previous
next

[12]

12. Now, as we have seen, according to Locke, an idea is whatever is the
object of the understanding when a man thinks and he draws the conclusion
that ideas are in the mind. According to his own definition, idea
should be equivalent to object and object to whatever is thought about;
consequently if, as he says, we do think about material bodies then
material bodies ought, by the same argument, to be said to be in the
mind and further, if we do think about minds themselves, then they also
should be considered to be ideas and to exist relatively to minds

The formal difficulty is one which Berkeley attempts to avoid
but he has much greater difficulty in the latter case when he says th
that we do have knowledge of minds but that knowledge is of a totally
different type from that which we have in relation to other things.

Now this difficulty leads Hume to deny any knowledge whatever
not merely of material substance, i.e., of something which exists by itself
in space and time and is not an idea, but also of mental substance;
we have no knowledge whatever apart from ideas and therefore we have
not any knowledge of that which has the ideas. In taking that view,
Hume accepts the argument of Berkeley's second paragraph that the mind
would have to be something additional to all our ideas and he draws
the natural conclusion which Berkeley did not draw that we have no
knowledge of mind whatsoever. But if that is so, then we are not
entitled to call the things which we do know “ideas” or even to say
that we know them---we should simply speak of the particular object,



  ― 22. ―
view facsimile


whatever it happened to be, just in the form in which it occurred and
without being able to state the additional fact that that occurrence
was presented to our minds, i.e, we should have to speak of the absolute
existence of what are commonly called the objects of knowledge and
therefore we cannot retain the relative term “idea” as a description of
them; we cannot say, as Hume says, that all our knowledge is derived from
impressions if we know of nothing upon which these impressions could
be made.

But it may still be contended that Hume is correct in saying that
we cannot have any knowledge of mind additional to those general objects
which these philosophers call ideas. If we are aware of mind, then, as
far as that relation is concerned mind is something known, i.e., it must
be classed among the various things which are objects to us, and unless
it could be so we could not speak of it, i.e., profess to have a knowledge
of it as we do. But if we do have a knowledge of mind and if we
cannot, without contradiction, say that mind has no independent existence
then we have admitted that it is possible for a thing to be known by
us and yet to exist independently; and we have therefore no reason for
saying that the same does not apply to those things which, in the first
place, we called ideas.

Now Berkeley himself has to admit some sort of independent existence
even for ideas. According to his essence theory, the mere having
of an idea shows that we have it completely or that we know all about
it and, further, that unless we possess any object in that way we cannot
know anything about it. But on that assumption it would be impossible
to account for error; if everything that is in our minds is completely
known, merely from being in our minds, and if we cannot know anything
which is not in our minds, then no mistakes could ever be made. But
mistakes are made and Berkeley's only method of accounting for them
depends upon making a distinction between ideas themselves as the
unitary objects of knowledge and relations among these ideas.

Now this is a distinction which could not be made in accordance
with his opposition to abstraction---an idea, in accordance with his
argument on that point, can only have those relations which it is its
nature to have and if we do not know these relations, then we do not
know the idea fully when it is presented to us and thus we are not only
guilty of abstraction but we have no clear idea before our minds.
Now if, on the other hand, it is contended that ideas, i.e., objects that
we are aware of, really have an order which we may possibly be aware of,
then not only does this imply that knowledge of a thing does not mean
knowing all about it, but also the idea itself is treated as having an
independent existence apart from which it could not enter into that
objective order. But even allowing Berkeley to make his distinction
between the elements of our knowledge and the various relations among
them, he still has not accounted for error because if we apprehend two
ideas and the relation between them, i.e., if we apprehend the situation
”A followed by B”, then not only those ideas themselves but also that
relation of sequence between them are in our minds and that situation,
being in our minds, is, according to Berkeley's theory, truly and completely
known. So that, in order to show how any supposition of that kind
may be erroneous in spite of its being comprehended by the mind, Berkely
has to say that it may fail to correspond to the objective order
among ideas which is that which they have, not in our minds, but in
God's mind. Now in taking up that position he exposes his argument to
the same criticisms as he himself had brought against the representative



  ― 23. ―
view facsimile


theory of Locke. According to Locke our ideas are correct in so far
as they correpond to things existing outside of the mind and Berkeley
contends that we could never possibly know this because we cannot make
a comparison between what is in the mind and what is outside it. If
it were possible for us to know what was outside the mind in order to
make this comparison, then the whole basis of the theory of ideas would
be destroyed.

Now the same applies to Berkeley's theory---if it were possible
to make a comparison between the order of our ideas and the order of
God's ideas, this would imply that we had the latter before our minds
or, as Berkeley would say, in our minds, and consequently it would also
be the order of our own ideas and therefore our knowledge would be true
and not false. If, on the other hand, we cannot know the order of God's
ideas as distinguished from the order of our own ideas, then it is impossible
for us to make the comparison and to know that there has been
any error in our own ideas. The result is that we find that Berkeley
does not consistently adhere, as in fact he cannot do, to the doctrine
of relative existence on the part of objects of knowledge. If he did
he would have to say that there was no error; all our knowledge was
correct. But we actually find him making such statements as that cert-
ideas are forced into our minds and certain others are reproduced by
us, statements in which the ideas are taken as having an absolutely
objective existence, as having a history of their own and going through
certain processes, as not merely being “in minds” but as acting on and
being acted on by minds; in other words, the things that we know are
acknowledged to have a real or absolute existence and not merely a dependent
existence.

previous
next