The Simplicity of Berkeley's Argument Against Representative Realism
A passage in T.E. Jessop's introduction to the Siris reminded me today of how simple Berkeley's argument against representative realism is. Jessop writes, "Such archetypes - material things as understood by the Cartesians and Locke - [Berkeley] rejected on the epistemological ground that they require a representative theory of perception, which logically entails scepticism, since it excludes the possibility of comparing the sensed object and the supposed 'real object'." (Berkeley, Works, ed. Luce and Jessop, vol. 5 p. 17)
The argument, in all its simplicity, goes like this:
- Representative realism holds that, for each object of our experience, there exist (A) a mind-independent object and (B) a mind-dependent representation, and that our only access to A is via B. (Definition) Assume for contradiction that representative realism is true.
- Therefore, A cannot be considered immediately (it requires the mediation of B). (From (1))
- A representation represents its object in virtue of some relation (call it 'R') which holds between the representation and its object. (Premise)
- If one object cannot be considered without the mediation of another, it is not possible to hold these two objects up for comparison (Premise)
- If two objects cannot be held up for comparison, it cannot be determined whether any particular relation holds between them. (Premise)
- Therefore, it cannot be determined whether R holds between A and B. (From (2), (3), (4), and (5))
- Therefore, we cannot determine whether our perceptions are veridical. (From (6))
- But we can determine whether our perceptions are veridical. (Premise)
- Therefore representative realism is false. (From (7) and (8))
Just that simple.
Posted by Kenny at October 23, 2008 3:31 PM