Berkeley and God

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					Berkeley and God
  Part III - Bishop Berkeley
Lecture Summary

1. The continuity argument
2. The passivity argument
3. The shared reality argument
      Remember - these are not Berkeley’s labels!
(1) The continuity argument

  In the Second Dialogue, through Philonous,
  Berkeley claims idealism provides:
       ‘a direct and immediate demonstration, from a
       most evident principle, of the being of a God.’
  As idealism is supposed to guard against atheism, as
  well as scepticism, this should be central to Berkeley’s
       But there is no agreed interpretation, although
       there is a widely held view.
(1) The continuity argument

      ‘Sensible things do really exist; and, if they really exist, they are necessarily
      perceived by an infinite Mind: therefore there is an infinite Mind or God.’
      (2nd Dialogue)
 1.   No collection of ideas can exist when not perceived by some spirit
 2.   Objects are collections of ideas.
 3.   Objects sometimes exist when not perceived by any human spirit.
 4.   Therefore, there is a non-human spirit which sometimes perceives
                                          (1) Continuity
Continuity or Object Permanence

   We do take ordinary objects to continue existing, in the
   intervals between our perceiving them.
   Nowadays Developmental psychologists call this “object
   Belief in object permanence arises in children during
   Piaget’s ‘sensorimotor’ phase of development
       There is some evidence of its presence from 3 months.
                                           (1) Continuity


  There are, however, major problems over attributing the
  Continuity Argument to Berkeley:
       Textual problems:
            There are not many passages in PHK and Three
            Dialogues which are naturally interpreted this way.
            There is one oft-cited passage, but is it really
            compelling evidence for the continuity argument?
                                             (1) Continuity
Textual Evidence?

  In the Third Dialogue Hylas asks Philonous if he can
  conceive of the possibility that objects will continue to exist
  were he ‘annihilated’. The reply is:
       “I can; but then it must be in another mind. When I
       deny sensible things an existence out of the mind, I
       do not mean my mind in particular, but all minds.
       Now it is plain they have an existence exterior to my
       mind, since I find them by experience to be
       independent of it.”
                                            (1) Continuity
Textual Evidence?

  “There is therefore some other mind wherein they exist, during
  the intervals between the times of my perceiving them: as
  likewise they did before my birth, and would do after my
  supposed annihilation.”
        Objection to this ‘evidence’: Berkeley had already
        presented versions of his novel argument for God (at
        PHK paras. 29-30 and para. 146)and in the Second
        So this is not strong textual evidence for attributing the
        Continuity Argument to Berkeley.
                                      (1) Continuity
Another Problem

  Why assume continuity?
     What grounds does Berkeley have for the third
     premise of the argument?
          objects exist when humans are not perceiving
     Is an idealist entitled (or obliged) to assume
          As Bennett says, Berkeley seems ‘indifferent’
          to the issue of continuity in his other work.
                               (1) Continuity
The Greatest Problem
  Failure of Uniqueness
     The continuity argument would show, if
     the premises are accepted, that there
     are perceivers other than humans (finite
     It does not show there is a single other,
     non-human spirit who perceives all
     things. There could be many.
     Thus, it is far too weak/vague to
     establish Christian monotheism.
(1) The continuity argument

      Argument moves from assumption that objects must continue
      to exist when unperceived (object permanence) to conclusion
      that there must be an infinite mind who perceives them.
            Textual - proofs occur before ‘evidence’
            Continuity? - Berkeley seems indifferent elsewhere.
            Uniqueness - why must there be one God?
(2) The Passivity Argument

1. Ideas of sense come into my mind without being
   caused by any act of my will.
2. The occurrence of any idea must be caused by the will
   of some being in whose mind the idea occurs.
3. Therefore, my ideas of sense are in the mind of, and
   caused by the will of, some being other than myself.
   The Passivity Argument was proposed by Bennett (1965,
                                         (2) Passivity

      It avoids assuming the continued existence of objects
      not perceived by humans, the obvious defect of the
      Continuity Argument.
      Better textual support.
      We have to accuse Berkeley of equivocation.
                                              (2) Passivity


  What is the justification for premise 2 (that ideas must be
  caused by minds)?
  Berkeley wrote:
       “Those things which are called the works of Nature, that
       is, the far greater part of the ideas or sensations
       perceived by us, are not produced by, or dependent on
       the wills of men. There is therefore some other spirit that
       causes them, *since it is repugnant that they should
       subsist by themselves*.”
                                                     (2) Passivity

   “Berkeley frequently uses ‘depend’ and its cognates to express relations
   between ideas and minds or spirits.” (Bennett, LBH p. 166)
   But there is an ambiguity in the meaning of ‘depends’, which explains why
   B. arrives at premise 2 (i.e. he confuses these two different senses of
         Uncontentious reading: ideas do depend upon minds/spirits in the
         sense that there cannot be an idea without a mind which has it.
         Contentious reading: ideas depend causally upon minds/spirits.
                                                   (2) Passivity
Another Problem

  The first premise (Ideas of sense come into my mind without being
  caused by any act of my will) seems to imply a distinction between:
       ‘Ideas of sense’, i.e. perceptions of the real world (which are not
       under Berkeley’s own control)
       other ideas originating in the imagination (which are).
  Passive occurrence of ideas seems to be taken as a criterion for
       The real world = ideas you can’t help having.
  But what about dreams and hallucinations?
                                      (2) Passivity
The Biggest Problem

  Failure of Uniqueness! (again)
      As stated, the passivity argument only yields the
      conclusion that:
      There are some non-human spirits which either
      perceive objects when humans do not
      (Continuity), or which cause ideas in my mind
      That falls short of establishing monotheism.
      There could be very many such spirits!
(2) The passivity argument

      Argument moves from assumption that ideas come into my mind
      against my will to conclusion that there must be an infinite mind
      who causes them to do so.
            Equivocation - is uncharitable to Berkeley.
            Dreams & Hallucinations - also passive, but not real, why
            Uniqueness - again, does not get you Christian
(3) The Shared Reality Argument

   To fix the Failure of Uniqueness problem, George
   Botterill suggests a different interpretation:
      Two Main Features:
            Berkeley’s argument is an Inference to the
            Best Explanation.
            It explains why he moves so freely between
            First Person Singular and First Person
(3) The Shared Reality Argument

 1. Our ideas of the sensible world are not caused by any act of
    our wills (because perception is passive).
 2. The occurrence of any idea must be caused by the will of
    some spirit.
 3. Our ideas are intricately co-ordinated in a harmonious and
    reliable way, so as to enable us to perceive a common reality.
 4. Therefore, our ideas of sense are caused by the will of an
    incomprehensibly great and omniscient spirit.
                                                  (3) Shared Reality

How Shared Reality Differs

   The argument is not deductively valid
   It is an inference to the best explanation, which fixes the problem of
   uniqueness (the best explanation is ONE omnipotent being).
   Botterill maintains “it is about as strong as an inference to the best
   explanation could be if [the existence of] material objects [is] denied.”
   In other words non-idealists have an alternative explanation of the co-
   ordination of our sensory experiences:
         They are caused by perception of *the same physical objects*.
   But if idealism were accepted, Berkeley’s argument would be compelling.
                                         (3) Shared Reality


  Even Botterill considers there to be a problem with this
  While Berkeley might have a good argument to the existence
  of God from idealism - a strong inference to the best
  explanation, which assumes matter does not exist.
  What he lacks is adequate justification for believing in other
  minds like his own.
  So he does not really have a defence against scepticism.
Lecture Summary

  The Continuity Argument
        God’s existence follows from the fact that objects continue to exist
        Problems: textual evidence (too little, too late!), indifference, uniqueness
  The Passivity Argument
        God’s existence follows from the fact that something other than me causes my
        Problems: equivocation/charity, dreams & hallucinations, uniqueness
  Botterill’s ‘Shared Reality Argument’
        God’s existence is the best explanation for our experiencing a shared reality.
        Problem: Berkeley doesn’t seem to be entitled to assume that other minds exist
        that share that reality.

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