Idealism is a venerable theory of philosophical thought. We can break down the simple premise of idealism in a short sentence; everything that exists and/or whatever can be known to exist, is in some capacity mental.
There are several variations and forms of idealism, some of which will not accept the definition just stated. However, in the following pages I will briefly summarize the controversial Bishop George Berkeley’s version of the theory of idealism.
Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) was one of the first people to try to argue the importance of the idealist theory. His argument was that the human power of sense datum – the five senses pertaining to taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing – were not meant to exist independent of us. He followed on by stating that objects can only exist in the mind if they are not in continuing contact with our sense data. The English philosopher Bertrand Russell sums up Bishop Berkeley’s thoughts in his book ‘THE PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY’. I quote Bertrand Russell “Hence he concluded [Berkley] that nothing can ever be know except what is in some mind, and that whatever is known without being in my mind must be in some other mind”
Bishop Berkley’s form of idealism also known as subjective idealism or immaterialism claims that the ‘idea’ of a chair, desk or tree only exists in the mind of the perceiver, hence his use of the word ‘idea’ is anything that is immediately known. Bishop Berkeley’s book ‘A TREATISE CONCERNING THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE’ originally written in refutation to John Locke’s conflicting views on the nature of human perception. Explains his thoughts in a more profound manner. I quote the end of passage two and the entirety of passage three:
“Besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises diverse operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call mind, spirit, soul, or myself. By which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, wherein, they exist, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived- for the existence of an idea consists in being perceived.”“That neither our thoughts, nor passions, nor ideas formed by the imagination, exist without the mind, is what everybody will allow. And it seems no less evident that the various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose), cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them.- I think an intuitive knowledge may be obtained of this by any one that shall attend to what is meant by the term exists, when applied to sensible things. The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed- meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it. There was an odour, that is, it was smelt; there was a sound, that is, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all that I can understand by these and the like expressions. For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percepi, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.”
“Esse is percepi” is Latin for “To be is to be perceived”
Bishop Berkeley goes onto say, for example a tree will continue to exist when ones eyes are shut because god will continue to perceive it. This statement, as well as his entire theory of ‘Idealism” was mostly met with ridicule. There have been numerous refutations of Berkeley’s idealism. The most colourful of all being Dr. Samuel Johnson, whilst having a conversation with author James Boswell, Johnson powerfully kicked a nearby rock and proclaimed of Berkeley’s theory, “I refute it thus!”
This theory of idealism, immaterialism or in a form phenomenology, can be traced back to the epoch of Plato, Socrates and Augustine. It can also be seen in the more contemporary works of Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer. The fact that Berkeley’s theory of idealism isn’t completely falsifiable means there is a real possibility of variations coming into fruition in the near future and beyond. Whether you agree, understand or reject his theories, there is no doubt that Bishop George Berkeley contributed a prodigious amount to the theory of philosophical idealistic thought.
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