This research paper will delve into the life of Bishop George Berkeley, an
Irish philosopher of the Enlightenment era best well-known for his theory of
Immaterialism, a form of Idealism that placed that there were no material
substances but only mental ones, as well as his contributions to the discipline
of philosophy by adopting a doctrinal method of legal research. It also looks at
the philosophy of Idealism and immaterialism and how they might be examined
One of his renowned principles is 'esse is percipi,' which translates to 'to be
is to be perceived.' We examine how Berkeley presents his argument, using
real-world examples, to prove his thesis of immaterialism. We will examine how
George Berkeley incorporates Christian theology as well as God's presence into
his theory to justify it. Berkeley contends that the very presence of an
external reality is implausible.
He employs the master argument so as to bolster his rejection of matter and
favour of a reality that exists purely through our imaginations. Berkeley
contends that since a concept can be nothing more than an idea, how can it be
derived from an external physical entity? Berkeley argues for a God who
establishes natural rules for our minds to comprehend.
We will critically look into this theory of his using examples. We will also
investigate how the continuity and regularity of the reality we sense are
preserved in the absence of any thought or mental perception on the part of the
observer. We can also observe how George Berkeley pulls concepts from a number
of his time's most renowned philosophers and stitches them together to fit his
"All men have opinions and only a few think"- George Berkeley
George Berkeley was such a philosopher who ventured to think, and he thought
daring thoughts. He was a strong advocate of idealism and pioneered
immaterialism as a subset of it. In philosophy, Idealism refers to any
viewpoint that emphasises the essential importance of the spiritual
interpretation of reality. It may believe that the universe or reality exists
primarily as spirit or consciousness, that ideas and norms are more foundational
in reality than perceptual things, or that whatever exists is primarily known in
Thus, the two major types of idealism are metaphysical idealism, which claims
the idea of reality, and epistemological idealism, which believes that the
mind can comprehend only the psychic or that its entities are conditioned by
their perceptibility in the developing knowledge. In a nutshell, idealism holds
that material objects are ultimately mental in nature. Materialism and
idealism are both kinds of monism in the sense that they both believe that there
exists only one fundamental type of thing in the world; they merely disagree
over what that type of thing is.
Berkeley was born on March 12, 1685, at his parental residence, Dysart Castle,
near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, the eldest child of William Berkeley,
a cadet of the Berkeley noble family, whose ancestors can be traced all the way
back to the Anglo-Saxon era and who had worked as feudal lords and landlords
in Gloucester, England. His mother is presumed to be Elisabeth Southerne,
although it has not been confirmed conclusively.
He began his education at the Duke of Ormonde's School at Kilkenny during July
1696 and continued there till January 1700, when he enrolled Trinity College,
Dublin, as a Scholar in 1702, earning a BA in 1704 and also an MA and a
Fellowship in 1707. After completing his degrees, he worked as a professor and
Greek instructor at Trinity College.
In addition to teaching, he pursued divinity and was anointed deacon in February
1709, subsequently priest the following year. Although Berkeley retained his
fellowship in Trinity College, Dublin, till 1724, he resided the most of the
time between 1713 and 1724 outside of Dublin. In January 1713, he travelled to
London to organise the publishing of a few of his works. In November of the same
year, he travelled to Italy as Lord Peterborough's chaplain.
Berkeley resigned from Trinity College in May of 1724 for becoming the Anglican
Dean of Londonderry, however he never lived in the city, spending the vast
majority of the subsequent four years in London. During this time, he aspired to
construct a college in Bermuda to educate the children of colonists as well as
Native Americans he sought to evangelise.
He got married to Anne Foster on August 1, 1728, and shortly after that they
sailed off to America. They arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, and purchased a
farm. Henry and George, their first two children were born while they were
living near Newport, Rhode Island.
There he awaited his scholarship grant, which would have allowed him to
construct the planned College. By the middle of 1731, however, it was clear that
he wasn't going to receive the money, so he departed to London by October.
During his stay in America, he penned a lot of pieces, which he published two to
three years upon his return.
Berkeley was selected as the Bishop of Cloyne in January 1734 subsequently
consecrated on May 19, 1734, at St Paul's Church, Dublin. In this post, he
dedicated himself to Ireland's social and economic issues, striving his best as
an Anglican bishop to improve the lives of everyone living in the largely Roman
Berkeley's health had worsened by the late 1740s. His youngest son, William,
died in 1751, hastening his deterioration. In fact, his plan was to reside at
Oxford for the remainder of his existence, which he expected to be short. On the
evening of Sunday, January 14, 1753, he suffered a heart attack while resting
with his family while listening to his wife reading.
He died so calmly that the tragedy is claimed to have gone unnoticed, with the
family believing he had fell asleep. He had left instructions not to bury him
for at least five days, and so he was buried on 20 January at Christ Church,
Contributions To Philosophy
George Berkeley was one among the most well-known British empiricists. (John
Locke and David Hume being the other two.) He was an Irish Enlightenment
philosopher probably most famous for his doctrine of Immaterialism, a kind of
Idealism that maintained that there were no material substances but only finite
mental substances as well as an infinite mental entity, God. He is also thought
to be the father of modern Idealism.
Berkeley's famous notion was 'esse is percipi', which means that to be is to
be perceived. Berkeley believes that mind-independent objects do not exist. It
is regarded as the basic premise of human understanding, and it serves as the
foundation for his argument of God's existence.
Berkeley's golden era of authorship began with his Trinity College years. He
examined visual range, magnitude, position, and issues of vision and touch in An
Essay 'Towards a New Theory of Vision' (1709), and concluded that the proper
(or actual) objects of sight are not without mind, despite "the converse being
considered valid for tangible objects."
He helped bring all objects of sense, including tangibles, within the mind in
his 'A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Part I'
(1710); he turned down material substance, material causes, and vague general
ideas; he asserted spiritual substance; and he tried to answer numerous
objections to his theory and managed to draw theological and epistemological
consequences. He concentrates on moral and political philosophy in 'Passive
His 'Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous' (1713) emphasised the
basic point of the principles by its appealing literary style and avoidance of
complications. The two works discuss immaterialism in unison. His 1721
publication of 'De Motu' resulted in a significant leap forward in
There is also a set of notebooks known as the "Philosophical Commentaries"
that span the period in which he formulated his philosophies idealism and
immaterialism. These were personal notebooks, and he didn't have an intention of
publishing them. While in America, he penned the majority of 'Alciphron',
his defence to Christianity against free-thinking.
Berkeley was also well-known for his contributions to theology, relativity
arguments, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mathematics, moral philosophy,
and immaterialism. His works also contributed to the formation of Berkeley's
razor; a logic rule given by philosopher Karl Popper during his
examination of Berkeley's fundamental scientific book De Motu.
Theory Of Berkeley's Idealism And Immaterialism
Bishop George Berkely was a keen critic of his predecessors, especially Rene
Descartes, John Locke, and others. He criticises materialism, defined as
"the concept that material things exist." Despite the fact that many of
Berkeley's first readers were baffled and found his work unacceptable, he
inspired thinkers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant.
Berkeley dubbed his view of the perceived universe 'immaterialism.' Berkeley had
been an idealist. 'Idealism' In philosophy, identifies and characterizes
metaphysical positions that say that reality is undifferentiated and inseparable
from human sight and comprehension; that reality is a mental construction
strongly related to ideas. He believed that everyday objects are simply
collections of ideas that are dependent on our minds. Berkeley was always an
immaterialist. He believed that there were no material substances. There only
exist finite mental substances and an infinite mental substance, God.
The concept that "sensible things are just those which are instantly seen by
" underlines George Berkeley's theory that matter doesn't really exist.
All knowledge, thus according to him, derives from perception; what we observe
are ideas, not objects in themselves; a thing in itself must be beyond
experience; hence, the reality only comprises ideas and minds which perceive
such ideas; a thing only exists insofar as it perceives or is perceived. We can
see from this that Berkeley believes consciousness exists because of its
capacity for perception.
Berkeley believed that reality was just a series of mental ideas. He explained
it as 'esse is percipi', to be is to be perceived. There was nothing that
existed in a physical world external to our minds. All of reality is just mental
ideas that we perceive. It was quite a radical theory.
Firstly, Berkeley rejects the direct realist approach. The direct realist
approach is the theory which states that we directly perceive the external world
how it is. What we see and experience is exactly the same in our minds as in the
external world. Berkeley prima facie rejects this idea and uses John Locke's
'primary and secondary quality distinction' to support his rejection of this
John Locke used an indirect realist approach to reality by highlighting how many
parts of reality exist in the mind and not in an external world. For example,
how can something taste sweet to one person taste bitter to another, or how can
a hot palm perceive water as cool while a cold hand experiences the same water
as burning if these attributes existed in material reality and were constant all
As a result, he asserted that these traits are in fact mind-dependent and only
exist as mental concepts. John Locke used this argument against direct realism
but as an indirect realist John Locke still believed in an external world
existing outside of our minds or primary qualities that cause the ideas or the
secondary qualities in our minds but Berkeley rejected the existence of an
external world altogether. Berkeley believed that he has good grounds to
continue this line of thought further and show that he cannot in fact make a
distinction between an external world and mental ideas we perceive.
Locke's main argument in support of indirect realism was that secondary
qualities appear different at different times and to different people. For
example, colour can look different under different lights based on the rate of
absorbtion by receptor's in one's eye, taste can taste different to different
people and so on. So these are just ideas in the mind but he claims an object's
extension and figure exists in an external world.
However the same argument can be applied to an object's extension: how can the
same building look tall at one site but small at another what is the right size
it should be perceived so if primary qualities are subject to change they fall
into the same brackets as secondary qualities and so should be considered mind
dependent ideas too.
Berkeley goes on to explain further against indirect realism using the likeness
principle. He argues that whether you believe in an external world or not, we
are aware that we only perceive our own ideas of reality not the perception of
reality directly, however if we only ever directly perceive our ideas an idea
can be like nothing but an idea. Berkeley then uses the master argument to
further strengthen his rejection of matter and advocacy of a reality solely in
our minds and to answer how if an idea can be like nothing but an idea and we
only perceive our ideas then how can they derive from an external physical
Berkeley argues that the very existence of an external world is in fact
inconceivable. Whatever it be, it is being perceived as an idea in our mind we
therefore have no access or cannot even conceive of a material world existing
outside of our minds.
Berkeley has raised some good arguments for idealism. But critically analysing
an immaterial world all existing in our minds seems to go against common sense.
Even if we say there is no physical world how can our reality be so consistent
for example, when one goes to their room. They have the idea of it with all
their things. They then leave for a few hours then again go back to the room and
it's exactly the same. Same things, same colours, in the same position and all
in the same size. If there is no physical world in which ideas come from then
how can one explain this 'regularity' we perceive every day.
How can one be having such a regular idea if there was not a physical structure
of a material object in an external world generating these ideas. And it's not
just the regularity but also the 'continuity' for example, if one leaves a
pot full of water open in the sunlight for a few hours and when they come back
part of the water will have evaporated.
Similarly, if one lights a candle in a room and leave for a few hours when I
come back the candle wax will have melted. Well if there is no physical candle
wax or evaporated water in an external world and one was not present to perceive
the idea of the candle melting and the water evaporating then how has the candle
melted or how has the water evaporated? how does existence have the continuity
even when there are no minds present to perceive.
In fact, Berkeley has replies to both those rejections. He attributes the
sustenance reality we perceive to the most powerful mind in existence, the mind
of God. Berkeley argues in favour of a God who creates laws of nature for our
minds to perceive. He adds that God keeps our mental reality in a state of
regularity so when one does get back to their room, they perceive their rooms in
a state of regularity. So, everything will be the same colour and the same shape
and in the same positions.
And even when there are no minds around to perceive something the continuity
persists because the mind of God is still there to perceive it. Reality is
essentially all created and within the mind of God so when one leaves a room
after having lit a candle or leaving a pot of water open, God's mind is still
present to continue its burning of the wax and evaporation of water
Another one of the major questions that Berkely had to answer was that if
reality is then just mind dependent ideas. Then how can we distinguish a dream
or hallucination from reality? We perceive dreams and hallucinations in our
minds. If we follow Berkeley's logic all dreams and hallucinations are real but
again, we know they are not so, what do we make of them. We can still tell apart
reality from hallucinations and dreams.
The real things in our immature reality have regularity, our reality is ordered,
it has steadiness and vivacity. It is coherent and these are not, similarly in
dreams or hallucinations. So, I do not think that one must concede and claim any
hallucination or dream has to be taken as real.
Berkeley's idealism solely functions with the presumption of such a God in
effect; without God, it fails. His version of Idealism is filled with
challenges. To advance the theory, Berkeley presupposes the existence of a God.
He uses the existence of God to evade some of the major loopholes in his theory.
Therefore, this Idealism opens the door to scepticism and, finally, solipsism.
If we agree there is no material world and realities in our minds then what
stops one from taking it even further and saying every person or other mind,
they perceive is not real but just an idea in their own mind. What if all of
reality including other people was just an idea in our mind and does not exist
outside of our mind. For us that means our mother, father and everyone we have
ever met is just an idea in my mind and they all do not exist outside of it,
leaving us as the only real unconscious person in the whole of reality. Some may
take the theory even further.
Berkeley's theories sparked debate since they opposed Descartes' worldview,
which was expounded upon by Locke, and culminated in the rejection of Berkeley's
interpretation of empiricism by various seventeenth and eighteenth-century
thinkers. "The world creates the perceptual thoughts we possess of it by the
ways it interacts using our senses,"
according to Locke's viewpoint. This
violates Berkeley's worldview since it not only implies the presence of physical
problems in the world, but it also implies that there is no material reality
beyond our conceptions. In Berkeley's viewpoint, the only reasons that exist are
those that arise from the employment of the will.
Berkeley's philosophy does not go in concordance with the modern-day findings of
science and hence cannot be considered to be so very credible.
According to Berkeley, the world is comprised entirely of minds and thoughts. He
sees everyday objects as a collection of thoughts. Because it seems to deny the
existence of familiar objects of daily reality, the so-called immaterialism of
the principles and dialogues may still appear to some readers today as strange,
or even as suggestive of psychiatric disorder.
Berkeley's philosophy appears to contain a significant amount of Christian
theology, so connecting his underlying beliefs alongside his philosophical
ideas. Berkeley's work impacted many others, including David Hume and Immanuel
Despite widespread criticism, Berkely's books are the foundational pillars upon
which modern idealism is founded. As a result, it is crucially significant in
the philosophical world.
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- Supra note 9
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