George Berkeley and the External World

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Jack Bate
George Berkeley and the external world
In 1999, Larry and Andy Wachowski directed The Matrix, a movie featuring the future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality or cyberspace called "the Matrix”. This fake reality was created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population. To some, this movie represents just another brilliant Hollywood sci-fi action film, but for others, it challenges the understanding of perspective, reality and appearance ("The matrix 101," 2003). The Matrix heavily relies on the concepts of Irish Philosopher George Berkeley who believed reality, or reality as humans perceive it, is fundamentally mental and therefore immaterial which is known as Idealism. In 1709, Berkeley published An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discusses the fallibility of human vision and the theory that objects of sight are not material objects, but light and color. Berkeley’s empirical theory of vision questioned the then-standard account of distance vision, an account which required understood geometrical calculations. Berkeley's 1709 publication marked only the beginning of the radical Idealistic views put forth by George Berkeley. Although at first Berkeley’s ideas seem improbable, his theory of Idealism, which he claims is the only theory that avoids skepticism and solipsism, proves difficult to renounce and ultimately logical in the sense of true knowledge. Four years following the publishing of, An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, Berkeley revealed his most important philosophical work of his career, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. In it, Berkeley defends two metaphysical theses: idealism (the claim that everything that exists either is a mind or depends on a mind for its being) and immaterialism (the claim that matter does not exist). His famous motto, “esse est percipi” (“to be is to be perceived”) helps represent his ideology and understanding of physical objects in the mysterious external world. In order to conceptualize any validity in Berkeley’s stance that that ordinary objects are only collections of ideas, which are mind-dependent, it's absolutely essential to understand his interpretation or terminology of “idea”, “matter” and “physical objects”. In regards to Berkeley’s Idealism, the term “ideas” is being utilized in a general sense to include all sensations and perceptions of the external world. In regards to “matter” and “physical objects”, he pinpoints a crucial distinction between the two which serve as an essential base for his argument within the dialogues. Despite their obvious differences, Berkeley and Locke both agree that physical objects do exist in reality, but their opposite distinctions between the ideas of objects pose to great a barrier for any other commonalities. Berkeley uses “physical objects” to represent particular ordinary things individuals encounter in the world around them for example: delicious steaks, gigantic airplanes, or soothing flowers. Unlike physical objects, Berkeley states that “matter” is simply a philosophers myth and does not exist. To prove this, he argues that, according to Locke's belief, common sense reveals that physical objects are made of “matter”, however, “matter” only contains qualities that resemble the ideas of primary qualities (properties of objects that are independent of any observer, such as solidity, extension, motion, number and figure) and fails to resemble any ideas of secondary qualities (properties that produce sensations in observers, such as color, taste, smell, and sound) (Kelly, 2013). Without secondary qualities, Berkeley believes Locke's concept of “matter” generates skepticism. Within Berkeley's attack on Locke's idea of the external world, he points out that because Locke holds that physical objects are composed of “matter” while he completely excludes the thought of such concept, the idealistic pro-mind theory proves more logical compared...
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