Berkeley's Theory of Immaterialism



As man progressed through the various stages of evolution, it

is assumed that at a certain point he began to ponder the world around

him. Of course, these first attempts fell short of being scholarly,

probably consisting of a few grunts and snorts at best. As time passed

on, though, these ideas persisted and were eventually tackled by the

more intellectual, so-called philosophers. Thus, excavation of "the

external world" began. As the authoritarinism of the ancients gave way

to the more liberal views of the modernists, two main positions

concerning epistemology and the nature of the world arose. The first

view was exemplified by the empiricists, who stated that all knowledge

comes from the senses. In opposition, the rationalists maintained that

knowledge comes purely from deduction, and that this knowledge is

processed by certain innate schema in the mind. Those that belonged to

the empiricist school of thought developed quite separate and distinct

ideas concerning the nature of the substratum of sensible objects.

John Locke and David Hume upheld the belief that sensible things were

composed of material subezce, the basic framework for the

materialist position. The main figure who believed that material

subezce did not exist is George Berkeley. In truth, it is the

immaterialist position that seems the most logical when placed under

close scrutiny.



The initial groundwork for Berkeley's position is the truism

that the materialist is a skeptic. In the writing of his three

dialogues, Berkeley develops two characters: Hylas (the materialist)

and Philonous (Berkeley himself). Philonous draws upon one central

supposition of the materialist to formulate his argument of skepticism

against him; this idea is that one can never perceive the real essence

of anything. In short, the materialist feels that the information

received through sense experience gives a representative picture of

the outside world (the representative theory of perception), and one

can not penetrate to the true essece of an object. This makes logical

sense, for the only way to perceive this real essence would be to

become the object itself! Although the idea is logical, it does

contain a certain grounding for agnosticism. Let the reader consider

this: if there is no way to actually sense the true material essence

of anything, and all knowledge in empiricism comes from the senses,

then the real material essence can not be perceived and therefore it

can not be posited. This deserves careful consideration, for the

materialist has been self-proclaimed a skeptic! If the believer in

this theory were asked if a mythical beast such as a cyclops existed

he would most certainly say no. As part of his reply he might add that

because it can not be sensed it is not a piece of knowledge. After

being enlightened by the above proposed argument, though, that same

materialist is logically forced to agree that, because the "material

substratum1" itself can not be sensed, its existence can not be

treated as knowledge. The materialist belief has, in effect, become as

futile as proving that the cyclops exists; his ideas have lead him

into skepticism.



Having proven that the materialist is, at best, a doubter,

Berkeley goes on to offer the compelling argument that primary and

secondary qualities are, together, one thing. As the materialist

believes, primary qualities of an object are those things that are

abstract (not sense oriented). Examples of these would be number,

figure, motion, and extension. Secondary qualities are those things

that are concrete (sense oriented), such as color, smell, sound, and

taste. The materialist feels that these primary qualities persist even

when the secondary ones are not there. Thus, if a person were blind,

then that individual would not be able to hear or to touch items; yet

the so-called real qualities such as figure would remain existent in

the objects. As previously shown, the materialist is agnostic in his

belief of these real (primary) qualities. It is here that Berkeley

directs an alternate hypothesis: that the abstract primary qualities

don't exist at all. In fact, the immaterialist position states that

these qualities are merely secondary in nature, as they, too, can not

be perceived as being separate from an object. For inezce, if a

person is asked to imagine a primary quality alone, as an abstraction,

it is impossible. To illustrate this point, suppose that a person is

asked to think simply of number alone. This person may reply that the

idea he is