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[30]

30. The special treatment of space and time by Berkeley.

As regards space, Berkeley's fundamental contention is that
there is no such thing as space in general, but that we have various
particular ideas of extension just as we have various particular
ideas of colour, and there is no more a question of taking those particular
extensions as parts of a single extension than of taking the
various colours as part of a single colour. And again in regard to
place; this, Berkeley says, is a purely relative expression and one which
allows no reference to anything beyond our ideas. Now Berkeley himself,
in spite of his maintaining this doctrine, constantly uses terms
which can only be understood in a spatial sense. As we have seen, in
spite of his desire to reject externality as such, he is forced to
admit a certain externality as between one idea and another and even
as between any idea and the mind which is said to have it. But apart
from that general consideration there is the special fact that Berkeley
employs spatial terms; for example, at the beginning of the
”Principles” in the third paragraph, he says that the table exists in
the sense that he perceives it and he goes on to add that if he were
out of his study, he would still say that it existed meaning thereby
that if he were in his study he would perceive it again or else that
someone else was actually perceiving it at that time.

Now this distinction of being “out of” and “in” his study
is a spatial distinction, and although it might be said that in this
case Berkeley, to use his own words, is speaking with the vulgar but
desires us to think with the learned, the fact remains that on his
theory he cannot give a satisfactory account of what it is that is
believed by the vulgar. It would be necessary for him to account
for the distinction in terms of his theory of significance; that is,
being in his study would mean having a certain set of ideas perceiving
the walls and the furniture and so on, and perceiving his table
when he was in the study would mean having that particular idea of the
table along with that set of ideas that constitutes the study. And
similarly, being out of the study would mean not having that generality
set of ideas and therefore not having that particular idea of the
table which goes along with that. This would hardly explain what
Berkeley meant by saying that he was in the study because that really
implies an identification of himself with a particular object, namely,
his body, and even then the statement that that particular object was
in the study, that is, was among the set of ideas that constituted the
study would still imply a recognition of spacial relations as distinct
from things that have these relations; in fact, without a reference
to space, Berkeley is unable to explain what is meant by one thing
being “along with” or being “among” others.

Now there is a further difficulty connected with this statement
of Berkeley's and one which brings in a reference to Berkeley's



  ― 59. ―
view facsimile


distinction between images and sensations. The question is: if, on
successive occasions, he has a set of ideas constituting what he calls
his study, by what right does he treat this as being the same thing
perceived on those successive occasions? All that his perception
tells him is that those two sets of ideas are similar and there is
nothing there to tell him that it is in any objective sense the same
study unless there is some medium within which this object can have
a continued existence. Now this continued existence is not in his own
mind; he is not continually thinking of the study and, although he
note might say that it is in God's mind, he is not logically entitled to do so
because he has admitted that we can perceive something which exists
independently of our perceiving it and therefore he has no longer any
ground for saying that that which exists must exist in dependence on
something which perceives it. On the contrary he has admitted continued
and independent existence, he has to explain what that existence
consists in and he cannot explain it without a reference to space
and time as the medium in which things can continue or can change as
the case may be.

Now it is to be remembered further that what he considered
to be really independent of our minds is not the sensations themselves
because they are in our minds, but it is the way in which these sensations
signify one another although it might quite well be argued
that if the sensations are in our minds, then their order and significance
must be in our minds as well. But the main point is that, on
his principles, he is not entitled to say that he perceives the
same thing on two successive occasions and on the other hand he is
likewise not entitled to say that, when being out of his study he
thinks of the table, what he has in mind is not the table itself but
an image of the table merely because of the fact that this idea is
not accompanied by the other ideas which usually accompany it; because
it is perfectly possible that this separation might actually take
place, that is, we require to distinguish between our being out of the
study and still thinking about something which we perceived in the
study and that object itself being removed from the study, (which is a
quite possible operation), and so being perceptible apart from its
usual accompaniments. Now that distinction can be made only if we recognise
actual spacial relations among actual things, and it may further
be said that the very distinction between images and sensations, fallacious
as it is in Berkeley's treatment of it, implies a reference to
actual externality or space, that is, in sensation we are considering
something which is really there at the moment and in imagination we
are considering something which is not really there at the moment.
Apart from that reference to place, the distinction could not be made
since as we have already seen Berkeley's distinction in terms of what
is controlled and what is not controlled by us cannot be sustained.
As we have already noted, acts of will, that is, acts in which we control
something, do really affect the things we perceive, they are not really
imaginative exercises but they make an alteration in what we recognise
to be present at a certain time. We find, then, that even the
distinctions which Berkeley himself is compelled to admit, imply the
recognition of space within which objects of our perception exist.

Now throughout the “Principles” similar admissions are made.
Berkeley has to account for the possibility of error and correspondingly
for the possibility of science. Now in treating of the physical
sciences he has to maintain that they are not, as ordinarily supposed,
concerned with independent material bodies but they are concerned with



  ― 60. ―
view facsimile


ideas. He is asked, then, how it is possible for physical science to
affirm the rotation of the earth since this is something which, from
our position on the earth, we are quite unable to perceive; and Berkeley
answers that his theory does not imply that rotation of the earth
must be perceived by us before we can accept it as a scientific
fact. What is implied, he says, is that if we were in a certain position
we should perceive the rotation of the earth; but being in that
position is a state of affairs which can only be explained in a spac
ial manner. We ourselves, as pure minds, cannot, according to Berkeley's
theory, be in any position; on the contrary, the positions which we recognise
are in us. But in such terms it would be quite impossible to
explain our recognition of such facts as the one referred to; on the
contrary, it implies that there are real bodies which really move in
relation to one another.

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