A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

ISBN: 1419103849
ISBN 13: 9781419103841
By: George Berkeley

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Reader's Thoughts

Declan O'mahony

Okay, so someone tells you the world is all is in your mind. The world is an idea, nothing exists unless it is perceived by a mind. Crazy right? Well no - it just might be the case. We know Reality as a mental construct - a product of our minds. This book makes you think - what does it mean to exist, what is it, and that is a question worth looking at. George should be on everybody's self.


Decided to reread this for the first time since college, and ended up getting a surprising amount out of it on my own. In response to Locke's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Berkeley sought to overcome metaphysical and epistemological skepticism by claiming that "mind" is the only substance in existence, and that the external world is essentially a collection of accidents incidental to the mind (be it individuals' minds or God). By discounting the possibility of abstract ideas, Berkeley cleverly tried to outmaneuver Locke by reducing appearances of "external things" from ideas brought before the mind to ideas brought about by the mind. In so doing, he sought to overcome skepticism by making it impossible for the external world to have any substantive existence in-and-of-itself. Hence, "esse est percipi" (being is perceiving). Overall, Berkeley deserves high praise for making an honest and concerted attempt to do away once and for all with the problems inherent in philosophical skepticism, but his greatest contribution was incidental, as he further paved the way for Kant's attempts to reconcile the continential essentialists (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) with the English empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume).

Jake Yaniak

A short but incredibly important work of philosophy.


too tough for me.

Rego Hemia

Firstly, not being Christian, and secondly, not being local to the 18th Century, there are some ways in which Berkeley's writing isn't as accessible to me as a more contemporary sharing of these ideas might be. The content is amazing. Berkeley's examination of abstract ideas, and the differences between general abstractions and particulars, could be extremely useful to those in the early stages of studying philosophy, particularly metaphysics. Just one of those books I think everyone could read and get something out of, if they could just get over the language and the desperate full court press to save God.


3 dialogues is better.


George Berkeley was an English philosopher in the empiricist school. In this short treatise, he put forward many of his most influential ideas, including his critique of intellectual abstraction, and the dependence of reality on perception.Unlike many other philosophers I've come across, Berkeley is direct and terse. He does not insult the reader's intelligence by dwelling unnecessarily on one topic, but moves forward at a brisk pace. Further, his writing is clear, organized, and he actively seeks to anticipate any objections that others might have to his points. This combination serves to make the Principles of Human Knowledge an enjoyable read.I believe that this work can be read advantageously by anybody. However, those reader's who have knowledge of Descartes and Locke might get quite a bit more out of it. Much of what is contained in this little work is an elaboration, refinement, and at times a refutation of Locke's points in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In that work, Locke famously argues that the mind is a "blank slate" and that all of our thoughts are ultimately beholden to our experience. The "self" could not exist without sensation. Locke also points out that our sensations are only secondary qualities of objects. The primary qualities, or the arrangement of particles that actually make up an object, are largely unknowable. But Locke still believes they're there.This was largely a response to Descartes and the rationalist school. In his Discourse on Method and Meditations, Descartes takes a sceptic stance, and maintains that all we perceive cannot be accepted as true. After all, we perceive things in dreams, but nobody thinks that those actually happen. He then concludes that all we can be sure of to exist is ourselves, and God. All external reality is doubtful.Berkeley's position is the exact reverse. Far from saying that we should not trust our senses, Berkeley argues that nothing exists without us perceiving it. Instead of senses being an imperfect window to reality, or untrustworthy phantasms, sensations become synonymous with reality. (This goes further than Locke, as Berkeley argues that no such "primary qualities" exist, only secondary.) Descartes finds God as he meditates within himself. Berkeley finds God in everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. The two views could not be more dissimilar.I would suggest this little book to any who wish to learn more about philosophy, but don't want to get bogged down in a 400 page book. It's enjoyable, short, and surprisingly relevant.


Berkeley radicalizes Locke's theories by arguing that all perception is only in the mind of the perceiver.

Cameron Davis

I gave this book three stars (rather than fewer) not because I agree with Berkeley's argument whatsoever or because his book is anything close to a model of careful, persuasive philosophy. I gave it three stars because:(1) As an argument for idealism, and the first I've ever read, it was fascinating.(2) Even though his argument for idealism is pretty lousy, the comprehensive philosophy he builds out of it--whereby he makes an, admittedly lousy, argument for God's existence and solves many dilemmas and paradoxes that have puzzled philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians throughout history--is impressively coherent and once again fascinating.Still, it gets no more than three stars because the argument for idealism is kind of careless, especially because Berkeley says ad nauseam that his position is so obviously right and his argument so compelling that it would be absurd to disagree. I actually found many of his points at the very beginning, for example that "our sensory experiences are only of ideas, not things external to us" compelling, but he drew some pretty careless inferences (e.g. nothing exists outside of our minds) from that pretty uncontroversial first premise. I guess the root of my disagreement with him is that I reject his likeness principle, which is the whole foundation of his attack against the representationalist theory of perception and thus his idealism. I call his argument careless because he provides no argument for this crucial principle and then goes on to insist repeatedly that no one can sanely reject his position. I also found uncompelling his response to one very important materialist claim, the claim that even if we can't know for sure that an external world exists, it is more likely that it does than does not. Berkeley responds by saying that because materialists cannot explain how external bodies would cause our ideas, we don't have good reason to accept the claim that an external world more likely exists than not. I don't think response this is very strong; I think there are strong reasons to believe it is more likely that external things cause our ideas than spirits, even if materialists cannot explain how this could happen.


Review forthcoming.


Many of Berkeley's philosophical insights about sense, perception and the impossibility of "substance," published about 300 years ago, can sit comfortably and unrefuted alongside insights provided by modern quantum physics and mechanics. He was also a semiotician way before the field was invented. That's why I read this. It's the last edition he published in his life, and perhaps as a result, it's clear, concise (80 pages), and well-organized. Berkeley did not bloviate!Like many other Goodreads reviewers, I'm not fond of Berkeley's attachment to "God," but I also found it easy to just mentally substitute "Big Mystery" as I was going along, and didn't really see this as Christian apologetics, as some other reviewers have. I don't see why you can't read this atheistically or agnostically, and just go with his premise, grossly oversimplified, that our sense perception precedes the world of forms and things - of substance. Also, a petty aside: As someone who spends a lot of time in Berkeley, the next time someone in the area corrects my pronunciation of something, as they are wont to do -- how to say Chile, or how to pronounce the name of my typewriter (an Olivetti Lettera) as if I were Italian, I plan to enjoy informing them that they live in BARKLEE, not BERKLEE, and have been saying it wrong all this time.


Entertaining and an easy read, I got a kick out of this. As a work of "philosophy" it leaves much to be desired, some of its assertions and conclusions are preposterous, but for 'laugh out loud' moments, it is hard to beat this as far as a work of 'serious' philosophy goes.

Richard Newton

This is a great version of Berkeley's text, and Dancy has written a very helpful introduction. I have two other books by Dancy, which are intellectually substantial but can be difficult to get into and at times are challenging reads. In this case, his introduction contains a powerful and accessible analysis. Dancy's introduction is interesting, and directly useful to anyone at an undergraduate level facing the challenge of writing good essays on Berkeley. If you just want Berkeley's text you can get a cheaper version of the book, but if you want something more helpful this version is well worth the additional cost.

Noé Ajo caamaño

Ideas, y espíritus, es todo cuanto hay. Sin negar lo real y efectivo, convierte las cosas del mundo en ideas cuya existencia consiste en su ser percibido, percepción que revela al espíritu percipiente. Ser, lo más general; ideas, y espíritus. Y como no, como clave de bóveda, el gran espíritu, Dios, creador de la naturaleza (ideas que nos son entregadas por la percepción), y de la regularidad natural como muestra de su bondad de modo que podamos llegar a aprender a habérnoslas con esto real creado. Para terminar, no tiene empacho es suscribir alegremente una teodicea optimista por la cual el dolor contribuye a la belleza del mundo... Que bien! Ahora que tenemos guerras en África podremos apreciar tranquilamente la belleza de lo bello y la infinita bondad del gran espíritu. (¿Se nota el sarcasmo?).


Berkeley is basically the 18th century Plato. But not in that he does or develops further some of the interesting things Plato did all those years ago. No. He's the 18th century Plato in that he proves amazingly adept at the straw man fallacy, at what amounts to name-calling, and at being a smug prick who is mostly laughably wrong about everything. But this thing is real entertaining, and Berkeley is adorable when he is complaining about language.

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