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Berkeley’s Argument on materialism Essay

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Updated: Jan 12th, 2019

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, is identified to be one of the great philosophers in the early modern period (Berman 1). Berkeley’s works mainly focused on defending idealism against materialism (Fogelin 6). Berkeley specifically disagreed with Locke’s concept that asserted that objects had both primary and secondary qualities (Fogelin 13). Berkeley argued that perceiving an object to as possessing both primary and secondary qualities was not enough to ascertain that the object really exists.

According to him, Locke and others who held the same point of view were instrumental in aiding the flourishing atheism and scepticism by doubting sense perception. In his argument, Berkeley seemed to defend the belief and knowledge on God. Thus he indicated that experiences were in the person who perceived and sensations could not arise from the objects being perceived Bettcher 43).

By this he implied that there was no reason for objects to posses any power that will cause an effect on the senses, primarily because the object was a creation of our senses and did not exist in the absence of perception. Berkeley used this view to discredit the sceptical argument that we do not see objects as they really are (Roberts 107).

Berkeley put forward some arguments defending idealism against materialism. The arguments were mainly based on the idea that the perception for an object was in the perceiver and not the object (Bettcher 44). First, he used the following points to discredit the notion that an object can possess secondary qualities: On sensation Berkeley argued that when a hand is placed in cold water, the temperature felt will be different depending on the temperature of the hand (Roberts 108).

If one’s hand has a higher temperature then the water will be felt to be colder and if the hand is colder than the water then the water will be felt to be warmer. According to him the water could not be hot and cold at the same time (Berman 7).

On taste, Berkeley stated that a pleasurable taste like that of sugar did not exist in the sugar but in the perceiver. T o attack concept of primary and secondary qualities, Berkeley tried to indicate that some perceptions varied from one to perceiver to another. He explained that if different people see an object from different perspectives then one may see it of having a different colour from the other (Roberts 108).

The two colours could not exist in the same object at the same time and thus the colour perception must have its origins in the perceiver (Fogelin 10). He also argued that an observer looking at a moving train will perceive it as moving but whoever is sited in the train will perceive it as being at rest. He used this to advance his position that quality exists in the perceiver.

Berkeley used the master argument to show that no difference exists between qualities that are taken to be apparent and the real qualities. The master argument asserted that it not possible for something to exist without being perceived (Bettcher 60).

This implied that if one cannot imagine how a certain object’s perception is like then he/she cannot be able to say that the object exists. Using this idea, Berkeley discredited the notion “that substance or matter, for if all the qualities we ascribe to it are either primary or secondary qualities” (Berman 23).

Works Cited

Berman, David. George Berkeley: Idealism and the man. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.Print.

bettcher, Talia. Berkeley’s Philosophy of Spirit: Conciousness, ontology and the Elusive Subject. London: continuum, 2007.Print.

Fogelin, Jose. George Berkeley: Critical Assessments. London: Routledge, 1991.Print.

Roberts, John. A metaphysics for the Mob. Oxford: Oxford University press, 2007. Print.

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