previous
next

[11]

11. As we have seen, although there are a number of inconsistencies in
Berkeley's theory such as his assumption of the existence of a multiplicity
of spirits in relation to any one of which a given idea might
continue to exist, these inconsistenciesX do not affect his fundamental
contention which is that that which we know is dependent upon us, not
simply for its being known but for its actual existence.

Now if we can find reason for rejecting that view, then we have
rejected Berkeley's idealism. On the other hand if we find reason for
accepting it or find no reason for rejecting it then any inconsistencies
that we may discover will be of minor importance. The real question,
then, is whether there are things whose existence consists in their
being perceived; in other words, whether there are ideas, so that the
service which Berkeley has rendered to philosophy is to compel a direct
discussion of that question and a determination of the meaning of ideas
in a more accurate way than had been previously done. The original
ambiguity in the term consists in its being used, on the one hand, for a
mental operation; and on the other hand, for what that mental operation
is aware of.

But, in the case of Locke, we find that, while the term is used for
certain things that we are aware of, these things are contrasted with
other things of which we are also in a manner aware but which we are
not entitled to call ideas and this, in spite of the fact that Locke had
begun by defining “idea” as whatever is the object of the understanding
when a man thinks. He does not mean, by using the term “thinking” to
limit the application of the term “idea” in any way; he simply means
whatever we are directly aware of so as to be capable of thinking about
it. Now when we are aware of anything we are commonly said to have it
in mind and Locke immediately proceeds to draw the conclusion from his
definition of the term “idea” that ideas are in the mind. But as his
theory develops he contrasts these ideas with things which are not in t
the mind, namely, material bodies but which nevertheless we can be aware
of.

note

Now if it is possible to be aware of something which is not in the
mind; if, that is to say, “being in the mind” means nothing more than merely
“being thought about”, then Locke's original contention that ideas are
in the mind is seen to be without foundation. That is an idea which we
think about and therefore, if we think about material bodies, material
bodies are entitled to be called ideas in the original sense; and this
leaves it possible that everything that we think about might be material
or physical. There is nothing in Locke's definition to show that that
is not so.

Now Berkeley, seeing that, in accordance with Locke's definition,
material bodies, in so far as we think about them, would also be ideas,



  ― 21. ―
view facsimile


declares that we can only think about ideas, i.e., points out quite
correctly Locke's inconsistency in supposing matter to exist beyond
ideas, but retains Locke's conception of ideas as being in the mind--he
suggests that ideas, as objects, are in the mind in a different way
from that in which mental operations are “in the mind”, i.e., they have
not activities or qualities of the mind. But in spite of this ambiguity
of the term “in the mind” or in spite of this difference of meaning
which might show that, even although mental operations cannot exist
apart from the mind whose operations they are, still ideas which are
known by minds might exist apart from the minds which know them--in
spite of that Berkeley continues to assert that ideas are absolutely
dependent upon mind, i.e., that they not merely are thought about but
that they must be thought about, that it is of their very nature to
be thought about.

Now, that view depends in general, as we have seen, on a desire to
work out a conception of the universe as spiritual and it depends, in
particular, upon the doctrine of essences. If we do not accept that
doctrine we may grant that a particular thing, physical or otherwise,
might at a certain time in its history enter into relation with a mind
and be known by it and yet have an existence independent of the mind-a
history of its own in which this relation to mind was a mere episode.
t<T>hat is commonly how we do think about the things that we know and that
is how even Berkeley thinks of the other minds that he knows. And, as
we saw, the conception of things known as having their essence in being
known would make it impossible to distinguish one object from another
and, in the same way, woulf make it impossible to say what it was that
came into relation with us and was known by us. Unless we could make
specific statements standing for certain quite definite occurrences or
situations and say that these situations, while being know by us, had
note their own independent character, we could not have any theory at all;
that is the most general conception of Berkeley's point.

previous
next