A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge Critical Essays

George Berkeley

Merits and Criticisms

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

To what extent did Berkeley achieve his announced aims? The complete answer cannot be given in brief, just as Berkeley himself could not make all the grounds and implications of his philosophy clear at once. Many readers find themselves unable to refute Berkeley’s arguments, yet they remain unconvinced by them; and many professional philosophers have given long and profound attention to the problems he raises. A great merit of this book and of the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous is that Berkeley was thorough and clever in foreseeing and forestalling possible objections. Yet criticisms exist that, while insufficient to prove a diametrically opposite position such as materialism or even a more moderate realism, nevertheless show that Berkeley’s conclusions do not necessarily follow from his premises.

He was probably correct in his insistence on the dangers of abstraction, although he sometimes seems to have confused conception with visualization. Many thinkers today would agree also with his demand that terms and statements describing the physical world be defined and verified by reference to sensory experience. However, can one infer from this experience that the world is ultimately mental or immaterial in nature? Berkeley’s argument seems either to beg the question or to depend on ambiguous terms. A fair but condensed statement of it seems to be this:1. Physical objects are objects of knowledge 2. Objects of knowledge are ideas or sets of ideas 3. Ideas and sets of ideas are in the mind, or mental 4. Therefore, physical objects are in the mind, or mental

However, “objects of knowledge” is ambiguous, unless one already grants that the world is mental; in the first sentence, it means “nonmental things,” but in the second, it...

(The entire section is 730 words.)