A Conversation for George Berkeley, Sceptic, Philosopher, and Bishop

Some ideas...

Post 1

Nick_Em (not_him)

I'm sorry, that's all a bit over the intelligence and mental capacity of my (previously) materialist mind

Berkeley seems to be on to something, with everything being ideas, but I think he should have gone further and denied the existence of those perceiving and those being perceived, which I see makes a contradiction with his idealism, and just limit existence to the ideas themselves, as well as the minds involved to understand them (themselves built on ideas since birth) the perceiver, that is to say our brains and the subject, should be excluded as taking heed to materialism. The subject doesn't exist, only the idea of it. I used to be a materialist before I read this article, and have realised materialism is needlessly complex and can be easily replaced with idealism using Occam's razor, as well as the convincing arguments against it. For example, to say something has substance is ridiculous - What is substance?

There's only one problem I see - what is an idea, then?




Some ideas...

Post 2

Recumbentman

Well it's obviously not over your head in the least; what you say is spot on; except the bit that says "the subject doesn't exist, only the idea of it". What B said was more "the subject cannot be perceived, only ideas that point to it".

Berkeley did deny existence to anything but ideas and the minds perceiving them; further, he said only the minds have true existence, the ideas only existing as modes of the mind. In this he followed Indian philosophy, but he doesn't appear to have had a source for this; Schopenhauer was the first to read and incorporate eastern philosophy.

However, "the subject" was identical to "mind" for him, so he couldn't deny that. You can follow the logic and decide that there is no way of distinguishing different minds, there is only one mind . . . but B didn't particularly want to go there, just as Descartes hadn't. It would have been too much for readers of those centuries to swallow, perhaps.

Christianity however had that suggestion all the time, which B endorsed: the deity "in whom we live and move and have our being".

A good illustration of the "no idea of a mind" doctrine is the impossibility of including God in a painting (which Medieval and Renaissance painters had done). You just end up with another bloke. Absolutely the wrong message. Wittgenstein came to the same conclusion: you can't have an idea of God, and you can't have an idea of yourself, for the same reason. The eye is not part of the field of vision; the self is somehow "outside the world".

What is an idea? People are still arguing what Berkeley meant by an idea, let alone how we can define one! Some commentators use the word "sense-datum" for B's "ideas" but I don't go with that entirely. I just keep it simple: an idea is anything you can deal with, other than a perceiver (- mind). You can't perceive a perceiver, you intuit them. This is an old division going back to St Augustine (at least): things are either sensible (perceivable) or intelligible. The only way you can know a mind is by guessing; and you are forced to guess because the alternative reading of its manifestations is even more impossible/ridiculous/expensive; apparently-intelligent behaviour without an intelligence behind it.

You can see how this leads people to attempt "proofs of the existence of God".


Some ideas...

Post 3

Nick_Em (not_him)

"The only way you can know a mind is by guessing"

You seem to be suggesting that instead of "I think therefore I am" it should be "I have a mind therefore I am" - what is a mind? (A collection of ideas, perhaps?)

How do we know the mind and the ideas of which are ours, and not actually someone (or something) else's?

Berkeley's statement "that ideas exist as modes of the mind" seems a bit vague to me - and herein lies my problem with idealism - I find it too vague and impractical. It requires too much effort to sustain the thought that all things are ideas, which, while at first seems quite breathtaking, simple, and easy to comprehend, gets more fuzzy as you try to explain it. Could you (or someone else) please help?


Some ideas...

Post 4

Recumbentman

"The grand mistake is that we think we have Ideas of the Operations of our Minds. certainly this Metaphorical dress is an argument we have not." -- Berkeley, notebook.

You are certain to get nowhere by wondering what sort of "thing" a mind is, simply because it is the opposite of a thing.

Asking could it be "a collection of ideas" means you are getting colder, not hotter.

Not all names point to things.

Among modern philosophers Dan Dennett has made some good observations on the question how we know our thoughts are ours and not someone else's. His book "Consciousness Explained" starts with the familiar "brain-in-a-vat" theory, and demolishes it in reasonable terms.

However the question of identity seems pretty intractable, especially when we attempt ethical theorising. Robert Wright made a very good stab at a pragmatic answer in "The Moral Animal" which is a book I would recommend heartily.

The pain of sustaining a Berkeleian attitude seems (after much practice) to consist more in summoning the courage to ditch what must be ditched, than in wrestling with vagueness. As you say, it's not really vague; only unfamiliar, and contrary to our natural/inherited way of thinking.


Some ideas...

Post 5

Nick_Em (not_him)

Thanks for that. I think I understand how our minds are ours and not somebody or something elses.

Minds need to be ours by necessity because our minds are us. They create our identity of ourselves, but whether we actually "see" ourselves as we really are is impossible to know. Am I right with this summation?

The problem I am finding with idealism currently is the language I need to use when describing "something". Any word which "relates" to "existence" needs to be written with quotation marks in order to say that these are just names for ideas about reality rather than what reality is itself. This could be complicated for any other philosophical or psychological discussion, and means that it is very difficult not to contradict my "beliefs" with my words - how do you manage?


Some ideas...

Post 6

Recumbentman

It's a medieval problem, the split between names and the things named. One logical answer is that we cannot talk of reality at all, since words are not reality. Nominalism, and so on.

I feel that we can and do talk about reality; we start to go astray though when we try to do things to our words like putting them in quotes to show that we are somehow getting "nearer" to "reality" which is patently absurd.

Lewis Carroll made fun of this with the White Knight's song in "Through the Looking-glass". The name of the song is called "Haddocks' Eyes", but the name of the song really is "The Aged Aged Man"; but the song is called "Ways and Means", but that's only what it's called -- the song really is "A-sitting on a Gate". And we are still only talking about words.


Some ideas...

Post 7

Nick_Em (not_him)

I think Lewis Carroll put a neat Reductio Ad Obsurdum there, but I think that you would never use quotes in this way - they are used to show that you don't quite agree with the possible connotations about your belief that a word could give to others and is convenient in that it relates to most people's understanding.

I can see how this becomes problematic, though, as overuse could be downright confusing as well as what I actually mean - but in this discussion I use quotes as the way of identifying my belief, and using the concepts of "Relation" and "Existence are almost rendered obsolete in idealism. (As well as the fact that I'm not even sure what I mean by them anymore). Anyway, they're only words aren't they?


Some ideas...

Post 8

Recumbentman

Only words: the ultimate cop out smiley - winkeye

Exist is a very dodgy word. It can have no absolute meaning, it is like the word "thing" or "here" in that its range of reference is strictly relative to context. By this I mean that you simply cannot say meaningfully that something absolutely does or doesn't exist.


Some ideas...

Post 9

Nick_Em (not_him)

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never affect reality"

You can say categorically that nothing doesn't exist, because if it existed it wouldn't be nothing - therefore, something must exist.


Some ideas...

Post 10

Nick_Em (not_him)

Also on Wittgenstein...

One of the premises in tractacus is "An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things)", which seems to flatly contradict the main premise of Wittgenstein - "The universe is of facts, not things", and say that the universe is made up of "Things, not facts". I think that the universe is made up of facts AND things, which to me seems logical.


Some ideas...

Post 11

Recumbentman

Read a little further before assuming you are using the words as he is. W's "things" are defined by their ability to take part in facts. There I go using quotes smiley - blush but you will perhaps excuse me, you see what I'm after.

The gambit of making of facts anterior to things sidesteps the bothersome problem (they were hung up on it ever since Kant) of "the existence of external objects". No one could be sure how distorted our perception is, how well we could perceive objects at all.


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Post 12

Nick_Em (not_him)

I see what you mean. And I think Wittgenstein was definitely on to something when he talked about subatomic facts. My one critism is that the viewing of the world as facts, not things seems to be splitting hairs on definition and doesn't affect the reality of the universe. It's a different way of saying the same thing. While we don't have to worry about the way we percieve external objects, we still have to worry about the perception of subatomic facts that make the subatomic "thing".


Some ideas...

Post 13

Nick_Em (not_him)

Something I also don't agree with is that our picture of reality has to be related to relate to the "Ultimate reality" because, (and I think I'm right in saying this) they are both types of reality with facts and logic in them. I wonder how Wittgenstein knows that real reality is logical, or even has any facts at all? For all we know, the universe could be very contradictory and not logical at all. It just seems to us that it is logical, but we can never know anything for sure. For example, how do we know that we think? All that's necessarily in common, as I see, is the name. I think that it is impossible to make any statement about ultimate reality apart from that we cannot even glimpse at it. We can only understand what we experience, and take our experiences as reality. I call this "subjective reality".


Some ideas...

Post 14

Recumbentman

Well you're in the thick of it now! Do you plan to study philosophy?


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Post 15

Nick_Em (not_him)

Yes, I have studied Philosophy in year 7&8, and I'm going to study it for year 11&12. I think it's disappointing, though, that philosophy isn't a compulsory subject at school. I would say that though it does not give you very many direct career opportunitinies (because that's all that seems to matter) it does give you a much more critical view of all you see, and will change your life. It will mean that people get a greater understanding of ethics, aesthetics, morality, happiness, suffering, and truth. I'm doing it because:
1. I enjoy it
2. I believe it is ethical of me to continue philosophy so I can hear a wider range of opinions and gain a more complex and thorough understanding of everything I can, so I will be prepared to think about the world when I enter it and come up with a set of beliefs and core values on what is needed and not needed in this brave new world (Fantastic book that, some interesting ideas on aesthetics, hapiness, society and God)

To all who are considering I say "Philosophy - Think about it"


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Post 16

Nick_Em (not_him)

Whoops, I studied Philosophy in years 9&10, not 7&8.


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Post 17

Recumbentman

Very good; so back to brass tacks:

"I wonder how Wittgenstein knows that real reality is logical, or even has any facts at all? For all we know, the universe could be very contradictory and not logical at all."

Think about what you're asking. You are suggesting that chaos reigns and therefore all conversations are at an end. Fine, but no more than a cop-out.

Wittgenstein on the other hand does not presume to know what cannot be known. He starts by defining the world he intends to write about, the world of logically connected facts, as (he intends to show) no other can be discussed.


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Post 18

Nick_Em (not_him)

No, what I was suggesting was that the way we each see reality as a universe of facts might not necessarily be in the existence of real reality. This is in response to what I thought was his suggestion about how his view of reality necessarily reflects actual reality, and my response, I thought, was a skeptical response, I wasn't questioning the legitimacy of the conversation, just what I thought his views were in the case of real reality.

This is when he states:
2.17
What the picture must have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it after is manner -- rightly or falsely -- is its form of representation.

2.18
What every picture, of whatever form, must have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it at all -- rightly or falsely -- is the logical form, that is, the form of reality.


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Post 19

Recumbentman

And yet he is aware that all he can deal with is the world "as given".

I would rephrase my warning: when you find yourself using constructions like "real reality" you are likely to be getting colder, not warmer. You are probably also losing readers quite fast.


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Post 20

Nick_Em (not_him)

So he's saying that he thinks the universe as seen by him is logical to him? Well, I don't think anyone could possibly disagree with that, and that, I assume, reflects in all of our views of reality as well. I thought he meant reality as 'what really exists', as opposed to what is given to our senses.

I am pleased to announce, though, that believin in materialism is just as logical as believing in idealism, but unnecessarily complex. I realise that substance can not be defined because in materialism it is the essence of existence. It cannot be reduced for definition therefore.







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