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The Relation of Berkeley's Later
to His Earlier Idealism








The Relation of Berkeley's Later
to His Earlier Idealism












Page 7. Note 1, read p. 176.

Page 12. Note 5, read note 3, p. 47.

Page 13. Note 1, read note 3, page 47.

Page 20. Line 10, read muscle instead of muscular.

Page 55. Line 29, read mists instead of midst.

Page 66. Line 24, read Humian instead of human.






1. Introduction.

2. Abstract Ideas.

(a) Abstract Images.

(b) Universals.


Ideas and Things.

1. Idea as Mere Sensation.

2. Idea as Percept.

3. Spirit, Phenomenon and Idea.

CHAPTER III. Constitution of Experience.

1. Relations.

(a) Arbitrary Connection.

(b) Necessary Connection.

2. Notions and Their Objects.

(a) Notion of Relations.

(b) Notion of Spirit.

CHAPTER IV. Conclusion.




On one of the pages of Berkeley's Commonplace Book, the
author notes that ''nothing can be a proof against one side of a
contradiction that bears equally hard upon the other." One might
be inclined to admit that a just estimate of the Berkeleian philos-
ophy resolves itself into this reflection, if it were not that historical
evidence decidedly favors a more positive interpretation. Unfor-
tunately, the true appreciation of the attitude adopted toward
Reality by a philosopher who, like Berkeley, is not a system-maker
— scarcely a systematizer of philosophic conceptions — is often
partially obscured by the fact that the positive construction placed
upon his work by subsequent thinking sometimes emphasizes the
negative element of his philosophy, and so isolates it from the
course of later philosophical development. This is a truism,
but its explanation simply is that the spirit of philosophy respects
the system by which its course of development is for a time
apparently arrested. When theory succeeds theory in rapid suc-
cession, the progress of thought is in single file. A feature, an
aspect, is sufficient to constitute a farther step in advance. The
value of the theory is merely extensive, while that of the system is
also intensive. The system serves always to recall the personality
of the system maker, the theory is merged in its later outgrowths,
apart from which it is abstract and featureless.

Berkeley was not the creator of a system. Rather was he a
man with a theory of life, of morals, of Reality. Thus it is not
surprising if, in his philosophy, the many definite tendencies in the
direction of Empiricism have come to be regarded as almost the
only positive elements in his conception of the world. 1 The his-
tory of philosophy makes evident the value of Berkeley as a link
in the empirical succession from Locke to Mill, though with
regard to his philosophy as a whole, it may likewise be said that
Empiricism forms a negative rather than a positive element. The
lines of thought followed by him in his earlier metaphysical under-
taking are undoubtedly those which make most clearly and defi-
nitely toward the empirical views adopted by his successors. It

1 " In its best known form, as a factor in the history of philosophy, only an
empirical idealism." Burt: "A History of Modern Philosophy M ( 1S92).

— 6 —

was, perhaps, unfortunate for the later acceptance of the Berke-
leian theory of immaterialism, in a form more acceptable to its
originator, that the ' new doctrine ' found so ready an acceptance
as to what have since been regarded as its essential features: The
Cartesian dualism of thought and existence, so haltingly maintained
by Locke 1 in his doctrine of substance, added to Berkeley's own
nominalistic tendency and further sustained by his religious ' re-
pugnance ' to an atheistical, unthinking ' matter', were the forces
at work in the life of Berkeley, which early culminated in his view
that, upon the existence or non-existence of abstract matter, there
lay at stake the consistency of human reason with itself, and our
only warrant for the objectivity of the ideals which human reason
sets for itself. It may indeed be objected that these ideals, being
so apparently of a theological cast, were the rocks and stubble
which prevented the successful spading up of false notions und pre-
judices so vigorously begun. But as Berkeley does not lay claim
to a philosophy without presuppositions, so neither does he regard
the prepossessions of his opponents as in themselves obstacles to
truth, provided only the motives underlying them be not inherently
self -contradictory.

Whatever may have been the motive which determined Berke-
ley to become the promulgator of immaterialism, the discoverer
himself seemed scarcely aware that the world was already ripe for
his views. In the enthusiasm which formed the necessary accom-
paniment of the awakening consciousness of his mission in the
world of philosophy, Berkeley was in part led to misconstrue
the task which he had set for himself. Aware that he was to inau-
gurate a revolution in the current modes of metaphysical thinking,
and mindful of the "mighty sect of men" which was to oppose
him, the single problem of the existence or non-existence of mat-
ter assumed for him a size disproportionate to its true significance,
in view of the other questions which an idealistic philosophy is
called upon to solve. Immaterialism 2 is far removed from idealism
in any positive and definite sense, though the former meant for
Berkeley the latter, and accordingly upon the doctrine of the im-
materiality of matter — the first step in the idealistic progression
which ensued, his early efforts are chiefly directed. The success
which he attained in the clear and forcible series of arguments em-
bodied in the Principles of Human Knowledge, was at the time
grudgingly attested in comments, which, however, may best be ex-
pressed in the words of the more favorably disposed critic, Hume:

i Cf. T. H. Webb: "Veil of Isis," p. 12.

2 "It is the negative side of his philosophy to which— unfortunately, but
naturally — he was led in his early works to give the greatest relative considera-
tion." Morris: "British Thought and Thinkers", p. 221.

Berkeley's arguments says he, "admit of no answer and produce
no conviction." 1

" But the lessons in scepticism which Hume drew from them
were foreign, not only to the spirit and intention of Berkeley, but
in not a few instances, even in his earlier philosophy seemed directly
opposed to the mould in which it was cast. Berkeley certainly over-
shot his mark in his too vigorous insistence upon the sensuous
character of all that we know; and in consequence the objectivity
of thought relations, which any idealism of value must in some
sense lay claim to discover, appear, indeed, in his philosophy as
a background, but highly colored with theological notions. His
idealism, being a theory rather than a system, the various aspects
which it assumes are external to one another; yet one form of ideal-
ism drops out of sight, rather than is premeditatedly abandoned
for another. He runs the whole gamut of idealisms from phe-
nomenalism to what is in the end very like Platonic Realism.
There is something kaleidescopic about this progression, one can-
not say that there is any true line of demarcation between the
earlier and the later, although the fundamental difference is appa-
rent. Berkeley never deepens his conceptions to the extent of
fully ascertaining if they are in agreement or non-agreement with
the propositions which form the starting point of his early posi-
tion. 2 Thus there results a number of seemingly heterogeneous
lines of thought which are, in great part, rather suggestions and
beginnings in thought than steps in a course of logical development.
If, then, our interpretation shall endeavor to determine the resultant
of these lines of thought it ought to effect this, not by a process of
subjectively balancing the evidence for or against the earlier or the
later theory as representative of Berkeley, but by taking such ex-
plicit utterances as he offers us in his general attitude toward phil-
osophy other than his own. Berkeley has most frequently been
regarded as an extreme Nominalist, and upon this basis largely
rests the claim of Empiricism upon him as its representative. This
Nominalism, whether of an extreme or, as some would have it, of
a modified type, is best set forth in his discussion of Abstract

1 Works; Hume IV, p. 181.

'* ''We may be "inclined to wonder," says Balfour in his biographical introduc-
tion to Berkeley's works, that a man who had done so much before he was thirty, had
not done much more by the time he was sixty. * * * That he produced so
little in his maturer years is doubtless due in part to temperament, and to the dis-
traction of an unsettled and wandering life, but it must also be largely attributed
to the almost total absence of intelligent criticism, either from friends or foes, under
which Berkeley suffered throughout the whole period during which criticism might
have aroused him to make some serious effort to develop or to defend the work of
his youth." "The Works of George Berkeley,'' edited by George Sampson,

— 8 —

Ideas, which constitutes his Introduction to the Principles of Hu
man Knowledge, and it is accordingly with this work as a basis
that we shall introduce the first of the topics in this discussion.


(a) Abstract Images.

The philosophical discussions and-dialogues of Berkeley every-
where abound in figures, and the effect of his metaphors is sometimes
to make one think that the Platonism of his later years was indeed the
undercurrent of his life, for a time obscured by the new discovery
which attracted him in his youth. The predominating figure which,
in his early philosophy, serves to clothe his conception of the
world is that of the analogy of human language to a divine lan-
guage, which forms the interpretable system of nature. Our fail-
ure to interpret correctly this divine nature-language is in a large
measure owing to our lack of appreciation of the true function of
human language.

Now Philosophers have generally regarded the paradoxes and
inconsistencies that reason is wont to encounter in its search for
metaphysical truth as due to the inherent weakness of our faculties
which, being finite, are unable to "penetrate into the inward
essence and constitution of things" 1 in themselves infinite. But
"it is a hard thing to suppose right deductions from true princi-
ples should ever end in consequences which cannot be maintained
or made consistent." 2 Human reason, we should think, ought, if
unhindered, to yield more satisfactory conclusions to the problems
which it has it self raised, and "we should believe that God has
dealt more bountifully with the sons of men than to give them a
strong desire for that knowledge which he had placed quite out of
their reach." 3

The errors to which the untrammelled exercise of reason has
given rise have been attributed solely to the finitude of reason as
such, and it has not yet been sufficiently pointed out that the most
fruitful source of them is language. The flexibility of language,
which adapts it to ordinary intercourse and the common business
of life, becomes its chief difficulty when it is of necessity em-
ployed in the nicer discriminations of metaphysics. Here as
everywhere the word is our master, or is likely to become so, if the
relations which it bears to our reasoning be not definitely under-

1 Introduction to the Principles of Human Knowledge, § 2.

2 Ibid. § 3.

3 Ibid.

— 9 —

Usually the word may be said to signify a conscious process;
frequently, also, it does not. In the former case a conscious con-
tent is the equivalent of the word, in the latter merely a cerebral
process. "Fear, love, hatred, admiration, and disdain, and the
like, arise immediately in the mind upon the perception of certain
words, without any ideas coming between " ' — or, on the other hand
the word may arouse as its equivalent a more or less definite idea.
Language has thus other uses than that of arousing conscious pro-
cesses by coupling a word with a particular definitely recognized
conscious content or idea, since the word may arouse to action or
passion without the intervention of the idea. Thus we see that a
word may stand for no idea at all. or it may stand for other par-
ticular ideas than that of which it serves as the sign in any particu-
lar instance.

But the adaptability of language to the demands made upon it
by ordinary life render it impossible for a word, by means of a fixed
definition, to correspond in every case to the same definite con-
scious content. The definition indeed serves to govern and
restrict the corresponding idea to relation^ among other ideas to
which the definition is also applicable; but it is not true that the
word stands always for the same idea. The mistaken notion that
every name has "one only precise and settled signification" 2 has
occasioned the belief in abstract ideas or abstract notions from
which has sprung much confusion in metaphysical thinking.
Thus men have come to regard the concepts of qualities, or of
beings, which include several coexistent qualities, as abstract ideas.

We are now in a position to see a little way into the difficulty
which Berkeley finds with the 'abstract idea' of his opponents.
Without attempiing in this place to establish a rigid definition of
the Berkeleyian idea, it may be noted that is is oftenest synonymous
with the above acceptation of a particular, definite, recognizable
content of consciousness. The freedom which Locke allowed
himself in the definition of idea as, "whatever is the object of the
understanding when a man thinks " 3 is a liberty which Berkeley
does nothing to restrict. The two conditions which it seems are
everywhere necessary to the idea are that it shall be (a) a content
of consciousness, (b) recognized as a definite content of conscious-
ness, i. e., perceived.

Now the abstract idea appears in Berkeley's eyes to be in the
following anomalous position. As idea, it must be recognizable as
a definite content of consciousness, but, as abstract, it must — so
it is claimed — be different in kind from the particulars, out of which,

1 Principles of Human Knowledge; § 20 of Introduction.

2 Ibid. § 18.

3 " Essay concerning Human Understanding." Introduction, § 8

— 10 —

by observation of their common likenesses, the abstract idea has
been formed. What Berkeley seems to say to his opponents in his
polemic against abstract ideas is in effect this: 'You tell me that
there are such things as abstract ideas — that besides the ideas of
sense, the ideas of imagination, the ideas "perceived by attending
to the passions and operations of the mind," 1 the ideas of mem-
ory, ete., etc., you have also ideas from which all particulars are
excluded, and which, though relating to the particular ideas that
may be subsumed under them, are not themselves particular. But
if these ideas for which you contend are anything at al/, they are
recognizable by you as definite conscious contents, and are thus
particular, and, in so far, like the other particular ideas which you
have. You can accordingly describe them, and, having recourse
to introspection, you must surely discover that all you have are
particular ideas. By some of these ideas you may indeed denote
numbers of other particular ideas — but nowhere will you find the
thing you call abstract idea.'

If the foregoing is a correct interpretation of Berkeley's
thought about abstract ideas, it is easy to see that his difficulty
with them lay in the unimaginableness of such things. An abstract
image is, as Fraser says, manifestly absurd. 2 Taken in this sense
it is doubtful if Locke — whom Berkeley seems to have chiefly in
mind — ever seriously contended for such a thing. 3 On the other
hand, if Berkeley be not understood to have thus misconceived the
doctrine of his opponent as grossly as ever Locke misconstrued
Descartes' 'innate ideas,' the distinction between his own view
and that of the upholder of abstract ideas is far less than is often
supposed. For Berkeley by no means denies the possibility of
there being general ideas. All he denies is that there are general
ideas or general notions taken in the above sense of abstract
images. Let us see if Locke's own description of abstract ideas
may serve further to explain Berkeley's difficulties.

Locke says: " The use of words then being to stand as out-
ward marks of our internal ideas, and those ideas being taken
from particular things, if every particular idea that we take in
should have a distinct name, names must be endless. To prevent
this, the mind makes particular ideas received from particular
objects to become general; which is done by considering them as
they are in the mind such appearances — separate from other exist-
ences, and the circumstances of real existence, as time, place, or

1 " Principles," § i.

2 Selections, p 19, note.

3 Like Berkeley, "Locke has everywhere a sober dread of abstraction, and
clings to the particular and concrete with a sense of the risk of losing the real in
the emptiness of the universal." Locke's 'Essay'; Fraser's ed., vol. II, p. 101,
note 2.

— 11 —

any other concomitant ideas. This is called abstraction, whereby
ideas taken from particular beings become general representatives
of all of the same kind; and their names general names, applicable
to whatever exists conformable to such abstract ideas. Such pre-
cise naked appearances in the mind'" — -which Beckeley takes to mean
images — " without considering how, whence, or with what others
they come there, the understanding lays up (with names commonly
annexed to them) as the standards to rank real existences into sorts,
as they agree with these patterns, and to denominate them accord-
ingly." 1

Now this passage in which the doctrine of abstraction is ex-
plicitly set forth, does not of itself particularly favor Berkeley's
interpretation of Locke, but the subsequent use which the latter
makes of abstractions in which e. g. the idea of extension is treated
as something which we possess apart from the idea of that which
is extended, and the idea of hardness apart from that which is felt
— these, coupled with the passage immediately following the one
we have just quoted, in which it is said that "the having of gen-
eral ideas is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man and
brute," induce Berkeley to think that the having of abstract ideas
means the possession of a faculty the existence of which man is
not able to verify by direct introspection of himself or by observa-
tion of the way in which objects come to be recognized in consci-
ousness of a lower order than his own. In one of the dialogues
there is to be found this passage: " I understand that the several
parts of the world became gradually preceivable to finite spirits,
endowed with proper faculties." 2 If this maybe accepted as a
hint toward an indeal evolution or spiritual unfolding of nature, 3
it may be seen that Berkley would naturally rebel against the claim
that man possesses a faculty so different in kind 4 from that belong-
ing to animals of a lower order than himself, and so undesirable as
an element of his own consciousness. The abstract idea, in the
sense of abstract image — that indescribable something which is
neither this nor that definite and particular thing, but which is set
over against the other definite and imaginable contents of consci-
ousness — an idea of this sort Berkeley claims it is impossible to/

(b) Universals.

It would be in a great measure to anticipate a discussion of
the notion and its objects if we were at this point to dwell at length
upon Berkeley's positive conception of universals. Yet a few

1 Locke's Essay, Bk. II, Ch. XI, 9.

2 " Philonous", 3d dialogue.

3 Cf. also, " Siris," note 2 of Fraser's "Selection's," p. 343.
4 Intro. to "Principles," § n.

— 12 —

words may be sufficient to show that with the abstract idea, in any-
other sense than that of abstract image, he finds no very great
difficulty. He regards the abstract image as an absurdity because,
although a content of consciousness different in kind from particu
lars, it, however, always reduces itself to particulars which it pro-
fesses not to be. "But," says he, "it is to be noted that I do not
deny absolutely there are general ideas, but only that there are any
abstract general ideas; for, in the passage we have quoted wherein
there is mention of general ideas, it is always supposed that they
are formed by abstraction after the manner set forth in sections 8
and 9," 1 which last '-'I do not think a whit more needful for the
enlargement of knowledge than for communication." 2 "It is, I
know, a point much insisted on that all knowledge and demonstra-
tion are about universal notions, to which I fully agree; but then it
does not appear to me that those notions are formed by abstrac-
tion in the manner premised — universality, so far as I can com-
prehend, not consisting in the absolute, positive 3 nature or concep-
tion of anything, but in the relation it bears to the particulars
signified or represented by it; by virtue whereof it is that things,
names, or notions, being in their own nature particular, are ren-
dered universal." 4

Thus it is not the claim that we are able to generalize experi-
ence by means of "universal notions" to which Berkeley takes
exception, but rather the claim, which rightly or wrongly he reads
into Locke, "that those notions are formed by abstraction in the
manner premised." And it is not so much the process of abstrac-
tion that he objects to as the hypostatization of the abstraction
thus formed; for, thus hypostatized, it is the abstract image to
which every element of particularity is denied. The abstract
universal, in fulfilling its claim to be idea in consciousness, must
have its sensuous aspect, and so must submit itself to the condition
of being particular, 5 though a particular with a universal reference;
but this necessary element of particularity is denied it by its
claimants; hence the falsity and uselessness of such an idea. But
it might be objected to Berkeley, this abstract universal has indeed
a sensuous side, though the particularity of the idea does not neces-
sarily follow from this, and consequently it is not what you claim
it to be — an abstract image. Thus it is surely possible to form the
idea of man in general which, in the meaning that it has for me, is

1 Introduction to Principles of Human Knowledge, § 12.
1 Ibid. § 15

s i. e. As an inflexible quasi-entity in the form of abstract image, having no
relation to the particular to which it is presumably applicable.
* Introduction to Principles of Human Knowledge, § 15.
J v. note 2, p. 131 of this essay.

— 13 —

different from the particular fleeting images which accompany this
abstract idea; and, as the latter has for me this universal meaning,
it is in consciousness a something distinct from the particular. To
this we might, in behalf of Berkeley, ask in reply: Why then is it
not the case that, granted the same premises, we march straight to
the same conclusions? If we differ in our reasonings, is it not
because we differ in our experiences, and because, in consequence,
the sensuous images, which are only the obverse of the universals
we employ, necessarily have something to do with our conclusions?
In the Commonplace Book, Berkeley instructs an imaginary reader
as follows: "Let him not regard my words any otherwise than as
occasions of bringing into his mind determined significations . . .
I desire and warn him not to expect to find truth in any book or
anywhere but in his own mind." Our assurance of truth, he seems
to imply, is in the correspondence of the experiences of finite
beings; and hence, if we would have truth we must not neglect the
particular sensuous aspect of our experience, nor yet regard it as a

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Online LibraryCarl Vernon TowerThe relation of Berkeley's later to his earlier idealism → online text (page 1 of 8)