September 15, 2018

Catharine Trotter Cockburn on Berkeley's Immaterialism

I rather think we have that idea [of space] before we have any of extension in general, or are capable of abstracting: Nor does the mind frame it to itself; it is an idea early obtruded upon by the senses, and unavoidably perceived by it, as something without itself. This is all the proof we have, that matter is any thing really existing without the mind; and if the translator [Edmund Law, translator of William King's Essay on the Origin of Evil] will not admit of this evidence in behalf of space, but require some other proof, that it is more than mental, he may be in a fair disposition entirely to embrace Bishop Berkeley's scheme, to deny, that there is any such thing as matter or motion but in idea. We cannot well conceive motion to be possible without space; so that if bodies are allowed really to exist and move, space will not easily be discarded. We should methinks admit or reject them all together; and to say the truth, the arguments against the reality of each of them seem much of the same kind; they serve rather to puzzle than to convince.

Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Remarks upon some Writers in the Controversy concerning the Foundation of moral Duty and moral Obligation, written 1739, first published 1743; quotation from vol. 2, pp. 389-390 of the 1751 Works

Note three things about this quotation:

  1. Cockburn is not once mentioned in Bracken's Early Reception of Berkeley's Immaterialism, which purports to be an exhaustive account of discussions of Berkeley published in the 18th century.

  2. This was composed in 1739, the same year the first volume of Hume's Treatise was published, and some nine years before Hume's first Enquiry, containing the famous footnote about Berkeley which is very similar to the end of this quotation.

  3. The emphasis on motion is very interesting, and is cause to wonder which works of Berkeley Cockburn knew. De Motu seems not to have been very widely circulated, but would be highly relevant here. There's probably enough in Principles to account for Cockburn's characterization of Berkeley; she may have been working from the 1734 edition of Principles and Dialogues together.

Posted by Kenny at September 15, 2018 6:16 PM
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