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You are required to read the following pages of the text book and the definitions and examples given on my assigned webpages. The "Helpful Questions" are here to help you understand the reading.and to anticipate the points I will be discussing in class. If you can master this material without following the reading questions, then you don't have to bother with them. However, the additional text I give on these pages is required because at least some of the points it covers will be on the tests.

Remember, you will be tested on this reading before the next lecture. Be ready to answer questions about this material.

Your reading is from Does the Center Hold? by Donald Palmer. Page numbers in blue refer to the 3rd edition, greenish page numbers refer to the 4th edition, and dark blue page numbers refer to the 5th edition.

Read pages 82-90 (in the 6th edition), or pages 82-90 in 5th Edition, or pages 82-90 in 3rd Edition, or pages 85-93 in 3rd Edition

Study Questions
Did Berkeley think that primary qualities were really different from secondary qualities?
How do you establish the size and shape of a table?
Do we perceive primary qualities, or do we deduce them from sets of secondary qualities?
For Berkeley, what three kinds of things form the objects of human knowledge?
Is "direct knowledge of real objects gotten without use of the senses" one of those categories?
Are there any objects of human knowledge that are not either sense data, or arrangements of sense data?
What is "the given"?
Is there anything more to a "physical object" than the totality of its sense data?
According to Berkeley, are sense data mental, physical, or what?
What does "esse is percipi" mean?
What is idealism?
How did Dr. Johnson try to refute Berkeley?
Why did Dr. Johnson fail to refute Berkeley?
What does it mean to say that sense data appear in recognizable patterns?
What does that mean to say that language is used to unify these ideas in our minds?
Do different cultures all use the same categories to describe the world?
Do different people all see the world the same way? Why not?
What is the bridge of intersubjectivity?
On the bridge of intersubjectivity, how do we settle disputes about reality?
On the bridge of intersubjectivity, what we mean by "reality"?
What is Locke's version of causality?
What is Berkeley's version of causality?
How do these two versions compare and contrast with each other?
According to Berkeley, what would happen in a room with no people if god did not exist?
According to Berkeley, can unperceived things exist?
Can god be perceived?

Thinky Questions. (These might just turn up as group discussion questions, if I'm feeling especially sadistic.)
Is there any meaningful difference between Berkely's doctrine and what Locke was saying?
Locke says that the existing objects of the world are real, solid, and made of matter.
Berkeley says these existing objects of the world are ideal, immaterial, and made of ideas.
I ask, what difference could it possibly make? Imagine that we create two universes, Idealia and Matteria. Idealia is composed entirely of ideas in our minds, and in the minds of it's inhabitants. Matteria is entirely made of matter. For Idealia, we take turns imposing consistency in reality, while in Matteria the phystical properties of matter take care of that. So Idealia is a Berkelian world of ideas and Matteria is a Lockian world of matter.
Now, how will the two worlds be different for the people living them? What will happen in Idealia that won't happen in Matteria, and vice versa? What would be dangerous in Idealia that would be safe in Matteria, and vice versa? Can you find any reason to say there's any difference between the theories beyond how we talk about things?

Palmer says that differences in language explain differences in the ways people in different cultures think about things. I think he's got it ass-backwards. Consider the following two competing explanations.
1. People in different cultures cut the world up differently because their languages cut the world up differently. Versus:
2. Languages cut the world up differently because people in different cultures cut the world up differently
Consider the Inuits, and their profusion of words for what we call "snow."
Explanation 1, (Palmer) says that Inuits recognize differences in texture and consistency of frozen water as significant enough to mean that "tiqsiq" is a different kind of stuff than "pukajaq" (like the way we distinguish "ska" from "emo") merely because their language happened to have these two different words for snow.
Explanation 2. (Me) says that Inuits decided to use two different words for snow because their culture treats what they call "tiqsiq" differently from the way it treats what they call "pukajaq," and they decided to make up these words to reflect that difference. (The way skiers adapted the word "powder.")
If Palmer is right, how did those languages get those differences in the first place?
If I'm right, why do different cultures tend to cut the world up differently?

Potential questions for Quiz
1. According to Berkeley, is any "physical object" more than just the totality of its sense data?
2. What did Berkeley say about kicking rocks?
3. Are natural patterns the result of the way the world is, or of human decisions?
4. Are conventions the result of the way the world is, or of human decisions?

5. According to Berkeley, are sense data physical, or are they just mental?
6. Did Berkley say that kicking rocks would never hurt?
7. What is achieved by the bridge of intersubjectivity?
8. According to Berkeley, how do things continue to exist when no human is looking?


Essay on Bishop Berkeley.

             In philosophy, in science, and in thought generally, there is such a thing as a productive blind alley. There are some ideas that just will not work, no matter how hard anyone tries to make them work. However, some of these ideas that do not work are such that investigating them leads to other important and productive ideas. Such is the case with Berkelean idealism. It didn't work. But thinking about it, and thinking about Berkeley's attempts to make it work, leads to some very important and productive ideas. These ideas are worth thinking about, even if the theory that led us to them turns out to be a blind alley.
             But first, as always, I want you to do some critical reading. Palmer writes that "Berkeley ... saw Locke's errors clearly[.]" I want you to think about what Palmer might mean by this. What "errors" is he talking about? Is it the fact that Locke believed in matter? But Palmer never said that Locke's belief in matter was a problem! Is Palmer referring to his belief that Locke believed in substance? Certainly, if Locke's theory of being had included the notion of immaterial substances, that would've been an error. But, if you read on in the section on Berkeley, you will never find a place where Berkeley is said to say anything like "Locke's theory is based on substance, but substance doesn't exist." Nor does Berkeley "correct" Locke by saying anything like "we can save Locke's theory by eliminating the idea of substance and replacing it with something else like, say, matter." Remember, "substance" and "matter" are two very different things. Berkeley doesn't say anything about substance. But he does say a lot about matter. Specifically, he says it doesn't exist.
             If you read carefully, you will see that Palmer's criticism of Locke changes when we move from the section on Locke to the section on Berkeley. In the section on Locke, Palmer accuses him of making the mistake of believing in substance. In the section on Berkeley, Palmer implicitly accuses Locke of believing in the existence of material substance. Palmer says that Berkeley wants to "eliminate the notion of material substance itself," which implies that Locke's theory contains the idea of material substance. Now I ask you, does Locke's theory as it was explained in the text contain the notion of material substance? Can you find the term "material substance" anywhere in any part of any explanation of Locke's ontology? No you can't. It isn't there. So, since the idea of material substance isn't in Locke's ontology, what is Berkeley trying to eliminate? The answer is, he is trying to eliminate the idea that matter exists, that there are "real things in the physical world."
             It is true that, if you believe in substance, you will think of matter as material substance. But you will think of the "substance" part of material substance as something that cannot be perceived. Locke's theory is all about that which can be perceived. So is Berkeley's theory. Locke's theory is that matter exists, and we perceive it. Berkeley's theory is that matter does not exist, and that all that exists is perceptions. Berkeley's "correction" of Locke is to deny that matter exists, he doesn't say anything about substance. So for me, there is something very weird in saying that Locke made an error and that Berkeley corrected that error, because the "error" that Palmer accuses Locke of making is not the "error" that Berkeley tries to correct. It is also pretty weird to say that the transition from Locke to Berkeley is the beginning of the end for the idea of substance when Berkeley says absolutely nothing about the idea of substance.
             The bottom line here is that I think that the first section in Palmer's account of Berkeley's theories is unnecessarily complicated and slightly but annoyingly misleading. Basically, I think that if you completely ignore all references to "material substance" in that first section, and ignore the picture labeled "Locke's view," you will get a much better idea of the logical relationship between Locke and Berkeley. If the idea of trying to read that section over again while ignoring all references to material substance gives you a headache, don't worry, because in the next paragraph I will give you my own account of that relationship.

The Logical Relationship between Locke and Berkeley.

             Berkeley looked at Locke's theory of perceptions of primary and secondary qualities inhering in material objects, and had an idea that had not occurred to Locke. Berkeley thought that he could create an even simpler, but still perfectly adequate theory of being by holding that only the perceptions of primary and secondary qualities existed, and the material objects did not. This is not a stupid idea, despite the fact that it turned out to be wrong. In fact, it is an absolutely brilliant idea, and in my view it is enough to qualify Berkeley as an absolute genius. Only Berkeley noticed this implication of Locke's theory, only Berkeley figured out how this could work and why it might make sense, and it turned out to be extremely difficult to prove him wrong. In fact, most of the people who thought he was wrong simply did not understand the theory!
             Berkeley noticed that Locke had written "since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, has no other immediate object but its own ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant about them." In case you have trouble understanding 17th-century English, I will endeavor to translate. I think that what Locke is saying in this quotation is that, first, the mind does not directly contact objects in the external world. Rather, the mind only contains ideas of those objects. For instance, think of a horse. Do you have an actual horse in your mind? No you don't, you just have an idea of a horse. Furthermore, if your idea of a horse is different from the actual qualities of actual horses (if any exist), you won't know that. If, for instance, your idea of a horse includes the idea that it has six legs, every time you think about horses, you will think about a six legged animal. You won't ever think about four legged horses, because that's not part of your idea of a horse. Now think about all the mistaken ideas you have ever had, and think about all the mistaken ideas everyone else has ever had. When you had your mistaken ideas, were you thinking about the truth, or were you just thinking about the ideas you happened to have? When other people with mistaken ideas think about things, are they thinking about those things as they actually are, or are they just thinking about their own particular ideas of those things? The bottom line here is that Locke is saying that knowledge isn't really knowledge of the real world, it is just knowledge of our ideas of the real world.
             Berkeley looked at Locke's point that our knowledge is just knowledge of our ideas, and noticed that this implied that we could have knowledge without there being a real world to have knowledge of. Furthermore, Berkeley noticed that the only things we ever have actual knowledge of is our own ideas. In fact, it is impossible to know something that is not an idea. Material objects cannot be known. From this, Berkeley argued that we don't really have any reason to think that the material world exists, and that therefore, since we don't need to assume its existence to explain our experience, we should believe that it does not exist.
             Locke's argument for the existence of the material world was that we had to assume that physical objects, with primary and secondary qualities actually existed in order to explain our experiences of clumps of qualities occurring together in the world. Berkeley disagreed, and argued that we just had to assume that ideas existed, and this would allow us to explain our experiences without having to assume that matter existed.

Berkeley's Argument.

             Before I go on to Berkeley's argument, I want you to consider the first sentence of the section titled "Sense Data." That sentence reads "one of Berkeley's first tasks would be to demonstrate Locke's self-contradiction by undoing the primary-secondary qualities distinction." I invite you to think about whether anyone has demonstrated that Locke commits a self-contradiction. A self-contradiction occurs when a writer at one point says something that contradicts something else that she said at some other point in the same theory or treatise. For instance, if at one point in his explanation of his theory of primary and secondary qualities, Locke had said "substance exists" and then at some other point said "substance doesn't exist," that would be a self-contradiction. Similarly, if he had assumed the existence of matter at one point, and then assumed its nonexistence at another point, that too would be a self-contradiction. But I don't know of any point where Locke contradicts himself. Even if, as Palma alleges, Locke believed in substance, and had an obscure idea of substance, that would not amount to a self-contradiction. Palmer claims that Berkeley can "demonstrate" a self-contradiction by undoing a distinction. But how would that work? The most it could prove would be that Locke was wrong to make the distinction. It could not, by itself, prove that Locke had contradicted himself. (But maybe I'm wrong here. If you can see a way the Locke contradicts himself, or that undoing a distinction can demonstrate a self-contradiction, please let me know. If you're right, I'll give you extra credit.)
             Still, Berkeley did try to undo the primary-secondary quality distinction. And I think he did a pretty good job. Extension, or the taking up of space, is thought by Locke to be a primary quality. But think about the ways in which we recognize an object as having extension. Visually, we see it as a patch, or a range from of patches of colors. But color is a secondary quality. We can also handle the object, and feel its resistance where we touch it. But feeling resistance is a secondary quality. The same reasoning holds true for size, shape, location and motion. We only know the primary qualities of objects through our experiences of secondary qualities. For Locke, this would mean that primary qualities are inferred from experiences of secondary qualities. For Berkeley, this basically means that primary qualities do not necessarily exist, and are in fact merely conventions to make it easier to talk about collections of secondary qualities. "Location" is not the location of a physical object, it is the location of some patches of color associated with a feeling of resistance. "Size" is not the size of a physical object, it is the size of a patch of colors and the extent of a feeling of resistance. And so on for any other primary quality.
             Just like Locke, Berkeley starts with epistemology, because the only things that definitely known are our experiences. Have you ever seen a shadow and thought it was an animal? Say at first glance you think you're looking at a cat, but it later turns out to be the shadow of a potted plant. In that first glance, you can be certain that you are seeing a cat, even if you can't be certain that there's actually a cat there. To empiricists such as Locke and Berkeley, our experience is the most reliable thing we have. The sources of our experiences may be very different from the content of those experiences, but we can be certain that our experiences have the content that they have.
             Berkeley starts by looking very carefully at what we know and do not know. In the long quotation starting with the words "it is evident to anyone...", Berkeley points out that there are only three kinds of knowledge. We can know about ideas that we have directly sensed. We have the idea of green because we have the experience of seeing green. We have the ideas of heavy and light because our experiences include experiences of lightness and heaviness. And so on for any other product of sense experience. Berkeley second category of knowledge includes ideas of things that happen in our own minds. We have the ideas of anger, hope, fear and so on because we have felt these things. Berkeley's final category includes ideas formed by imaginatively combining ideas from the other two categories. We have never seen a green elephant, but we can imaginatively combine the ideas of green and elephant. Similarly for any other possible product of the imagination.
             Berkeley's point is that we do not have to assume the existence of matter to explain the existence of our ideas. He gives the example of the idea of an apple being compounded from a collection of other ideas. Thus, we do not have to assume that apples exist as material objects. All we have to assume is that these ideas occasionally occur in the right combination to create the further idea of "apple."

The Given.

             The basis of Berkeley's epistemology is what Palmer calls "the given." This is just the total collection of all the sensory impressions you happen to have over the course of your life. The given does not include physical objects, because physical objects are not sense impressions. The given does not include matter, because matter is not a sense impression. The given does not include a real world, because a real world is not a sense impression. The given contains nothing but sense impressions, or more technically, "sense data." It's important to recognize that the given is all we have. We do not have any separate access to reality beyond sense data. Thus, the given is the only basis we can possibly use to establish any kind of epistemology or ontology.
             The best way we can begin to understand how to use the given to develop the most logically justified model of the universe is to think about how a baby sets about constructing a model of the world out of what at first appears to be an incoherent mess of unrelated sensations. Gradually, the developing person learns that certain things go with certain other things, that more and more complicated arrangements and patterns turn up again and again. Eventually, the person develops a model of the world as a coherent ensemble of regularities and patterns that can be understood and at least partially predicted and manipulated. Along the way, according to Berkeley, the person develops the convenient, but empirically unjustified, idea that a real world of matter exists outside his or her mind.
             Berkeley would think that this idea is unjustified because it turns out that we never actually need to assume the existence of an external world to explain anything. For Berkeley, there is no set of sensory experiences that absolutely requires the existence of a material object to explain it. Therefore it follows that matter is an unnecessary hypothesis, and by Occam's razor, we should not believe in it.

Existence Is Perception.

             An opponent of Berkeley might want to exclaim "but I am perceiving something, and therefore the thing I am perceiving must exist!" Berkeley would reply that this depends on what you mean by "exist." He would argue that, if by "existence" you mean "independent existence as something more than an idea" you are committing a logical fallacy. To say that "I perceive it, therefore it exists independently of my perceptions" is clearly a fallacy. William Blake had visions of angels, but that didn't mean that those angels actually existed outside of his own mind. Religious believers sometimes claimed to have "sensed" the presence of their particular deity, but that never has meant that their particular deity was actually there to be sensed.
             For Berkeley, there was another meaning of the word "exist." To say that something existed meant only that somebody had a particular set of perceptions. To say that dogs exist, for instance, is just to say that that particular set of sensations to which we give the name "dog" actually occurs in some minds at some times. And, for Berkeley, that's all it means. His motto is "esse is percipi," which means "existence is perception." For Berkeley, there is nothing to existence beyond perception. To say that something exists only means that there occurs a certain set of perceptions.             
             Samuel Johnson famously tried to refute Berkeley by kicking a rock. The usual interpretation of this story is that Johnson took his sensations during this experience to prove that the rock existed independently of his perceptions. But Berkeley could easily ask how he knew the rock existed independently of his perceptions. Johnson gave us absolutely no reason to think that anything happened to him or to anyone else during the experience of rock-kicking that was not a perception. Berkeley's point is exactly that the whole experience can be completely analyzed, completely described, in terms of nothing but perceptions. There is nothing Johnson, or anyone else, can point to in that experience that is not a perception. Yes, the rock exists, but it exists as a collection of sensations. Nothing more.
             Berkeley's theory is usually reckoned to be a form of "idealism." Idealism can be described as the doctrine that ideas can have their own independent existence. The dualisms of Plato and Descartes can thus be considered to be forms of idealism too, because they both assert the existence of nonmaterial entities. Berkeley's view is a form of monism, not dualism, because he asserts both that ideas exist, and material entities don't. (In Aristotlian terms he might be thought of as asserting that only immaterial substances exist.) However, Berkeley's idealism is very different from the idealistic parts of Plato and Descartes. Plato asserted that the forms had an independent, nonmaterial existence. Berkeley denies that anything besides ideas exists. For Berkeley, the idea of a form of beauty certainly exists, but an actual form of beauty, that exists outside of anybody's mind cannot exist. We do not need to posit the existence of a form of beauty to explain perceptions of beauty, so Berkeley would think that we should deny that such a form exists. Descartes asserted that imperceptible substances existed outside of human minds. Berkeley, again, would disagree. For Berkeley, existence is perception, and so imperceptible things, by definition, cannot exist.
             For Berkeley, there is a world, it exists, and it makes sense. It is composed entirely of perceptions, not matter, and the reason that the given makes sense is that the perceptions within it appear in recognizable patterns, to which we give names. So far, this appears to make sense, and I have not found anything wrong with Berkeley's logic so far
Language and Epistemology.

             As you have no doubt come to expect, or even dread, I have yet another quibble with Palmer's interpretation of Berkeley's theory. Palmer writes "what makes Berkeley's theory so modern is the large part he assigns to language in his epistemology." I invite you to explain to me, if you can, how the role of language in Berkeley's epistemology is larger than the role of language in Locke's epistemology, or indeed in any other epistemology. Yes, Berkeley refers to language in terms of taking a collection of perceptions and calling it "apple." But, if you think about it, language plays exactly the same role in Locke's epistemology. In Locke's view we take a collection of perceptions, call it "apple," and assume that there is an underlying material object with primary and secondary qualities. The difference between the two epistemologies is not that Berkeley assigns a larger role to language than Locke. It is that Berkeley merely dispenses with the assumption of the underlying material object.
             Still, the relationship between language and culture is an interesting topic, and I don't mind discussing it here, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with Berkeley in particular.
             Unfortunately, what is interesting for me here is that Palmer, as far as I can tell, gets the relationship between language and culture exactly backwards! Take a look at his paragraph about the Eskimos, and see if you can figure out what I mean. Or, if that strikes you as boring and futile, pay careful attention to the rest of this section.
             Palmer writes words to the effect that the way Berkeley uses language in his epistemology can explain the fact that different peoples cut up the world very differently. For instance, the Inuit ("Eskimo" is an insulting term) distinguish between different types of what caucasians call "snow." An Inuit might point to a certain kind of snow and call it "tiqsiq," and then point to a different kind of snow and call that "tuva." A nearby caucasian, if she looked carefully, would be able to tell the difference between tiqsiq, tuva, pukajaq, piqsirpoq, gana, aput and qimqsuq, but she would still want to call them all "snow" and treat them all the same. An Inuit will not only use the different words for the different kinds of snow, but will also treat each different named kind of snow differently. Palmer says that we can explain this by appealing to the role of language in epistemology. However, he does not say what this explanation is. And frankly, I think he is completely wrong to think that we can explain this kind of difference by appealing to language in any way.
             Palmer writes that if Descartes's theories of substance and of innate ideas were true, we should all see the world identically. I don't see this. It's true that if Descartes and Plato are correct, we all come equipped with exactly the same set of innate ideas. But that doesn't mean we will see the world identically. Remember Plato's slave boy. In Plato's theory of innate ideas, the slave boy had in him the innate idea of how to solve the square doubling problem. But he didn't know he had it. Similarly, Plato could look at the Inuit and the caucasian and say that both of them had inside themselves exactly the same set of innate ideas, but that each had remembered different portions of that set. Because of his experiences, the Inuit had remembered the seven different kinds of snow. Because of his different experiences, the caucasian has only remembered the more general term of "snow." Once the Inuit and caucasian begin to talk to each other, each will remember the parts of his innate ideas that he didn't remember before. The Inuit will remind the caucasian of the seven different kinds of snow, and the caucasian will remind the Inuit of the general term "snow" that covers the referents of those seven terms. We do have good reasons to think that the theory of innate ideas is false, but differences between ways of cutting up the world is not one of them.
             What would it mean to say that we can explain the fact that different peoples cut up the world differently by appealing to the role of language in epistemology? The only role of language in epistemology we have seen so far has been to name things. Actually, that's not really a role in epistemology. That's just what language does, whether you worry about epistemology or not. The only way I can see to explain differences in cutting up the world by appeal to language is to say that the reason that different peoples cut up the world differently is that different peoples have different languages. As an "explanation," this has two problems. First, it doesn't explain why different peoples have different languages. Second, it leads us to Iran the bizarre conclusion. The first problem, the lack of explanation for different languages, is not too serious. We can assume, for instance, that differences in language arise randomly over time. Or, we could say that that's a separate problem, that we will try to solve later. The second problem is that, if we take this explanation seriously, it leads us to conclude that the only reason the Inuit distinguishes between seven different kinds of snow while the caucasian considers them all examples of the same thing, is that they have different languages. Thus, if it had happened that the Inuit people had spoken English instead of Inuit, they would only identify one kind of snow, and they would treat all kinds of snow exactly the same. (Remember, cutting up the world is not something people say, it is something people do.) And if the caucasians had, by some bizarre historical process, ended up speaking Inuit, they would identify seven different kinds of snow, and treat each of those different kinds differently. And this is the absurd part! For most caucasians, snow is just something to shovel off the driveway! Why would a caucasian, living in, say, Minnesota, distinguish between tiqsiq, tuva, pukajaq, piqsirpoq, gana, aput and qimqsuq and treat them all differently when all she really wants to do is get her car out of the garage?
             I put it to you that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the idea that we can adequately explain differences in how different peoples cut up the world by appealing to the role of language in epistemology. If we could do this, it would follow that it is language that determines our form of life. But language does not determine form of life. When the nation of Israel decided to revive the ancient language of Hebrew as the new common language of their new nation, this did not result in any body adopting the form of life on the ancient Hebrews. Rather what happened was that Hebrew was adapted into a modern language capable of providing effective communication in a modern, progressive, industrialized, democratic state.
             And this brings us back to the question of what determines differences in language. Far from language determining form of life, it is form of life that determines language. The Inuit people verbally distinguish between seven different kinds of snow because their traditional form of life required them to do different things with different kinds of snow. What they call tiqsiq is good for some purposes, but not others. Tuva is good for different things, and so on. The caucasian language does not distinguish between different kinds of snow because the average caucasian doesn't need to make those kinds of distinctions. When caucasians do need to distinguish between different kinds of snow, they make up words to convey those distinctions. Which caucasians need to distinguish between different kinds of snow? The ones that let themselves slide downhill over snow on polished sticks, that's who! I'm not sure which terms they use, because skiing scares me, but I think I've heard them use the words "base" and "powder" to describe different kinds of snow.
             The bottom line here is that assigning a role to language in epistemology does not allow us to explain why different peoples cut the world differently. This is why the issue of language and culture has absolutely nothing to do with Berkeley's epistemology. The study of how to explain differences in forms of life falls into the purview of an academic discipline called "anthropology," and if you study anthropology, you will see that explaining differences in forms of life is a very complicated and difficult process. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with Berkeley's epistemology, and so I don't have to talk about it anymore.


             Intersubjectivity is another important and interesting topic that has nothing to do with Berkeley's epistemology, or with the role of language in epistemology. Still, it is an important philosophical topic, and it raises other important philosophical topics, and so it is worth talking about here.
             The reason I think that intersubjectivity has nothing to do with Berkeley's epistemology is that intersubjectivity is just as important for every other epistemology. Consider the following two questions. Question one, how does it happen that two different individuals can both have sensory experiences of the same independently existing object. Question two, how do we determine what objects exist and what objects do not exist? These are not the same question.
             The first question goes like this. Two people, each of whom perceives the other as standing close by, have a conversation by which each indicates to the other that he is having an experience of sharing a living room with an angry lion. No, let's make it a mildly annoyed kitten. That way our imaginary people will survive long enough to communicate their experiences to each other. Anyway, each describes her experiences to the other, and they agree that they are both perceiving the same nasty little ball of fur, fangs and teeth. How is it possible that they both perceive the same object? Locke would answer that the kitten is made of matter that exists independently of perception, and that both of our people happen to be in a position to see and hear the same object. Berkeley would answer that each of our observers is having her own set of perceptions and that,...... hmmm...... maybe they're having the same set of perceptions? Gosh darn it, what would Berkeley say? Maybe the bridge of intersubjectivity will get Berkeley out of this one.
             No it won't. The existence of the bridge of intersubjectivity, which is a fancy way of saying that people can talk to each other about their various experiences and come up with a coherent picture of the world, will not help Berkeley explain how it is that two people can share a common experience. Think about those fancy virtual reality helmets that can make you think you're in the cockpit of a World War II fighter plane, or at the Mad Hatter's tea party, or performing heavy metal music to the crowned heads of Europe. Now imagine that a hundred people are all wearing these helmets, and that each helmet contains a walkie-talkie that allows every one of these hundred people to communicate with any other of these hundred people. They are all wearing virtual reality helmets, and they are all able to talk to each other. Is it a case that our ability to talk to each other is what results in our having a coherent, mutually consistent picture of reality? Well, imagine that some evil minded person (such as myself) has set up each individual helmet with a completely different videogame, but told all hundred people that they are all in the same game, and that they have to build up a coherent picture of this game over the bridge of intersubjectivity. They all speak the same language. They can all communicate with each other. And, given that they are having different experiences, they will never, ever come to agree on a single, coherent picture of reality. It just can't happen. Language can not make experience coherent. Experience has to be coherent in the first place in order for us to be able to come to an agreement about what it is. (In fact, if language was what made experience coherent, then how would we develop a language in the first place?)
             So what is Berkeley's answer to the question of what makes our joint experience coherent?
             Palmer points out that it is perfectly possible that the color you see when you look at something that we both agree is "red" is in fact the same color that I see when I look at an object that we both agree is "green." He also points out that it doesn't matter if our experiences are not the same in this respect, just as long as we are each consistent in how we apply these color terms. If we both agree that "red" means "stop" and "green" means "go," it doesn't matter that our internal experiences are different, just as long as we both for the same rule. Gosh, this would seem to solve the problem, wouldn't it?
             No it wouldn't. It wouldn't because it doesn't explain why you see red every time I see green. It doesn't explain why your sensory experience coheres in exactly the same way that my sensory experience coheres. It's no good us using the different colors we both call "red" if the next time you see a traffic light the top light appears to you to be the color I call "purple." The whole reason we can get away with this red-green business is that the world we live in, the world that provides our experiences, whatever it is fundamentally made of, is fundamentally coherent, and everyone of us has an experience of that world that can be made consistent with everyone else's experience. No amount of intersubjectivity can explain that!
             This points out what I take to be a serious, and in fact fatal flaw in Berkeley's theory. It does not explain how our individual "givens" are all such that we can all agree on a coherent model of reality. Intersubjectivity does explain how we come to this agreement, but it does not explain why our experiences are such that agreement is possible.
             To see what intersubjectivity can explain, consider the second question I raised at the beginning of this section. How do we determine what objects exist and what don't? Notice that this is a question about how we figure something out. It is not a question about whether or not the universe in such that things can be figured out. In fact, this question pretty much assumes that there is a coherent universe. Let us consider the example of the pink elephant. One person in a room perceives a pink elephant sitting in an armchair enjoying a quiet smoke. The other nine people in the room all look very carefully at that armchair, and none of them perceive the elephant. From which, the group concludes that there is in fact no pink elephant, and that therefore the person who sees the elephant is hallucinating. Now let us imagine that one person is alone in the room, and sees the elephant. Is she condemned to believe that the elephant is real? No. For one thing, if she sniffs and does not smell tobacco smoke, and she sits in the chair and finds herself not sitting in an elephant's lap, she has good reason to think that she is hallucinating. Even if she smells and feels the elephant, she might still decide that this experience is so inconsistent with all her other experiences, that it cannot be real, and it must be a hallucination. Fundamentally, intersubjectivity allows you to compare your experiences to those of other people, and to compare your experiences at one particular time to all your other experiences, and come to your own determination of what is real and what isn't.
             Of course, this leaves Bishop "esse is percipi" Berkeley out on something of a limb, but he can solve the problem by......... hmmm. Well, he already accepted Locke's doctrine of secondary qualities, which holds that secondary qualities exist in people's minds, and are caused by powers inherent in material objects. Oh, but Berkeley doesn't believe in material objects. Maybe this is another fatal flaw in Berkeley's theory......?
             Palmer writes that the analysis of intersubjectivity constitutes Berkeley solution to the question of how we distinguish between reality and appearance. And I think that it works as a solution to that particular question. However, I don't think it works as a solution to the question of how there is a reality in the first place, or why there is a distinction between reality and appearance at all. After all, if you perceive an 800 foot-high monkey that smells of burnt toast and flings bottles of cheap French cologne at passing aircraft, by Berkeley's original logic, that monkey exists.
             Or does it?

Reality, What a Concept!

             As Palmer points out, both Descartes and Locke have an easy answer to the question of why there is coherence in our experience. They answer that there is a world that exists independently of our experiencing it.. Both of them, for different reasons, think that the senses are reliable, and that if we are careful observers we can determine what objects have this independent existence and what do not. Thus, for Descartes and Locke, if two people have the same experience, say of a banana, there is a third object in this situation, the banana, that both the people are having their consistent experiences of. Being made of matter, this banana is subject to laws of cause and effect, and it's own individual existence is explained by a chain of causes leading back to the beginning of time.
             Again, there are two questions here. The first is, how is it possible that two people can have experiences that are so consistent with each other that we can say they are both having experiences of the same object. The second question is, given the existence of objects that we can have experiences of, why do those particular objects exist. Descartes and Locke answer the first question by saying that matter exists. They answer the second question by saying that matter is subject to laws of cause and effect, and these laws of cause and effect, acting on some particular initial condition, eventually created the universe we experience now.
             As Palmer points out, we can substitute a god, or some other kind of supernatural being for the causal process. (Actually, this breaks the rules of philosophy by introducing an unobservable theoretical entity into the situation, but I'll let that go.) This god can be conceived of as maintaining consistency in reality from moment to moment, or as starting the causal process at some point in the past, so that it doesn't have to continue back into infinity, which is scary for some people. (Wimps.)
             Palmer claims that Berkeley can develop a version of causality that simply cuts out the matter, and therefore has either a god maintaining consistency in reality from moment to moment, or has an infinite causal series extending back into the past. But if you think about it, this is a really stupid idea. First of all, causality is a matter of things following laws. Do we have any reason to think that ideas follow laws? Secondly, the existence of matter is offered to explain how it is we can all perceive the same universe. If all there is is ideas, how does it happen that our ideas are so coherent with each other that we can come to an agreement about the nature and shape of the universe? If existence is perception, what is it that is making your perceptions consistent with my perceptions? This question cannot be answered merely by saying that ideas follow causal laws, because it does not give us any reason to think that the ideas in your mind would follow the same laws as the ideas in my mind. In fact, if you think about how people's ideas are related to each other, and about all the differences in the ways different people associate ideas, it becomes really clear that ideas, left to their own devices, do not follow any coherent laws at all. Berkeley cannot simply pull out matter from Locke's version of causality because the existence of matter is what makes an infinite causal series possible. If there is no independently existing reality in the system, then there is no reason for the system to be coherent. But Berkeley explicitly denies the existence of any independent reality, and so he denies the very thing he needs to make his system complete. (If anybody is contradicting himself here, it's Berkeley!)
             Berkeley's last option for explaining coherence in reality is to assume the existence of a supernatural being that creates this consistency in reality. He also has to assume the existence of the supernatural being in order to explain something else. Imagine that in your room at home there is a pyramid made of empty beer cans. Imagine also that you leave your room one evening to go on a drunken road trip with a group of Hell's Angels you met over the Internet. Three weeks later, your parents bail you out of jail and you return to your room. When you open the door, you again perceive the pyramid of beer cans. It existed before you left your room, because you perceived it then. And now it exists again, because you are perceiving it again. But how did it manage to exist while you were away? Or did it cease to exist when you left the room, and then pop back into existence when you got back? If it popped back, how could something that didn't exist at all suddenly exist in exactly the same form that it, or something exactly like it, existed three weeks before? Berkeley's answer is that the pyramid of beer cans was being perceived by god while you were gone.
             This is not only Berkeley's answer to the question of the existence of objects that are currently unperceived by any human being, it is also his answer to the question of why we all perceive basically the same things. And it is a terrible answer. Berkeley's main claim is that existence is perception. Unperceived things do not exist. But god is most definitely unperceived! Nobody perceives god, and so, by Berkeley's logic, god does not exist. Now, Berkeley did try to reply to this criticism by saying that god was the pineal gland..... no, wait. He said that god was a "notion," not an idea. This didn't fool anybody.
             There's another problem with pulling out god to solve the persistence and coherence problems. It violates Occam's razor. Saying that god and ideas exist is more ontologically complicated than saying that matter exists. Berkeley's whole argument was based on the claim that we can build our entire model of the universe on just perceptions, so if it turns out that we need more than perceptions to explain our experiences, Berkeley's argument collapses. Berkeley's theory turned out to be both self-contradictory, and more ontologically complicated than necessary. Either of these would've been a fatal flaw.

Berkeley's Legacy.

             In my view, thinking about Berkeley and his criticism of Locke leads us to two important conclusions. First, it leads us to realize that we have no direct or unmediated contact with the universe. All the information we get comes through the senses. All our experiences can be analyzed completely in terms of sense data. There is no such thing as direct knowledge of, or direct contact with anything.
             The second thing is that looking at how Berkeley fails tells us something about matter. What is matter? Remember, all this stuff about atoms and forces and mass and so on is just a more and more fine tuned understanding of the natural patterns in the universe. Our ideas of these things are our understanding of how matter works, of what it's like, but they don't tell us what matter really is. What do we mean when we say the word "matter?" If we knew nothing about atoms and molecules and so on, what would we be referring to by the word "matter?" Well, it turns out that we needed to assume the existence of matter to explain persistance and coherence in our experiences. What else do we know about this stuff whose existence we are assuming? It turns out that we don't know anything else. All we know about matter is that it is some stuff that exists separately from ourselves, and has persistence and coherence. That's it.

How To Make Up Quizzes
If for some reason, (illness, family emergency, conflicting academic obligation, sudden discovery that you have superpowers coupled with the need to save the Earth from a hurtling asteroid that only you can deflect), you miss one of my delightful quizzes, you can make up the lost points by writing up a clear, precise, and deeply insightful answer to one of the potential exam questions and turning the results in as "make-up quiz." Illustrations are not absolutely necessary, but would add a nice touch.

Potential Exam Questions

The following questions may appear on the next exam. Your answers should fully explain and properly organize all the information relevant to each question. This will include a variety of ideas developed in response to the above questions, in your personal reading and in class discussions.

Explain Berkeley's argument against Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities.

How did Locke think that primary and secondary qualities are different from each other? How did Berkeley think that we learned about an object's secondary qualities? How did Berkeley think we figured out an object's primary qualities? What did Berkeley think that this implied about Locke's distinction? What crucial fact did Berkeley rely on in his argument? Explain Berkeley's reasoning in your own words. (Yes, you get hints now, when things are easy. But do you get hints later when in matters?)

Explain Berkeley's doctrine of "esse is percipi".

According to Berkeley, what are the categories of the objects of human knowledge? What category is left out of this collection, and why is it left out? What is the ultimate foundation of all these categories? What is Berkeley's name for this foundation taken as a whole? What does Berkeley think is the meaning of the term "physical object"? According to Berkeley, what exists, and how does it exist? How did Dr. Johnson attempt to refute this doctrine? Did he succeed? Explain. (Hey, you're smart! You don't need hints to figure this stuff out!)

Explain the bridge of intersubjectivity.
What is the bridge supposed to accomplish, and how does it accomplish it? Do different people all see the world the same way? Do different cultures all use the same categories to describe the world? What kinds of things are the same for all people and cultures? Can we ever establish that two people can ever have exactly the same sensory experience? What is the foundation of language, and how is language used to establish a coherent picture of reality? If reality is established purely by the bridge of intersubjectivity, then what is reality exactly?

Your book says that different peoples divide the world up differently because they have differently structured languages. Your instructor says that different peoples have differently structured languages because they divide the world up differently, and they divide the world up differently because they live in different environments, and have to do different things to survive. Who is right, and why? Give the book's argument, give Young's argument, say which is weaker, and explain why.

Explain and criticize Berkeley's argument for the existence of god.
What is Locke's version of causality? What is Berkeley's version of causality? How are they different? How are they the same? What two explanations for the existence of our ideas are available to Berkeley? Which explanation does he prefer? On the basis of what principle does Berkeley reject the other explanation? How is this principle also violated by his preferred explanation? Explain your answers.

Explain Samuel Johnson’s attempted refutation of Berkeley. What did Berkeley say? How did Johnson try to refute Berkeley? Why did Johnson fail? What does this tell us about what Berkeley is and isn’t saying?

Explain why Berkeley's argument for the nonexistance of matter fails. Give a basic summary of his argument. Say what needs to be true for the argument to work, and explain why the argument doesn’t work.

Young says that Berkeley’s work leads us to a new understanding of the nature of reality. Explain what this means and how Young argues for it. For Young, what is matter? What is reality? What does it really mean to say that “matter exists” or “there is a real world?”

Any exam answer can be enhanced by addition of any comments that occur to you. The more you think about a topic, the more likely you are to come up with something that can earn you a little more credit for your answer. I never deduct points, so it can't hurt to add your own thoughts.

Copyright © 2013 by Martin C. Young

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