Talk:George Berkeley

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"Theoretical Starting Principles"[edit]

IMO, this section is really bad. I'm not sure why there is a section like this at all, and none of the things included in it are things Berkeley himself lists as his main principles. Anyway, I'm just deleting it, but here's the text of it in case anyone feels the need to put it back. (talk) 01:11, 20 February 2011 (UTC)

Allegedly, Berkeley stated that individuals cannot think or talk about an object's being, but rather think or talk about an object's being perceived by someone. That is, individuals cannot know any "real" object or matter "behind" the object as they perceive it, which "causes" their perceptions. He thus concluded[citation needed] [1] that all that individuals know about an object is their perception of it.

Allegedly under his theory, the object a person perceives is the only object that the person knows and experiences. If individuals need to speak at all of the "real" or "material" object, the latter in particular being a confused term that Berkeley sought to dispose of, it is this perceived object to which all such names should exclusively refer.

To some, this possibly raises the question whether this perceived object is "objective" in the sense of being "the same" for fellow humans. In fact, is the concept of "other" human beings, beyond an individual's perception of them, valid? Berkeley argued that since an individual experiences other humans in the way they speak to him—something that is not originating from his own activity—and since he learns that their view of the world is consistent with his, he can believe in their existence and in the world being identical or similar for everyone.

It follows that[citation needed]:

  1. Any knowledge of the world is to be obtained only through direct perception.
  2. Error comes about through thinking about what individuals perceive.
  3. Knowledge of the world of people, things and actions around them may be purified and perfected merely by stripping away all thought, and with it language, from their pure perceptions.

From this it follows that:

  1. The ideal form of scientific knowledge is obtained by pursuing pure de-intellectualized perceptions.
  2. If individuals pursue these, we can obtain the deepest insights into the natural world and the world of human thought and action available to man.
  3. The goal of all science, therefore, is to de-intellectualize or de-conceptualize, and thereby purify, human perceptions.

As for Berkeley’s nominalism, see:

Relying, on the one hand, on extreme nominalism (and thus challenging the authority of Thomas Aquinas, who asserted moderate realism in Christianity), and on the other, on a one-sided interpretation of Locke's sensualism, he [Berkeley] considered the concept of matter to be general and therefore false. // Alexander Spirkin; Sergei Syrovatkin (translator) (1990), Fundamentals of Philosophy., Moscow: Progress Publishers, ISBN 5-01-002582-5  First published in 1988, as “Основы философии” 

Berkeley had already constructed a nominalist system of idealism in which such concepts as 'matter' and 'substance' were no more than names, because there were no universal essences. //

Oizerman T.I. The main Trends in Philosophy. A Theoretical Analysis of the History of Philosophy. Moscow, 1988, p. 268.

As for Berkeley’s phenomenalism, I can provide a lot of Russian sources, but they are not suitable for the English article, of course. Being too idle to go into details, I limited myself to using the template “see also.” As for the rest of the deleted section, I don’t see any reason for putting it back. Why restore the text violating the WP rules? --Solus ipse Inc. (talk) 11:52, 7 March 2011 (UTC)

Precursor of Leibniz?[edit]

I don't have the text cited in connection with this in the intro, but Leibniz was dead by 1721 when De Motu was published, so it can't very well have been a 'precursor' to his views. (Quite the reverse: some of Berkeley's thoughts are probably based on the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.) For now, I will just remove Leibniz from that list. kpearce (talk) 00:11, 20 February 2011 (UTC)


The university now called University of California, Berkeley was created (and named) before the city Berkeley; in fact, the presence of the university was originally the only reason for the existence of the town. I rewrote the "The city of Berkeley, California was named after him..." sentence to match this. —jtoomim

I'm somewhat confused here. The University of California was founded next to Oakland, California, and they named the town it was founded in (which did not really exist as much of a town for quite awhile) after Bishop Berkeley. However that location later became only one site in a larger UC system, and hence became named University of California, Berkeley, while University of California now refers to the entire system. Which is to say, I think the current formulation is a little off but I'm not sure of a graceful way to correct it -- the city is named after him, the University is now named after the city, even though the University created the city. Which confuses me just to think about it, so maybe it is fine the way it is... --Fastfission 22:48, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
To attempt to clarify: the University of California, Berkeley was not directly named after George Berkeley. Founders of the University of California named the area in which it was located "Berkeley" and it was not until much later, when the University of California expanded into a multi-campus system, that the name of the original University of California was changed to the University of California, Berkeley to correspond with the new University of California naming system of placing the name of the city in which a campus is located after "University of California."

Hmm. Possible copyright violation from See the "picture text" which appears to be a cut-and-paste from the web site.

OK, with the picture link removed, this pages passes the Google test. Copyright panic over.

Wouldn't it be that case that a painting of the man would be in the public domain, and hence any picture of such a painting would also be in the public domain? INALBIPOOTI and I can't see that there would be any problem in copying and using the picture at for example


Am I right in thinking he was a bishop? Shouldn't we mention this somewhere? (If he is that Bishop Berkeley, Boswell reports that when he admired Berkeley's "irrefutable" proof of the non-existence of matter, Samuel Johnson cried "I refute it thus!" and kicked a nearby rock very hard...)

He was a bishop. Unfortunately, the article seems to be almost entirely a desription of his philosophical ideas, and has very little about his life. I think it would be better to have a whole separate article about his philosophical ideas, and have the main article as a more biographical one, with brief summaries of his philosophical ideas as and when they crop up in his life. Unfortunately I don't know enough about the man to do this myself, so I'm not really being very helpful here! I might do some research later... maybe... -- Oliver P. 11:51 Feb 3, 2003 (UTC)
I don't think we should split the page, unless there's a recognized name for his theory of the nonexistence of matter, in which case we could have a page on that. A single page can easily contain biography and ideas: Immanuel Kant for instance. We do need more biographical information, though. Maybe I'll do some research too... maybe... Mswake 12:15 Feb 3, 2003 (UTC)
Okay, fair enough. I suppose there's no point in having a separate page on his ideas if they don't fit into some specifically named theory, so I hereby retract my proposal to split the page up! -- Oliver P. 12:21 Feb 3, 2003 (UTC)

Move to talk page from article by Evercat:

Discussion (to be rendered into tighter prose?):

You see a redwood tree. Ha! It's only there while you're looking at it. It was only an image in the mind of God, which the Almighty let you hallucinate on.

In response to the old riddle, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound?," Berkeley would reply that if no one were there, the tree wouldn't be there.

This is eerily similar to recent theoretical physics notion that mass does not exist.

As Bob Dylan sang about dreams, "It's all in your head."

Moved to talk page from article:

This is the essence and starting point of Berkeley's basic philosophy. Unfortunately, this doctrine is completely ignored by virtually all scholars today since there is not one who actually takes Berkeley seriously in the sense of approving of his precise philosophical principles as forming a legitimate method for pursuing scientific knowledge.
Yet without a firm grasp of these principles, it is impossible to render an accurate account of Berkeley's ideas or successfully apply them in any scientific enterprise.

I don't think this should be considered neutral or could be verified. Without further explanation it isn't very relevant either. DrZ 20:43 3 Jun 2003 (UTC)

From above: "In response to the old riddle, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound?," Berkeley would reply that if no one were there, the tree wouldn't be there."

Berkeley was not concerned with what effect, if any, our presence has on reality. He was concerned with whether our perception of what we take to be reality somehow creates or colors that reality. Whether anyone was around when the tree fell would be irrelevant to the question of whether anyone perceived the falling tree (i.e., one can imagine a person in the forest, yet asleep during the movement of the tree). The interesting fact, for the empiricist, is not that we can be around, but that we can be aware. C d h (talk) 04:29, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

Religion and mathematics

"Berkeley's intention seems to have been to defend religion by showing that the foundations of natural philosophy were equally weak"

There was certainly a relationship between BB's writings on the calculus and his views of religion, but this statement makes a hash of it. He thought the foundations of Christianity much stronger than those of Newtonian science, not "equal" to them in any way. I'll rewrite this passage. --Christofurio 18:35, May 8, 2004 (UTC)


The article slips into the first-person at points. The article needs to be changed to be completely in the third-person.

Book ref[edit]

An anon recently added this book ref into the lead para

Study Guide:

This looks like a Penguin study guide to the Principles and Three Dialogues, however it would be better in a 'further reading' section. Unfortunately I couldn't find the ISBN number to reference it properly. - Solipsist 08:07, 29 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Contributions to Philosophy[edit]

(A side note, I think much of this section is completely incorrect.) -- User: 23:25, 3 Apr 2005

Would you deign to enlighten everyone as to how it is completely incorrect? 14:01, 15 September 2005 (UTC)Bruce Partington

I am not sure if this is the correct place to say this, and if it is not, please let me know. The "theology" section that asserts that Berkeley's philosophy leads to solipsism is unconvincing, contains weasel words, and comes across as biased, so I intend to delete it.


Could someone talk about how his main philosophy compares with Descartes' "I think, therefore I am"? J. Crocker 19:09, September 1, 2005 (UTC)

You are in luck. Schopenhauer, in his "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real," wrote about Descartes. He said that he "...was the first to bring to our consciousness the problem whereon all philosophizing has mainly turned, namely that of the ideal and the real. This is the question concerning what in our knowledge is objective and what is subjective, and hence what eventually is to be ascribed by us to things different from us and what is to be attributed to ourselves. Thus in our head images arise not arbitrarily, as it were, from within, nor do they proceed from the connection of ideas; consequently, they arise from an external cause. But such images alone are what is immediately known to us, what is given. Now what relation may they have to things which exist quite separately from and independently of us and which somehow become the cause of those images? Are we certain that such things generally exist at all, and in this case do the images give us any information as to their nature?" "He was struck by the truth that we are above all restricted to our own consciousness and that the world is given to us only as representation or mental picture. Through his well known 'dubito, cogito, ergo sum' (I doubt, that is to say, I think, therefore I am), he tried to lay stress on the only certain thing of subjective consciousness in contrast to the problematical nature of everything else, and to express the great truth that self-consciousness is the only thing really and unconditionally given. "...Berkeley consistently went farther on this path of the Cartesians, and thus became the originator of the proper and true idealism, that is, of the knowledge that what is extended in and fills space, and thus the world of intuitive perception generally, can have its existence as such absolutely only in our representation, and that it is absurd and even contradictory to attribute to it, as such, another existence outside all representation and independently of the knowing subject, and accordingly to assume a matter existing in itself." 18:42, 7 September 2005 (UTC)Bruce Partington

Did Berkeley's addiction to tar water have anything to do with his being Irish? It is possible that a nutritional deficiency in the soil of Ireland has resulted in a need for the inhabitants to crave malt, barley, and hops. These are the ingredients of alcoholic drinks. There may also be a similar thirst for the components of tar water, just as deer need their salt lick. 01:56, 8 September 2005 (UTC)Bruce Partington

Many of the paradoxes of science, especially quantum theory, are the result of not understanding Berkeley. Are scientists directly experiencing objects? No. They are directly experiencing the sensations of electromagnetic radiation that reflect off of objects. Objects are then suggested to their minds by those sensations. Scientists spurn philosophy and, as a result, enjoy their paradoxes. 12:01, 8 September 2005 (UTC)Bruce Partington

Knowledge, not Existence[edit]

Berkeley's treatise concerned the principles of human knowledge, not the principles of absolute being. He asserted that we can directly know only our sensations and ideas, not abstractions such as matter and mind. Berkeley did not make claims about what exists external to the mind, as is commonly thought. He thought that whatever possibly exists other than our sensations and ideas is nothing to us. 13:15, 11 September 2005 (UTC)Bruce Partington

Original research[edit]

This article seems to contain a significant amount of original research. For example:

Immanuel Kant mischaracterized Berkeley as a radical idealist and falsely claimed that Berkeley's principles make objective knowledge impossible.

More later. --causa sui talk 11:25, 24 September 2005 (UTC)

Philosophical Empiricism.[edit]

I changed "bills of slave" to "bills of sale." I've never heard of bills of slave and did a quick Google, and still didn't find anything, and bills of sale seems to fit far better. On the other hand, that's been there awhile, so maybe I'm just crazy. Apologies if this was incorrect.

I also rewrote the philosophical debate after the limerick somewhat. Johnson's position was somewhat straw manned in the original phrasing, I think, so I've tried to be a little fairer to both sides rather than simply blankly stating that Johnson was mistaken. (If it fit with the flow better, I'd have a counter-counter-response, where proponents of objective reality would point out that in an amazing coincidence, these collective hallucinations behave in extremely regular ways, also known as "science." But this is an article on Berkeley not why Berkeley is wrong, so I figured it'd be best to leave it out for now.) SnowFire 21:57, 13 March 2006 (UTC)

Ben Johnson and the kicking of the rock[edit]

I havn't ever edited a wikipedia page, so I am reluctant to do it myself, but perhaps someone would care to change this... The discussion of Johnson's rock kicking seems to exhibit a gross misunderstanding of Berkeley.

For Berkeley, there is no skepticism about whether the rock is there or whether the sensation of kicking was caused by some contrived situation of arthritis. Berkeley did belive the rock was real; it was real because it was an idea in the mind of God, who causes perceptions and ideas to come upon our conciousness in an orderly manner. See Principles of Human Knowledge, Part 1, section 32-33... it states "The ideas imprited on the sense by the author of nature are called real things, and those exicted in the imagination, being less regular, vivid and constant, are more propertly termed ideas, or images of things which they copy and present."


Luke, It was Samuel Johnson, not Ben.

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the alacrity with which [Samuel] Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, - "I refute it thus "

— James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, ÆTAT 54.

Of course, everything that Samuel Johnson's mind directly experienced was an idea (mental picture) or sensation in his mind. Whatever was outside of his mind had to be inferred. And he didn't experience any general sensation of idea of matter or substance.Lestrade 13:24, 4 May 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

The Pronounciation of Berkeley[edit]

Giving a single Irish pronounciation of 'Berkeley' obscures the fact that there are two distinct ways in which the word is pronounced. The IPA given for Irish English produces BARKley (as in 'woof woof'), a pronounciation associated with a certain genteel class in Ireland. Most Irish people say BERKley (as in 'a fool'). Does anyone have the skills to render that in IPA on the article page? Thanks.

Does "a certain genteel class in Ireland" mean gradtuates of Trinity College Dublin? And is the anonymous author a graduate of University College Dublin? MnJWalker 23:19, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

Human, all-too human[edit]

Here we have a philosopher who presents us with one of the most startling thoughts to ever occur in a mind. This is the thought that everything can only be mere appearance to our minds. We don't know matter or substance. We only directly and immediately know mental images or the content of our mind. External objects appear to us, in the way that they appear, as a result of the way that our sense organs and nervous system are constituted. Berkeley's way of thinking can only be shared by deep reflection and by separating out or analyzing the way that we perceive objects. Instead of discussing this new, amazing, and very difficult thought, which is commonly misunderstood and ridiculed, Wikipedia typically concerns itself instead with the pronunciation of his name, where he was born, what was named after him, if he owned slaves, where he was raised, and what references are made to him in today's popular culture.Lestrade 13:16, 18 May 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Exactly - I'm not for whitewashing anything, but is the emphasis on his views on slaves (presented completely outside their historical context - by the standards of his time, Berkeley was not necessarily an inhumane man) really proportionate? Thomas Ash 12:03, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

Additions yesterday[edit]

I've moved Kingofthemorning's additions to a place in the article where they seemed to make more sense in context, and tidied up spelling, grammar and structure. I'm not vouching for their being an accurate summary of Berkeley's argument. --ajn (talk) 10:41, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

Is there any specific reason against having summaries of Berkely's arguments? Is there an different article devoted to his views that I haven't heard of/couldn't find?Kingofthemorning 04:11, 19 August 2006 (UTC)

There's no reason why Berkeley's arguments shouldn't be summarised. But I really would appreciate it if you'd run your prose through a spelling and grammar checker before inserting it anywhere - spelling the name of the philosopher incorrectly doesn't give a very good impression, nor does persistently confusing "their" and "there". I moved the two paragraphs because they had nothing to do with the text above them (which they purported to clarify). --ajn (talk) 08:57, 21 August 2006 (UTC)


The New Encyclopedia Britannica 2007 Micropædia article on Berkeley calls him "the precursor of Mach and Einstein." Berkeley's claim that objects exist as they are only in relation to an observing subject is the basis of relativity. With Berkeley's Idealism, no object exists as it is in itself, apart from an observing subject.Lestrade 18:10, 8 November 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

George Berkeley's Info Box[edit]

I noticed there was something lacking about George Berkeley’s info box, so I added a notable ideas section and changed his interests from idealism and empiricism to metaphysics, epistemology, language, mathematics and perception. Idealism and empiricism were his schools of thought, not his interests.

The reasons for why I listed what I did as his main interests are the following: in the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley expounds an ontology in which everything is either a subject or an idea within a subject: thus metaphysics; within the preface of the same treatise, Berkeley states that the objective of his work is to demonstrate that certain problems are caused by principles which are themselves caused by the misuse of human reason: thus epistemology; in the same preface, he analyses language and develops a nominalist theory of language which is important for his metaphysics and epistemology: thus language; Berkeley wrote a famous critique of calculus: thus mathematics; and finally, Berkeley also wrote a controversial book on vision: thus perception.

If any of my edits to the info box are misguided, feel free to point them out and edit them. I had considered putting nominalism in his notable ideas section, next to subjective idealism, but a type of nominalism had already been developed by William of Ockham. Should I have added it to the notable ideas section anyway? Le vin blanc 03:53, 1 October 2007 (UTC)

ghosts of departed quantities[edit]

What I recall from my calculus days is that Bishop Berkeley criticized the founders of infinitesimal calculus in the colorful terms mentioned in the subject headline. Perhaps this could be mentioned in the article. He was of course referring to the impossibility of division by zero. Katzmik (talk) 12:13, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

The Analyst controversy[edit]

This section discusses Berkeley's critique of the infinitesimal calculus and then jumps right to A. Robinson's development of non-standard analysis, with no mention whatsoever, even in passing, of the rigorous development of calculus by Cauchy with the epsilon-delta definition; —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:07, 8 June 2009 (UTC)

George Berkley (engineer)[edit]

Hi, I recently created George Berkley (engineer). Ideally this article would be located at George Berkley so that people typing in his name will get the article. This is currently a redirect to George Berkeley. There are currently no links to this redirect and I have placed a hatnote at Berkley to provide a link to Berkeley for anyone who misspells the name. With that in mind does anybody object to me requesting a move for this purpose? Cheers - Dumelow (talk) 16:16, 2 December 2008 (UTC)

I think your plan is the appropriate solution. ~ Alcmaeonid (talk) 14:19, 3 December 2008 (UTC)
OK, I have requested a move. Procedure says that anyone with any objections should discuss it at Talk:George Berkley (engineer). Cheers - Dumelow (talk) 09:16, 4 December 2008 (UTC)
Discussion is at Talk:George Berkley (engineer)#Requested move. --Una Smith (talk) 16:39, 4 December 2008 (UTC)

Berkeley and Lem[edit]

I don’t think my remarks concerning the relation between Stanisław Lem’s story and Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous have anything to do with original research. I suggested them after the reference to Lem’s story had been removed as allegedly having nothing in common with Berkeley’s outlook on the world. Had I inserted the reference again, it would have become edit warring. That was why I explained the expediency of mentioning Lem in a talk on Berkeley. I can’t provide any references to reliable sources, apropos of that. But in this case they’re needless, I think. My brief explanation seemingly does not contain a single original idea, let alone research. While defending a Slav Wikipedist’s revision, I limited myself simply to indicating similarities that were quite obvious.--Solus ipse Inc., ca. the 3rd millennium A.D.

Does the article need tagging?[edit]

It was an idea of mine to add this template to the article just because I myself contributed to the latter. Being quite aware of my Broken English, I considered tagging to be my duty. While developing the article, other Wikipedists corrected my grammar errors. Hence tagging seems to be needless now. But I mayn’t remove the template myself because I don’t know English so well as to evaluate the article’s English. So I’d like to apply to native speakers of English who develop this article. If its English is correct now, then the template can make a false impression on the readers.--Solus ipse Inc. (talk) 10:42, 12 April 2011 (UTC)

Copyedit done. --Greenmaven (talk) 03:20, 1 January 2012 (UTC)

contradiction is fine in the real, but not on wikipedia...[edit]

the first paragraph of this article tell the reader that, "Thus, as Berkeley famously put it, for physical objects "esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived")."

the section headed "Contributions to Philosophy" reads "Incidentally, this claim is fundamentally different from the claim, sometimes inaccurately attributed to Berkeley, that to be is to be perceived (esse est percipi)."

i don't know whether or not berkeley said/wrote this and even if i did, i haven't ever edited in wikipedia before and am not sure how to even begin.

this is my first time participating in wikipedia, with an attempt to bring this to the attention of someone who can find the accurate information and delete that which is inaccurate.

i hope i'm doing this correctly and, if not, i ask pardon. thank you. Wlczmwpjr (talk) 22:57, 14 March 2012 (UTC)

Your comment is perfectly correct. It could be that both pages are fine. If the attribution of "esse est precipi" to Berkeley as common, we are justified in citing it here without being overly worried about its correctness (the goal of wiki is verifiability, not truth). If the other claim is sourced at "contributions to philosophy", that's also appropriate. Tkuvho (talk) 13:37, 15 March 2012 (UTC)


There is something seriously wrong with Wikipedia's system of indexing [even aside from the fact that you can't search for "surname, first name"] that you cannot go directly to this page without knowing Berkeley's first name was George, but have to search through a list of relatively obscure persons named Berkeley and then the only way to spot is if you know he was a bishop. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:10, 11 October 2015 (UTC)

Treatise and Three Dialogues[edit]

In the intro, it sounds like Three Dialogues was a rewrite of the poorly-received Treatise, whereas in the Ireland section, it sounds like they're two completely different works, the one named Treatise having been well-received. Someone with more knowledge of the two works, please clarify.

Mrgate3 (talk) 16:28, 25 May 2016 (UTC)

  1. ^ See Thomas Reid’s criticism of the doctrine of ideas, “a hypothesis, which is ancient indeed” (Reid T. “Inquiry into the Human Mind,” Dedication). This “hypothesis” was described by T. Reid in the following way:

    For instance, we do not see the sun immediately, but an idea … in our own minds. This idea is said to be the image, the resemblance, the representative of the sun, if there be a sun. It is from the existence of the idea that we must infer the existence of the sun. But the idea, being immediately perceived, there can be no doubt, as philosophers think, of its existence. (“Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” II:XIV)

    According to Reid,

    This is the foundation on which the whole [Berkeley’s] system rests. … Supposing this principle to be true, Berkeley's system is impregnable. (“Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” II:X)