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:

  1. 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.

  2. Therefore, (A) cannot be considered immediately (it requires the mediation of (B)). (From (1))

  3. A representation represents its object in virtue of some relation (call it 'R') which holds between the representation and its object. (Premise)

  4. If one object cannot be considered without the mediation of another, it is not possible to hold these two objects up for comparison (Premise)

  5. If two objects cannot be held up for comparison, it cannot be determined whether any particular relation holds between them. (Premise)

  6. Therefore, it cannot be determined whether R holds between A and B. (From (2), (3), (4), and (5))

  7. Therefore, we cannot determine whether our perceptions are veridical. (From (6))

  8. But we can determine whether our perceptions are veridical. (Premise)

  9. Therefore representative realism is false. (From (7) and (8))

Just that simple.

Posted by Kenny at October 23, 2008 03:31 PM
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