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George Berkeley

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.

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  • Kyongsook K.

    Scott, thanks for your response. I see. It helps to know (in accordance w/ Spinoza).

    July 17, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Great meetup awesome people. I think i'll have to wait till you guys are done with the empiricists before i come back. Kant's pure reason is the only way to go! ;)

    July 17, 2011

  • Scott

    Kyongsook,
    I am glad you enjoyed the meeting. Your concern about the noise, from the air conditioner, is something I too have. The librarian in charge of scheduling rooms is aware of it, but unfortunately the DC library budget has been cut back and making needed repairs is a low priority. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and it is that we only have one hot summer month left, after which time the air conditioner will be turned off.

    July 17, 2011

  • Kyongsook K.

    Like the other two prev meetings I attended, I really enjoyed it. I feel I learned a lot. I really appreciated the 4 questions that Scott raised about phil. reading in general. I was wondering, though, if we can possibly do something about the study place. I found the air conditioner a little too loud.

    July 17, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hi, I was wondering if anyone had an interest in back issues of the Washington Monthly. I have an incredible collection of them between 1985 and 2005. I can arrange to bring them to a meetup or give them to you. I had the feeling that people who were interested in philosophy might value the chance to read some of these. Don't feel like you have to take the whole collection. I just want to give some of them to people who would like reading them.

    July 12, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Duh I withdraw my silly question ;/

    July 11, 2011

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