Berkeley's Great Distaste for the Existence of Matter Essay

Berkeley's Great Distaste for the Existence of Matter
This paper critically analyzes George Berkeley's first argument against the existence of matter presented in "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge."
# 6335 | 2,220 words | 0 sources | 2002 | US
Published on Feb 09, 2003 in Philosophy (Metaphysics) , Philosophy (History - 18th Century)

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In this paper, the writer critically examines Berkeley's first line of argument against the existence of matter that he presents in "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge". This argument is frequently called "the Perception Argument" and is his first attempt to more firmly establish his central thesis of existence being tied into perception. The paper thoroughly explains the argument and presents Berkeley's responses to the most immediate objections that come up to it (the objections that are actually addressed in the text of his treatise). The writer also examines briefly how Berkeley's argument serves to contradict arguments regarding material substance made by Locke in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding". The paper then offers a more robust objection to Berkeley's Perception Argument that attacks some key assumptions that the argument clearly relies on, specifically those regarding relationships between matter and ideas that Berkeley clearly assumes do not exist. The objection is furthered by examining the sections where Berkeley assumes that matter does exist in an attempt to show that such an assumption involves manifest contradictions.

From the Paper:

" Over the course of reading A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, it becomes evident that Berkeley is not so much trying to convince the reader of a certain opinion of the nature of the world and our perception of it as much as he is trying to present his actual, everyday perception of the world and his existence in it. Berkeley repeatedly says things like, "Some truths there are so near and obvious to the mind, that a man need only open his eyes to see them," (?6) that suggest the intuitive obviousness that he sees in his doctrine. Frequently, a tone of frustration comes through in his writing - especially in the sections dealing with possible objections to his theory (?34-84) - illustrative of the difficulty he must have been feeling in trying to get everyone else to see what was so damn obvious to him. As such, many of Berkeley's arguments in support of his particular fundamental beliefs seem to be afterthoughts of their respective conclusions. His vision of the nature of existence being grounded in "esse is percipi" (?3) is so strong that he does not always seem to be too concerned with the particular logic behind his supporting arguments. This is especially true when it comes to his arguments denying the existence of matter. In this paper, I will argue that, while Berkeley's conclusion regarding the non-existence of matter is quite profound, his actual arguments for this conclusion do not sufficiently verify it. To do this, I will examine the first argument Berkeley makes against the existence of matter, the so-called "Perception Argument." I will argue that this argument relies heavily on a fallacious line of reasoning about the nature of matter and the inability of matter to cause ideas in us. I will then examine several passages in Principles that support the idea that Berkeley's belief that matter does not exist is grounded largely in his - or anyone else's - inability to really define what matter is. "

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