A Treatise Concerning The Principles of Human Knowledge

ISBN: 1594562202
ISBN 13: 9781594562204
By: George Berkeley

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Reader's Thoughts

Jake Yaniak

A short but incredibly important work of philosophy.

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.

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.

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.

Charlie

The body of ideas in this book are communicated quite neatly in Berkeley's introduction, which whether you agree with what he says or not is a really neat rounded little idea. For the most part of the book Berkeley goes through these ideas in much needed greater detail, but he often will repeat the same arguments over and over in a monotonous chant, which towards the end of the book gets very tiresome, as he has failed to see that the true implications of his philosophy are exactly nothing, and should make no difference to Science or our negotiation of what we perceive.

Andrej Drapal

Extremely contemporary views on epistemology and ontology. He was quantum theoretician in his times.

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.

John

too tough for me.

Jon

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).

Patrick

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

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.

eesenor

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

pearl

Review forthcoming.

Julia

An interesting read.

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