Idealism/Phenomenalism Archives



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March 26, 2014

September 9, 2013

"Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'"

I've posted a new draft to my (recently reorganized) writings page, "Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'." This paper defends, in a relatively short space, some of the central conclusions which I defend at much greater length in my dissertation, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. Here is the abstract of the paper: To the great puzzlement of his readers, Berkeley begins by arguing that nothing exists other than minds and ideas, but concludes by claiming to have defended the existence of bodies. How can Berkeley's idealism amount to such a defense? I introduce resources from...
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February 23, 2013

Berkeley, Analogy, Matter, and God

On May 15, 1709 William King, archbishop of Dublin, preached a famous sermon (it was really more of a lecture in philosophical theology with a Scripture quotation at the beginning, but this was not too unusual in the Anglican Communion at the time) entitled "Divine Predestination and Fore-knowledg, consistent with the Freedom of Man's Will." The sermon was published shortly thereafter in both Dublin and London and is therefore now available on Google books. (I have written about King before.) King considers three atheistic arguments: the argument from the inconsistency of divine foreknowledge with human freedom, the argument from the...
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October 4, 2012

A Linguistic Argument for Immaterialism

I think Berkeley would endorse the following argument: The rules governing a bit of language cannot tell agents to perform or refrain from actions in certain circumstances unless the agents can recognize the obtaining or not obtaining of those circumstances prior to the introduction of that bit of language. A word refers to an object only if the rules governing that word tell the agent to behave differently with respect to the use of that word depending on whether that object is present. (E.g. a necessary condition of 'rabbit' referring to rabbits is that the rules governing 'rabbit' specify that...
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September 10, 2011

Berkeley, Commonsense, and Surprising Discoveries

Suppose (as happens often) that scientists, or philosophers, or explorers, or whoever, make some sort of surprising discovery, one that appears to be at odds with our commonsense view of the world. How should we react? It seems that there are three possible courses: either one rejects commonsense, or one rejects the alleged discovery, or one attempts to revise and/or reinterpret things to synthesize the two perspectives. An example: periodically results come out in neuroscience which purport to show that some brain event, of which the subject is unconscious, occurs significantly before a subject makes a supposedly free conscious choice,...
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April 26, 2011

Phenomenalisms, De Re and De Dicto

'Phenomenalism' is the name given to Berkeley's doctrine that the being (existence) of material objects consists in their being perceived (their esse is percipi - PHK 3). This formula is, however, several ways ambiguous. Here I just want to point out one of them. (I have been thinking about these issues in connection with a paper I am writing on the question of whether Leibniz was a phenomenalist, and, if so, of what sort.) The ambiguity I am concerned with here is a de re/de dicto ambiguity. De re is Latin for 'concerning the thing', and de dicto is Latin...
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February 19, 2011

Berkeley and Leibniz Should be Friends

In his 1733 Theory of Vision Vindicated, commenting on the prevalence of the deist and free-thinking movements in England and Ireland, and justifying his association of these views with outright atheism, Berkeley writes: That atheistical principles have taken deeper root, and are farther spread than most people are apt to imagine, will be plain to whoever considers that pantheism, materialism, fatalism are nothing but atheism a little disguised; that the notions of Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibnitz [sic], and Bayle are relished and applauded; that as they who deny the freedom and immortality of the soul in effect deny its being, even...
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July 9, 2010

Authority, Authoritativeness, and Objectivity

I've just finished reading John Foster's new book, A World For Us: The Case for Phenomenalistic Idealism. Foster had previously defended idealism in his 1982 The Case for Idealism, and many of the basic arguments are the same, though I think the structure is cleaner and easier to grasp. (I've also just finished reading the restored version of Stranger in a Strange Land, so every time I write 'Foster' I'm thinking of the archangel - but that's beside the point.) The main motivation behind Foster's idealism, all the way back to 1982, is the thought that if anything is to...
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June 2, 2010

What is the Problem with Empiricism, Realism, and the Way of Ideas?

After discussing my last post offline with Lewis yesterday, I wanted to clarify this claim: "The argument points to serious problems with the combination of empiricism, realism, and the 'way of ideas.'" The problems I have in mind are difficulties with being justified in believing in, or perhaps even capable of expressing, realism. That is, there are certain views that seem natural if one accepts empiricism and the way of ideas which lead to the denial of realism. Here is, I think, the best example. Empiricism is an explanatory program for philosophy of mind which systematically favors explanations of the...
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May 29, 2010

Can Immediate Perception Save Realism? (Hint: No)

As I mentioned in my last post, now that the term is over I am catching up on some stuff I've been meaning to read. Another item on that list is Georges Dicker's "Anti-Berkeley" which appeared in British Journal for the History of Philosophy in 2008. Dicker's aim is to show that many of Berkeley's arguments are good, but immaterialism, nevertheless, does not follow. Dicker thinks that Berkeley's arguments are best seen as showing us how to formulate a better version of materialism than the one common in Berkeley's day. So, for instance, Dicker thinks that Berkeley successfully refutes the...
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April 25, 2010

Quote of the Day: Turbayne on Alleged Refutations of Berkeley

The argument [for idealism] achieves [a proof of the external world] in a most ingenious yet simple way, by accepting the sceptical conclusion of one such as Hylas, that all we can ever know of the external world is certain ideas or appearances, and then admitting, as any consistent empiricist must, that these appearances are real. After all, it is a jest to hold, as do the philosophers, that the things we see and touch are mere illusions.[18] [18] This final step illuminates the irony inherent in Dr. Johnson's notorious ostensive refutation of Berkeley's 'ingenious sophistry', by exclaiming while 'striking...
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March 27, 2010

How Reductive Theories of Mental Representation Lead to Phenomenalism

It seems initially plausible to suppose that mental representation can be reduced to phenomenal character. That is, we all know that when we think about things we get into certain states of mind, and there is such a thing as what it's like to be in that state of mind. Now, when we think about things, we are representing the world as being in certain ways. It is tempting to suppose that this representing can be explained entirely in terms of the what-it's-like (phenomenal character). According to naive forms of representative realism, this is because that phenomenal experience resembles the...
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February 8, 2010

A Simple Argument for Idealism

One of Berkeley's key arguments for his idealism (his positive view that the only fundamental entities are minds and ideas) is something like the following: (1)The gardener is justifiably certain that he waters the cherry tree daily. (2)One can be justifiably certain only of facts about one's own mind and its ideas. Therefore, (3)The gardener's belief that he waters the cherry tree daily is a belief about his own mind and/or its ideas. (1) is a 'common sense' premise, which Berkeley thinks we ought to preserve. (2) is supposed to have been shown by the skeptical considerations of Descartes and...
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December 2, 2009

Gupta and Idealism: My Project for the Next Two Weeks

It's been a while since I posted anything, and even longer since I posted anything other than Aristotle quotes - I have been busy trying to get my term papers underway. Since I don't expect to have any more time in the near future than I have had in the recent past, I thought I would keep things going around here by posting an outline of one of my projects. Below is a very rough draft of an introduction to one of my two papers (it doesn't have a working title yet) which describes what I hope to accomplish. Comments...
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November 7, 2009

Subjunctive Phenomenalism and Logical Construction Idealism

Within the last week, I have seen the same mistake in two different recent books on the philosophy of perception: According to phenomenalism, objects are (in John Stuart Mill's excellent phrase) "permanent possibilities of sensation"; they are, in a more recent idiom, "logical constructions" of sense data. (Alva Noë, Action in Perception, 79) Berkeley observed that the philosophical conception that the objects of direct awareness are sense-data (or, in Berkeley's terminology, "ideas") is perfectly compatible with the commonsense conception that the objects of direct awareness are ordinary things (e.g., tomatoes). We can accept both, Berkeley argued, if we recognize the...
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November 2, 2009

Does 'The Desk is Black' Express a Proposition?

According to standard versions of subjunctive phenomenalism, such as the version developed by C. I. Lewis, sentences purporting to be about physical objects can be analyzed into long conjunctions of subjunctive conditionals having to do only with sense data and voluntary actions. It's very difficult to actually state these conditionals, but they are supposed to say things like 'if I'm in such and such a condition, and I do X, I will experience Y'. Alva Noë is not a phenomenalist, but he expresses some similar ideas about the nature of perception. Specifically, Noë argues that perception does not involve the...
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September 17, 2009

Quote of the Day: Berkeley on Combining Ideas Into Objects

One of the big questions in Berkeley interpretation is how and by whom ideas or experiences get put together to form objects. (See, for instance, the end of Margaret Atherton's recent paper "'The Books Are in the Study as Before': Berkeley's Claims About Real Physical Objects".) I've just noticed an interesting passage in Berkeley that ought to be really important to this discussion, though I don't think I've seen it quoted in this connection: [I]t ought to be considered that number (however some may reckon it amongst the primary qualities) is nothing fixed and settled, really existing in things themselves....
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August 27, 2009

Reductivism, Eliminativism, and Berkeley's Theory of Physical Objects

In present-day metaphysical discussions it is common to distinguish between 'reductivism' and 'eliminativism' with respect to some class of objects, C. These can be thought of as two different ways of denying the (fundamental, metaphysical) existence/reality of the objects in C. Examples of classes discussed by philosophers in this way include minds, conscious experiences, and macrophysical objects. The two views may be given a linguistic formulation as follows: Linguistic Reductivism (LR): Sentences which appear to assume the existence of the putative objects in C are strictly and literally true, although, in metaphysical rigor, the putative objects do not exist. (The...
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August 24, 2009

External Coherence and the Reality of The Matrix

David Chalmers writes: I think that even if I am in a matrix [i.e. any computer simulation similar to the one depicted in The Matrix], my world is perfectly real. A brain in a vat is not massively deluded (at least if it has always been in a vat) ... Philosophers have held this sort of view before. The 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley held, in effect, that appearance is reality ... If this is right, then the world perceived by envatted beings is perfectly real: they have all the right appearances and appearance is reality ("The Matrix as Metaphysics"...
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May 14, 2009

A Semantic Argument for Phenomenalism

I believe an argument similar to the following can be attributed to Berkeley, but I have too much real work to do to go find the texts to justify it right now. (Which is why we have blogs, where we don't have to adequately justify our assertions!) The meaning of a word is exhausted by the correct conditions of its application. Any speaker S on any given occasion determines whether to utter a given word based entirely on S's subjective state (i.e. factors internal to S). Speakers consistently and non-accidentally use 'plain language' correctly (i.e. 'common sense' is correct). Therefore,...
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December 4, 2008

The Reason for Berkeley's Anti-Abstractionism

In my post, Does Philosophy 'Trickle Down', I noted that "Berkeley thinks he has discovered two philosophical doctrines which are indeed 'the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences' and also 'the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion.' These are the epistemic/linguistic doctrine of abstraction, and the metaphysical doctrine of corporeal substance." In this post I want to examine how the doctrine of abstract ideas is supposed, according to Berkeley, to lead to "Error and Difficulty in the Sciences ... [and] ... Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion."...
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October 30, 2008

Quote of the Day: Berkeley's Own Summary of the Argument from Representational Realism to Skepticism

In a previous post, I summarized Berkeley's argument against representational realism. I just came across a very good passage in the Dialogues where Berkeley himself gives a summary of his argument that representational realism leads to unpalatable skeptical consequences: It is your opinion, the ideas we perceive by our senses are not real things, but images, or copies of them. Our knowledge therefore is no farther real, than our ideas are the true representations of those originals. But as these supposed originals are themselves unknown it is impossible to know how far our ideas resemble them; or whether they resemble...
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October 23, 2008

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...
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September 26, 2008

Quote of the Day: Appearances and Judgments About Appearances

And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of that appearance, - and that is a different thing from questioning the appearance itself. For example, honey appears to us to be sweet (and this we grant, for we perceive sweetness through the senses), but whether it is also sweet in its essence is for us a matter of doubt, since this is not an appearance, but a judgement regarding the appearance. (Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of...
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