A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

ISBN: 1846378966
ISBN 13: 9781846378966
By: George Berkeley

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Reader's Thoughts


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.


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.


Review forthcoming.


An interesting read.

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.

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.


too tough for me.

Jake Yaniak

A short but incredibly important work of philosophy.


3 dialogues is better.


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


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).

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.


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.

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?).

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.

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