Of course, one might agree that Berkeley should have considered Euclidean geometry a useful fiction and still think that its postulates are idealizations of what we experience through touch rather than sight. Take as an example, the famous fifth postulate in its modern version (John Playfair, 1745) that in a plane containing both a line and external point, there is exactly one line through the point parallel to the first line. That there is at least one line can be “demonstrated” using straight edge and compass. The use of these tools undoubtedly requires a sense of touch, but, in addition, the intuitive power (again not necessarily the truth) of the second part of the postulate—that there is only one such line—should, if Berkeley is correct, be gained from tactile experience. Remember that Berkeley takes the properties we claim to see in the diagram to be arbitrary signs for what’s in truth revealed to touch. Yet direct touching seems unlikely to be fine-grained enough to give that result. Indirect touching, for example, tracing the boundaries of objects with a pencil or compass point, might work, but at present I know of no experiments with congenitally unsighted persons that test this. In any case, Berkeley’s theory of vision appears to imply (using a thought experiment more realistic than his speculation about a purely sighted being) that a community of rational never-sighted persons unaided by those with vision would create Euclidean geometry as an idealization of their tactile and kinesthetic experience.12 Again, this is simply because if (1) some postulates of classical geometry appear by sight to have the property of being self-evident, (2) geometry is not about the diagrams, and (3) properties we think possessed by the diagrams are in truth revealed to touch, then the blind community should find the postulates to be self-evident. However, I don’t think such a community would likely find the classical postulates to be self-evident (though I don’t know).13
I’ve argued elsewhere that even assuming Berkeley correctly identifies the origins of our apparently visual experience of space —that it results from an arbitrary but universal association of proper (immediate) visual sense data with immediate kinesthetic and tactile sense data—there could be new visual experiences, for example, of outness or spatial extension.14 These experiences can be properly ascribed to sight rather than thought of as simply reading tactile significata through visual signs, analogous (Berkeley thought) to reading through script to underlying meaning. True, I might imagine tracing my finger around the boundary of a drawn triangle, and to that extent my vision is informed by tactile experience. And it may well be true that like Berkeley’s purely sighted being, I couldn’t even “see” that triangle without experiences gained through touch. As Berkeley points out, I certainly couldn’t describe a line or a circle with a straight edge or compass. But it can be true as well that classical geometry is about properties (idealized) of the diagrams in Euclid’s treatise.15
I’ll close by briefly considering Margaret Atherton’s recent discussion of some of the passages in NTV dealt with here.16 In a kind of summary of her view Atherton comments, “If, as Berkeley has argued, the proper subject matter of geometry does not include what we see, then the geometric theory of vision is trying to solve a false or non-existent problem” (206). Although the argument may be valid, we can accept the conclusion and reject the premise. That premise is that the proper subject of geometry is not what we see. My view is that “the very ideas themselves being copied out and exposed to view upon paper” (NTV 150)—idealized by being subject for Berkeley to the Euclidean formalism—are in fact the proper subject matter of classical geometry; while it remains true that geometrical optics fails to account sufficiently for how we see distance. And that I think is Atherton’s major point.
Fictions in Berkeley:
From Epistemology to Morality
In the classical era, imagination garnered poor press: fooling the senses, perverting judgment, subverting reason, skewing social relations, and generally providing wrong ideas about the way things are; it was a faculty of which to beware. Occasionally it was recognized as not being entirely without value—Descartes, for example, insisted on its great usefulness as a figurational function in simplifying the work of the understanding in geometry. The traditional tendency in philosophy, though, was to denigrate imagination for its misleading nature and negative effects and to dwell on its limits as a faculty bound to the body. Indeed, its first function is to represent to the mind things previously perceived by the senses as images in their likeness. But as imagination has neither the same vividness nor the same order as sensation, it is potentially misleading, since in fact images look only approximately the same as their models. Above all, however, imagination was reproached to be potentially misleading for its second function, the creation of images or entire fictions bearing no relation whatsoever to reality, which made it dangerously capable of nourishing all manner of superstition and fantasy.
Within such a context, Berkeley’s conception of the imagination hardly seems original at first glance. But as I will propose, in its creative guidance of reason, imagination plays an important and distinctive role in Berkeley’s scientific, moral, and religious discussions. Rather than focusing solely on the representational character of imagination, then, I suggest that we attend also to the way in which Berkeley appeals to the imaginative aspects of reason itself. In this way, we can better appreciate the educational presuppositions of human freedom.
* * *
In the Principles [PHK], he refers to the usual two sides of the imagination, active and passive, as well as its necessary connection with perception:
It is evident to anyone who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses, or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind, or lastly ideas formed by help of memory and imagination, either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways.17
Berkeley presents imagination as being both the faculty that compounds ideas and the faculty that represents them, with such representations being only approximate likenesses or copies of perceived objects having no other source than experience itself, even if the productions of imagination may exceed the norms of that source. Nothing too original there.18 Likewise, in borrowing the example of comparing the difference between the liveliness of one’s sensible perception of the sun at noon versus the weaker and imagination of the sun at night, in PHK 26 Berkeley merely adopts the classical conception of imagination that Locke had conjured in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding:
For I ask anyone whether he be not invincibly conscious to himself of a different perception when he looks on the sun by day and thinks of it by night; when he actually tastes wormwood, or smells a rose, or only thinks on that savour or odour? We as plainly find the difference there is between any idea revived in our mind by our own memory, and actually coming into our minds by our senses, as we do between two distinct ideas.19
Being representational by nature, imagination would then seem to be quite limited on at least three accounts: first, it cannot go beyond what is furnished by the senses,20 such that the number of its possible ideas is restricted (compared to the number producible by God),21 and the loss of a sense (e.g., blindness) should only accentuate this limitation; second, it is limited in that its ideas must respect the requirements of logical coherence (no square circles, for example); and third, it cannot distinctly represent the thing in question—to use Bergson’s example, even though one might well have a seemingly neat and precise image of the Parisian Pantheon in one’s mind, one could still not count its columns. This is exactly how Berkeley responds to Molyneux (who had questioned him on this point) in a too-often ignored letter of 8 December 1709 that plainly shows how, relying on his reading of Descartes’ Meditations, Berkeley links imagination inherently to representation. Answering Molyneux’s first question about imagination as a representational faculty, Berkeley shows that
the ideas laid up in the imagination need not be images, strictly speaking, of what they represent. . . . When you recollect in your thoughts the idea of any house or city, for instance, ’tis certain that idea do’s very rudely resemble the thing it represents, and not in each circumstance accurately correspond with it.22
Regarding Molyneux’s second question (viz., concerning Descartes’ attempt in the sixth Meditation to demonstrate the imagination’s limits by referring to the impossibility of distinguishing the mental representation of a chiliagon from that of a myriagon), Berkeley agrees that the two ideas are indistinguishable. He argues, however, that we can speak about things of which we have no precise mental image, not (as Descartes claims) because the understanding has adequate ideas of them, but because (or at least insofar as) we can talk about things for which have words:
We may very well, and in my opinion often do, reason without ideas, but only the words used, being used for the most parts as letters in algebra, which, tho they denote particular quantities, yet every step do not suggest them to our thoughts, and for all that we may reason or perform operations intirly about them. Numbers we can frame no notion of beyond a certain degree, and yet we can reason as well about a thousand as about five, the truth on’t is numbers are nothing but names. Hence you may reason about a chiliagon with regard to the number of its sides and angles, tho the idea you have of it be not different from that of a figure of 999 sides. (W 8: 25-26)
If imagination is indeed a representational faculty (as it is for Descartes and Locke), there are limits to such representation. A given sensible quality may be imaginatively abstracted from a given perceived object—for example, one may imagine the color red without thinking of a cherry, but imagination cannot identify a general abstract idea of a quality of the sensible world.23 In this latter respect, the Berkeleian concept of imagination differs from that of Descartes and Locke; but in terms of its representational character, it is more or less traditional. For Berkeley, imagination plays a supplementary role to the understanding, notably in mathematics where it abets the work of reason;24 but reason has the final say in all matters that go beyond perception (as with the possibility of an absolute space without body—a question he tackles in De Motu).25 Like other modern thinkers, Berkeley notes that imaginary ideas are differentiated from sensible ideas based on their liveliness and coherence. As though to confirm how the immaterialist position on this point is by no means original, Philonous explains to Hylas in their third dialogue that
the ideas formed by the imagination are faint and indistinct; they have besides an entire dependence on the will. But the ideas perceived by sense, that is, real things, are more vivid and clear, and, being imprinted on the mind by a spirit distinct from us, have not a like dependence on our will. There is therefore no danger of confounding these with the foregoing: and there is as little of confounding them with the visions of a dream, which are dim, irregular, and confused. And though they should happen to be never so lively and natural, yet by their not being connected, and of a piece with the preceding and subsequent transactions of our lives, they might easily be distinguished from realities. In short, by whatever method you distinguish things from chimeras on your own scheme, the same, it is evident, will hold also upon mine.26
But in making all imaginary ideas dependent upon prior perceptions, immaterialism confers quite a special duty on the imagination, on two different levels. First, if to be is to perceive or to be perceived—if a thing’s existing rests on the fact of its being a mental perception or production—then the ideas produced by the imagination, insofar they are being perceived (by the mind), have a unique ontological status and are not merely reducible to fictions. On this point Berkeley is quite conscious of the novelty of his position, as evidenced in two successive remarks in his Notebooks:
You ask me whether the books are in the study now when no one is there to see them. I answer yes. You ask me, are we not in the wrong for imagining things to exist when they are not actually perceived by the senses. I answer no. The existence of our ideas consists in being perceived, imagined, thought on; whenever they are imagined or thought on, they do exist. Whenever they are mentioned or discoursed of, they are imagined and thought on; therefore you can at no time ask me whether they exist or no, but by reason of that very question they must necessarily exist. But say you then a chimaera does exist. I answer it doth in one sense, i.e. it is imagined. But it must be well noted that existence is vulgarly restrained to actual perception, and that I use the word existence in a larger sense than ordinary. (NB 472-73)
Second, if imagining presupposes some perception having preceded it, then material substance, which is never sense-perceptible, can never produce any image in the mind.27 It is within this analytical framework that one must understand Berkeley’s famous argument in the Principles which concludes that matter, being unimaginable, does not exist. Staying with the representative function of the imagination: the difference between materialism and immaterialism does not rest on the nature of the difference between sensible and imaginary ideas, but on the question of knowing to what ideas of things perceived outside the mind could refer. The materialist thinks that ideas refer to material objects, the existences of which are taken to be absolute, independent of all perception. Of course, Berkeley rejects this view because (for him) objects exist only insofar as they are perceived—that is, only where a mind thinks or imagines them (PHK 33):
But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than to imagine trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody by to perceive them. […] This therefore is nothing to the purpose: it only shows you have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind; but it doth not shew that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind: to make out this, it is necessary that you conceive them existing unconceived or unthought 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. (PHK 23; also DHP 200, 235)
Yet at this level there is still only a difference of degrees between Berkeley’s position and that of Descartes and Locke. The real difference involves Berkeley’s notion of the active side of the imagination: what makes its role essential for him is its creative power, not its representational one. He gives two important examples of this. In the first place, it is imagination, and not only reason, that Berkeley presents as the faculty by which humans are distinct as a species from other species of animal: the decisive difference is that humans can go beyond mere perception and join together ideas lacking any apparent causal connection, as with a horse and a horn joined together to make a unicorn, a being with no existence outside the mind.28 More broadly—and bearing witness to the richness of our interior lives—human beings are characterized above all by our prodigious capacity to associate and combine ideas far surpassing how they are found at the sensory level. Second, as the creative faculty that reveals genuine ontological freedom and a quasi-infinite capacity for invention,29 imagination, even more so than reason, brings us closer to God:
Why may we not conceive it possible for God to create things out of nothing. Certainly we ourselves create in some wise whenever we imagine. (NB 830)
If the human will is where Descartes found traces of the divine, Berkeley also assigns this role to the imagination, that faculty in which is witnessed our liberty by the strange fact that we are not reduced, as animals are, to forming ideas only of that which is perceived. In its freedom to depart from the spatial and temporal present, the human imagination is the faculty of forecasting and anticipating, and thus the source of both the happiness and the misery of human beings, since they are permanently subject to those imaginary ills and delights to which they imagine themselves subject. This permanent capacity for imagination, for projection into the future and recall of the past, constitutes a veritable mystery, as Berkeley recognizes, since the possibility of imagining is the possibility of effecting a rupture with the causal order of the physical world:
Mem: to enquire diligently into that strange mistery, viz., How it is that I can cast about, think of this or that man, place, action when nothing appears to introduce them into my thoughts when they have no perceivable connexion with the ideas suggested by my senses at the present. (NB 599)
This human capacity of imagining to our liking things that are totally disconnected from reality is an important element in favor of human freedom, something which we can feel but not prove, since, as Berkeley remarks in the last dialogue of Alciphron, its existence is impossible to prove demonstratively.30 The question is always what ought to be done with such liberty—and therein lies the great problem posed by imagination as a creative faculty. How is one to reckon with the fictions that one continuously produces and which make up a world of which oneself is the only master? How is the power of the imagination to be put, not in the service of the senses, which are forever trying to endear themselves to it, but in the service of reason?31
As such questions make clear, the Berkeleian conception of the imagination also necessarily raises questions of morality and education. Taking the tripartite division of the Platonic soul as his inspiration, Berkeley insists that the imagination must be put in the service of reason rather than of the senses, and that all manner of natural pleasure must be subordinated to those of a higher order:
As our parts open and display by gentle degrees, we rise from the gratifications of sense to relish those of the mind. In the scale of pleasure, the lowest are sensual delights, which are succeeded by the more enlarged views and gay portraitures of a lively imagination; and these give way to the sublime pleasures of reason, which discover the causes and designs, the frame, connexion, and symmetry of things, and fills the mind with the contemplation of intellectual beauty, order, and truth.32
But what are the pleasures of the imagination? To hear Berkeley put it, they are primarily those mental images that artists make use of, whether in order to suggest and captivate, as poets and rhetoricians deploy them, or to plan and create, as they are used by sculptors and architects.33 And in addition to having such pleasures of its own, imagination is also the only faculty to intensify the pleasures of the senses and reason, and to create further pleasures not inscribed in human nature (e.g., the love of money or glory). These latter are surely unnatural, since they do not correspond to either the desires of the body, which are easy enough to satisfy, or those of reason. Inversely, natural pleasures furnished by imagination can be condemned no more than can those of the senses, at least so long as the superiority of those furnished by the mind is acknowledged.34
This is why imagination has a significant role to play in science and philosophy, since it can provide audiences with images that help them better grasp the issues in question. Plato is the paradigmatic example of a philosopher who unites the creativity of the imagination with the vivacity of the intellect through his use of myths that steer readers toward truths they might otherwise never have grasped if the treatise had not been a dialogue rich in imagery.35 Imagination is also important to theology, for theologians as well can express and reveal Christian tenets with imagery and thereby convince those who would never have been convinced by reason, for images have the power to raise emotions where words would have had no meaning36—a phenomenon not unlike that captured in Berkeley’s so-called theory of emotive meaning. Yet Berkeley is also quite aware of the need for vigilance when it comes to religious imagery because of the idolatry to which emotions can lead. In Berkeley’s eyes, such idolatry is the first step toward the kind of fanaticism and superstition of which Catholics have so often been guilty.37 In turn, as Berkeley cautions periodically in the Alciphron, this raises further delicate issues regarding inspiration and prophesy.
It is on this latter point that Berkeley’s opposition to the free thinkers plays itself out. The free thinkers take issue with the religious imagination as part of their larger atheistic struggle against Christian prejudices, the greatest of these certainly being the existence of God. They argue that because the senses reveal nothing of such a divinity, the notion of God must be a fiction of the imagination.38 But Berkeley counters that such claims are themselves based on prejudice: his immaterialist position holds that the one substance his adversaries retain, matter, is vulnerable to the same form of argumentation, it too being not only imperceptible, but even unimaginable. To those free thinkers for whom believers are enthusiasts, fanatics, and idolaters with overly lively imaginations, Berkeley responds that theirs are the overactive imaginations, since it is they who imagine that they know of a material substance that they can neither perceive, nor imagine, nor conceive; they are thus hardly in a position to argue their case.39 Indeed, he reproaches them for tying the imaginary to the sensible too closely—that is, for being excessively imaginative in this context—and for separating the imaginary too greatly from the rational—the consequence, he suggests, of an impoverishment of the imagination.
It is particularly in the second of Berkeley’s essays of the Guardian,devoted to the pineal gland, that he advances his arguments on the unruliness of the imagination of the free thinker. In this amusing work of fiction, Berkeley takes malicious pleasure in describing the mind of the free thinker in detail, dwelling especially on his imagination. The free thinker’s imagination, he claims, is surely more encompassing than his skimpy understanding; but due to the free thinker’s having remained too remote and superficial, and having not taken the proper time to study the Christian religion seriously, he is prejudiced against the Christian religion and full of deformed images of it. In the fifth dialogue of the Alciphron Berkeley extends this analysis of the free thinker’s imagination with a consideration of the case of Lysicles, whose unbridled imagination leads him to see an inquisitor behind every churchman and the tools of political domination behind all Christian dogma (here recalling the radical libertine theses of the famous clandestine Traité des trois imposteurs).40 In both the Guardian and Alciphron discussions, Berkeley presents the imagination of the free thinker as something perturbed, full of prejudices and systematic deformations of all things religious—where believers are imagined as fanatics, priests as those who thirst after power and material wealth, the Church as criminal—with the inevitable consequence that the free thinker’s judgments about anything religious are perverted and his mind narrowed by his inability to find any room for religion.
In Berkeley’s view, imagination has an important place in the service of religion, not only so that pastors can produce an emotional effect on their audiences during sermons, and make them change their behavior and model themselves on Christ, but also so that philosophy can provide itself the weapons it needs to prove the superior plausibility of Christian religion over free thought. Thus, on the difficult question of the immortality of the soul, Berkeley thinks it possible to provide a similar image that would assist reason by showing, if not the total certainty, at least the strong probability of such immortality. Rather than viewing it as a prejudice transmitted through education, or as the fruit of a sprawling imagination—as the free thinkers do, in claiming that nature’s course makes the credibility of such a thing impossible, and that empiricism must surely deny its possibility given the great unlikeliness of an existence deprived of body, and thus, of any sensations—Berkeley moves instead to establish the genuine plausibility of the immortality of the soul by using reason and the imagination as tools. At the demonstrative level, he leans most heavily on two arguments: universal consent—the quasi-unanimous agreement of ancient and modern philosophers on the issue—and the desire of each man for immortality—a natural desire that is, like all natural desire, proportionate to a precise end.
If reason grants plausibility to such a hypothesis, imagination can portray it still more captivatingly, notably by means of the analogical reasoning developed in Berkeley’s famous Guardian essay entitled “The Future State.” In his account, someone deaf and blind from birth who, as an adult, loses his three remaining senses at the very moment that he acquires the other two (sight and hearing), would perceive a harmonious concert unfolding in a superb landscape. In like manner, at that very moment of being deprived of all corporeal sensation with the body’s death, our souls will be furnished with perceptions of a new kind. Our new perceptions might only be “some distant representation, some faint and glimmering idea of the ecstatic state of the soul in that article in which she emerges from this sepulchre of flesh into Life and Immortality.”41
The imagination can therefore alternately serve or disserve reason depending on which notions it helps represent. If the imagination is perturbed, it is above all because reason is as well, and to Berkeley such disruptions are due largely to two failures of education. First, among the likes of Lysicles in Alciphron, the pleasures of the senses had been exalted to the detriment of those of reason, and this privileges any fictions that satisfy the former, thereby leading people away from philosophy, theology, and more broadly any authentic moral life. Second, for those like Alciphron, the aristocratic education championed by contemporaries such as Shaftesbury merely diverts the individual inward in a personal struggle of philosophic asceticism, neglecting consideration of the essentially collective dimension of education.
In sum, for Berkeley, the free thinkers fail to appreciate the significant role of imagination in not only how we represent the world but also why we do so. In this way they are at fault both by default or excess. In seeking to rid themselves of Christian prejudices and replace them with others they find more plausible, and in preferring topical discussions over the lessons of tradition and the aridity of university studies, they resolutely wish themselves to be skeptically modern, as if modernity were necessarily the mark of truth. By contrast, Berkeley wants to preserve the gains made by Greek philosophy and the Christian religion, and thus opens up a space for both a representative and a creative, constitutive function for imagination in reasoning. In this sense, he stands in the eighteenth century as one of the last heirs of Christian humanism, having as his aim the further reconciliation of faith with reason that free thinkers had dismissed as out of date.
Université de Sherbrooke
Marc A. Hight. Idea and Ontology: An Essay in Early Modern Metaphysics of Ideas.
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008. xiv + 278 pp.
Marc A. Hight has given us a well-researched, well-written, analytically rigorous and thought-provoking book about the development of idea ontology in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The book covers a great deal of material, some in significant depth, some not. The figures discussed include Descartes, Malebranche, Arnauld, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume. Some might think it a tall order for anyone to grapple with the central works of these figures on a subject as fundamental as the nature of ideas. And while reading the book, I must admit to having had this thought a few times. Seventeen pages on Descartes’ theory of ideas, covering the development of his ontology of ideas, the distinction between formal reality and objective reality, the nature of mental representation, the contagion theory of causation, the doctrine of innate ideas as ungrounded dispositions, and the interactionism/occasionalism controversy? Wow. And yet Hight has done his homework. He knows the figures and the relevant interpretive controversies well, he focuses on many of the passages that are relevant to the book’s central thesis, and in the end offers us a compelling narrative as an alternative to what he identifies as “the traditional view of what transpired in the early modern period” (2).
The “traditional” view, as Hight understands it, is that the famous empiricist trio (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume) de-ontologized ideas, ideas that their rationalist predecessors (Descartes, Malebranche, Arnauld, and Leibniz) had ontologized by fitting them into the late scholastic substance-mode metaphysics (either, in Malebranchian vein, as substances, or, in Arnauldian vein, as modes). They did this, so the story goes, because they found it impossible to reconcile the theory of ideas as substances or as modes with their theories of knowledge and mental representation. The resulting conflict between late scholastic metaphysics and early modern epistemology led to the wholesale abandonment of the former. For Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, ideas are no longer things that mediate between our minds and the world we perceive: ideas are, at best, ways of perceiving a world that is directly apprehended.
Hight calls this view “the early modern tale” (2).42 He takes the tale to have had an influence far beyond the history of ideas. Metaphysical investigations, he tells us, “have been replaced by discussions of language, confident assertions that epistemology alone is first philosophy, and pronouncements that ontology is dead” (1). For Hight, the tale is false, and the importance of counteracting it derives in large part from the fact that its influence has been pernicious. As he sees it, “the problems of ontology are inescapable,” and this is “just as true now as it was for the early moderns” (266). Hight accepts the part of the early modern tale that emphasizes the tension between early modern metaphysics and early modern epistemology as applied to ideas. But, on his view, the early moderns tried with varying degrees of success to eliminate the tension without abandoning the classical substance-mode ontology, and in doing so offered us examples of some of their very best philosophical work. Hight concludes that to deny “the spectacular metaphysical speculations of the early moderns is to rob us today of what they did best” (267).
Given how much there is to be said about the views of each of the relevant historical figures, it comes as something of an initial surprise that the book devotes as much space as it does to the views of Berkeley in particular. Whereas each of Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, and Hume gets his own chapter (and Malebranche and Arnauld are given one to share), Hight graces Berkeley with three chapters covering almost half of the 230 pages devoted to the study of particular figures. This decision is a boon for Berkeley fans (of whom I am one), but it does give the book a decidedly unusual tilt. For many scholars of the early modern period, Berkeley is a transitional figure at best, an intellectual way-station from one giant (Locke) to another (Hume). Hight is right, I think, both that this way of reading Berkeley is uncharitable and that there is a great deal to be learned from the way in which Berkeley in particular attempted to reconcile the metaphysics of (human) ideas with the epistemology of perception and representation. But he could have achieved this aim without delving, as he does, into Berkeley’s theory of divine ideas (chapter 7), abstract ideas (chapter 8.1-4), or perceptual heterogeneity (chapter 8.5-10). Chapters 7 and 8 are based in significant part on Hight’s previously published work, but, even granting the intellectual significance of this work, one wonders whether it might not have been better for the book if Hight had removed those chapters and had included them in a separate monograph dedicated to Berkeley alone instead.
The bulk of my review focuses on the part of Hight’s book that is devoted to Berkeley, specifically on chapters 6 and 7. But before discussing Berkeley, I want to raise one important question about the book’s main thrust. Is the early modern tale in fact the “traditional” or standard picture of the development of idea ontology in the early modern period? Hight takes for granted that it is, but his evidence for this claim is pretty thin. Hight takes John Yolton, Richard Watson, and Thomas Lennon to be the main purveyors of the early modern tale. These are three influential commentators, but if the early modern tale were the traditional view that Hight takes it to be, one would expect there to be more published purveyors of it. But, so far as I can tell, Hight does not refer to any other purveyors. I suspect that the main reason for this is that Yolton, Watson, and Lennon are actually a distinct minority among early modern scholars. The reason why Yolton’s work made such a splash was that it went against the grain to suggest that any of the early moderns had de-ontologized ideas. Yolton was worried that the epistemic “veil of perception” problem (to the effect that the existence of perceived intermediary objects between perceivers and external world objects conduces to external world skepticism) would lead us all to think less of the early moderns. And his clever suggestion was to rehabilitate at least some of the early moderns by finding reasons to think that they were not committed to ideas as intermediaries. But this went against the standard view, according to which the moderns of the 18th century reacted to the “veil of perception” problem that had bedeviled the early moderns of the 17th century (notably Descartes and Locke) either by turning the objects of sense into collections of ideas (Berkeley, Hume, and, in a way, Kant) or by adopting some form of direct realism (Reid). If I am right that the purveyors of the early modern tale are really few and far between, then Hight’s book is best read as a well-reasoned rejection of an influential minority position on the relevant issues.
Let me now turn to Hight’s interpretation of Berkeley’s views on idea ontology. Hight’s main claim is that Berkeley tried “to save the philosophy of ideas within the ontology of substance and mode” (244). He did this (i) by “stretch[ing]” the ontology “to make room for a new category within” it (8, 138), a category that Hight calls “quasi-substance” (8), and (ii) by slotting ideas into this new category.43 In contradistinction to the early modern tale, Hight insists that “Berkeley did not abandon ontology with respect to ideas, [but rather] modified and improved it” (138).
In order to understand Hight’s notion of quasi-substance, it is important to understand his conception of traditional substance-mode ontology. According to Hight, all the early moderns accepted a “core” conception of substance (18) and a “core” conception of mode (21). According to the core conception of substance, a substance possesses two characteristics: endurance and independence (14). For Hight, an entity endures (i.e., qualifies as a “thing”) when it “survives and underlies change without itself changing or is able to have contrary properties at different times without sacrificing its identity” (12). As Hight sees it, independence is a genus of which there are various species, most notably simplicity, causal independence, ontological independence, and volitional independence (14, 141). An entity is simple if it has no parts (and thus does not depend for its existence on the existence of any parts); it is causally independent if “it requires no external cause for its being” (18); it is ontologically independent if its existence does not require the existence of something else (14); and it is volitionally independent if it exists whether or not one wills it to exist (158). Hight argues that all of the early moderns took endurance and independence to be defining marks of substance, some hewing to one, others hewing to another conception of independence.44
According to the core conception of mode, a mode possesses endurance, but not independence: “substances are independent things; modes are dependent things” (22). Hight highlights the endurance of modes. He claims that “there are two competing understandings of modes among the moderns.” According to the first “transcendental” understanding, modes are instances of universals; according to the second “immanent” understanding, modes are “more like particular individuals” (21-22). On either of these “understandings,” modes endure. In this, then, modes are like substances. Modes differ from substances in that the former, but not the latter, are dependent beings. In Hight’s words, “the independence criterion is paramount in separating modes from substances” (20).
According to Hight, Berkeley carves out a new ontological category, that of quasi-substance. Though they are neither substances nor modes, quasi-substances possess characteristics of both. On the one hand, quasi-substances “possess one feature usually reserved for substances, namely a kind of separation from other entities such that they are neither modes nor proper parts of other substances”; on the other hand, quasi-substances “possess the one feature most distinctive of modes: they are ontologically dependent on these distinct substances” (35). As Hight sees it, Berkeley’s main contribution to idea ontology—a contribution with considerable “philosophical payoff” (176)—is that ideas are quasi-substances in this sense.
Now right at the start we can begin by asking whether Hight’s conception of the traditional substance-mode ontology is in fact as traditional as he thinks it is. Hight rightly refers us to Aristotle’s Categories as the source of the traditional ontology. But Aristotle’s criteria for substancehood differ, at least at first blush, from the criteria Hight himself identifies as forming the “core” conception of substance. As Hight himself recognizes, Aristotle writes that “a substance—that which is called a substance most strictly, primarily, and most of all—is that which is neither said of a subject nor in a subject” (12). Thus, Socrates is a (primary) substance in that (i) he (or better, the word “Socrates”) cannot be said of (i.e., predicated of) anything (unlike white, which can be predicated of a piece of chalk), and (ii) he is not in anything (unlike white, which is in the piece of chalk). These two criteria, of impredicability and lack of inherence respectively, are completely different from the criteria of endurance and independence.
So, as Hight represents it, the early modern “core” conception of substance is quite different from Aristotle’s, and therefore seems to be more novel than it is traditional. But Hight insists that the early moderns did look to some of Aristotle’s statements about substance for inspiration. Aristotle does suggest that substances, though not predicated of other things, are themselves subjects of predication. As Hight puts the point, a substance is a substratum, namely something “that receives and supports qualities” (12). Thus, a piece of chalk is a substance inasmuch as “white” can be predicated of it and whiteness inheres in it.
Hight seems to think that the “substratum” criterion reduces to, or at least entails, the endurance criterion. For he writes that a conception of substance as a support for qualities “is one of endurance—there must be some thing that persists to underlie, support, and unify the qualities” (15). But there is confusion here, for there is no relation of entailment (or inter-entailment) between the two criteria. It is certainly possible for X to serve as a support for qualities without X’s being capable of surviving change. We can certainly imagine a series of numerically distinct supports for each of the different sets of qualities that appear to inhere in a single substance over time. And we can certainly imagine an enduring thing that does not itself serve as a support for qualities.
So the “substratum” criterion is a third criterion of substancehood, one that differs from both endurance and independence. Moreover, its reverse serves as a third criterion of modehood. For if a substance can be defined as something that functions as a support, then a mode can be defined as whatever it is that plays the role of being supported.
Thus far, though, the addition of a third criterion of substancehood merely complicates, but does not overturn, Hight’s conception of the relevant criteria. Amending Hight’s thesis, we could say that on the traditional conception a substance is an enduring and independent substratum, and a mode is an enduring entity that is supported by something on which it also depends (namely, a substratum). Is there anything wrong with this picture? I think there is.
According to the traditional substance-mode ontology, so Hight tells us, the substance/mode dichotomy is exhaustive: everything that is not a substance is a mode, and everything that is not a mode is a substance. But, as Hight himself notes, philosophers such as Descartes and Spinoza countenanced attributes, in addition to modes and substances. Descartes, for instance, tells us that thought is the attribute of mind and extension is the attribute of body. Are all attributes modes? Hight waffles on this point. On the one hand, Hight tells us that attributes “are subject to the same conceptual limits as modes,” for, like modes, attributes “depend on substances for their being.” Indeed, so Hight claims, attributes are “more interdependent with their substances, since they are essential to them” (21). Thus, it appears that an attribute is just one special kind of mode, namely an essential mode. On the other hand, Hight recognizes that “not all attributes are modes” (20-21).
These statements about attributes can’t all be true. This strongly suggests that something is awry with Hight’s conception of the traditional substance-mode ontology. The problem seems to be that attributes possess features that are characteristic of substances and also possess features that are characteristic of modes, without being either substances or modes. But if this is so, then the traditional substance-mode dichotomy, as encapsulated in the work of Descartes and others, is not exhaustive. What to do?
The answer, I believe, is to give up Hight’s understanding of the traditional conception of a mode. As Hight sees it, a mode is an enduring thing that is neither independent nor a substratum. Unfortunately, this characterization of a mode fits the Cartesian conception of an attribute more closely than it fits the Cartesian conception of a mode. And it is not merely true to say, as Hight does, that “not all attributes are modes.” What is true is more radical than this, namely that no attributes are modes. Hight assumes that the main difference between attributes and modes is that attributes are essential characteristics, while modes are accidental characteristics, of substances. But this papers over the main difference, which concerns the very nature of these characteristics. Hight is right that attributes are essential properties of substances: according to Descartes, thought is essential to mind, and extension is essential to body. But modes are not merely inessential properties of substances: rather, as the etymology of the word “mode” suggests, modes are ways of possessing this or that attribute. Thus, willing and perceiving, which are modes of mental substance, are ways of thinking; and shape and size, which are modes of corporeal substance, are ways of being extended.
On this conception of the traditional substance-mode ontology, the characteristics Hight ascribes to modes are truer of attributes. Attributes are persistent characteristics that survive and underlie change. So attributes endure. Modes, by contrast, do not. This or that episode of willing or perceiving, this or that shape or size, is momentary, rather than persistent. Indeed, it is not even clear that modes are things. A mode is not a thing, but rather a way for a thing to be (or a way for a thing to possess this or that characteristic). But not all of the characteristics that Hight ascribes to modes are true of attributes. Hight’s modes are dependent beings; on the most common “core” conception, they are ontologically dependent beings. But Cartesian attributes, at least arguably, possess the same kind of ontological independence that substances have. Thought and extension are true and immutable natures that would exist even if there were no actual thinking things and no actual extended things. In this sense, thought exists independently of the mind of which it is the essence, and extension exists independently of the body of which it is the essence. The crucial difference between attributes and substances, it seems, is that substances, but not attributes, are substrata.
I conjecture therefore that Hight’s inability to classify attributes within the traditional substance-mode ontology derives at least in part from his inability to recognize the substratum criterion as separate from both the endurance and independence criteria. Once it becomes clear that there are three, rather than two, criteria, the way is open to a proper understanding of substances, modes, and attributes. Importantly, what becomes evident is that modes are ways of being, not things themselves.
Here is another, more ad hominem, way of reaching the same conclusion. Hight argues that in deciding whether ideas are more like substances or more like modes, “we can look to see whether a given philosopher takes perception to be a monadic property or dyadic relation. In dyadic relations the relata are distinct and usually (but not always) thought of as independent of one another. Hence the relata are thought of as substances. When taken to be monadic properties, ideas are treated as modes” (22). So, for Hight, whether a philosopher conceives of perception as dyadic or monadic reveals whether he or she thinks of ideas as more substance-like or more mode-like.
But there is confusion here too. If perception is monadic, then to see red (say) is not to be related to something by the relation of seeing: it is, perhaps, to see redly, but nothing more. Indeed, the best monadic account of perception I can think of is the adverbial one. But on such a monadic account, if ideas play any role in perception, then they are not Hightian modes. For, according to Hight, modes are things that could serve as the relata of dyadic perceptual relations. To put the same point another way: the dyadic conception of perception is fully compatible with the view that ideas are Hightian modes. In the end, the best way to preserve the connection Hight sees between the dyadic conception of perception and the thought that ideas are more substance-like than mode-like is to abandon the claim that modes are things and instead embrace the view that modes are ways for things to be.
Hight may resist the claim that modes are not things, even were he to accept that modes do not endure. This is because Hight identifies a criterion of thinghood distinct from the criterion of endurance, namely Quine’s famous dictum that to be is to be the value of a variable.45 A thing, in this sense, is “that over which one quantifies” (23). Using this criterion, it becomes clear that modes are things, for it is possible to quantify over them. But, as Hight himself recognizes, it is only in a very “minimal” sense that a Quinean thing is a thing (24). In this sense, even ways of being are things. (Think of that famous first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”) What I am suggesting is not that modes are not things in Quine’s sense, but rather that modes are not things in the sense of persisting entities that underlie change.46
If this is right, then Hight’s claim that there are two traditional conceptions of modes, namely as akin to universals and as akin to particulars, is inaccurate. An episode of willing (say, a volition to eat a doughnut) is a mode of thought, a way for a mind to think, but it is neither akin to a universal nor akin to a particular. For a mode is not a thing in the relevant sense.
Hight is right about one important feature of modes: they are indeed ontologically dependent, i.e., dependent for their existence, on the substances they modify. But this ontological dependence is not a rock-bottom feature of modes: the fact that modes are ontologically dependent derives from their very nature as modes. For modes are essentially relative entities: if X does not exist, then there could not be a way for X to be.
Let us then return to the question of the ontological status of ideas in Berkeley’s metaphysics. Hight claims that Berkeley’s ideas are neither substances nor modes. The fact that they are not substances, Hight says, derives from their ontological dependence. And this seems right. The fact that they are not modes, Hight says, derives, in the first instance, from the fact that they “possess…a kind of separation from other entities” (35). But what does this “separation” amount to? Hight writes (140):
Near the beginning of the Principles, in section 2, we are told that the mind is “a thing entirely distinct” from ideas. One main theme in his works is that the activity of the mind contrasts with the passivity of ideas. In light of this contrast, it is difficult to allow that he thinks modes are sufficiently distinct from minds to qualify as ideas.47
Hight seems to be arguing that, for Berkeley, the fact that ideas are passive while minds are active indicates that ideas are not modes. But this does not follow. Modes, whether conceived as Hight does or as ways of possessing attributes are surely passive, rather than active. So it is not at all clear why we should believe that Berkeley does not take ideas to be modes of mental substance.
As it happens, Hight provides a number of reasons for thinking that Berkeley’s ideas are not modes of minds. In one place, he writes that, for Berkeley, “God’s ideas…being distinct relata in a two-place relation with the mind [implies] that they are neither modes nor proper parts of the divine mind” (181-182). But, interestingly, as I have argued, on Hight’s conception of a mode as an enduring thing, the claim that ideas are relata of dyadic relations is perfectly compatible with the view that they are modes. Indeed, the best way to defend the claim that it is on the strength of their being relata of dyadic relations that ideas are not modes is to suppose that modes are not things, but rather, as I have argued, ways of possessing attributes.
Another reason Hight gives for thinking that Berkeley denies that ideas are modes is that, for Berkeley, ideas are “external” to the mind in the sense of being volitionally independent of it (158, 160). Now Hight is surely right that Berkeley’s ideas of sense do not depend for their existence on the wills of the human minds that perceive them: even if I willed to not perceive a computer screen right now, I would still perceive it as I write. But the fact that some ideas are independent of our wills does not entail that all ideas are independent of our wills. And, indeed, as Hight himself recognizes, some of our ideas (namely, ideas of imagination) would not exist if we did not will them to exist. Should we then say that, for Berkeley, some ideas are modes by virtue of their volitional dependence while others, being volitionally independent, are not? Surely not. If there is anything we can say with confidence about Berkeley’s conception of ideas, it is that all ideas, regardless of their relation to our wills, possess the same ontological status.
The best reason Hight cites for thinking that Berkeley’s ideas are not modes is that, for Berkeley, whereas modes are predicable of the substances they modify, ideas are not predicable of minds (154—see Principles 49). Two features of this argument are particularly noteworthy, at least in relation to the rest of Hight’s book. The first is that this argument relies on what I identified as the third criterion of modehood, one not mentioned by Hight, namely the view of modes as predicable of (or supported by) the substances they modify. The second is that if this is one of Berkeley’s main reasons for thinking that ideas are not modes, then it is a reason that Berkeley’s predecessors share! Indeed, Descartes no more accepts that ideas (such as redness and roundness) are predicable of minds than does Berkeley. It follows, then, that Berkeley’s insistence that ideas differ from modes does not constitute the kind of philosophical innovation that Hight takes it to be.
If there is any reason to suppose that Berkeley took ideas to be modes, it is that Berkeley took ideas to be ontologically dependent on the minds that perceive them. For, as Hight recognizes, “if ideas are modes, then Berkeley has an immediate and intuitive answer to the question of why he thinks ideas must be dependent on minds[:] the esse of ideas is percipi because ideas are literally modifications of the mind” (154). But, as we’ve seen, Hight denies that Berkeley’s ideas are modes. So he needs to explain why Berkeley “was so thoroughly convinced that ideas had to be such dependent beings” (154). Hight’s answer is that Berkeley, “like his predecessors, built [dependence] into the concept of an idea…Berkeley was, of course, right when he said that everyone agreed with this claim. It was not an assertion for which he thought he needed to argue. Instead, the dependence of ideas was a foundational premise he thought obviously true because, in part, everyone thought it was obviously true” (154-155). But it is worth noting that many of Berkeley’s predecessors thought it obviously true that ideas are ontologically dependent precisely because they took ideas to be modes! According to Hight, this sort of reasoning is unavailable to Berkeley, and hence it makes no sense to suppose that he took the dependence of ideas to be obvious in exactly the way his predecessors did.
Rather, it makes more sense to suppose that Berkeley took ideas to be dependent on minds because he had a particular theory of the meaning of existence-claims about ideas. At Principles 3, Berkeley writes that
it seems no less evident that the various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense…cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them. I think an intuitive knowledge may be obtained of this, by any one that shall attend to what is meant by the term exist when applied to sensible things. The table I write on, I say, exists, that is, I see and feel it….There was an odour, that is, it was smelled; there was a sound, that is to say, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all that I can understand by these and the like expressions.
Berkeley’s claim here is that there is something special about the meaning of existence-claims about ideas, such that their meaning is distinct from the meaning of existence-claims about minds. To say that such-and-such idea exists is to say that it is perceived. To say that such-and-such mind exists is to say no such thing. It is this fact about meaning, above all else, that grounds Berkeley’s thesis that the esse of an idea is percipi, and that therefore grounds his claim that ideas are ontologically dependent on the minds that perceive them.
What, then, is Berkeley’s conception of the ontological status of ideas? Hight is right that ideas are not substances, for the only substances in Berkeley’s ontology are minds, and ideas differ from minds in that the latter are active while the former are passive. And Hight is also right, I think, that Berkeley’s ideas are not modes. But the reasons Hight gives for this are not Berkeley’s. A mode is a way for a substance to be. In this sense of mode, which Hight does not recognize, ideas are not modes, for ideas, unlike modes, are relata of dyadic relations, and modes, unlike ideas, are predicable of minds. Berkeley’s inability to slot ideas within the classical substance-mode ontology, however, is not unique to him: it bedeviled his predecessors and contemporaries, and almost certainly contributed to the eventual demise of classical Aristotelian metaphysics. There is little reason to suppose that it was Berkeley’s design, explicit or implicit, to carve a new ontological category of quasi-substance (or quasi-mode) within the classical framework of substance and mode. What we can say, rather, is that Berkeley struggled to identify the ontological status of ideas precisely because the ontological categories with which he was familiar did not permit him to do so. It does not follow, of course, that Berkeley de-ontologized ideas. To the contrary, as Hight well documents, many of Berkeley’s ideas, such as houses, mountains, and rivers, are surely things, things that exist and things that are real. But the true status of ideas in relation to substance-mode ontology, for Berkeley, remains a mystery.
Hight claims that thinking of Berkeleyan ideas as quasi-substances helps us understand otherwise puzzling aspects of Berkeley’s philosophy, including his theory of divine ideas, his polemic against abstract ideas, and his defense of perceptual heterogeneity. Though Hight’s discussion of each of these topics is rewarding and deserving of extensive commentary, for reasons of space I will focus attention only on the first.
Hight’s main interpretive thesis on the topic of divine ideas is that “the sensory ideas perceived by finite minds are numerically identical to God’s divine ideas” (178). If the numerical identity thesis, as I will call it, is true, then my sensory ideas are not private to me, for God perceives them just as I do.48 Hight does not clearly explain why discussion of this thesis is important to the main argument of the book, but it is of some considerable interest to Berkeley scholars nonetheless.
Hight’s main reason for thinking that Berkeley endorsed the numerical identity thesis is that its negation would leave room for the kind of skepticism to which Berkeley was implacably opposed. He writes:
Berkeley cannot consistently allow [that the ideas we directly perceive are distinct from the divine ideas that constitute sensible reality] without serious risk of skepticism, since the ideas we perceive would then constitute an intermediary between the real world and our knowledge of it. (184)
The point remains that asserting numerical identity between our sensory ideas and God’s ideas is epistemologically necessary from Berkeley’s point of view to defeat skepticism. (188)
Hight’s idea here is that if our ideas of sense were numerically distinct from God’s ideas, then, although we would have epistemic access to our ideas, we would not have such access to God’s ideas; and if the real world were constituted by God’s ideas, then we would have no epistemic access to the real world. But if there is anything about which Berkeley is adamant, it is that we have such access. Indeed, it is partly because Berkeley takes materialists to be committed to the view that we have no such access that he is as committed as he is to the otherwise surprising doctrine of immaterialism.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the real world, as Berkeley sees it, is constituted by the ideas of finite minds. In Principles 36, Berkeley writes that things are more real to the extent that they are “more affecting, orderly, and distinct.” “The real sun,” he says, is “the sun that I see by day,” and “it is evident that every vegetable, star, mineral, and in general each part of the mundane system, is as much a real being by our principles as by any other.” The real world, then, is constituted by the objects that common sense tells us are perceived by finite minds, namely sun, stars, mountains, rivers, rocks, tables, animals, and so on. These objects are congeries of ideas of sense, ideas perceived by (and hence, by Berkeley’s lights, existing in) finite minds. As long as finite minds have epistemic access to their own ideas, then, even if God’s ideas are epistemically inaccessible to them, they still have epistemic access to the real world. The numerical identity thesis is therefore not needed to ward off the threat of real world skepticism.
It is true, as Hight emphasizes, that the falsity of the numerical identity thesis opens up the possibility that there is a part of “reality” (namely, the contents of the divine mind) to which finite minds have no epistemic access. This is a kind of skepticism, but it is not the kind of skepticism that worries Berkeley or any of his contemporaries. Because God is perfect, because his mind is infinite, because he works in mysterious ways, it is to be expected, both on philosophical and theological grounds, that his mind is beyond our ken. Berkeley claims to know (on the basis of proof) that God exists, but does not claim that he has any conception of what God is truly like. Like most of his fellow theists, Berkeley is suitably modest about the extent of the knowledge of God of which finite minds are capable. This is not the skepticism that haunts materialism: it is merely the contrary of epistemic arrogance.49
Hight rightly points out that the numerical identity thesis, if true, would explain and underwrite the continuity of sensible objects: “the tree I see outside my window,” he writes, “is the ‘same’ tree as I saw five minutes ago, because its continuity is preserved in a divine world of ideas to which I have access” (205). But it should be noted that the continuity of sensible objects in Berkeley’s system does not require the truth of the numerical identity thesis. In order to explain and underwrite this continuity, Berkeley need only hypothesize that God continues to perceive our ideas after we have ceased perceiving them. God sees all things, including the things we see. This much is philosophically and theologically straightforward. So when I turn my head, the tree I was looking at does not disappear, but the reason need not be that the tree is numerically identical to an idea (or congeries of ideas) in God’s mind. In order to ensure continuity, it is sufficient that God perceive the tree after I have ceased perceiving it.
So Hight does not provide strong reasons for attributing the numerical identity thesis to Berkeley. Moreover, there are strong textual reasons for thinking that Berkeley adopted the contrary thesis instead. Hight recognizes that Berkeley sometimes uses the nomenclature of “divine archetypes” (185), a phrase that, along with the word “ectype” as applied to the ideas in finite minds, strongly suggests that the latter are copies of, and hence not numerically identical with, God’s ideas. One such passage appears in the Third Dialogue: “Again, the things I perceive must have an existence, they or their archetypes, out of my mind: but being ideas, neither they nor their archetypes can exist otherwise than in an understanding” (W2, 240—emphasis added). Another, more significant passage, appears in Berkeley’s correspondence with Samuel Johnson. There Berkeley writes:
I have no objection against calling the ideas in the mind of God archetypes of ours. But I object against those archetypes by philosophers supposed to be real things, and to have an absolute rational existence distinct from their being perceived by any mind whatsoever. (W2: 292-94)
Reacting to this passage, Hight writes (186):
I cannot explain why Berkeley refuses to straightforwardly admit to Johnson that God’s ideas are numerically identical to the ideas of sense had by finite minds (and hence refuses to deny that God’s ideas are strictly speaking archetypes in the sense of being originals of which we have copies), but the exchange is suitably odd as to convince me that something is amiss in the correspondence.
But there is really nothing amiss here. In his letter to Johnson Berkeley more than merely refuses to admit that the numerical identity thesis is true: he is quite clearly willing to accept that the numerical identity thesis is false. This is the point of his claim that he has “no objection” against calling divine ideas “archetypes” of ours. Further, Berkeley emphasizes that acceptance of divine archetypes is not akin to acceptance of materialist archetypes. The latter, says Berkeley, are supposed to constitute the real world and are supposed to be capable of existing unperceived. By contrast, Berkeley does not suppose that the divine archetypes constitute the real world—the real world is constituted by the relevant ectypes, and does not suppose that the divine archetypes are capable of existing unperceived—the divine archetypes are ideas, and no idea can exist unperceived.
All told, Hight offers us an elegant and novel interpretation of Berkeley’s ontology of ideas, situated in its proper historical context. The thesis that Berkeley’s ideas are quasi-substances is interesting and thought-provoking, but in the end unconvincing. And the thesis that Berkeley’s ideas of sense in finite minds are numerically identical to ideas in the mind of God is belied by the text. These are some of Hight’s central ideas, but not by any means the only ones. The text of Hight’s book is rich in content and I found myself in agreement with many of his claims and arguments, most notably his criticisms of proponents of the early modern tale, according to whom Berkeley played an important role in the de-ontologizing of ideas. Because of its overall depth and rigor, I strongly recommend the book for all who are interested in Berkeley’s metaphysics and epistemology, as well as Berkeley’s role in the historical development of the way of ideas more generally.
Samuel C. Rickless
University of California, San Diego
News and Announcements
International Berkeley Conference
at the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland
6-9 April 2010
Berkeley’s Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) deals with a broad spectrum of philosophical issues in metaphysics, philosophical theology, episte-mology, theory of perception, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, etc. The Neuchâtel conference commemorates the tercentenary of the publication of Berkeley’s Principles. Participants will discuss various aspects of Berkeley’s philosophy, highlighting the Principles. The conference is sponsored by the International Berkeley Society and the Swiss FNRS. Scheduled speakers include:
Timo Airaksinen (Helsinki): “Visual Language: A Kantian Analysis”
Margaret Atherton (Wisconsin-Milwaukee): “The Nature of Berkeleianism: Lessons Learned from PHK 1-33”
Bertil Belfrage (Lund): “Berkeley’s Empiricist Concept of Thinking Substance”
Laura Berchielli (Clermont-Ferrand): “Berkeley on Language in New Theory of Vision and Principles”
Dominique Berlioz (Rennes-I): “Percipere and Concipere, Berkeley’s Way to Abstraction and Knowledge”
Talia Mae Bettcher (California State, Los Angeles): “Berkeley’s Positive Notion of Substance”
Martha Bolton (Rutgers): “ ‘The Most Abstract and Incomprehensible Idea of All’: Berkeley on Existence”
Wolfgang Breidert (Karlsruhe): “God’s Role in Berkeley’s Philosophy”
Richard Brook (Bloomsburg): “Berkeley and the Passivity of Ideas: A Look Again at PHK 25 and 26”
Geneviève Brykman (Paris-X, Nanterre): “Berkeley et le scepticisme pyrrhonien”
Sébastien Charles (Sherbrooke): “Activité et passivité de l’esprit selon Berkeley”
Stephen Daniel (Texas A&M): “Berkeley’s Appropriation of Bayle’s Constitutive Skepticism”
Georges Dicker (SUNY Brockport): “Berkeley’s Challenge”
Keota Fields (Massachusetts-Darmouth): “Transcendental Arguments in Berkeley’s Immaterialism”
Richard Glauser (Neuchâtel): “Revisiting Berkeley on the Sameness of What We Perceive”
Petr Glombicek (Prague): “Berkeley’sNotion of Common Sense”
Heta Aleksandra Gylling (Helsinki): “Prudentiality, Expediency and Afterlife”
Jani Hakkarainen (Tampere): “Ideas Are Ideas: Of the Ontological Status of Berkeley’s Ideas”
Marc Hight (Hampden-Sydney, Virginia): “The Myth of Privacy”
James Hill (Prague): “Berkeley’s Notions: A Third Way between Empiricism and Innatism”
Laurent Jaffro (Paris-I): “Berkeley on Assent and the Belief of Matter”
Nancy Kendrick (Wheaton C, Mass.): “The Empty Amusement of Seeing: Berkeley on Causation and Explanation”
George Pappas (Ohio State): “Berkeley and Epistemic Fallibilism”
Silvia Parigi (Gaeta): “Berkeley and Boyle: Qualitative Corpuscularianism and the Laws of Nature”
Ville Paukkonen: “Berkeley’s Likeness Principle”
Luc Peterschmitt (Lille): “Berkeley’s Implicit Corpuscularianism in the Principles of Human Knowledge”
Samuel Rickless (California, San Diego): “The Relation between Anti-Abstractionism and Idealism in Berkeley’s Metaphysics”
Katia Saporiti (Zurich): “A Bet with High Stakes: Reflections on Berkeley’s Master Argument”
Daniel Schulthess (Neuchâtel): “Berkeleyan Ideas and Profiles: An Inquiry in Perspective”
Claire Schwartz (Aix-Marseille): “A New Scientific Methodology? Metaphysical Principles and Physical Laws in De Motu”
Tom Stoneham (York): “Agency and Blind Agents”
Reed Winegar (Pennsylvania): “Berkeley’s Escape from the Labyrinth”
For further information, please contact the organizer: Richard.Glauser@unine.ch.
Richard Glauser, Institut de philosophie, Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines, Université de Neuchâtel, 1 Espace Louis-Agassiz, CH-2001 Neuchâtel, Switzerland / Suisse
Colin and Ailsa Turbayne
International Berkeley Essay Prize Competition
The late Professor and Mrs. Colin Turbayne established an International Berkeley Essay Prize competition in cooperation with the Philosophy Department at the University of Rochester.
The next deadline for submitting papers is November 1, 2010. Submitted papers should address some aspect of Berkeley’s philosophy. Essays should be new and unpublished and should be written in English and not exceed 5,000 words in length. All references to Berkeley should be to Luce/Jessop, and a MLA or similar standard for notes should be followed. Submissions are blind reviewed and will be judged by members of a review board selected by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Rochester. The winner will be announced March 1, 2011 and will receive a prize of $2,000. Copies of the winning essays are to be sent to the George Berkeley Library Study Center located in Berkeley’s home in Whitehall, Newport, RI.
Submissions can be sent electronically to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by post mail to: Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Rochester, P.O. Box 270078, Lattimore 532, Rochester, NY 14627-0078.
International Berkeley Conference
Colloque international Berkeley
Berkeley on Moral and Social Philosophy
La philosophie morale et sociale de Berkeley Université de Sherbrooke – Campus Longueuil
June 4-7, 2012, 4-7 juin 2012
George Berkeley (1685-1753) contributed to a wide range of academic disciplines; from philosophy to mathematics and empirical psychology; from theology to political economy and monetary policy. To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Berkeley’s Passive Obedience (1712), we are now inviting distinguished scholars to give an account of Berkeley’s moral and social philosophy. The bilingual English/French conference, sponsored by the International Berkeley Society, will take place at the University of Sherbrooke, Campus Longueuil (near Montréal), Canada. Anyone interested to participate in the conference should send an abstract to one of the organizers before June 1, 2011.
George Berkeley (1685-1753) s’est investi dans un large spectre d’activités académiques, allant de la philosophie aux mathématiques et à la psychologie empirique, de la théologie à l’économie politique et à la politique monétaire. Afin de célébrer le 300ème anniversaire de la publication de l’Obéissance passive (1712), nous invitons dès à présent des spécialistes de Berkeley à s’intéresser à sa philosophie morale ou sociale dans le cadre d’un colloque bilingue (français-anglais) bénéficiant du soutien de l’International Berkeley Society qui se tiendra au campus Longueuil de l’Université de Sherbrooke, près de Montréal. Tout chercheur souhaitant participer au colloque peut faire parvenir un résumé à l’un des organisateurs avant le 1er juin 2011.
The conference is organized by Bertil Belfrage, Sébastien Charles and David Raynor. For further information, please contact:
Le colloque est organisé par Bertil Belfrage, Sébastien Charles et David Raynor. Pour plus d’informations, veuillez contacter:
Anglophone contributors: Bertil Belfrage, Villan, S-57162 Bodafors, Sweden
2-5 September 2013 (tentative dates) George Berkeley (1685-1753) published his classical Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in 1713. To celebrate the 300th anniversary of this event, we are now inviting distinguished scholars to a conference focusing Berkeley’s Dialogues. The conference takes place in Collegium Maius at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. The conference is sponsored by the International Berkeley Society. If you are interested in participating in the conference, please let us hear from you before the end of August 2012.
The conference is organized by Milowit Kuninski (Jagiellonian University, Poland) and Bertil Belfrage (Lund University, Sweden). For further information, please contact one of the organizers.