George Berkeley

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Berman, David. Berkeley. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.

Berman, David. George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This worthwhile analysis of George Berkeley’s distinctive philosophical positions focuses on his religious thought. Contains considerable information about Berkeley’s life and his considerable influence.

Bonk, Sigmund. “We See God”: George Berkeley’s Philosophical Theology. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. A good analysis focusing on Berkeley’s spiritual thoughts.

Dancy, Jonathan. Berkeley: An Introduction. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987. Dancy provides a helpful introduction that is useful for beginning students.

Foster, John, and Howard Robinson, eds. Essays on Berkeley: A Tercentennial Celebration. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. This collection contains important interpretations of Berkeley’s philosophy by leading scholars in the field.

Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philosophy: Hobbes to Hume. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969. Offers a clear and accessible introduction to the key theories in Berkeley’s philosophy.

Muehlman, R. G., ed. Berkeley’s Metaphysics: Structural, Interpretive, and Critical Essays. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1995. A good collection of essays that analyze and criticize Berkeley’s metaphysical idealism.

Turbayne, Colin M. Berkeley: Critical and Interpretive Essays. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. Turbayne’s essays explore key aspects of Berkeley’s theory of knowledge and metaphysics.

Urmson, J. O. Berkeley. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1982. A reliable commentary on Berkeley’s thought by an influential twentieth century philosopher.

Wild, John. George Berkeley: A Study of His Life and Philosophy. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962. Now a classic, written meticulously and passionately.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207218-Berkeley.jpg George Berkeley Published by Salem Press, Inc.

By 1713, when he was twenty-eight, George Berkeley (BAHR-klee) had made his contribution to philosophy, a conception of the universe as composed solely of minds and their contents. He completed his three major works before he was thirty years old. Born in 1685, Berkeley received his education at Trinity College, Dublin, where he served as tutor from 1707 to 1712. During this period he published An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision and A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. The first, a psychological study of perception, was well received, while the second was regarded as the work of a madman or a seeker after notoriety.

The philosophical claim that Berkeley made in A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge—which secured for him both the ridicule of his early readers and an honored place in the history of philosophy—was that nothing exists except minds and their contents: ideas, sensations, perceptions. This is a direct result of the empiricist’s claim that all knowledge comes from perception. All that can be discovered in perception is that one is having certain sensations and ideas; hence, there are no grounds for asserting the existence of anything else. One cannot argue for some mind-independent material substance which causes perceptions, for since it is not perceived, it cannot be known. One cannot perceive it, for it is by definition not a sensation or an idea, and these are the sole objects of perception. Berkeley took his views to be in complete accord with common sense and to be a bulwark for the faithful against atheism and skepticism.

Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous was published by Berkeley in an attempt to gain a better hearing for his views; it failed. While in London during 1713 and 1714, he became the friend of literary figures, including Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and...

(The entire section is 903 words.)