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[9]

9. Well, then, the two points that had been raised in regard to Berkeley's
argument at the beginning of his “Principles” were in the first
place, how it was possible for Berkeley to think that it was the whole



  ― 16. ―
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nature of certain things to be perceived; and secondly, how he could think
that the denial of the former view led us into absurdity.

Now as regards the first question, it may be said that this view
arises from an insufficient analysis of what is actually involved in
knowledge. It is natural to think of the objects of our knowledge as
having their being in relation to us if we thinkX of ourselves as having
our being in thinking; in other words, in relation to objects, as Descartes
does.

Now if we speak of ideas on the one hand, and consciousness on the
other as both having a relative existence, then there would seem to be
no absolute existence in knowledge; neither the knower nor the known
would be absolute and thus it would be difficult to say that there ever
was any such thing as knowledge. But on the other hand, it is equally
difficult to say that the consciousness is absolute and the ideas
relative because, in the first place, consciousness appears to be a relative
term, or, in other words, to describe a relation which is that which
holds when we say that we are “conscious” of something; and, in the second
place, if we treat consciousness as absolute and its ideas as merely re
relative, then it would seem that, as compared with consciousness, ideas
had no real existence, that they could at best be treated as aspects of
consciousness and not as things other than consciousness, i.e., things
which we could be conscious of.

Now in the argument of Descartes we have an attempted transition
from one of these interpretations to the other, i.e., he argues from modes
of consciousness or ways of thinking conceived, that is, as mental
operations, to that which is thought about or ideas--those things,
namely, which are sometimes called the “contents of consciousness”.

And in passing in this way from modes of consciousness to objects
of consciousness, Descartes makes it appear that these objects, in some
way, partake of the certainty or absoluteness which attaches to the
conscious subject itself in virtue of its consciousness. But just on
account of that assumption, just because of the degree of absoluteness
which he attributes to ideas, Descartes has difficulty in accounting
for the errors that we make in our thinking and the matters on which
we cannot be certain, and he gets over that difficulty by introducing
his theory of representation. Ideas themselves, as they occur in the
mind, are perfectly certain; what they suggest to us is the occurrence
of something outside the mind and in regard to that occurrence we have
not the same certainty. But on the other hand, just because these occurrences,
assuming that they really do occur, are outside the mind, they
cannot be regarded as relative to the mind in the same way as the ideas
are supposed to be. The material bodies, for that is how Descartes
regards the things which ideas represent, also have an absolute existence
and so we have the two absolute existences, mind and matter,
confronting one another; and unless we can find some common denominator
of the two we arrive at insoluble problems or, as Berkeley says, at a
sceptical position.

And Berkeley objects equally to that solution of the problem
which would consist in taking matter as the common denominator of the
two, i.e., according to which mind was regarded as a mode of matter. To
regard mental processes as one particular type of physical processes
is the position which Berkeley calls materialism, and it is the position



  ― 17. ―
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suggested by Locke, although not exactly upheld by him, when he says that
there is no inherent impossibility in the conception of matter as thinking.
But if we take either view, if we say that there is a fundamental
opposition between mind and matter and that no real connection can be
found between the two, or if we say that minds are particular material
things, we are unable to work out that theory of absolute or self-supporting
existence which, for Descartes, was exemplified primarily in the
conscious subject; or, as Berkeley would put it, we are unable to take a
spiritual view of the universe.

In order to advance that spiritual view, then, he has to reject the
Cartesian theory of representation and to say that in reality the common
denominator of things is mind and that there is no such thing as matter.
Now, on that view, if there is anything which mind can be said to know
and yet which cannot itself be called a mind, it must be regarded as an
aspect of mind or as something which exists solely in relation to mind.

Now Berkeley definitely opposes the view that the things which
we know are properly to be called aspects of mind; they are not qualities
of mind and they are not mental operations because, as Berkeley sees, if
once we regard ideas as modes of consciousness, then they will not be
objects to the mind---there will be nothing for the mind to know---and
it will simply continue to exist in its own self-sufficiency; it will be
unable to take up any practical attitude towards things. Berkeley has
to show that there is an order in the universe which implies that there
must be something passive, some material to be acted upon, as well as an
agent to act upon it because he believes in higher and lower orders of
spiritual beings.

Now there cannot be such differences among spiritual beings or
at least we could never discover such differences unless these beings
could act upon one another in some way and therefore unless they had
some medium of communication with one another. Now it is the function
of ideas to provide the necessary means of communication, and thus, in
particular, Berkeley regards the whole system of ideas, or order of nature,
as being a system of divine signs, as being God's way of communicating
with us. That systematic order of ideas which we cal the system of
laws of nature is contrasted with the irregular and unorganised ideas
which we reproduce in our own minds by means of imagination---imagination,
or the knowledge of ideas reproduced by us is contrasted with perception
or the reception of ideas from the infinite mind in the order
in which that infinite mind has determined.

The answer, then, to the first question is that in order to take
a spiritual view of the universe, Berkeley feels himself bound to treat
of ideas as a mere means of communication between betweenspirits and
as having no other existence than that of being the language employed
by spirits; and the real difficulty is how, unless that means of communication
has an absolutely independent existence that is just as real as
the spirits who communicate by means of it, communication is possible at
all. Granted, in other words, that there are two spiritual beings or
beings with minds and that there are certain other things whether we call
them physical things or not, granted that all these actually exist, then
we can see how one of the minds can convey something to the other; but
if the things, through which communication is to be made, are mere vehicles
of communication--if that is the only reality that they have---then it
is difficult to see how they could have been selected to serve for that
purpose since they had no existence prior to, and independently of, their
being used for that purpose.

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