The second of the major British empiricists, George Berkeley is famous for the assertion: if objects of sense exist only if they are perceived, then trees in a garden no longer exist if people are absent from the garden. This position was more extreme than Locke’s, which proposed that although sense perceptions were unreliable, the existence of objects was not. Berkeley accused Locke of logical inconsistency: how can Locke claim that objects exist if that very claim is dependent on sources which he acknowledges to be imperfect? Berkeley, in his turn, was vulnerable to charges of solipsism and a denial of common sense–when another prominent 18th century figure, Dr. Samuel Johnson, was apprised of Berkeley’s beliefs, Dr. Johnson kicked a large stone and exclaimed, “I refute it thus.” Like Descartes, Berkeley invoked God as a defense, insisting that even though we may not perceive an object at all times, God does. In a sense, God is the guarantor of existence.
For this meeting we will discuss Berkeley’s essays “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge” and “Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists.” These two essays, about 170 pages combined, can be found in the anthology we have been using: The Empiricists: Locke: Concerning Human Understanding; Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge & 3 Dialogues; Hume: Concerning Human Understanding & Concerning Natural Religion [abridged], Anchor Press, 1960. It is available from amazon.com for $11.29. If you would like to read Berkeley’s works on a free public domain site, click here.
The following articles provide additional background, analyses, and bibliographies:
"George Berkeley" from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
"George Berkeley" from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
"Class Lecture Notes" from the University of California at Davis
Orla Slattery, "Berkeley's Common Sense Approach to Locke's Theory of Inferential Knowledge". Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Graduate Student Philosophy Conference[masked].
Stephen Thornton, “Berkeley’s Theory of Reality”, The Journal of the Limerick Philosophical Society, 1987.