A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

ISBN: 1595479570
ISBN 13: 9781595479570
By: George Berkeley

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About this book

WHAT I here make public has, after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed to me evidently true and not unuseful to be known- particularly to those who are tainted with Scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul. Whether it be so or no I am content the reader should impartially examine; since I do not think myself any farther concerned for the success of what I have written than as it is agreeable to truth. But, to the end this may not suffer, I make it my request that the reader suspend his judgment till he has once at least read the whole through with that degree of attention and thought which the subject-matter shall seem to deserve. For, as there are some passages that, taken by themselves, are very liable (nor could it be remedied) to gross misinterpretation, and to be charged with most absurd consequences, which, nevertheless, upon an entire perusal will appear not to follow from them; so likewise, though the whole should be read over, yet, if this be done transiently, it is very probable my sense may be mistaken; but to a thinking reader, I flatter myself it will be throughout clear and obvious. As for the characters of novelty and singularity which some of the following notions may seem to bear, it is, I hope, needless to make any apology on that account. He must surely be either very weak, or very little acquainted with the sciences, who shall reject a truth that is capable of demonstration, for no other reason but because it is newly known, and contrary to the prejudices of mankind. Thus much I thought fit to premise, in order to prevent, if possible, the hasty censures of a sort of men who are too apt to condemn an opinion before they rightly comprehend it.

Reader's Thoughts

Adam

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.

pearl

Review forthcoming.

bill clausen

berkeley's arguments for immaterialism, "to be is to be perceived," fascinating take on philosophy of science and nature as the "language of god." beautiful, brief, if demanding.

John

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.

Ben

The brilliance of Berkeley's philosophy is that it gave David Hume something to improve on, and it opened up whole new areas to doubt and critical observation. These two contributions are staggeringly important to our advancement in my opinion (the fact that the prose is crisp and witty is simply an added bonus). Nonetheless, in the present day Berkeley's philosophy seems fairly bizarre. After all, only a seasoned obscurantist would claim that matter doesn't exist all things (perceptions) that do exist do so in the form of ideas in 2013. This isn't to say many don't try, but Berkeley didn't have cognitive science, cosmology, chemistry, set theory, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, electromagnetism, artificial intelligence, or David Hume to assist his endeavor. For what was known at the time, Berkeley's ideas were unorthodox but prescient. The exaggerated claims of knowledge by natural philosophers at the time needed to be brought down. Berkeley assisted. The subjectivity of reality hadn't been fully realized. Berkeley helped us get there. Language matters, Berkeley noticed. Maybe most importantly, Berkeley partially cleared a path of doubt for Hume to later completely doubt. Nonetheless, Berkeley's philosophy suits his own beliefs too well (infinitely as a useless/chimerical concept, consciousness being an immaterial soul, the existence of an ideal state, the architect of reality as the Catholic God) and doesn't offer the 'clear proof' of god he thinks it does. His clear proof is nullified when the reliability of the ideas inside the human mind are called into question by Hume not too long after. Berkeley gets three stars (plus a half if it were available) because the work is an enjoyable and thought-provoking classic even if the ideas are dated, and although he helped move us forward, some of his ideas are quite obscurantist in nature meaning I can't fall head over heals for it despite my admiration for many of his thoughts.

John

too tough for me.

Julia

An interesting read.

Zac

3 dialogues is better.

Brian

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.

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.

AmblingBooks

First published in 1710, George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge is a seminal contribution to Empiricist philosophy. Making the bold assertion that the physical world consists only of ideas and thus does not exist outside the mind, this work establishes Berkeley as the founder of the immaterialist school of thought. A major influence on such later philosophers as David Hume and Immanuel Kant, Berkeley's ideas have played a role in such diverse fields as mathematics and metaphysics and continue to spark debate today.Listen to A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge on your smartphone, notebook or desktop computer.

Rlotz

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.

Patrick

I would like a contemporary talk-walk in my garden. He would be a changed man.

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.

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.

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