Saturday, June 18, 2011

Berkeley vs. Aristotle

"You will  reply, perhaps, that in the foresaid definition is included what does sufficiently distinguish it from nothing - the positive, abstract idea of quiddity, entity, or existence.  I own, indeed, that those who pretend to the faculty of framing abstract general ideas do talk as if they had such an idea, which is, say they, the most abstract and general notion of all; that is, to me, the most incomprehensible of all others. ...  But how ready soever I may be to acknowledge the scantiness of my comprehension with regard to the endless variety of spirits and ideas that might possibly exist, yet for anyone to pretend to a notion of entity or existence, abstracted from spirit and idea, from perceiving and being perceived, is, I suspect, a downright repugnance and trifling with words." - Principles of Human Knowledge

Quiddity, entity and existence are subjects of Aristotle's Metaphysics and elsewhere, thus, Berkeley is taking exception to Aristotle as he takes exception to all abstract notions.  Having struggled to understand Aristotle myself, I can certainly empathize with the viewpoint.  At the same time, it won't work.  Gravity is an abstract concept that has been utilized for the engineering of countless devices of use to mankind.  Evolution, on the other hand, is an undefined abstraction deemed to have power in proportion to its vagueness.  Gravity is a useful abstraction.  Evolution is a worthless one.  Berkeley is dissing all abstraction rather than providing any guidance for distinguishing between worthy and worthless abstraction.

No comments: