This In Our Time covers the life and philosophy of George Berkeley, one of the most important philosophers of the 18th century. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Peter Millican, Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford; Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of York and Michela Massimi, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh.
The programme explores the influences on Berkeley, what his immaterialism entailed, how he never said esse est percipi, how Johnson’s famous refutation fails and how God is less central to his philosophy than Ronald A. Knox’s pair of Limericks would suggest.
[T]he structure of the dialectic, both between Berkeley and his real-world opponents and between his fictitious characters Hylas and Philonous, is a debate about whether ‘the vulgar’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the illiterate bulk’ have knowledge of familiar objects like apples, tables, and cherry trees, and if so how. Berkeley’s complaint against his opponents is that, on their theories, it cannot be proved that the gardener knows his cherry tree. He claims that his own theory does not have this defect: the philosopher who has grasped Berkeley’s arguments thereby comes to know that the gardener knows that his cherry tree exists.
One of a series of lectures on General Philosophy delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. This section (6.2) explores Berkeley’s and Locke’s arguments concerning the resemblance of qualities and objects; that the perceived qualities of objects exist only in the mind or whether secondary qualities are intrinsically part of the object.
This, too, is a feature of Irish thought. A nervousness of abstraction underlies the conservative politics of Berkeley, Swift and Burke, leading them to belabour impious rationalists and idle utopianists. It is not surprising that Burke, with his passion for the particular, should have produced one of the first great works of aesthetics in these islands. It fitted well with his hatred of revolutionary rationalism across the Channel. It may seem odd to say that Berkeley was wary of abstractions when he produced such a wildly speculative doctrine as esse est percipi, but the truth is that he thought it no more than common sense. It was, he thought, what the man in the street believed too. The common people were not metaphysically inclined, and so did not subscribe to the notion that there was some mysterious ‘substance’ that supposedly underlay our sensory impressions of things. For them as for Berkeley himself, what you see is what you get.
From “What you see is what you get” in the LRB, Terry Eagleton’s review of “The Correspondence of George Berkeley”, edited by Marc Hight (subscription required).
The piece is 90% Eagleton on Irish thought, and 10% the volume being reviewed, but none the worse for that.
This section from a satirical print from 1829 is held in the British Museum, who describe it as follows:
The lecturer, wearing breeches and top-boots, stands on the edge of his platform gesticulating to an audience of men and women who register amusement, horror, or stupidity: ‘It’s all a farce! I tell you it’s all a farce—there are no clouds, no mountains, no trees, no water—I’ve proved it, it’s nothing, depend on it—nothing—bona fide nothing’. Behind him is a terrestrial globe on a table, and on the wall a paper: ‘Bishop Berkley’.
This print is one of four vignettes. Another is called “Irish Character”, the third, called ‘March of Intellect’, features an Irish accent (being corrected) and the fourth is a picnic where all have brought legs of mutton. It seems plausible that the set is a set of satires of the Irish.
This is interesting in light of the discussion about Irishness in Richard Kearney’s “Post-Nationalist Ireland”. Kearney reports a claim that Berkeley can’t be Irish since he is included in books as an English philosopher. (That, despite Berkeley’s famous use of “we Irish” in his writing.) It certainly appears that eighty years after his death, Berkeley wasn’t English yet…
Contents from Bloomsbury Publishing Note on the Text Acknowledgments Introduction Part I: Berkeley’s Philosophy 1. George Berkeley 2. On Missing the Wrong Target Part II: The Golden Age of Irish Philosophy 3. Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in Irish Philosophy 4.The Culmination and Causation of Irish Philosophy 5.Frances Hutcheson on Berkeley and the Molyneux Problem 6.The Impact … Read more