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[17]

17. Well, as Berkeley puts it, then, in summing up the previous argument,
if there were external bodies it is impossible that we should ever
come to know it; and if there were not, we might have the very same
reasons to think that there were as we have now because, unless we are
in a position to say that only something of the nature of matter could
cause our ideas to occur in the form and the order in which they occur
now, then there is nothing in that form or that order to justify us in
concluding that matter exists. And, in the end, Berkeley simply returns
to his initial position that if we know anything of matter, then it
consists of ideas in our minds; and if we know nothing about it, then we
cannot assign it any place in relation to our ideas.

The conception, then, as employed by Locke, is both meaningless
and useless. Now Berkeley refers to the possible objection that it is
perfectly easy to think of things as existing without any one being
there to perceive them. In answer to that objection he says that,
when we do so think of things, we are simply forming certain ideas in
our minds and omitting to form the accompanying idea of someone perceiving
them.* (*when all the time we are perceiving them*.) Now he concludes that this illustration, while it proves
that we have the faculty of imagining things, itdoes not in the least
prove that things can exist without our perceiving or imagining or in
some way knowing them.
In order that this point or objection should be made good it would be
necessary, Berkeley says, to conceive things existing unconceived or
unthought of, which is a manifest contradiction. Now this is just one
of the points which indicate the weaknesses of Berkeley's position.
He has admitted that we can omit to think of a mind which is aware of
things while we think of these things, but his own position depends on
it being impossible to think<,>in that way because this final point that



  ― 33. ―
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he makes can only be understood as meaning that objects must be considered
as known by someone; that they cannot be thought of in any other
way; and yet the objection depends precisely upon thinking of them in
another way.

In fact there is no such contradiction as Berkeley alleges, i.e., if
we conceive certain things, then they are conceived by us and therefore if
we suppose they are unconceived we are mistaken. But there is nothing
to show that we cannot make that mistake, i.e., that we cannot quite
significantly think that certain things are quite unknown to our mind
even when, as a matter of fact, we are mistaken. We can for example,
even on Berkeley's showing, i.e., recognising the existence of other
minds, say that certain things which are known to us are not known to
other minds; we can say that other people learn things of which they
were previously unaware and yet these things existed before the other
people learned them. In the same way we can and do speak of ourselves
as acquiring knowledge, i.e., we recognise that things which we now know
existed before we knew them.

Now if that is the case, then to say that someone else might have
known them is really no solution of the difficulty; our learning them
did not imply our learning anything about another person's mind and
therefore, as far as we are concerned, the relation is simply between the
things and us and there is no question of existence in a mind prior to
our knowing them. Now when Berkeley says that it is a contradiction
to conceive things existing unconceived he is implying that it is an
identity to conceive things and to conceive them as unconceived.

Now that is something which no one would admit to be an identity
if he took the term conceive to have any positive meaning; that is to
say, granted that we can say that certain things are conceived, we must
be able to distinguish between those things and the fact that they are
conceived. Now this identification of Berkeley's is really the same
as that which he made in contending that the essence of sensible things
is to be perceived. There he assumed that perceiving a thing and
perceiving that it was perceived were identical; here he assumes that
conceiving a thing and conceiving that it is conceived are likewise
identical which could only be the case if perceiving and conceiving
had no meaning; if they do have a meaning then to speak of a thing and
to speak of its being perceived and conceived are actually different.

Well, then, Berkeley goes on to say that the absolute existence of
unthinking things are words without a meaning, i.e., that unthinking
things can only be things thought about and therefore have not absolute
but relative existence, relative, namely, to that which is thinking
about them. But in that case the question arises, a question which
note cannot be solved on XBerkeley's theory, namely, what is it, in that case
that we are thinking about; we cannot be thinking about something
that does not exist and likewise we cannot be thinking about something
whose existence consists in being thought about. On the other
hand, the thinking things which are supposed by Berkeley to have an a
absolute existence are considered in that way only because their
thinking is taken to be a gaurantee as to their existence; but obviously
unless they do exist they cannot think and therefore their thinking
cannot be taken to be that which establishes their existence;
still less can it be defined as that which thinks about itself and
therefore exists unconditionally. It, just like the so-called ideas
in order to exist must have a definite nature of its own and that
nature cannot be defined as the thing's relation to itself.

Berkeley now comes to the argument which he definitely refers



  ― 34. ―
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to as refuting Locke although actually his main argument throughout
could be described as a refutation of Locke. He says that as regards
our sensations, i.e., the things which we perceive, there is manifestly
no power or agency in them so that one idea or object of thought cannot
produce, or make any alteration in, another.

Now, of course, it is to be remembered that Locke does not say that
one idea produces another but he certainly says that matter, which, on
his view, is an object of thought though not an idea, does produce ideas.
So that Berkeley is quite entitled to make the most of Locke's inconsistency
in making this uncalled for division between ideas and objects
of thought. But at the same time it is necessary for us to consider
why Berkeley regards ideas as totally inactive or passive. He does
so because he thinks of ideas as existing by being thought about; i.e.,
they are defined as something passive just as the mind, which is
defined as that which thinks, is thereby considered to be essentially
active.

Now, according to the doctrine of essences, activity and passivity,
being distinguished, that which is essentially active cannot be passive
and that which is essentially passive cannot be active. And
therefore ideas cannot produce anything and minds cannot be acted
upon. But we find that Berkeley fails to maintain this position; he
has to admit that minds can be acted upon, and although he tries to
safegauuard his theory by saying that they are acted upon by other minds
he has made the admission that the same thing can be both active and
passive and therefore he is not entitled to say that, because objects
are thought about, they cannot possibly act or produce results.

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