5. Now when Berkeley says, “The table I write on, I say, exists, that is,
I see and feel it” he is identifying the existence of the table with
its being perceived by him, but what renders this identification plausible
is another meaning of the statement which is quite different from
the one which Berkeley takes and yet which is so confused with it, that
it is possible to take the assertion of the one as equivalent to the
assertion of the other. The real plausibility of the statement depends
upon the introduction of the words “I see say ---we should not naturally
be content that my making a certain statement was identical with my
having a certain perception, but we could recognise that the statement
would follow immediately upon the perception and would be made in virtue
of the perception. When I see or feel the table, then I say that it
exists; that is very different from the statement that my seeing or
feeling the table constitutes its existence. But the statement itself
is merely meant to convey that the exiwtence of the table is know, only
there would be a slight awkwardness of language in saying “the table I
write on I know exists, that is, I see and feel it” but, allowing for that
awkwardness, the argument would be unaffected. We find, then, that the
plausibility of Berkeley's statement depends upon a confusion between
two .different meanings and that may be expressed in this way:-

I. “I know that the table exists in so far as, in that, I see and
feel it”. And the natural way of taking that statement is to regard it
as an identification of my knowledge of the table's existence with my
seeing and feeling, but Berkeley takes it as an identification of the
table with my seeing and feeling it. Thus, in the statement “I know by
virtue of the fact that I see and feel it that the table exists”, what
Berkeley wishes to establish is the second interpretation of the statement;
what people would naturally admit is the first interpretation and
Berkeley uses this confusion between the two to make it appear that
people would naturally admit the second interpretation.


Now, when once the two meanings are clearly stated, it becomes quite
impossible to confuse between the two unless what I know and my knowing
are treated as identical. But, assuming, as Berkeley does assume, a
distinction between knower and known we are bound to reject that possible
justification of the argument and to say that Berkeley's statement was

I know (that the table exists) because I see & feel it

I know (that the table exists because I see & feel it)

  ― 9. ―
view facsimile

without foundation; that I would require proof since it is not something
which we should naturally admit and that any plausibility that it
has depends upon the confusion that has been indicated. And there is
a similar ambiguity in Descartes. Descartes, for instance, begins by considering
what he can doubt and by “doubting” he means supposing it to
be false or non-existent. He passes in review the various objects of
his knowledge and finds that he is capable of doubting them all except
his own existence as a thinking being. The argument is “I think that
(a material body) exists but I may be wrong”; but suppose we say “I
think that I think”, it is impossible, Descartes maintains, to add “that
I may be wrong” without falling into contradictions. “If I am wrong
in thinking that I do think, I I do not think”, and he maintains that it is
impossible to be wrong and therefore he concludes “my thinking is the one
thing I cannot doubt whatever else I may doubt”.

This argument again conceals an ambiguity similar to that in Berkeley's
argument. There is no doubt that it would be absurd to say “I
think that I think but possibly I do not think”; but that absurdity is
conditional on the fact that I think--a fact which has been taken for
granted as far as this statement is concerned---and it is not conditional
on my thinking one thing or another; consequently it is not conditional
on my having any knowledge of my own thinking. What Descartes wishes
to show is that I must regard my thinking as something absolutely
certain; that it is impossible for me not to think that my thinking exists
or occurs and that the reason why it is impossible is simply the fact
that I do not think. So we find that that ambiguity can be stated thus:“When
noteI think, I cannot think that I do not think”. This is the conclusion
Descartes wishes to establish; but the plausibilty of this statement
depends upon its confusion with another:- “I cannot think, that when I
notethink, I do not think”; and granted that no one is going to deny identity
two, there is nothing in it to show that number one holds. The position
can be cleared up by reference to time; we amy say that we were not thinking
at some time yesterday when we were and if we try to identify the
subject and the object, then we should have to admit Descartes' view, but
this is the point in question. The two are distinct and if they were
not so, we should not consider that knowledge by one of the other posible.

We find, then, that the conclusion which Berkeley proceeds to draw,
namely, “There was an odour, that is it was smelled; there was a sound,
that is to say, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by
sight or touch”, we find that conclusion is unjustified. If Berkeley
really means that all he can understand by the being of those things
which he calls ideas is their being perceived, that is, if their being
and their being perceived are really identical, the this would seem to
be possible only if the term “perceived” means nothing at all. If it
does mean something, then to say that a thing is perceived must give information
over and above what is conveyed by saying that the thing is
and Berkeley, in effect, admits this when he says that in the case of minds
their being consists not in their being perceived but in their perceiving.
But if that is so, if the term being is used in different senses
when it is applied to ideas and when it is applied to the minds that have
ideas, then we cannot say, with an significance, that both “minds” and
“ideas” are or cannot say that both exist in the same world and so we
cannot say that they are related to one another at all---in order that
they should be related to one another, they must both be in some perfectly
unambiguous sense.