« PreviousContinue »
Berkeley (though not in express terms) did call in question this truthfulness of God. He would not take into account as real that perfection of Deity which we postulate in accepting the reliable character of the teachings of consciousness as to the existence of an outward universe. “I agree in nothing with the Cartesians as to the existence of bodies and qualities," he had written in his Commonplace-Book. Now, in his treatise, he would prove that thought and existence are one and the same thing; that matter is not thought, and is therefore a name only; that personality is of the mind, is limited by mind, and in mind has its only place of actuality wherein "to be, to do, and to suffer;" that the domain of the perceiving and the perceivable, of the Subject and the Object-is intellect and intellect only; that the human mind cannot be transcended, for there is nothing outside it ; that the amplitudes of nature, the infinities of being, are really only mind and its ideas.
Lest he should be misunderstood as to the aim of his book, he assures us in the preface that what he is about to make known has, "after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed to him evidently true and not unuseful to be known, particularly to those who are tainted with scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul.” He does not seem to have been aware that his argument cut with most desolating effect in the other direction. However, we must give the Bishop credit for pious intentions, and will at least agree with him in one of his first statements here, namely, that it is indeed " a hard thing to suppose that
a right deductions from true principles should ever end in consequences which cannot be maintained or made consistent.” “ We should believe that God has dealt more bountifully with the sons of men than to give them a strong desire for that knowledge which He had placed quite out of their reach.” The Bishop was of opinion that the fault of our misconceptions lay entirely with ourselves : “ we had raised a dust, and then complained we could not see." One would fancy that in the true light there would be the least dust where there was the farthest seeing in all directions : but patience !
Berkeley had been strengthened in his idealism by Père Malebranche's “Quest of Truth,” and soon after the publication of his own work on Human Knowledge, the young Irishman went abroad, and while in France paid a visit to this Father Malebranche. With customary audacity and an expansiveness altogether national, the traveller would have the Frenchman conform to the newest transcendentalisin. The old man of seventy-six he had found in a cell, cooking, in a pipkin, some medicine required for his diseased lungs. Calm converse was desirable; irritation dangerous. But the war of words soon began, and the pipkin was straightway neglected. The contest was one of Gael and Celt; the argument that of abstractions. The result was a melancholy one. Our impetuous young islander so harassed, confused, and agitated the venerable Father of the Oratory, that the malady under which the latter laboured was greatly aggravated by the way he had been compelled to refine, define, subtilize, and gesticulate ; thus he had to betake himself to his pallet, and in a few days later die there, a victim of idealism in its cruellest reality. Berkeley returned home, and wrote other books bearing more or less upon his victorious philosophy. He finds he is quickly growing famous. He gains favour in the highest circles of society, and soon wins substantial promotion in the Church.
After many vicissitudes, governmental benefactions, and disappointments, Berkeley, in his old age, settled down with his family at Oxford, in the year 1752. He would occasionally go up to the metropolis, now so near ; Dr. Johnson was at this time at home in the great city, and was penning his entertaining “Ramblers" for every Tuesday and Saturday; Swedenborg was also there, busy with the middle volumes of the “ Arcana Cælestia.”. It is probable the three men never met, but in the fact of the possibility of such a meeting, we may imagine the foreigner looking on with no little interest as burly Samuel Johnson takes to task the now celebrated Bishop of Cloyne respecting a theory at length so widely talked about, so generally admired, so little believed in. The conversation has not lasted long when “Dictionary Johnson” finds there is no room for his pompous phrases—the field is the Bishop of Cloyne's.
“ It is evident to any one who takes a survey of the objects of his knowledge," says he, “that these objects are either ideas actually (1) imprinted on the senses; or else such as are (2) perceived by attending to the passion and operation of the mind; or lastly, ideas (3) formed by the help of memory and imagination, either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways. Such is the objective field of mentality: now for the subjective, discriminating power. Besides that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises divers operations, as willing
imagining, remembering about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call mind, spirit, or myself; by which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, ucherein they exist, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived ” (Prin. Hum. Kn. i. $$ 1 and 2).
Here Swedenborg would notice there was confusion as well as distinction. To speak of the object existing in the subject is not the same as to speak of the subject by which the object is perceived. Nevertheless he will wait and see the drift by the next portion of the Bishop's argument, which is as follows :
“ The various sensations, or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (i.l., whatever objects they compose), cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them. The table I write on, I say, exists; i.e., I see and feel it, and if I were out of my study, I should say it existed, meaning thereby, that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it. There was an odour, i.e., it was smelled; there was a sound, i.e., it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all I can understand by these and the like impressions. For, as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percepi—their being is being perceived—nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them” (Ibid. § 3).
This statement was to meet the Doctor's difficulty about the “stump” and the “ departing friend ;” but we can imagine Johnson pressing the idealist for better arguments; the evidence, so far, is unsatisfactory, even if the reasons be irrefutable. Berkeley replies majestically, and with fullest assurance : “All the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth,-in a word, all those bodies which compose
the mighty frame of the world—have not any subsistence without a mind; there being (esse) is to be perceived or known; consequently, so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind, or in that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit; it being perfectly unintelligible, and involving all the absurdity of abstraction, to attribute to any single part of them an existence independent of a spirit. To be convinced of this, you need only reflect and try to separate in your own thoughts the being of a sensible thing from its being perceived” ($ 6).
Here the Doctor notices that the theory exhibits a fault. To the Berkeleyan mind there is the withoutness of other minds. It is spiritualism rather than idealism. There is a mental, peopled universe, suggestive of Dante's Paradiso, with pearly atmosphere, and minds as moving lights
“As in flame
As their eternal phases each impels” (viii. 20). “ It is the living world of human beings here in this London and elsewhere, with all which they inherit," answers Berkeley, who continues,—“Though we hold indeed the objects of sense to be nothing else but ideas which cannot exist unperceived, yet we may not hence conclude they have no existence except only while they are perceived hy us; since there may be some other spirit that perceives them, though we do not. Whenever bodies are said to have no existence without the mind, I would not be understood to mean this or that particular mind, but all minds whatsoerer. It does not therefore follow that bodies are annihilated and created every moment, or exist not at all during the intervals between our perception of them” (SS 8-22).
With sturdy Samuel such a vague and crippled outcome of so much philosophical preluding would be certain to provoke a smile and an unmistakable taunt of “ novators” and “nonsense.” Berkeley, nevertheless, would maintain his position that no disproof had been adduced; the taunt he would retaliate by a polite rejoinder: "He must surely be either very weak, or very little acquainted with the sciences, who shall reject a truth that is capable of demonstration, for no other reason than that it is newly known and is contrary to the prejudices of mankind. It is strictly a question of experience : seeing is believing.' What you call the empty forms and outside of things seem to me the very things themselves. We all therefore agree in this, that we perceive only sensible forms; but herein we differ: you will have them to be empty appearances, whilst I hold them to be real things. You do not trust your senses; I do. I take things as I find them, and call them by their names. “Substratum,' noumenon,' or so-called 'underlying reality,' I have no perception of, and therefore know nothing about. Let us stick to realities—the things seen. It is purely a
matter of evidence-in the mind. If you can give me logical satisfaction otherwise, do so, but let us not attempt the absurd. I am not for changing things into ideas, but rather ideas into things; since those immediate objects of perception, which according to you are only appearances of things, I take to be the real things themselves. It is for you to prove they are not such. If you can but conceive it possible for one extended moveable substance, or in general, for any one idea, or anything like an idea, to exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving it, I will readily give up the cause" ( 22).
“But," says Johnson, "surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees in a park, or books in a closet, and nobody by to perceive them." Berkeley answers, may
SO; there is no difficulty in it. But what is all this, I beseech you, more than framing in your mind certain ideas which you call books and trees, and at the same time omitting to frame the idea of any one perceiving thein? This only shows you have the power of imagining or framing ideas in your mind, but it does not show that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind. To make this out, it is necessary that you conceive them existing unperceived or unthonght of, which is a manifest repugnancy.
When we do our utmost to conceive the existence of external bodies, we are all the while only contemplating our own ideas" ($ 23).
“But,” says Johnson, in the desperation of inability," though the ideas themselves do not exist without the mind, yet
be things like them whereof they are copies or resemblances, which things exist without the mind, in an unthinking substance."
Berkeley answers : “An idea can be like nothing but an idea; a colour or figure can be like nothing but another colour or figure; and I ask whether those supposed originals or external things of which our ideas are said to be the pictures or representations, be themselves perceivable or no? If they are, then they are ideas, and we have gained our point; but if you say they are not, I appeal to any one, whether it be sense to assert a colour is like something which is invisible, or a thing hard or soft, like a thing which is intangible ?" (8 8).
Here Johnson, no nearer conviction, yet incapable of denying the truth of the arguments brought forward, suggests : “But although we might possibly have all our sensations without bodies, yet perhaps it may be thought easier to conceive and explain the manner of their