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Berkeley - Principles of Human Knowledge

  • Date Submitted: 11/17/2013 06:20 AM
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PHIL100 Coursework 1
Describe the argument of the assignment text in your own words, as far as possible without quoting or closely paraphrasing it.

In A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley puts forward his belief that all physical objects are composed of ideas, which he refers to as esse is percipi - to be is to be perceived. Throughout his argument, Berkeley chooses to defend idealism by attacking materialism, hence defending the two theories of idealism - firstly the claim that everything that exists either is a mind or depends on a mind for its existence- and secondly, immaterialism - the claim that matter does not exist. Berkeley argues that no material things exist, only ideas and that we live in a world where all things depend on the minds of thinking and perceiving things to exist. This type of world he describes as mind-dependent.

Berkeley is an idealist, made very apparent in the first Principle where starts by setting out his basic ontology. He is of the belief that ordinary objects are a collection of visual and tangible ideas, such as colour and shape, taste and smell, whose existence is therefore mind-dependent. He does not deny the existence of ordinary objects such as trees or apples but, as an immaterialist, believes that there is no material world but only a world that is physical and composed of ideas. All collections of ideas are objects of knowledge and with that, there must be ‘something who knows or perceives them’. Berkeley call this perceiving being ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ which is entirely distinct and unique from all ideas. Because ideas follow what is probably Berkeley’s most famous principle of essi is percipi - to be is to be perceived - this is not just exclusive to objects but also includes sensory facets and ideas such as that of heat, smell or taste described as ‘sensations or ideas imprinted on sense’ in Principle 3.

Principle 4 seems to be the starting point of his attack on materialism and...


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