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. It is entirely the creature of the mind, considering either an idea by itself, or any combination of ideas to which it gives one name, and so makes it pass for an unit. According as the mind variously combines its ideas the unit varies: and as the unit, so the number, which is only a collection of units, doth also vary. We call a window one, a chimney one, and yet a house in which there are many windows and many chimneys hath an equal right to be called one, and many houses go to the making of the city. In these and the like instances it is evident the unit constantly relates to the particular draughts the mind makes of its ideas, to which it affixes names, and wherein it includes more or less as best suits its own ends and purposes. Whatever, therefore, the mind considers as one, that is an unit. Every combination of ideas is considered as one thing by the mind, and in token thereof is marked by one name. Now, this naming and combining together of ideas is perfectly arbitrary, and done by the mind in such sort as experience shews it to be most convenient: without which our ideas had never been collected into such sundry distinct combinations as they now are (Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision, sect. 109).

Posted by Kenny at September 17, 2009 10:56 AM
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