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Source: (consider it) Thread: George Berkeley
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OK, some of his ideas you may have heard from me before, but I am actually reading his works now, and I am fascinated, and I think he has some good points.

He starts with his discussion of his theory of vision. In essence, he argues that we actually "see" nothing, but the electrical signals that are interpreted by our mind. So nothing that we see is real, it is simply our mind interpreting the various signals - the same applies to the rest of our senses.

Then he continues that the "mind" that we have these ideas in is also just what we interpret. These thoughts of us are simply ideas in the mind of God. As someone else has said "I would rather be an idea in the mind of God, than God being an idea im our mind". So yes, I find this a positive way of seeing the world.

It sets me thinking, aand there are some intriguing thoughts here. Firstly, I can see that, turning his idea on its head a little, the thing that we are ideas in the mind of is God.

Let me clarify a little. My thoughts and feelings could be in a computer somewhere. Or, as I like to imagine it (to remove it from other images), a trunk of organic matter in a corridor. That is God, because that is the meta-object that imagines my life.

The other problem is that I can only actually know of my own existance, so I might be the only being to actually exist. Or maybe others exist in their own trunks of matter. And all of these together are God. Maybe.

Another question that someone raised is "why does God imagine so much pain." I have no idea of an answer to this (whatever you image of God is).

Anyone else a Berkley fan? Anyone else want to explore the ideas he raises?

[Fixed thread title because it was driving me mad - RuthW, Admin]

[ 06. November 2017, 03:11: Message edited by: RuthW ]

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Martin60
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So we're mental representational images in [the mind of] God, of objects? Where are they?

[ 04. November 2017, 13:39: Message edited by: Martin60 ]

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Dave W.
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
OK, some of his ideas you may have heard from me before, but I am actually reading his works now, and I am fascinated, and I think he has some good points.

He starts with his discussion of his theory of vision. In essence, he argues that we actually "see" nothing, but the electrical signals that are interpreted by our mind. So nothing that we see is real, it is simply our mind interpreting the various signals - the same applies to the rest of our senses.

I don't see (hah!) why he would say that we see nothing real. What exactly is unreal about our method of visual perception? What mode of visual perception would he accept as "real"?
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Schroedinger's cat

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This is where it become complex. God is somewhere not in the world we can experience.

The problem is that things like "colour" are not inherent in an object. They are our interpretation of particular stimuli. Similarly, the distance something is away is not something we directly perceive - it is something we interpret from the signals we get. And this interpretation is learned, not inherent (as has been shown in experiments). Almost all optical illusions are based on providing stimuli that will be mis-interpreted.

Another significant implication is that time and memory are nothing more than brain-stored sugnals. Importantly, if we remove memory, almost all of our visual insight and interpretation is gone. So if our memory is forged (Bladerunner, anyone), then our interpretation can also be forged.

What it means is that the reality we take for granted is actually driven by our minds interpretation of the outside world. So nothing is actually "real" in any sense that we can understand, because our understanding of "real" is based on our empirical interpretation of the world.

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quetzalcoatl
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I think B's ideas are irrefutable, at least in the sense that the brain/mind constructs reality, and we can never get beyond that. I don't really see the further connection to God.

And they are probably of great interest today, with the discussion of simulated universes, and so on. De Grasse Tyson seems to have made this respectable for atheists.

I suppose in the end they are speculative, and good old pragmatics can neutralize them. I mean, that the cheese sandwich in front of me is probably a construction by the brain, and may be in fact, machine code in some great simulation, e.g. the Matrix, but I can easily ignore all that, and eat the sandwich. But this repeats Dr Johnson's old critique, about kicking the stone, although in fact, this didn't refute B's ideas.

[ 04. November 2017, 16:34: Message edited by: quetzalcoatl ]

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quetzalcoatl
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By the way, it's Berkeley.

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Anglican_Brat
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Berkeley's theology is meant IMHO to avoid the conclusion of complete subjectivism, in which there is no outside reality and all we are left with is our own individual subjective perceptions.

Does not the scientific process disprove Berkeley's philosophy in the sense that you can't argue that reality is completely a matter of individual perception? If I perform an experiment, make certain observations, and come up with conclusions, i can only claim my conclusions are scientifically valid if they can be replicated by others. If different people make the same observations after performing the same experiment, to me, this is evidence that there is a concrete, objective reality outside our minds (the philosophical term is 'realism'.)

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Schroedinger's cat

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# 64

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Argh - I tried to get the name right, and failed. Sorry.

The reason for introducing God is that the ideas that we have need to be in a mind somewhere, and that mind is GOd (sort of, by definition).

The problem with the scientific process - empiricism - is that this applies completely within the reality that we experience. But Empiricism is limited, becasue anything that cannot be replicated is outside the realm of empiricism. So anything like the miraculous is unproveable. And the scientific method cannot apply to anything outside the empirical world - all of which is our experience only.

Empiricism and the scientific process is totally valid wihtin the remit that it has. But I do not accept that it is all there is.

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Dave W.
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
This is where it become complex. God is somewhere not in the world we can experience.

The problem is that things like "colour" are not inherent in an object. They are our interpretation of particular stimuli. Similarly, the distance something is away is not something we directly perceive - it is something we interpret from the signals we get. And this interpretation is learned, not inherent (as has been shown in experiments). Almost all optical illusions are based on providing stimuli that will be mis-interpreted.

But in what sense (hah!) is this, as you put it, a "problem"?

Now we know something about how our sensory apparatus works - it's mediated by electro-chemical processes. But you're emphasizing that it's not the same as "direct perception", and I'm struggling to understand what that would be like. How would you expect to gain knowledge (however imperfect) about physical objects if not through the mediation of physical processes?
quote:

What it means is that the reality we take for granted is actually driven by our minds interpretation of the outside world. So nothing is actually "real" in any sense that we can understand, because our understanding of "real" is based on our empirical interpretation of the world.

It seems to me that one might just as well say that it's real in exactly the only sense that we can understand.

Once you know something about how color works, you learn that saying that an object is red (e.g.) is really just a shorthand for conveying the outcome of a long string of physical processes. "Red" isn't an inherent property of the object, but so what? Children eventually learn that babies don't arrive by stork (does anyone still tell them this, I wonder?) but that doesn't make the actual process any less real.

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
Argh - I tried to get the name right, and failed. Sorry.

The reason for introducing God is that the ideas that we have need to be in a mind somewhere, and that mind is GOd (sort of, by definition).

The problem with the scientific process - empiricism - is that this applies completely within the reality that we experience. But Empiricism is limited, becasue anything that cannot be replicated is outside the realm of empiricism. So anything like the miraculous is unproveable. And the scientific method cannot apply to anything outside the empirical world - all of which is our experience only.

Empiricism and the scientific process is totally valid wihtin the remit that it has. But I do not accept that it is all there is.

I don't think mind leads inexorably to God. Hence, the discussions about simulations, where the mind is that of a very intelligent alien. Well, that sounds crackers, of course. Or, you can just posit Mind, which is not theistic. Is that like Buddhism?

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Stetson
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Anglican Brat wrote:

quote:
Does not the scientific process disprove Berkeley's philosophy in the sense that you can't argue that reality is completely a matter of individual perception? If I perform an experiment, make certain observations, and come up with conclusions, i can only claim my conclusions are scientifically valid if they can be replicated by others. If different people make the same observations after performing the same experiment, to me, this is evidence that there is a concrete, objective reality outside our minds (the philosophical term is 'realism'.)


I think Hume would have argued that the scientific method can give you a basis for predicting what the outcome of replicating the experiment will be, but not absolute certainty, since the knowledge that would be needed to have absolute certainty is not conveyed via the senses.

The classic example of this(not sure if it was Hume's) is if someone asks you if the sun will rise tomorrow morning. The most you can say with certainty is "Well, in my memory, it has risen every morning of my entire life", and then let the guy draw his own conclusions about what will happen tomorrow.

To put this in overall context, Hume discards Berkeley's omnesentient God, and is thus left with nothing but sensations, without even a knowable mind(as in Descartes) to perceive them. That's why I specificed "in my memory", to indicate that I can't fully know if the sun was really rising all those times, or even if there is such a thing as the sun, or indeed anything at all.

[ 04. November 2017, 17:38: Message edited by: Stetson ]

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Schroedinger's cat

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OK - the "mind" is acceptable, but that would, I think, equate to what we normally understand as God. It doesn't mean anything more, as such. It is the thing that some people relate to as the divine.

And the colour thing is a problem in that like every other aspect of an object, it is not an inherent facet of the object, it is just our interpretation of particualr signals. That is a problem if we are trying to argue that things exist, because all of the facets that go into "existence" are, like colour, in our mind.

(Come on Berkeley fans on the ship. I feel on my own here [Frown] )

Berkely ues "extension" in place of colour, but I find colour as an attribute an easier one to engage with, not least becasue we know that colour is not a clear cut or consistent thing. We cannot know whether you and I see a colour the same.

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quetzalcoatl
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I wonder if science is a distraction really, as Berkeley would be able to deal with any objections about that. Science doesn't really have the aim of finding reality, but making observations about appearances, and explaining them.

I think that idealism of this kind of became unpopular, and I suppose this was partly because of modern science, and the development of materialist philosophy.

However, it is still an attractive set of ideas, and for me, it connects with immediate experience. Everything in my experience is created now, isn't it? There is a curious connection here with some branches of Buddhism, but I will have to come back to that.

But I can't resist the famous flag story in Zen - a bunch of monks are arguing about a flag blowing in the wind; one group say that the flag is moving, another group that it's the wind, but Hui-Neng interjected, and said, 'neither, it's your mind'.

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by Anglican_Brat:

Does not the scientific process disprove Berkeley's philosophy in the sense that you can't argue that reality is completely a matter of individual perception? If I perform an experiment, make certain observations, and come up with conclusions, i can only claim my conclusions are scientifically valid if they can be replicated by others. If different people make the same observations after performing the same experiment, to me, this is evidence that there is a concrete, objective reality outside our minds (the philosophical term is 'realism'.)

Not necessarily - I only think that Professor Brat has replicated the results of my experiment because I read about it in a scientific journal or because Professor Brat told me - and my awareness of the scientific journal and/or the lunch I had with Professor Brat are also products of my sensory inputs ..

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quetzalcoatl
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Surely, the point is that the concrete objective reality arrived at by multiple observations, is also a product of mind. Of course, humans are able to posit a mind-independent reality, but they can never experience it.

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Enoch
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quote:
I'm not being funny or anything but
isn't the question 'how do we know that anything else exists, that it isn't all either our own imagination or a personally screened programme provided by some external agency just for us?' something that occurs to most fairly bright children as something to puzzle about, somewhere between the ages 10-15?

[ 04. November 2017, 20:03: Message edited by: Enoch ]

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Stetson
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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
quote:
I'm not being funny or anything but
isn't the question 'how do we know that anything else exists, that it isn't all either our own imagination or a personally screened programme provided by some external agency just for us?' something that occurs to most fairly bright children as something to puzzle about, somewhere between the ages 10-15?
Yes, I remember going through the first stage of Cartesian skepticism, and actually reaching the cogito, when I was about that age, and long before I ever heard of Descartes or his philosophy.

Though I'm not sure where you want us to go with this. That discussions about Epistemology are immature? I also remember wondering if anyone is truly selfless(going to heaven, avoiding guilt feelings etc can all be viewed as selfish). Does that mean debates about Ethics are also childish?

[ 04. November 2017, 20:11: Message edited by: Stetson ]

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Dave W.:
Once you know something about how color works, you learn that saying that an object is red (e.g.) is really just a shorthand for conveying the outcome of a long string of physical processes.

No, it isn't. People who have a completely erroneous understanding of those processes are still capable of correctly saying when something is red. Indeed, they may be better at discriminating between shades of red than people whose understanding is more accurate.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I think B's ideas are irrefutable, at least in the sense that the brain/mind constructs reality, and we can never get beyond that.

Berkeley's basic error (to be fair, shared by Locke whom Berkeley was criticising and later by Hume) was that he assumed that an idea / impression was a thing in itself. It isn't. The phenomenology of our perceptual experience is that it points outside itself. It's a condition of being perception that it refers beyond itself. To say that the brain/mind constructs reality ignores the point that the process of constructing reality presupposes that the reality pre-exists the construction.

quote:
I don't really see the further connection to God.
Nobody's quoted the limericks yet so I shall.

There once was a man who said, God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no on about in the Quad.

Dear Sir, Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by Yours faithfully, God.

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Dave W.
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Dave W.:
Once you know something about how color works, you learn that saying that an object is red (e.g.) is really just a shorthand for conveying the outcome of a long string of physical processes.

No, it isn't. People who have a completely erroneous understanding of those processes are still capable of correctly saying when something is red. Indeed, they may be better at discriminating between shades of red than people whose understanding is more accurate.
I didn't say it conveyed an understanding of those processes, I said it conveyed their outcome. Physics and biochemistry still work whether you understand them or not.
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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Dave W.:
I didn't say it conveyed an understanding of those processes, I said it conveyed their outcome. Physics and biochemistry still work whether you understand them or not.

But not necessarily the outcome of those particular processes. Assuming AI is capable of sensory perception, an AI wouldn't have neurons and is unlikely to have a visual cortex with even the same structure as ours. Yet there's no reason to think that it therefore will be unable to discriminate red. (Similarly, aliens if they exist may not have the same biological basis to their 'nervous' system analogue.) So from the point where the light hits the visual receptor onwards the physical process involved can be substituted for different physical processes.

In the case of yellow, the process from before the light hits the visual receptor may be different since we see red and green light mixed as yellow. Then there are hallucinations, which raise their own problems.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Schroedinger's cat

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But AI would report "red" because that is what we have told it this set of inputs is.

In the same way, we call something "red" because we have learned that this set of inputs is expressed as red.

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quetzalcoatl
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Dafyd wrote:

quote:
Berkeley's basic error (to be fair, shared by Locke whom Berkeley was criticising and later by Hume) was that he assumed that an idea / impression was a thing in itself. It isn't. The phenomenology of our perceptual experience is that it points outside itself. It's a condition of being perception that it refers beyond itself. To say that the brain/mind constructs reality ignores the point that the process of constructing reality presupposes that the reality pre-exists the construction.
I'm not sure how Berkeley would reply to this, presumably, he would say that what we perceive are ideas, not things. I think the existence of sensory equipment in the body is a kind of blow against B., since the senses bring information into the brain. So there is a kind of transitivity here.

But I am not all that well up on B. In Zen, which is heavily infused with idealism, the idea that the perception goes beyond itself would not hold, I think, since there is a kind of 'collapse' of dualism. In other words, an experience does exist sui generis. We can always make an intellectual analysis of it, but that is not the experience. This leads to all the talk of one-pointedness and so on. But no doubt Berkeley would be horrified by this, as there is no God.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I'm not sure how Berkeley would reply to this, presumably, he would say that what we perceive are ideas, not things. I think the existence of sensory equipment in the body is a kind of blow against B., since the senses bring information into the brain. So there is a kind of transitivity here.

Of course we only know that the sensory equipment is involved in perception because we perceive that in other people (or in reflections). We don't directly perceive our own sensory equipment.
On the other hand, I'd say that it's a condition of our perception that we only perceive things from a particular point and angle: our perceptions are constituted by being in a particular location.

As I understand it, you are right to say that Berkeley (and Locke and Hume) would say that what we perceive are ideas. I think that begs the question: even if we have strong visual imaginations - and I think Hume must have had a stronger visual imagination than mine - our ideas are different in quality from our perceptions; in particular, our ideas aren't focused into a location in the way our perceptions are as said above.
Also, it assumes a regress: that instead of our bodies perceiving the world that isn't our bodies we have our minds inside our bodies perceiving ideas that are in our bodies, but presumably not in our minds. (And then do we have inner minds inside our minds that perceive our ideas of ideas?)

quote:
But I am not all that well up on B. In Zen, which is heavily infused with idealism, the idea that the perception goes beyond itself would not hold, I think, since there is a kind of 'collapse' of dualism. In other words, an experience does exist sui generis. We can always make an intellectual analysis of it, but that is not the experience.
I would have thought that collapsing the dualism is what allows the experience to be an experience of something. Locke's empiricism posits a dualism of ideas and the outer world. Berkeley then points out that on this scheme we simply don't have access to one of the sides and therefore that side ought to be eliminated.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Schroedinger's cat

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I am not sure they actually consider "ideas" to be things, more ways of describing the sense of concept that we have. And these "ideas" need to be in something - that is, something needs to be having these ideas.

Someone asked above "what is the point in this". I think there are two points, for me:

1. It is about seeking the truth, the reality, understanding how things are. I want to understand how things are, and this is, for me, a broadly consistent way of understanding reality as I experience it.

2. It is a more positive understanding of reality than many others I hear of. I find it encouraging, and it explains, for me, a 99.9% empirical universe, that is still open to external intervention.

TBF, Berkeley does answer many of his critics in his writings. I cannot expound then the same.

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Lord may all my hard times be healing times
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quetzalcoatl
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I found it absurd that somebody commented that this is like childen's questions. Well, kids are often very bright, and bring up interesting questions, and many adults become lazy and closed to enquiry. Are we supposed to stop thinking and asking questions? Bugger that.

I think many philosophy students enjoy reading Berkeley, and trying to find refutations of his ideas.

I forgot to say that some parts of Buddhism have a sort of multiple level view of reality. Thus, at one level, there is the normal transitive relations of perceiver, perception, perceived objects, but there is another level, where this all collapses into One. And there may be other levels, in fact, even gods for some.

[ 05. November 2017, 15:05: Message edited by: quetzalcoatl ]

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mousethief

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Didn't we just have this thread about a month ago? Why yes. Yes, we did.

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RuthW

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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I think many philosophy students enjoy reading Berkeley, and trying to find refutations of his ideas.

I've always found Samuel Johnson's refutation quite adequate.
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Stetson
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quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I think many philosophy students enjoy reading Berkeley, and trying to find refutations of his ideas.

I've always found Samuel Johnson's refutation quite adequate.
Well, an empiricist would say that all Johnson's experiment proves is that you can have the sensation of your foot touching a stone, along with probably the sensation of your eyes seeing the stone, but that you can't know for certain that the stone really exists outside of your perception of it.

To understand what Berkeley was getting at, I think it helps to start with the sense of taste. Most people would probably agree, for example, that an apple doesn't have a taste in and off itself, but rather the taste occurs when the apple comes into contact with your sense of taste(ie. the inside of your mouth). Basically, Berkeley thinks that all of an object's qualities are like a sense of taste.

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Stetson
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I've re-written the last sentence of my paragraph above...

quote:
Basically, Berkeley thinks that all of an object's qualities are like the quality of taste.


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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I think many philosophy students enjoy reading Berkeley, and trying to find refutations of his ideas.

I've always found Samuel Johnson's refutation quite adequate.
Fair enough, but Berkeley would have dealt with this, standing on his head. The sense of 'kicking' and 'stone' can be described as ideas in the mind also.

What may have sunk idealism wasn't materialism, but instrumentalism, that is, the notion that science does not aim to describe the truth or reality, but makes observations about appearances, for which explanations are then sought, and tested,

This goes back to Bacon, and probably even further. I think Bacon said that we should stop worrying about Aristotle, and use the senses to make observations about nature. Caramba!

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Stetson
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Quetzalcoatl wrote:

quote:
What may have sunk idealism wasn't materialism, but instrumentalism, that is, the notion that science does not aim to describe the truth or reality, but makes observations about appearances, for which explanations are then sought, and tested,

If you mean the idealism of the British empiricists(as opposed to that of Hegel etc), then I don't think it was sunk by what you call instrumentalism, in fact, it arguably paved the way for that line of thought. Or at least, clarified the parameters within which the scientific process operates.

Back to my original "sunrise" example, it doesn't follow that, since we can't know for certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, or indeed whether it has ever risen before, that we can just fall into a mode of "subjectivist madness"(Bertrand Russell's phrase) where we say to ourselves "Well, since I have no way of knowing if the sun will ever rise again, I should stock up on food and ammo, because if it's gonna be night from now on, that'll be the end of civilization as we know it, and my best hope will be to adopt a survivalist lifestyle".

No. We can still use the sensations that we have to make educated guesses about what sensations will be coming our way in the future. Just as long as we don't delude ourselves into thinking that what we have is Big-T Truth.

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quetzalcoatl
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That reminds me of the joke by Hume that although as a skeptic, he doubted many things, he would still leave a room by the door, not the window.

It also reminds me of the presuppositionalists, who I had the misfortune to argue with years ago, and who often start discussions by asking how you know your ideas are correct. They want to end up saying that only through God can we know that, but I learned to say I don't know, but pragmatically use certain rules of thumb, for example, that things fall down, or the sun will rise.

Sorry, drifting away from Berkeley now.

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Martin60
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How does God perceive?

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Stetson
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quote:
Sorry, drifting away from Berkeley now.

Not really, because the things that bug people the most about Berkeley are taken to their logical conclusion in radical skepticism(my term), best represented by Hume. So, if you're gonna talk about Berkeley, you might as well just make it about empiricism in general.

quote:
That reminds me of the joke by Hume that although as a skeptic, he doubted many things, he would still leave a room by the door, not the window.


That might be a joke, but it's also a pretty good illustration of the principle I was arguing in my last post, ie. on a practical level, it doesn't really matter if I don't have absolute Truth. Because I am still going to assume, for example, that if the window was twenty stories up the last time I looked out, it's quite likely to still be twenty stories up now.

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quetzalcoatl
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Some of the presuppers seem to argue that reason is fatally flawed by sin, therefore the atheist or non-Christian, I suppose, can only use flawed arguments.

The interesting thing about this is that it is very skeptical about other people, who are I suppose corrupted.

They are ingenious arguments but then they are forced back onto their own presuppositions, e.g. Jesus ensures that my reasoning power is OK. Is that a fair summary? I can't stand this stuff really. I would have thought that the Christian is also fatally flawed.

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Martin60
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How does any of this really basic stuff allow for Intervention?

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The thing is, on a practical level, no it makes no difference. In the same way that the difference between Newton and Einstein on motion makes no practical difference, because the differences at our level are undetectable.

It is about what is actually real. It is about what philosophers want to find out - how does reality actually work?

Martins question about intervention - one thing I like about Berkeley is that it seems to allow for intervention because the reality is not fixed. As I said somewhere above, 99.9% of reality can be empirical, and the 0.1% - the divine intervention part maybe - does not impact the empiricism of the rest.

quote:
Originally posted by mousethief:
Didn't we just have this thread about a month ago? Why yes. Yes, we did.

Oddly enough, I had not read Berkeley at the point when I started that. Obviously, I had heard some of his ideas, but I didn't consistently grasp his position. So that was from my own head, and it is interesting to find that Berkeley seems ot have come to the same sort of conclusions. But 300 years earlier.

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Martin60
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One part in a thousand of reality is magic? Which part?

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