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[19]

19. We find that, according to Berkeley, the problem of causality
in regard to ideas arises becausenote “We perceive a continual succession
of ideas, some of which are excited anew while others are changed or
totally disappear”. Now even that distinction between ideas that
recur and ideas that do not recur is one which Berkeley cannot make
consistently with his presuppositions about ideas. Since the “being”
of these ideas consists in their being perceived, then that which is
perceived by a subsequent act of thought cannot be the same as that
which was perceived by a previous and different act of thought. It
might be possible to say that a second idea was very much like an
earlier one but it could not be identical with it. We have the fact,
then, admitted by Berkeley, that ideas come and go, that there are individual
ideas known by individual acts of thought.

Now the question is: Granted that these ideas are successive,
what reason is there for assuming that they have some cause, and
what can we understand by the expression of “cause” in relation to
them? If, as Berkeley contends, causality is not a relation among
ideas, then there would seem to be no reason, from a contemplation of
a series of ideas, why this question of causality should ever arise.
It arises, in fact, not simply from the fact of succession, even assuming
that Berkeley could give a logical account of succession considering
that he takes time to be simply one idea among others, but it
really arises from the assumption that he has already made, that we
are capable of producing certain ideas in our own mind; in other
words, because he has already attributed agency to mind and, passivity
to ideas, apart altogether from their temporal order. But, in the
first place, according to his own “Principles”, if it is of the very
nature of a certain idea or image to be brought about by our mental
activity, then, according to his theory of the nature of ideas, this
must be something which is perceived in the idea itself and therefore
it cannot be a relation which the ideas has to something else.
And, in the second place, if its being caused by some other mind than
ours is not immediately perceived as a character of a sensation
then, according to Berkeley's theory, it cannot really be a character
of that sensation and therefore we cannot truly say that the idea is
caused by some other mind or even that it is caused at all, if its
being caused is not an intrinsic feature of it. So that if we apply
to Berkeley's argument about the causes of ideas, the methods which he
had employed in dealing with their being perceived, then the only
possible conclusion would be that there could be no problem of
causality in relation to them.

This is simply another way of presenting the main difficulty
which follows from Berkeley's theory of the essential or inner nature
of things, namely, that we can then give no account of their outward
relations. If a thing has a certain reality within itself---a
reality which is quite independent of its history---it would seem that
the thing in reality had no history; if we are to think of a thing as
having a history, then we must think of it also as having a variety
of different characters or qualities, some of which it retains for a
longer time and others for a shorter time. But this treatment of
things as complex, as interrelations of different characters and affin-activities


  ― 37. ―
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ities, while it is in accordance with the treatment of them as acting
upon and being acted upon by other things, is not in accordance with
the doctrine of an essence which is the thing's real and ultimate
character. So that, in spite of his initial assumptions, Berkeley cannot
help implying, as he develops his theory, that things do interact
with one another and that we know objects, not as absolute units, as
absolutely separate from one another, but as having various connections
with one another at the same time as they have distinctions.

We find, then, that unless we look at the matter in this way;
unless we recognise that what Berkeley calls ideas, the things which
we perceive, may be related to one another as cause and effect, then
the question of causality would not arise.

Well, then, the introduction of the question of causality simply
gives another way of expressing the division of things into active
and passive, or perceiving and perceived; we can now talk of them as
causing and caused, agencies and effects, although this division is
certainly weakened by the admission that these agencies can be acted
upon. The cause of ideas, Berkeley says, must be something active and
it must be a substance, and it is in fact that incorporeal active
substance which we call spirit. (XXVI). Now if we say that this spirit
is the cause of ideas, then the question immediately arises of what
knowledge we have of this cause. “A spirit”, Berkeley says, “is one
simple, undivided, active being: as it perceives ideas, it is called the
understanding, and as it produces or otherwise operates about them, it
is called the will”. (XXVII). Now this in itself is an admission that
spirit has distinct features, for the distinction between will and
understanding must have some meaning, and therefore we cannot say that
it is simple and undivided. We could not infer, of course, that there
were two separate parts of spirit, the will and the understandind, but
we certainly can infer from the fact that spirit operates in different
ways that it is capable of being divided, that it has a certain constitution
or make-up.

Now although he has given this description of soul or spirit
Berkeley immediately goes on to say that we can have no idea of it
because it is active while ideas are passive. He says, therefore, that
“Such is the nature of spirit, or that which acts, that it cannot of
itself be perceived but only by the effects which it produces”. (XXVII).
Now that means that, having introduced spirit in order to give an
account of the way in which ideas are caused---in a way which could
not be done as Berkeley had argued if we took the cause to be matter--we
are now admitting that we have no idea of the way in which ideas
are caused; we simply know that it must have been a spirit that produced
them, but all that we have direct perception of is the effect or
effects produced. That means, then, that, just as in the case of Locke's
theory of matter, so in that of Berkeley's theory of spirit, the knowledge
that we have of mind is purely an inferential knowledge; the
notion of mind is introduced to account for the occurrence of ideas,
their order and so forth, but how it does account for these things it
is quite impossible to show so long as our knowledge of it is only
inferential. But if it is something more, then it must be on the same
level as that part of our knowledge which takes the form of ideas,
so that, as Hume points out, the problem of our mental activity causing
an idea is exactly similar to the problem of one idea causing
another.

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