early writings. We find here the consciousness of creative thought focused in a new principle which is to revolutionize speculative science.

There is no sign of any intimate knowledge of ancient or scholastic thought; to the doctrines of Spinoza, Leibnitz, Malebranche, Norris, the attitude is one of indifference or lack of appreciation, but the influence of Descartes and specially of Locke is evident throughout. The new principle (nowhere in the Common Place Book explicitly stated) may be expressed in the proposition that no existence is conceivable - and therefore possible - which is not either conscious spirit or the ideas (i.e. objects) of which such spirit is conscious. In the language of a later period this principle may be expressed as the absolute synthesis of subject and object; no object exists apart from Mind. Mind is, therefore, prior both in thought and in existence, if for the moment we assume the popular distinction. Berkeley thus diverted philosophy from its beaten track of discussion as to the meaning of matter, substance, cause, and preferred to ask first whether these have any significance apart from the conscious spirit. In the pursuit of this inquiry he rashly invaded other departments of science, and much of the Common Place Book is occupied with a polemic, as vigorous as it is ignorant, against the fundamental conceptions of the infinitesimal calculus.

In 1707 Berkeley published two short mathematical tracts; in 5709, in his New Theory of Vision, he applied his new principle for the first time, and in the following year stated it fully in the Principles of Human Knowledge. In these works he attacked the existing theories of externality which to the unphilosophical mind is proved by visual evidence. He maintained that visual consciousness is merely a system of arbitrary signs which symbolize for us certain actual or possible tactual experience - in other words a purely conventional language.

The contents of the visual and the tactual consciousness have no element in common. The visible and visual signs are definitely connected with tactual experiences, and the association between them, which has grown up in our minds through custom or habit, rests upon, or is guaranteed by, the constant conjunction of the two by the will of the Universal Mind. But this synthesis is not brought forward prominently by Berkeley. It was evident that a similar analysis might have been applied to tactual consciousness which does not give externality in its deepest significance any more than the visual; but with deliberate purpose Berkeley at first drew out only one side of his argument. In the Principles of Human Knowledge, externality in its ultimate sense as independence of all mind is considered. Matter, as an abstract, unperceived substance or cause, is shown to be impossible, an unreal conception; true substance is affirmed to be conscious spirit, true causality the free activity of such a spirit, while physical substantiality and causality are held to be merely arbitrary, though constant, relations among phenomena connected subjectively by suggestion or association, objectively in the Universal Mind. In ultimate analysis, then, nature is conscious experience, and forms the sign or symbol of a divine, universal intelligence and will.

In 1711 Berkeley delivered his Discourse on Passive Obedience, in which he deduces moral rules from the intention of God to promote the general happiness, thus working out a theological utilitarianism, which may be compared with the later expositions of Austin and J. S. Mill. From 5707 he had been engaged as college tutor; in 1712 he paid a short visit to England, and in April 1713 he was presented by Swift at court. His abilities, his courtesy and his upright character made him a universal favourite. While in London he published his Dialogues (1713), a more popular exposition of his new theory; for exquisite facility of style these are among the finest philosophical writings in the English language. In November he became chaplain to Lord Peterborough, whom he accompanied on the continent, returning in August 1714. He travelled again in 1715-1720 as tutor to the only son of Dr St George Ashe (? 1658-1718 , bishop successively of Cloyne, Clogher and Derry). In 1721, during the disturbed state of social relations consequent on the bursting of the South Sea bubble, he published an Essay towards preventing the Ruin of Great Britain, which shows the intense interest he took in practical affairs. In the same year he returned to Ireland as chaplain to the duke of Grafton, and was made divinity lecturer and university preacher. In 1722 he was appointed to the deanery of Dromore, a post which seems to have entailed no duties, as we find him holding the offices of Hebrew lecturer and senior proctor at the university. The following year Miss Vanhomrigh, Swift's Vanessa, left him half her property. It would appear that he had only met her once at dinner. In 1724 he was nominated to the rich deanery of Derry, but had hardly been appointed before he was using every effort to resign it in order to devote himself to his scheme of founding a college in the Bermudas, and extending its benefits to the Americans. With infinite exertion he succeeded in obtaining from government a promise of 20,000, and after four years spent in preparation, sailed in September 1728, accompanied by some friends and by his wife, daughter of Judge Forster, whom he had married in the preceding month. Three years of quiet retirement and study were spent in Rhode Island, but it gradually became apparent that government would never hand over the promised grant, and Berkeley was compelled to give up his cherished plan. Soon after his return he published the fruits of his studies in Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher (1733), a finely written work in the form of dialogue, critically examining the various forms of free-thinking in the age, and bringing forward in antithesis to them his own theory, which shows all nature to be the language of God. In 1734 he was raised to the bishopric of Cloyne. The same year, in his Analyst, he attacked the higher mathematics as leading to freethinking; this involved him in a hot controversy. The Querist, a practical work in the form of questions on what would now be called social or economical philosophy, appeared in three parts, 1 735, 1 73 6, 1 737. In 1744 was published the Siris, partly occasioned by the controversy as to the efficacy of tar-water in cases of small-pox, but rising far above the circumstance from which it took its rise, and revealing hidden depths in the Berkeleian metaphysics. In 1751 his eldest son died, and in 1752 he removed with his family to Oxford for the sake of his son George, who was studying there. He died suddenly in the midst of his family on the 14th of January 1753, and was buried in Christ Church, Oxford.

In the philosophies of Descartes and Locke a large share of attention had been directed to the idea of matter, which was held to be the abstract, unperceived background of real experience, and was supposed to give rise to our ideas of external things through its action on the sentient mind. Knowledge being limited to the ideas produced could never extend to the unperceived matter, or substance, or cause which produced them, and it became a problem for speculative science to determine the grounds for the very belief in its existence. Philosophy seemed about to end in scepticism or in materialism. Now Berkeley put this whole problem in a new light by pointing out a preliminary question. Before we deduce results from such abstract ideas as cause, substance, matter, we must ask what in reality do these mean - what is the actual content of consciousness which corresponds to these words? Do not all these ideas, when held to represent something which exists absolutely apart from all knowledge of it, involve.a contradiction? In putting this question, not less than in answering it, consists Berkeley's originality as a philosopher. The essence of the answer is that the universe is inconceivable apart from mind - that existence, as such, denotes conscious spirits and the objects of consciousness. Matter and external things, in so far as they are thought to have an existence beyond the circle of consciousness, are impossible, inconceivable. External things are things known to us in immediate perception. To this conclusion Berkeley seems, in the first place, to have been led by the train of reflection that naturally conducts to subjective or egoistic idealism. It is impossible to overstep the limits of self-consciousness; whatever words I use, whatever notions I have, must refer to and find their meaning in facts of consciousness. But this is by no means the whole or even the principal part of Berkeley's philosophy; it is essentially a theory of causality, and this is brought out gradually under the pressure of difficulties in the first solution of the early problem. To merely subjective idealism, sense percepts differ from ideas of imagination in degree, not in kind; both belong to the individual mind. To Berkeley, however, the difference is fundamental; sense ideas are not due to our own activity; they must therefore be produced by some other will - by the divine intelligence. Sense experience is thus the constant action upon our minds of supreme active intellect, and is not the consequence of dead inert matter. It might appear, therefore, that sensible things had an objective existence in the mind of God; that an idea so soon as it passes out of our consciousness passes into that of God. This is an interpretation, frequently and not without some justice, put upon Berkeley's own expression. But it is not a satisfactory account of his theory. Berkeley is compelled to see that an immediate perception is not a thing, and that what we consider permanent or substantial is not a sensation but a group of qualities, which in ultimate analysis means sensations either immediately felt or such as our experience has taught us would be felt in conjunction with these. Our belief in the reality of a thing may therefore be said to mean assurance that this association in our minds between actual and possible sensations is somehow guaranteed. Further, Berkeley's own theory would never permit him to speak of possible sensations, meaning by that the ideas of sensations called up to our minds by present experience. He could never have held that these afforded any explanation of the permanent existence of real objects. His theory is quite distinct from this, which really amounts to nothing more than subjective idealism. External things are produced by the will of the divine intelligence; they are caused, and caused in a regular order; there exists in the divine mind archetypes, of which sense experience may be said to be the realization in our finite minds. Our belief in the permanence of something which corresponds to the association in our minds of actual and possible sensations means belief in the orderliness of nature; and that is merely assurance that the universe is pervaded and regulated by mind. Physical science is occupied in endeavouring to decipher the divine ideas which find realization in our limited experience, in trying to interpret the divine language of which natural things are the words and letters, and in striving to bring human conceptions into harmony with the divine thoughts. Instead, therefore, of fate or necessity, or matter, or the unknown, a living, active mind is looked upon as the centre and spring of the universe, and this is the essence of the Berkeleian metaphysics.

The deeper aspects of Berkeley's new thought have been almost universally neglected or misunderstood. Of his spiritual empiricism one side only has been accepted by later thinkers, and looked upon as the whole. The subjective mechanism of association which with Berkeley is but part of the true explanation, and is dependent on the objective realization in the divine mind, has been received as in itself a satisfactory theory. Sunt Cogitationes has been regarded by thinkers who profess themselves Berkeleians as the one proposition warranted by consciousness; the empiricism of his philosophy has been eagerly welcomed, while the spiritual intuition, without which the whole is to Berkeley meaningless, has been cast aside. For this he is himself in no small measure to blame. The deeper spiritual intuition, present from the first, was only brought into clear relief in order to meet difficulties in the earlier statements, and the extension of the intuition itself beyond the limits of our own consciousness, which completely removes his position from mere subjectivism, rests on foundations uncritically assumed, and at first sight irreconcilable with certain positions of his system. The necessity and universality of the judgments of causality and substantiality are taken for granted; and there is no investigation of the place held by these notions in the mental constitution. The relation between the divine mind and finite intelligence, at first thought as that of agent and recipient, is complicated and obscure when the necessity for explaining the permanence of real things comes forward. The divine archetypes, according to which sensible experience is regulated and in which it finds its real objectivity, are different in kind from mere sense ideas, and the question then arises whether in these we have not again the "things as they are," which Berkeley at first so contemptuously dismissed. He leaves it undetermined whether or not our knowledge of sense things, which is never entirely presentative, involves some reference to this objective course of nature or thought of the divine mind. And if so, what is the nature of the notions necessarily implied in the simplest knowledge of a thing, as distinct from mere sense feeling? That in knowing objects certain thoughts are implied which are not presentations or their copies is at times dimly seen by Berkeley himself; but he was content to propound a question with regard to those notions, and to look upon them as merely Locke's ideas of relation. Such ideas of relation are in truth the stumbling-block in Locke's philosophy, and Berkeley's empiricism is equally far from accounting for them.

With all these defects, however, Berkeley's new conception marks a distinct stage of progress in human thought. His true place in the history of speculation may be seen from the simple observation that the difficulties or obscurities in his scheme are really the points on which later philosophy has turned. He once for all lifted the problem of metaphysics to a higher level, and, in conjunction with his successor, Hume, determined the form into which later metaphysical questions have been thrown.

Bibliography. - The standard edition of Berkeley's works is that of A. Campbell Fraser in 4 vols. (i.-iii. Works; iv. Life, Letters and Dissertation) published by the Clarendon Press (1871); this edition, revised throughout and largely re-written, was re-published by the same author (1901). Another complete edition edited by G. Sampson, with a biographical sketch by A. J. Balfour, and a useful bibliographical summary, appeared in 1897-1898. Prof. Fraser also published an excellent volume of selections (5th ed., 1899), and a short general account in a volume on Berkeley in the Blackwood Philos. Class. For Berkeley's theory of vision see manuals of psychology (e.g. G. F. Stout, Wm. James); for his ethical views H. Sidgwick, Hist. of Ethics (5th ed., 1902); A. Bain, Mental and Moral Science (1872). See also Sir L. Stephen, English Thought in the 18th Century (3rd ed., 1902); J. S. Mill's Dissertations, vols. ii. and iv.; T. Huxley, Critiques and Addresses, pp. 320 seq.; G. S. Fullerton, System of Metaphysics (New York, 1904); John Watson, Outline of Philos. (New York, 1898); J. McCosh, Locke's Theory of Knowledge (1884); T. Lorenz, Ein Beitrag zur Lebensgeschichte G. Berkeleys (1900) and Weitere Beitrage z. Leb. G. B.'s (1901); histories of modern philosophy generally.

(R. AD.; J. M. M.)

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George Berkeley
Full name George Berkeley
Era 18th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Idealism, Empiricism
Main interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Language, Mathematics, Perception
Notable ideas Subjective Idealism, The Master Argument

George Berkeley (pronounced /ˈbɑrkli/) (12 March 168514 January 1753), also known as Bishop Berkeley, was a philosopher. His main philosophical achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others). He said that we know the sensations and we can think of an object, but we can not be sure that this object actually exists.



Berkeley was born at his family home, Dysart Castle, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He was educated at Kilkenny College and attended Trinity College, Dublin, completing a Master's degree in 1707.


  • Philosophical Commentaries (1707–08, notebooks)
  • An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709)
  • A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I (1710)
  • Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713)
  • De Motu (1721)
  • Alciphron: or the Minute Philosopher (1732)
  • The Theory of Vision or Visual Language … Vindicated and Explained (1733)
  • The Analyst (1734)
  • The Querist (1735–37)
  • Siris (1744)


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