George Berkeley  

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"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"


"Esse est percipi"


'However, Berkeley had written (Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, II): “The brain . . . being a sensible thing, exists only in the mind. Now, I would fain know whether you think it reasonable to suppose, that one idea or thing existing in the mind, occasions all other ideas. And if you think so, pray how do you account for the origin of that primary idea or brain itself?”'

“ . . . in consequence of your own principles, it should follow that you are only a system of floating ideas, without any substance to support them. . . . And as there is no more meaning in spiritual substance than in material substance, the one is to be exploded as well as the other.”

--quoted in Borges, "A New Refutation of Time"


"In "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" (1940) Borges playfully explores the imaginary world Tlön where the 18th century philosophical subjective idealism of George Berkeley is viewed as common sense and "the doctrine of materialism" is considered a heresy, a scandal, and a paradox." --Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

George Berkeley (12 March 1685 - 14 January 1753) was an Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others). This theory denies the existence of material substance and instead contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are ideas perceived by the minds and, as a result, cannot exist without being perceived. Berkeley is also known for his critique of abstraction, an important premise in his argument for immaterialism.

In 1709, Berkeley published his superabundant first major work, An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discussed the limitations of human vision and advanced the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and colour. This foreshadowed his chief philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, in 1710, which, after its poor reception, he rewrote in dialogue form and published under the title Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in 1713. In this book, Berkeley's views were represented by Philonous (Greek: "lover of mind"), while Hylas ("hyle", Greek: "matter") embodies the Irish thinker's opponents, in particular John Locke.

Berkeley argued against Isaac Newton's doctrine of absolute space, time and motion in De Motu (On Motion), published 1721. His arguments were a precursor to the views of Mach and Einstein In 1732, he published Alciphron, a Christian apologetic against the free-thinkers, and in 1734, he published The Analyst, a critique of the foundations of calculus, which was influential in the development of mathematics.

Interest in Berkeley's work increased after World War II because he tackled many of the issues of paramount interest to philosophy in the 20th century, such as the problems of perception, the difference between primary and secondary qualities, and the importance of language.





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