Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bishop Berkeley:  A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

Having finished this book, my final reaction is "With friends like these, who needs enemies?".  Berkeley claims that abstract thought leads to atheism.  He goes further to claim that as abstract thought has polluted the church, the church has been led unthinkingly towards atheism.  Then he launches a few rhetorical Scud Missiles (speaking abstractly) at mathematics, geometry and Newtonian mechanics.

The overall sense is a bit schizoid as Berkeley's ideas lead in multiple conflicting directions.  Other introductions to philosophers such as Hume and Kant say that it is clear that these writers have read Berkeley and been influenced by him, but they are loathe to admit it.  One thing that clearly shows up in other literature is that Berkeley had an out sized effect even though he was never considered a first rate philosopher:

"With all these defects, however, Berkeley's new conception marks a distinct stage of progress in human thought.  His true place in the history of speculation may be seen from the simple observation that the difficulties or obscurities in his scheme are really the points on which later philosophy has turned." - Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910, article on Bishop Berkeley.

The primary point that I see was that Berkeley dissed all that went before and asked "what about ME?".  Who needs dead, white, male philosophers?  What I perceive is the only thing that counts.  It is in no way a Christian viewpoint, yet he fervently insists that he is defending Christianity.  Thus, while Copernicus moved the center of the Solar System to the Sun, Berkeley moved the center of the philosophical Universe to the ME.  We can criticize Berkeley as being some sort of ignorant Christian Luddite on the one hand, but then we are faced with the fact that much of modernism has fanatically embraced this same ideology.  Indeed, the majority of Doctor of Philosophy degrees are awarded to people who have never read a single work of philosophy.

My last puzzle to ponder is this:  Although Berkeley has clearly embraced an ideology that isn't Christian, it doesn't deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  On the one hand I feel that he is badly in error, but on the other I cannot condemn him as a heretic.


Delirious said...

I have to applaud you for finishing the book. It was all I could do to make sense of the quotes that you posted. ;)

Looney said...

In this instance I would have had a very incomplete picture of Berkeley if I had not read all the way through.

Being sick was both a help and a hindrance. A help in that I took a day off from work and had more time. A hindrance in that my mind wasn't always clear.