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George Berkeley
(1685-1753)

Berkeley, born in Ireland, was educated at Trinity college, Dublin. He eventually became an Anglican bishop. As a young man he published a number of philosophical works. In 1713, Berkeley came to London and from there, at the expense of a rich family who required a chaplain and a tutor, travelled to France and Italy; he spent the best part of seven years on the continent (shades of John Locke). By 1721, Berkeley had returned back to Ireland, and, in 1728, he sailed for America for the purpose "of founding a college at the Bermudas for the Christian civilization of America." He did not achieve his purpose. After having spent three years at Rhode Island he returned back to England.

Locke made a distinction between "primary" and "secondary" qualities of things that exist. Berkeley picked up on Locke's belief that all that exists is capable of being sensed or experienced, that there is no existence of matter independent of perception. But Berkeley went beyond Locke in holding that it is only because of "the observing mind of God makes possible the continued apparent existence of material objects." His views lead to some difficulty. "Berkeley's philosophy ends with the existence of spiritual substance as a substitute for material substance ..." [Henry Alphern, An Outline History of Philosophy (Forum House, 1969) p. 109.]

Among Berkeley's more important works are his Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713).

Alphern was of the view that Berkeley committed fallacies: "no one can reach beyond his own impressions, perceptions, and thoughts", and no one should define an object by calling it an idea. Berkeley "reasons in a circle ... he desires to conform to a conclusion reached by him in advance." William Hazlitt thought Berkeley's world to be a "fairy world."

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2011

Peter Landry