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Example Masters Philosophy Essay To Conceive of an Object


Example Masters Philosophy Essay To Conceive of an Object

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									                                  Example Masters Philosophy Essay

 ‘To Conceive of an Object Existing Unconceived or Unthought of is a Manifest Repugnancy’ Is it?

         The above claim is the key tenet of Berkeley’s arguments against the notion of material
substance in the Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. The Lockean notion of
material objects that Berkeley is attacking holds that material objects can exist independent of any
mind, and it is this facet of Lockean Material Objects (hereafter LMO’s) that Berkeley attempts to
show is incoherent in the argument that leads to the above claim. I will argue that Berkeley is not
entitled to claim that ‘to conceive of an object existing unconceived’ is a ‘manifest repugnancy’ – by
which I take Berkeley to mean an incoherent notion – as in drawing this conclusion he misses a
crucial ambiguity in the expression ‘what is conceived’ that leads his conclusion to be based on a
scope error.

         LMO’s were argued to have existence independent both of the perceiver’s mind and any
mind, and thus must be shown at minimum not to exist and preferably to be an incoherent concept
if Berkeley is to maintain his principle: ‘esse ist percipi’. Berkeley argues that the notion of LMO’s is
incoherent as we can have no conception of an object that exists without a mind, which exists
independent of whether a mind conceives it. His argument proceeds as follows:

        1) You can conceive of an object X, which is not perceived by anyone.
        2) But in order to do so, you must yourself think, that is conceive of, X.
        3) But then X is just an idea in your mind, and you have thus failed to conceive of an object
           existing without the mind
        4) Therefore you cannot conceive of any object X existing unconceived, and thus it is
           incoherent to suppose that LMO’s exist without the mind.

On the surface this appears to be a persuasive case against LMO; the sentence ‘conceiving a thing
existing unconceived’ does appear internally contradictory. Berkeley has moved from the coherent
sentence: a) X is a thing not perceived by anyone, and Y conceives of X; to the incoherent sentence
b) X is a thing not conceived of by anyone, and Y conceives of X. But is this straight substitution of
conceived for perceived the correct move to make? In doing so Berkeley ignores the coherent
phrase: c) Y conceives of X, as a thing, ‘not conceived of by anyone’, which is a way of formulating
‘conceiving a thing existing unconceived’ that is not a manifest repugnancy. The reason we seem to
be able to form both coherent and incoherent formulations of ‘conceiving a thing existing
unconceived’ is that there is significant ambiguity in the meaning of ‘what is conceived’. In the three
dialogues, Philonous asserts that: ‘What is conceived is surely in the mind’, but within the mind
‘what is conceived’ can refer to what is conceived of or what one conceives with, i.e. the distinction
between what an idea is of and the idea itself. Berkeley construes ‘what is conceived’ in the latter
sense, under which he is entitled to draw his formulation. For it is true that an idea of X that a
person conceives is something that exists in his mind and thus would not exist independent of the
person conceiving it. But under the former sense Berkeley ought to draw the coherent formulation,
for what the idea is an idea of (i.e. X) will not necessarily be something that exists in the person who
has the idea’s mind.
         In construing ‘what is conceived’ in the latter sense, Berkeley is in error, for clearly in that
sense the argument does not show what he wants it to show. It is not the idea of X existing
independent of the mind being incoherent that Berkeley needs to show – indeed this is something
Locke readily accepts – but X itself. But to draw that conclusion he must construe ‘what is conceived’
in the former sense, but in that sense it does not lead to his conclusion.

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