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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man by David Berman (Oxford) George Berkeley was a leading advocate of idealistic empiricism in British philosophy. He studied divinity and later lectured at Trinity College, Dublin. He went to London to muster support for a venture to establish a college in Bermuda for colonists and Indians in America. Although his college never came to be, he spent three years in the colonies and was a stimulus to the development of higher education in America. This venture also laid the foundation for public reputation for piety. In 1734 he was appointed bishop at Cloyne, in which office he devoted himself to the social and economic plight of Ireland. Berman's biography is a subtle introduction to the life and thought of the second of the three great British empiricists, the first being John Locke and the third David Hume. Berkeley most remarked upon philosophical view is best expressed in the Latin expression esse est percipi, "to be is to be perceived." This is a type of philosophical idealism that considers that nothing can exist apart from minds and the contents of minds. To say that a material object exists is to say that it is or can be seen, heard, or otherwise perceived by a mind. Philosophers such as John Locke had adopted the view that human knowledge depends on the existence of material objects independent of minds or ideas. These objects causally produce ideas in our minds. Locke held that in some respects our ideas resemble objects in the material world, but some qualities that objects appear to have are not in the objects but depend upon our minds. That is, material objects possess in reality the measurable, quantitative qualities, such as size and weight, but their`sense qualities, such as color, odor, and taste, depend upon the mind.

Against this view Berkeley held that all the qualities of the object depend upon the mind. Since objects have stable and regular existence, the mind they depend on must be divine rather than human. In Berkeley's view, therefore, the existence of a divine mind follows directly from the commonsense belief that physical objects exist when no one is perceiving them. Berkeley believed that the Lockean view gave a basis for skepticism and atheism. His arguments have been of continuing interest to philosophers. In this biography the whole cloth of Berkeley's ideas and theology as well as his enthusiastic endorsement of tar-water as a replacement to strong spirits and a general aid to health are given full form. The philosophical Berkeley is important but the Bishop Berkeley, social reformer and enthusiast is definitely more interesting. Highly recommended as a humanist introduction to the good Bishop of Cloyne.


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