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The New Berkeley

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Marc Hight
Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943, USA
Walter Ott
East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN 37614-0234, USA


Throughout his mature writings, Berkeley speaks of minds as substances that underlie or support ideas. After initially flirting with a Humean account, according to which minds are nothing but ‘congeries of Perceptions’ (PC 580), Berkeley went on to claim that a mind is a ‘perceiving, active being … entirely distinct’ from its ideas (P 2). Despite his immaterialism, Berkeley retains the traditional category of substance and gives it pride of place in his ontology. Ideas, by contrast, are ‘fleeting and dependent beings’ (P 89) that must be supported by a mental substance. There is no doubt that Berkeley's conception of the relationship between minds and ideas is non-traditional, but that fact does not undercut his commitment to the traditional conception of substance.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 2004

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1 All references are to Luce, A.A. and Jessop, T.E. eds., The Works of George Berkeley, 9 vols. (London: Thomas Nelson 1949-58).Google Scholar When citing the Principles, the numbers given refer to paragraphs; when citing the Philosophical Commentaries, the reference is to a numbered entry; when other works are cited, the reference is to the page number of the relevant volume in Luce and Jessop. The following abbreviations are convenient: NTV, New Theory of Vision; PI, the published Introduction to the Principles; P, Principles, Part I; PC, Philosophical Commentaries; TD, Three Dialogues. References to Descartes are to Cottingham, John Stoothoff, Robert and Murdoch, Dugald eds., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, 3 vols. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 1985)Google Scholar (hereafter ‘CSM’).

2 See especially Atherton, MargaretThe Coherence of Berkeley's Theory of Mental Substance,’ in Critical and Interpretive Essays on Berkeley, Creery, Walter ed. (London: Croom Helm 1991)Google Scholar and Winkler, Kenneth Berkeley: An Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1989).Google Scholar

3 Daniel, StephenBerkeley, Suárez, and the Esse-Existere Distinction,American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 74 (2000) 621-36,CrossRefGoogle Scholar at 623

4 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez623.Google Scholar

5 Berkeley's Ontology (Indianapolis: Hackett 1992), 170. The core of this chapter is reprinted in a shorter form in Muehlmann, ed., Berkeley's Metaphysics: Structural Interpretive, and Critical Essays (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press 1995).Google Scholar

6 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 188Google Scholar

7 Leibniz, G.W. Philosophical Papers and Letters, Loemker, Leroy ed. (Boston: D. Reidel 1976), 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Cf. Descartes, who invokes the same exhaustive distinction. Principles 1:48, CSM 1:208.

8 Barnes, Jonathan ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 1, Categories (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1984),Google Scholar 4al0.

9 We borrow this example and analysis from Kneale, WilliamThe Notion of a Substance,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 40 (1939-1940), 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 We read ‘require’ instead of Cottingham's ‘depends on’ for indigeat. CSM I, 210, Principles 51.

11 It is worth noting that the sense in which properties depend on a substance is, for Descartes, quite different from that in which substances depend on God.

12 Locke, John An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Nidditch, Peter H. ed. (New York: Clarendon Press 1991), 295Google Scholar and 297 (11.23.1 and II.23.4). It is important in this connection to recall that Locke sometimes uses ‘idea’ to refer to the quality the idea is an idea of (see II.viii.8). In the former passage, for instance, Locke's point seems to be that there must be an extra-mental substance which Supports the qualities, not the ideas. Similarly, in the latter passage the antecedent of ‘they’ is ‘sensible Qualities’ rather than ‘ideas.’ In any case, Locke clearly holds that both ideas and qualities (conflated or not) require an underlying continuant or support.

13 Locke, Essay, II.12.6. Cf. II.12.4, where he distinguishes modes from substances in virtue of the fact that the former cannot subsist by themselves.

14 Letter to Arnauld April 30, 1687. Leibniz, G.W. Philosophical Papers and Letters, Loemker, Leroy trans. and ed. (Boston: D. Reidel 1976), 86CrossRefGoogle Scholar

15 Descartes seems to be an immediate exception, since he takes matter to be a substance yet attributes infinite divisibility to it. But since it is matter ‘all the way down,’ we actually never reach a lower level for the parts. Recall that in his definition of a substance (Principles 51), matter qualifies because it requires nothing other than itself to exist. For matter, parts are parts, and all parts are essentially homogeneous in their properties except for those associated with size and motion, and those are only accidental. We submit that what Descartes was chiefly concerned about was not simplicity per se, but rather the need for a continuant. Matter underlies change, regardless of how far down one needs to divide it to get an appropriate explanation.

16 Leibniz, Philosophical Papers, 620Google Scholar

17 Leibniz, Philosophical Papers, 115Google Scholar

18 If we are being careful, no external cause for being might perhaps only be a necessary condition for substancehood. Leibniz, however, apparently thinks it sufficient as well.

19 Quoted from Luce, A.A.Another Look at Berkeley's NotebooksHermathena 110 (1970), 8.Google Scholar

20 Ayers, Michael Berkeley: Philosophical Works (Dent: London 1975), xxixxii.Google Scholar

21 Belfrage, BertilA New Approach to Berkeley's Philosophical Notebooks,’ in Sosa, E. ed., Essays on the Philosophy of George Berkeley (Boston: D. Reidel 1987), 21.Google Scholar

22 In private correspondence Daniel has asserted that Belfrage's article has ‘refuted’ Luce's interpretation of the ‘+’ sign. More charitably, Daniel has the admirable desire to preserve as much of Commentaries as good scholarship will allow and thus believes that any possibility that we can employ the entries seriously compels us to do so. Although we are sympathetic, we believe that changes required elsewhere to accommodate this methodology come at too high a price.

23 Belfrage, 226

24 See Ayers, Substance, Reality, and the Great Dead Philosophers,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 7 (1970), 3849.Google Scholar

25 For a detailed analysis of Berkeley's gradual rejection of the congeries account, see McCracken, CharlesBerkeley's Cartesian Concept of Mind,’ The Monist 71, 4 (1988), 596611,CrossRefGoogle Scholar at 597.

26 Daniel, ‘Berkeley on the Meaning of Idea,’ presented at the APA Pacific Division 2002, 4. See also ‘Berkeley, Suárez,’ 623.

27 Daniel, Berkeley's Christian Neoplatonism, Archetypes, and Divine Ideas,’ Journal of the History of Philosophy 39, 2 (2001) 239-58,CrossRefGoogle Scholar at 245-6

28 Daniel, Berkeley, Su árez,’ 624Google Scholar

29 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez,’ 630Google Scholar

30 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez,’ 623Google Scholar

31 Daniel, ‘Berkeley, Suárez,’ 633-4

32 Daniel, ‘Berkeley, Suárez,’ 631-2

33 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez,’ 632Google Scholar

34 See, e.g., Aquinas's de ente et essentia, in Selected Philosophical Writings, McDermott, T. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993).Google Scholar

35 Suárez, Metaphysical Disputations 2, 1, 9, in Opera (Paris, 1856-78)

36 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez,’ 633Google Scholar

37 For Descartes's Statement of this position, see Principles §63-4.

38 This conception may be what leads Malebranche to say that ‘the soul is painted with the colours of the rainbow when looking at it’; in such a case, the soul ‘actually becomes blue, red, or yellow’ (The Search After Truth, Lennon, T.M. and Olscamp, P.J. trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997)Google Scholar, Eleventh Elucidation, 634. Only ideas qua sensations are modifications; ideas qua ‘pure perceptions’ are, for Malebranche, eternal ideas in the mind of God. For a valiant attempt to make sense of Malebranche's claims about the former, see Jolley, Nicholas The Light of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon 1990), 60.Google Scholar On Jolley's view, Malebranche is exploiting the tendency, found also in Descartes and Locke, to treat ideas of secondary qualities on analogy with pain. They, like pain, do not have representational content.

39 Daniel, Berkeley, Suárez,’ 633Google Scholar

40 Daniel, Berkeley's Christian Neoplatonism,’ 249Google Scholar

41 Daniel, Berkeley's Christian Neoplatonism,’ 245Google Scholar

42 Daniel, Berkeley's Christian Neo-Platonism,’ 245Google Scholar

43 Daniel, Berkeley's Christian Neo-Platonism,’ 249Google Scholar

44 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 171Google Scholar

45 Cf. PC 715

46 See Essay III.xxvii.3, quoted in Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 174.

47 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 176Google Scholar

48 Muehlmann cites the coach passage at TD 204 (176), where Berkeley seems to indicate that we can perceive the coach via the sound we hear. Muehlmann concludes that ‘[A] sound does sometimes “perceive a color” ….’ In fact, Berkeley says that the sound suggests the coach. We think NTV 9 is a more charitable example for Muehlmann, even though we think it too fails to make his point.

49 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 178Google Scholar

50 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 182Google Scholar

51 ‘Introduction,’ in Berkeley's Metaphysics, 15

52 Cf. P57

53 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, 261Google Scholar

54 Muehlmann, Berkeley's Ontology, esp. 265-7

55 The authors would like to thank Robert Muehlmann, Stephen Daniel, and two anonymous referees.

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