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 others. The trouble is, what sense can we make of (3)? Much of Berkeley's positive theorizing is devoted to this difficulty. It seems clear that (3) cannot be accepted exactly as it stands. For instance, another very important cherry tree belief that gardener has is that other people see the cherry tree. Yet this is surely not a fact about his own mind and/or its ideas. Another difficulty is that, while (2) would have been widely accepted by Berkeley's contemporaries, philosophers since Hume have often questioned whether we can really be justifiably certain about our own mind and its ideas, and since Reid philosophers have questioned whether all of this 'idea' talk really makes sense.

It seems to me that Berkeley's argument can be adjusted to have some force in a 21st century context, but I am not at present prepared to work out the details.

Posted by Kenny at February 8, 2010 12:08 PM
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Comments

A quick question.

What do you mean by "have some force"? Do you mean "be persuasive to other philosophers"? Or even more specifically, "be persuasive to other philosophers, given that they typically bring certain assumptions to the table beforehand"?

Sorry if that's a real pedantic question.

Posted by: Joseph A. at February 9, 2010 1:01 PM

I mean that someone who was familiar with the ideas, facts, and arguments most 21st century philosophers are familiar with and heard the adjusted argument would be rationally required to adjust her total evaluation of her epistemic condition (i.e. change her beliefs and/or her degree of confidence in those beliefs). The reason I say 'have some force' rather than, say, 'prove something' is that it wouldn't single-handedly compel anyone to endorse idealism.

The specific sort of force that I suspect the adjusted argument (which I haven't yet constructed) would have would be to make someone say 'perhaps Berkeleian metaphysics isn't so crazy after all.'

Posted by: Kenny at February 9, 2010 5:57 PM

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