Carl Vernon Tower.

The relation of Berkeley's later to his earlier idealism online

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hinderance to the universal which it bears within it. Not that we
could ever attain truth by means of particulars which have no uni-
versal aspect, though every idea is indeed particular. "If we will
annex a meaning to our words and speak only of what we can con-
ceive, I believe we shall acknowledge that an idea, which, consid-
ered in itself, is particular, becomes general by being made to
represent or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort."
The idea, then, which is in itself definite and particular, the
image, and the conglomerate of particular experiences, has never-
theless a representative character in which may be seen the
evaluation by the rational consciousness of the particulars which
the image is taken to represent. That is, we are confined to par-
ticulars, Berkeley says; but particulars, at least some of them, have
a universal reference, this universal reference consisting in simply
recognizing that the general idea has no peculiarity which marks it
off as the special property of any particular idea. 1 Thus the idea
of a triangle is a general idea or notion, not "as if I could frame
the idea of a triangle which is neither equilateral, nor scalenon, nor
equicrural; but only that the particular triangle which I consider,
whether of this or of that sort it matters not, doth equally stand
for and represent all rectilinear triangles whatsoever, and is in that
sense universal."' 2 •

As a conclusion of the matter we may, I think, fairly interpret
Berkeley as follows: In our thinking we are confined to particu-
lars i. e., there are not in our consciousness universals existing as
quasi-entities over against a number of particulars different from

1 Cf . later discussions of the notion; also note 2, p. — of this essay.
* Introduction to the "Principles," § 15.

— 14 —

them in kind. The human mind is of the nature of a republic
rather than of a monarchical system. . On the other hand, the par-
ticularity of the idea is not its only aspect; for the universality of
certain of our ideas at least is as true and immediately recogniz-
able as the particularity which belongs to them all. If this is a
fair interpretation of Berkeley, as we read this doctrine in the
Introduction to the Principles of Human Knowledge, I see noth-
ing that can justify the belief that he assigns a prior right to the
particular as against the universal. Rather does it seem to be a
plea for the equal rights of the universal and the particular, as dis-
tinguishable features of the idea.

But the importance of Berkeley's defense of the particular, as
against the asserted existence of a featureless abstraction, must
not, on that account, be minimized. He is here as elsewhere more
often the champion of the particular than of the universal; and the
impetuosity of his attack upon the territory usurped by his oppon-
ent doubtless prevented him from seeing that his own defenses
were hastily constructed, sufficient for the occasion only, but not
of a character to withstand the carefully planned attacks of later
thought. Thus it comes about that "his defective views on this
subject perplex his whole philosophy." Dr. James McCosh, no
very friendly critic, says: "he rejects, as I believe he ought,
abstract ideas, in the sense of Locke, that is, in the sense of im-
ages of qualities; and he claims it is his merit that he gets rid of

grand abstractions but, while he has exposed the errors

of Locke, he has not established the positive truth Had

he taken as much pains in unfolding what is contained in ' consid-
ering ' a figure as triangular, and Peter as man, without consider-
ing other qualities, and what is involved in forming general propo-
sitions and reasoning about qualities, as he has taken to expel
abstract ideas in the sense of phantasms, he would have saved his
own philosophy, and philosophy generally from his day to this,
from an immense conglomeration of confusion." 1 This is no
doubt true; but it is not impossible that where, as in the case of
Berkeley's philosophy, it is admitted on all sides that "an immense
conglomeration of confusion " exists, a part of the confusion may
be due to the neglect of certain strongly marked lines of thought
in favor of others less prominent in his philosophy as a whole, but
more clearly developed at certain stages of its progress. As Profes-
sor Wenley says: "Like Kant, Berkeley is not to be regarded in one
aspect of his work only, and the same materials which viewed in a
certain aspect, constitute in a large measure his value for philos-
ophy should perhaps be viewed in another light, if we are to be
true to the thought of the founder of idealism himself." 2

'McCosh: ''Locke's Theory of Knowledge with a notice of Berkeley " in
■Criteria of Truth, p. 57.

2 "British Thought and Modern Speculation," in Scottish Review, Vol. 19.



In the beginning which we have thus made in our attempted
determination of the general Berkeleian conception of the world,
his view of abstract ideas has been given the first place as the
epistemological moti£ of that idealistic attitude toward Reality
which Berkeley Inaugurated. Partly on account of the natural
limitations attaching to human language, partly because of the
negligence of metaphysicians, who do not always verify the cor-
respondence between the terms which they employ, and definite
concrete thoughts, without which words are mere stumbling blocks
in the way of logical thinking — it has come about that a kind of
spurious currency was brought into circulation, which has not
been without its effect upon the metaphysics of the past. It is
Berkeley's professed task to recall men to a more adequate appre-
ciation of the meanings that underlie the terms by which they
designate supposed existences. "Nothing," says he, "seems of
more importance toward erecting a firm system of sound and real
knowledge, which may be proof against the assaults of scepticism
than to lay the beginning in a distinct explication of what is meant
by thing, reality, existence, for in vain shall we dispute concern-
ing the ' real existence ' of things, or pretend to any knowledge
thereof, so long as we have not fixed the meaning of those words." 1

In this enquiry with which Berkeley sets out there may be
found at least some feeble anticipation of that later " voyage of
discovery " which was to tax the energies of a mightier intellect
than his own. "'Tis on the meaning and import of existence that
I chiefly insist." The metaphysical question: what is Reality?
Berkeley is the first to raise explicitly in the form, what is the
meaning of Reality or rather, we may say, what assignable mean-
ing can we give to that which we call Reality, i. e. by what ideas
can we designate the Real ? The solution of this problem is partly
foreshadowed in the very manner of stating the question itself.
The Real must at least fulfill the negative condition of not being
that which cannot be expressed or in some way verified in ideas.
But then what are ideas ?

For answer Berkeley unquestioningly sets out from the Car-
tesian separation of thought and existence, idea and thing. Re-
ality was virtually comprehended under these two categories, and

1 Principles of Human Knowledge § S9.

— 1(5 —

as the Lockian psychological theory of knowledge progressed it
became more and more evident that these two heterogeneous quid-
dities would never fulfill the requirement of explaining one another,
which had been implied in the assertion of their mutual relation.
There was needed a bold stroke which would at once destroy the
independence of thought or substance. The violent disruption of
these two existents effected by Decartes must be succeeded by the
summary relegation of one or the other to the rank of dependent
existence. And there was no question as to which should ulti-
mately yield precedence to the other. The unknown must ever
derive its explanation from the known. Knowledge had been de-
fined by Locke as the preception of the connexion and agreement
or disagreement and repugnancy between our ideas. It only
remained to discover whether or not ideas alone, and the knowl-
edge we have by means of them, are in harmony with the ordinary
preceptions of life and that partially organized system of truth of
which we are made aware in the knowledge of the several sciences.
An affirmative answer to this question would mean that ideas,
hitherto conceived as subjective merely, and thus in separation
from an unknown substance, must declare their adequacy to fulfill
all the conditions of objectivity required by the scientific and
ordinary naive consciousness. The objectivity of the idea once
established, as idea it would yet retain its essential relatedness t-j
the percipient and cognitive consciousness, and thus maintain its
position as an element in a system of conscious experiences. Carte-
sian substance could thus be banished to the limbo of useless
metaphysical abstractions.

The obstacles in the way of the desired consummation which
presented themselves to Berkeley were, in the first place, the preju-
dices of mankind, and second, the semblance of agreement between
substance and ideas, which still remained in the Lockian epistem-
ology as the formal assertion of a correspondence between ideas,
and the primary qualities of things.

With regard to the first difficulty, the long established prepos-
sessions of men in favor of unthinking substance would naturally
render them unfavorably disposed toward an abrupt reversal of
their customary ways of thinking. Thus, until they could be
brought to see that true objectivity does not necessarily imply the
existence of an unknown or unknowable substance, and that ideas
do not of necessity mean floating fancies and mere subjective crea-
tions of the mind, prejudice must be overcome by a review of the
practical benefits conferred upon mankind by the Berkeleian "new
discovery." Now, the extreme materialism of Hobbes and Gas-
sendi, and the tendency towards the complete mechanical inter-
pretation of everything, prevalent at the time of Berkeley, which,
as b£ declares, is. foreign t& his nature, together with his own pious.

— 17 —

inclinations, brought it about that practical benefits were for him,
in large part, synonymous with theological benefits. The result was
that Berkeley fought the battle of Immaterialism with the Essay of
Locke in one hand and the weapons of adeistic theology in the other.

But, in the second place, as we have said, Locke's emphasis
upon the ideal character of existence ill served to maintain a union
between the primary qualities of substance and their ideal counter-
parts in the mind. The 'secondary qualities' had already taken
their places in the ideal, which was also the knowable, system of
experiences. Color, sound, heat, etc., many of the 'ideas'
which go to make up the world of which we have actual experience,
had already been declared subjective. The 'primary qualities,'
five in number, extension, motion or rest, figure and number,
together with impenetrability or solidity, were also 'ideas;'
although supposedly the conscious effects of unknown coexistent
causes. The only inlets into the "dark chamber of the under-
standing" were the senses; yet so far as concerned real knowledge
of the world beyond consciousness, the senses were closed doors.
The charge of subjective idealism would have been preferred
against Locke had not Berkeley's own doctrine been at hand. 1

The only egress from subjectivity lay in the recognition that
all ideas of sense may, in one aspect, be viewed as subjective;
while, in another aspect, it is equally true that they may be
regarded as objective; and it is only in this way that objectivity of
system, that is, rational knowledge, can declare itself. Thus we
may, I think, understand Berkeley to say: If you have regard to
an unthinking 'matter' or 'substance,' unknown or unknowable,
independent of mind, I maintain that, in such a reference, ideas
are subjective, mind-related things beyond which you cannot pass
to supposed existences different from conscious facts. But if by
'objective' you mean the system of factual experience which we
term the objective world, it is in that case the objectivity of the
idea for which I contend; and furthermore, "I make extension,
color, etc., to exist really in bodies independent of our mind."
"You mistake me," he says in his third dialogue between Hylas
and Philonous, "I am not for changing things into ideas, but
rather ideas into things."

Primary qualities are then to he deposed from the position xif
independent existences and are tfl rank now with secondary quali-
ties. But how effect this? They are useless assumptions, for,
just as. sound and color (subjective appearances) seem .to b^ essen-

1 For Locke's own approach to an idealistic position, Cf. e. g. T. H. Webb;
Veil of Isis, passage above quoted, pp. 12-13. Also Locke's Essay: Bk. IV., Ch.
II., 14; Bk. IV., Ch. XL, 1; Bk. IV., Ch. XL, 3; IV., XI.,8(Cit. in " Veil of Isis").

— 18 —

tially coexistent with the other objective aspects of our world of
experience, so do the ideal counterparts of the primary qualities
equally well fill up the manifold of objective experiences. Only
the bare assertion remains that, corresponding to these ideal quali-
ties, are their originals, presumably more real than they; the
former being, as it were, photographs of the latter, shot into the
mind, and preserving in some miraculous fashion the pristine
beauty and truth belonging to the originals. But wherein lies the
difference between these and the secondary; and why are not these
latter also supposed to inhere in an unknown something beyond

Now the primary qualities in their ideational character are
referred to powers, secondary qualities to combinations of powers
in an unknown substance. Accordingly the latter, although
denominated by Locke 'simple ideas,' or simple elements of
knowledge, are nevertheless, with reference to their origin in
unknown combinations of 'powers,' complex; and it is because
of their complexity that this class of ideas possess that distinctively
ideal character which seems to belong- to them and not to the
' primary qualities.' But how do we attain a knowledge of their
complexity? By the introspection of conscious contents, of course,
together with observation of the conditions under which we intro-
spect; from which it appears e. g. that what is hot to one hand is
cold to the other, or what is sweet to one palate may be bitter to
another — requisite conditions being given. Thus you may refer
secondary qualities to unknown combinations of powers, resident
in one unknown substance if you will; but the real complexity of
so-called mental elements is your test, and the condition under
which your judgment is made, is relativity of the idea to the per-
cipient organism. The complexity of the experienced mental contents
is then the equivalent of their condemnation to rank also as inde-
pendent entities by means of objective counterparts; and conversely,
simplicity means the guarantee of their right so to exist. We have
thus a sufficient criterion by which to judge of the validity of
Locke's claim in behalf of primary qualities; and it is this task
which Berkeley sets for himself in the Theory of Vision, though by
no means attempting an exhaustive analysis of this class of ideas.


Berkeley now proposes to turn the tables, and subject primary
qualities also to the test of experience which, as we shall see,
involves a reference of primary to secondary qualities. He wishes
to test the less definitely known by the more completely known,
rather than, with Locke, to refer the more definitely known to the
more hypothetical. In the Theory of Vision the analysis of that
class of ideas which have hitherto been regarded as simple elements

— 19 —

of consciousness is undertaken with reference to Sight and Touch
only, although the essay undoubtedly implies far more than that
which is explicitly set forth as the design of the author, which is:
" to show the manner wherein we perceive by sight the Distance,
Magnitude and Situation of objects; also to consider the difference
there is betwixt the ideas of Sight and Touch and whether there be
any idea common to both senses." 1

In the second book of the essay, Locke had shown that "we
get the idea of space, both by our sight and touch," which, says
he, "is so evident, that it would be as needless to go to prove that
men perceive, by their sight, a distance between bodies of different
colors, or between the parts of the same body, as that they see
colors themselves." 2 "This space, considered barely in length
between any two beings, without considering anything else between
them is called distance." 3 Now it was the current theory, to which
Locke gave countenance, that the spatial determination, distance
is perceivable by the sense or sight regardless of the way in which
it is perceived by touch, against which the first argument in the
Theory of Vision was raised. The initial assumption underlying
the series Of arguments with respect to distance, is the common
agreement that "Distance of itself, and immediately, cannot be
see_n.~ Distance not being immediately perceivable by sight and
yet being perceived, it follows that it is "brought into view by
means of some other idea, that is itself immediately perceived in
the act of vision." 4 These other ideas are then merely 'signs' or
suggestions by which distance is introduced into the mind as a
conscious percept or idea. Against the view that the mind by a
kind of natural geometry immediately perceives distance by the
mathematical judgment of lines and angles; and also against
another opinion held by writers on optics to the effect that the eye
judges distance by the greater or less divergence of the_ra^s_trans-
mitted from the object, Berkeley urges objections which may be
briefly stated as follows: (i) There are no such mathematical per-
ceptions, for introspection does not reveal a process of computa-
tion or comparison of lines and angles. (2) Lines and angles,
being merely mathematical hypotheses, are not objectively existent.
(3) If the foregoing mathematical judgments were involved in our
preception of distance, they would yet be insufficient of themselves
to explain the phenomena we are considering. For the idea of
distance being mediated by other ideas we must necessarily have

1 Theory of Vision, Jj 31.

2 Locke's Essay; Bk. H, Ch. xiii, § 2.
3 Ibid. § 3.

* Theory of Vision § 2.
5 Ibid. § n.

— 20 —

some regard to the latter in determining the composition of our
perception of distance. Thus introspection will show us that ideas,
or sensations as we might now call them, produced by the muscu-
lar movement of the eyeball, accompany the accommodation of
the eye for nearer or more remote vision.

Again with regard to the phenomena of accommodation,
Berkeley tells us that the perception of distance is aided by the
"strain sensations " with which we correct the confused appear-
ance of objects brought too near the eye. But besides these mus-
cia sensations or 'visual ideas' or 'signs' accompanying the
employment of the ' visive faculty,' there are also visible signs,
such as the particular number, size, kind, etc , of the things seen;
and all these are of use to us in the determination of distance.
From the foregoing we may conclude, that a man born blind would,
if he were subsequently enabled to see, receive an entirely new set
of sensations, which would be mere mind-related symbols, but
meaningless, until their significance was learned by means of asso'
ciating them with those sensations earlier formed in his experience.
Now color, Berkeley is ready to assume, is the proper and imme-
diate object of sight, and this, being a secondary quality, is not
without the mind; whereas 'outness' or independence of the
mind is ascribed to extension, figure, and motion. But extension is
inseparable from color, and where extension is there too is figure
and also motion. In proof of this, we have the experience that
the appearance of an object alters with its proximity to or distance
from the observer, this difference displaying itself in the degree of
faintness of color and outline.

The conclusion now is that the strictly visual sensations, col-
ors, refer us to tactual sensations, sensations of muscular effort
experienced in the resistance which bodies offer to us, sensations
of bodily movement and of the movement of bodily organs, and
lastly, sensations of muscular effort experienced in going to the
distant object. •' Ideas of space, outness, and things placed at a
distance are not, strictly speaking, the objects of the sight; they are
no otherwise perceived by the eye than by the ear." 1 But it has
come about in our experience that ideas of hearing are more easily
separable from ideas of touch than are those of sight. We hear
the footfall of a man walking upon the street and we readily recog-
nize the ideal character of the experienced sound; but it is a more
difficult matter to realize that the man whom we see arouses a
totally different class of sensations from the man whom we touch.
Yet it is nevertheless true that, just as familiar words immediately
arouse in our minds meanings far different from the sounds which
are also conveyed, but of which we are scarcely aware, "so like-

1 Theory of Vision § 46.

— 21 —

wise the secondary objects, or those which are only suggested by
sight, do often more strongly affect us, and are more regarded,
than the proper objects of that sense." '

As in the case of Distance, we find that Magnitude also is not
immediate but suggested. The 'lines and angles' argument is
reasserted to prove the immediacy of our preception of magnitude
by Sight independently of the sense of Touch; but, again, recourse
to introspection declares the experiential nature of judgments of
this kind. The magnitude of the visible object constantly changes
with change of distance between the real object and the observer;
therefore, when we speak of the magnitude or size of a thing, it
must be that we have reference to a more stable, tangible, magni-
tude. 2 Again with regard to the Measurement of Magnitudes, the
essentially relative and inconstant nature of visible Magnitude at
once declares its utility as a standard. It is not the merely visible
foot or visible yard that we adopt as the unit of linear measure-
ment for these appear of different lengths according to their dis-
tance from the eye; but it is rather a constant and invariable, tan-
gible, magnitude to which we appeal. In further support of Berke-
ley's contention that Magnitude is perceived in the same manner
as Distance, we are reminded that "what we immediately and
properly see are only lights and colors in sundry situations and
shades, and degrees of faintness and clearness, confusion and dis-
tinctness." 3

The heterogeniety of the ideas of Sight and Touch is further
shown by an analysis of what is contained in the ideas of Position
or Situation. Experience teaches us that certain ideas of touch
go with certain other ideas of 'visible' things, and that, on the
occasion of the latter, an instantaneous and true estimate of the
situation of outward tangible objects is made. These two classes
of ideas are two entirely different kinds of experience. "That
which I see is only variety of light and colors. That which I feel
is hard or soft, hot or cold, rough or smooth. What similitude,
what connexion, have those ideas with these ? " But some have
nevertheless asserted the imposibility of thus divorcing visible and
tangible ideas, urging as a reason the numerical identity of the
objects of these senses and the equality of the number as given
immediately in the visual idea. To this Berkeley replies that

Ubid, §51.

2 Note: Throughout the essay, tangible magnitude, tangible idea, tangible
object, etc.. mean for Berkeley real magnitude, real idea, real object. At this
juncture Berkeley enlightens us somewhat vviih regard to his apparent use of
" tangible ideas" as the ultimate sense data. The reason here given is the evi-
dent utility of such sensations for the perservation of the bodily organism, "they
are adapted to benefit or injure our bodies, and thereby produce in our minds the
sensations of pleasure or pain." Cf. § on Suggestion,

3 "Theory of Vision," § 77,

— 22 —

number also is a "creature. of the mind" 1 nothing fixed and set-
tled, really existing in things themselves; whatever the mind

2 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryCarl Vernon TowerThe relation of Berkeley's later to his earlier idealism → online text (page 2 of 8)