Berkeley's Idealism

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Berkeley's Idealism

In this essay I shall give the historical background to Berkeley's Idealism and then offer an argument for Idealism and suggest how an idealist could defend his theory against common objections and criticisms.

Bishop George Berkeley's Idealism or Immaterialism is the theory that the physical world exists only in the experiences minds have of it. Berkeley's Idealism restricts minds to God, human beings, animals and whatever other spirits there may commonly thought to be, and says that everything else — the intrinsically non-mental — exists only as features of the experience of these minds.

Although this would initially seem to be a bizarre view, if we look at the science and philosophy of the seventeenth century, it arises quite naturally.

The philosophy of the era derived from the 'new' science of the period. Isaac Newton was the prominent scientist of the age, and John Locke was the most notable philosopher in converting Newtonian science into a philosophy. However, the age produced many other scientists and philosophers who were responsible for forming and popularising these new ideas e.g. Galileo and Descartes.

The main theory of the day, with regard to physical science, was Atomism. Atomists believed that bodies are made from minute particles. Further, they believed that the particles and the bodies made from them, possess primary and not secondary properties. The most important exception from this viewpoint was that of Descartes. Although he rejected atomism, he did agree that bodies only really possess primary qualities. Basically what this means is that bodies in themselves possess shape, size, motion and impenetrability but not colour, sound, taste, hardness or smell. This latter g...

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...reference. It is logically impossible for anyone to check to see if the contrary is the case. So, although counter intuitive, Idealism is difficult to refute.


Audi, Robert (Ed). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.(1995). pp. 72-74.

Ibid. pp. 355-356.

Ibid. pp. 437-440

Berkeley, George. Principles of Human Knowledge & Three Dialogues. Oxford World Classics.(1999). Idealism.

Mautner, Thomas (Ed).Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, Penguin Reference.(1996). pp.66-67.

Morton, Adam. Philosophy in Practice — An Introduction to the Main Questions. Blackwell.(1996). Chapter15 pp.426-429.

Scruton, Roger. Modern Philosophy — An Introduction and Survey. Mandarin.(1994). Chapter 3. pp. 23-25.

Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy — The Basics. Routledge.(1992). Chapter 4. pp. 103-107.
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