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!)
Here's just one text that I think provides some support for the claim that Berkeley has this type of argument in mind:
Again, whether there be, or be not external things, it is agreed on all hands, that the proper use of words, is the marking our conceptions, or things only as they are known and perceived by us; whence it plainly follows, that in the tenets we have laid down, there is nothing inconsistent with the right use and significancy of language, and that discourse of what kind soever, so far as it is intelligible, remains undisturbed. (PHK 84)
Obviously the whole argument isn't there, but, taken together with the rest of his text, I think, as I said, that we can attribute something like it to Berkeley.
There are a couple of problems with this argument. The first is that in order to be valid it requires a very strong reading of 'non-accidentally:' that is, on this argument, in order for me to 'non-accidentally' use a word correctly, the elements that determine the meaning of the word have to actually be part of the mental process by which I decide to use the word. Recent philosophers, being acquainted with semantic externalism will object: why can't I 'non-accidentally' use a word correctly if my subjective states are ordinarily caused by the correct conditions of application obtaining?
There are two reasons for Berkeley not to be concerned about this objection: first, he has independent arguments against this sort of causation, and second, all of his opponents were semantic internalists (as far as I know, no one had even formulated externalism yet).
The second problem is that Berkeley seems to treat his theory as a general theory of language, yet he is engaged in a project of non-deflationary metaphysics. At some points he uses the qualifier 'strictly speaking,' or others with similar meaning. His theory of notions is evidently supposed to somehow get philosophical language to go beyond plain language - but not too far beyond, or matter will become comprehensible again. This is a difficult problem and not one that I will try to deal with tonight.Posted by Kenny at May 14, 2009 11:55 AM
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