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George Berkeley (1685–1753)

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  • Born in Kilkenny, Ireland, George Berkeley was appointed Bishop of Cloyne (near Cork) in 1734. In 1709, he published An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, which lays the groundwork for his attack on the belief in material substance. His Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, the main work excerpted here, appeared in 1710 and was revised in 1734. His views encountered resistance and sometimes mockery; in 1713, he restated his overall position and arguments again, this time in dialogue form, in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. In 1721, Berkeley published De Motu (On Motion), a work that presents the earliest version of instrumentalism in philosophy of science.

    The Introduction to the Principles attacks abstract ideas. As you go, it is worth wondering why Berkeley is spending so much time on this issue, given his ultimate goal of establishing a world of only spirits and ideas. Part One of that work (there is no Part Two—Berkeley claims to have lost the manuscript in Italy) forms the main part of the work. Here is an outline, by section number, of the PHK, Part One.1

    Sections 1-24: Arguments against material substance

    Sections 25-33 Statement of Berkeley’s positive view

    Sections 34-84: Objections and replies

    Sections 85-156: Attractive consequences of Berkeley’s view with regard to:

    Sections 101-117: Natural science

    Sections 118-132: Mathematics and geometry

    Sections 135-156: Spirits/Minds, incl. God

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