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Wednesday, March 29, 2023


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>>An idealist of the Berkeleyan sort could say that there can't be a quale of resistance without resistance itself but then go on to say that (i) physical things are nothing more than objects of the divine mind, and (ii) resistance qualia exist only in finite (creaturely) minds. In this way the distinction between resistance qualia and resistance itself could be upheld.<<

You write "physical things" but that is no different from Berkeley's "material things". B is definite that no material things exist, even in God's mind.

The question is then whether resistance necessarily is a property of material objects. I would say it is, but not sure how to develop that into an argument.

See below for Berkeley’s argument that the earth continues to move even when unperceived. It relies on his ‘counterfactual’ definition of existence that he gives in §3.

The problem (as Prichard spotted) is that he gives two conflicting definitions of ‘exist’ in §3. The first is the famous one, that to exist is to be perceived. The second is that to exist is to be capable of being seen or felt. If he were out of his study, he would say that the table existed, meaning that if he were in the study he would perceive it. Likewise, in §58 he says that if we were placed in such and such circumstances, and such or such a position and distance both from the earth and sun, we should perceive the former to move among the choir of the planets etc.

But the definitions conflict. If Berkeley is not in his study, then according to one definition the table does not exist. According to the other definition it does exist. So both definitions cannot be correct. If the second is correct, then the whole foundation of his philosophy is taken away. To exist is not to be perceived.

Likewise, the earth orbits the sun because it resists the gravitational attraction of the sun, ‘wanting’ to travel in a straight line. The resulting equilibrium defines its orbit, according to Newton. If to be is to be perceived, then the resistance cannot exist, and so the earth cannot orbit the sun. On the other hand, if we define existence counterfactually, the resistance can exist, but then to be is not to be perceived. Moreover, the resistance quale does not exist, yet the resistance does exist.

§58. TENTH OBJECTION.--ANSWER.--Tenthly, it will be objected that the notions we advance are inconsistent with several sound truths in philosophy and mathematics. For example, the motion of the earth is now universally admitted by astronomers as a truth grounded on the clearest and most convincing reasons. But, on the foregoing principles, there can be no such thing. For, motion being only an idea, it follows that if it be not perceived it exists not; but the motion of the earth is not perceived by sense. I answer, that tenet, if rightly understood, will be found to agree with the principles we have premised; for, the question whether the earth moves or no amounts in reality to no more than this, to wit, whether we have reason to conclude, from what has been observed by astronomers, that if we were placed in such and such circumstances, and such or such a position and distance both from the earth and sun, we should perceive the former to move among the choir of the planets, and appearing in all respects like one of them; and this, by the established rules of nature which we have no reason to mistrust, is reasonably collected from the phenomena.

>>You write "physical things" but that is no different from Berkeley's "material things". B is definite that no material things exist, even in God's mind.<<

Yes to the first sentence. No to the second. If you are right, then we would have to dismiss B as a lunatic. B is not a lunatic; ergo, etc.

>No to the second. If you are right [that according to B no material things exist,], then we would have to dismiss B as a lunatic. B is not a lunatic; ergo, etc.<

Honestly I suggest you actually read Berkeley. He refers to "material substance" rather than "material thing", but the meaning is the same.

Why do you think he calls his philosophy immaterialism?

A great topic. On the issue of 'exists' in Berkeley:

It tends to get overlooked, because Berkeley only briefly gestures at it in the Principles and the Dialogues, but Berkeley argues in a number of works that our sensory experience is a divine language, literally an orderly system of communicated signs by which God communicates with other minds. Berkeley, despite being a nominalist, is very sympathetic to Platonism (which comes out very clearly in his later works, Alciphron and Siris), and a lot of what would be done by the Platonic Forms in Platonism is done by the grammar of the divine language in Berkeley. When scientists are studying the world, what they are doing is trying to uncover underlying grammar rules of the divine language -- so that's how he understand things like laws of motion.

It also appears (although this is a little more controversial as an interpretation) that his many references to invisible particles (like those that make up light) take these in an anti-realist way as things that show up in our best models of the underlying grammar of the world. It seems implied that invisible particles are things that God sees -- maybe God sees the entire physical system at once, since the divine mind lacks the limitations ours seem to have -- but we can only posit in attempting to work out the grammar rules of the language God is speaking to us, but in either case for us they are only posits in a model. In Siris, Berkeley even goes so far as to posit a 'World Soul'; there is no consensus at all about how to interpret this, but he thinks the World Soul only exists in God's mind, so it seems to mean all the ideas insofar as they exist in God's mind, organized according to the grammar that we approximate by determining the laws of nature.

So that's just a long way around to note that when we are talking about whether something in the world exists in Berkeley's account, we actually have several levels of existence for every case, depending on whether we are talking about actual existence in our mind, actual existence in the minds of other created people, actual existence in God's mind, or what we suppose, on scientific grounds, to exist in God's mind. In a sense they are just one account (actual existence is ideas in mind), but we have to keep in mind that as B develops it, the actual existence of a physical thing is distributed across many minds, because for B, physical things just are the 'nouns' for communication between minds.

Thank you, Brandon, for that very intelligent comment. It seems then that in Berkeley we have the makings of a coherent linguistic idealism. It seems to me that the only way the world could be a linguistic construct is if the language is God's.

A thing that existed in itself apart from mind (i.e. whether or not any mind existed) would then be like a meaningful noun (token not type) that was not spoken by anyone.

'All the world's a text' is POMO nonsense unless God is brought is as Writer, the unwritten Writer, the Playwright who is not a character or player in his own play.

It can't all be language. At some point there must be contact with extralinguistic reality. The only question is: Is that reality material or spiritual? I say the latter.

A question: if Berkeley is out of his study, and says ‘My table is in my study’, is he speaking truly or falsely? If truly, then ‘my table’ and ‘my study’ must have referents, and the referents must stand in the relation ‘in’. But neither referent is perceived, so neither exists, according to B’s first definition of ‘exist’, and so ‘My table is in my study’ is false. According to B’s second (counterfactual) definition of ‘exist’, the statement can be true, but then we have to drop the first definition. Then what else do we lose of B’s philosophical system?

For example, is the statement ‘the table in my study is brown’ true or false, given that if B were seeing the table, he would perceive it to have the sensible quality of brown, and given that B is now outside his study? If true, then he must concede that the referent of ‘the table in my study’ is bearing the visible quality signified by ‘brown’, and so concede that everything he says about the impossibility of material substance is wrong, e.g. in §9 of the Treatise.

Indeed the whole project of Idealism collapses once we allow the possibility of language, and thence the possibility of successfully referring to objects and states of affairs that are not perceived.

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