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Berkeley’s and Locke’s Philosophies Comparison Essay

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Updated: Jan 14th, 2022

Introduction

Philosophy has always been a great issue for debates for many philosophers and thinkers. As such, the main leitmotifs of this paper will be philosophical realism and idealism. Significantly, these two contrary beliefs played an essential role in the development of the overall perception of reality. Idealism was the main Western philosophy shifted by realism in Britain and North America. Realism was associated with many prolific thinkers of those times. Among the famous realists-are G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and Samuel Alexander, and George Berkeley. John Locke and his realistic views will be the main focus of this paper in contrast to the idealism of George Berkeley. Realism is the notion of philosophy that presents the idea of the world existing independently of observers. However, idealism claims that the entire world’s foundation is based on thoughts and other non-materialistic elements, because the thoughts and ideas are the central pieces and the human experience is what leads the world. John Locke and his reprehensive realism was a predecessor of George Berkeley, whose ideas about subjective realism astonish and stun, indeed. As such, this paper will elaborate on the two ideas in Philosophy: idealism and realism. Idealism seems not to be as persuasive as realism for it is not substantial enough to say that everything in this world is operated by the minds of people, whereas saying that the world exists and will exist independently (realism) is true and hard to argue.

Main body

So, according to Locke the mind at birth is a tabula rasa – the blank slate (Lawhead 553). Therefore, it can be said that being the utmost realist, Locke claimed that the world spins around disregarding the circumstances people create. Namely, all people on the planet will not have their thoughts independently from what the world, planet, local life experience can offer. While the newborn child is a tabula rasa the experience is what brings him/her to knowledge thanks to the already existing knowledge. However, idealism by Berkeley states that what guides the world is the mind of people. He used to think that God was the only cause of our experience. Another feature of realism by Locke that he used to say is that since we can learn and be guided by the reality we live in, innate thoughts are unnecessary. He applied Ockham’s Razor to innate ideas, namely, he said that we can explain everything without innate ideas just using our senses. Whereas Berkeley argued that everything we experience is mental, all we experience are ideas only. This way, it is possible to say that we never have real direct experience of things themselves. What we go through are the ideas gotten or expressed on the subject and that’s it. And the material things happen to be simply clusters of ideas, according to Berkeley.

Simple and Complex Ideas

Locke elaborated on the complex ideas saying that they are based on more simple ones: compounds, relations, and abstractions. An example of the compounds would be ‘yellow house’ it equals ‘yellow’ plus ‘house’. The simple ideas concerning relations would be expressed through such statements as ‘thicker than’ or ‘loved’. As per abstractions, this is the mental process that generates general ideas out of more particular ones. For example, you can look at the paradigm: Lassie, Spot. Fido, etc., and here you see the list of famous dogs’ names and subconsciously you abstract the general idea from the list of names, which is ‘dog’ because the presented are specific individual animals. Therefore, the abstractions would be ‘blue’, ‘dog’, and anything that generates a general idea. However, it has to be noticed that abstractions make it only possible when a person has an innate gift to recognize resemblances, whereas Locke denied that idea because he rejected all innate ideas.

Significantly, John Locke’s views had relativist implications, namely, he claimed there is no such knowledge that can be considered completely objective. Thus, since every knowledge is relative then it is appropriate to talk about primary and secondary qualities of objects here, since Locke, for example, found it hard to denote what the quality of object was. The main reason for such debates was the relativity of knowledge he proved due to the following experiment. So, John Locke tried to define the primary and secondary qualities of the object by observing heat as an example. He took the two buckets of water, one with cold and one with warm water. He put his hands in the two buckets respectively and then dipped those in lukewarm water afterward. The lukewarm water will seem cold for one hand and it will be hot for another. Hence, the heat is not a quality of the water because the two objects (hands) claimed the same substance – water – to be different: cold and warm distinguishing primary from secondary ones. Berkeley highlighted that the size cannot be a quality of an object because it is very relative and depends on the distance to look at it and on the size of the observer. Therefore, if an object seems to be different to various sized observers, then this is not a quality. This way, Berkeley was happy to claim his theory of idealism was right: if we cannot determine primary and secondary qualities of the object then how it is impossible to say there is something beyond the qualities we observe.

Conclusion

To conclude, it has to be said that realism is more persuasive than idealism simply because it is more achievable. Also, if we look at the points stated by Berkeley and Locke about the primary and secondary qualities of the object, the realism of Lock is much more persuasive. Besides, idealists tend to aim for perfection all the time. Of course, there is nothing bad in this, however, it’s sometimes more efficient to aim for mediocrity and win than reach out for unachievable and end up mediocre ultimately. In terms of politics, realists are more demanded, as well. The reason for that is idealists are more likely to evoke against the set norms because they are nonconformists (Rescher 28). Therefore, the theory of realism is more secure socially and politically. Besides, returning to Berkeley’s and Locke’s theories and beliefs, it is important to say that realism by Locke is more persuasive since it does not deal with non-tangible and moral issues only. It is somewhat weird to claim that everything in the world is a result of mental activity; therefore, when Locke claimed that people are likely to learn from their experiences and that reality exists disregarding human history, he sounded more persuasive. Moreover, the realism theory remains more demanded nowadays.

Works Cited

Lawhead, William. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2010. Print.

Rescher, Nicholas. Reason and Reality: Realism and Idealism in Pragmatic Perspective. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, March 22, 2005.

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