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Why were "ideas" important to Berkeley?

An "idea" in this sense is a technical term, meaning some discrete thing in the mind. Berkeley's metaphysics began with the assumption that all we ever know are our ideas,

What is occasionalism?

Occasionalism is the theory that nothing in real life ever caused anything else. God determined everything that each thing would do when he created the world. So, when one pool ball hits another and the second moves, the first pool ball does not cause the second to move because the second ball was already programmed to move that way on its own. Occasionalism holds that everything that seems to interact is like two clocks side by side with one a fraction of a second set ahead of the other. When the faster clock's handles move, it only looks like it's causing the slower clock's handles to move.

which are in our minds. (This is one reason why ideas are so important.) We tend to assume that if we have a word for something then we have an idea of it. But sometimes we fool ourselves, and our words are just empty with no ideas behind them. Therefore, we need to make sure that we actually have the ideas we think we have. Just because we are accustomed to using language in certain ways, does not mean that all words that are intelligible to us refer to ideas. If we reflect on abstract, general words, such as "man," "whiteness," "animal," or "matter," it becomes evident that there is nothing in the mind to which these words refer. All of our ideas are about particulars or combinations of particulars. We lack the capacity to create new ideas—only God can do that—although we are able to combine existing ideas in new ways and create copies of existing ideas.

What are the two types of ideas according to George Berkeley?

Ideas, according to Berkeley, can only exist in one or another mind that is capable of perceiving them. The two types of ideas known to human beings are ideas of sense, which come into the mind from somewhere outside it, and ideas of the imagination. God, however, who creates all ideas out of nothing, does not have ideas of sense because nothing can affect Him. God has only ideas of imagination.

No idea is capable of doing anything on its own; every idea is passive. Only minds can act or do anything. All ideas must exist in minds. Without minds, there are no ideas.

Who influenced George Berkeley?

According to Berkeley, our ideas of sense are real ideas so long as we perceive them. And in our perception of them, we are doing no more than in some way participating in what God has created. In that way, Berkeley's notion of the world is an expansion of the doctrine of occasionalism, propounded by Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) in the seventeenth century, and brought to an epiphany by Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) through his notion of "pre-established harmony." According to that doctrine and Berkeley's embellishment of it, God does all the real work, from which we, because we have been created by Him along with the rest of His creation, benefit.

Berkeley thus extended the presence of God in human cognition as something like a force constituting reality itself. Nonetheless, he endures as an empiricist due to his emphasis on sense data as a component of knowledge—never mind that for Berkeley, sense data were not signs or indications of what philosophers and the vast majority of non-philosophers call an "external world," or "reality." For Berkeley, sense data were neither real objects in themselves, nor signs of an external world, but ideas, created by God and placed in us. Period.

What did George Berkeley think of matter, extension, and other mainstays secured by René Descartes and refined by John Locke?

According to Berkeley, matter and extension (the main property of matter that was supposed to be its occupation of space) were abstract, general ideas, which is to say that the words naming or describing them did not refer to real ideas. Since only ideas, minds, and God exist, matter and extension did not exist for Berkeley—there was nothing real corresponding to them. Berkeley applied the same criticism to our presumptive ideas of causation and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. He looked for the ideas of sense or imagination to back them up, and found none.

In the case of causation, Berkeley was basically an occasionalist.

How was George Berkeley's occasionalism distinctive?

Most occasionalists thought that the real causal connections between things took place in God's mind. Berkeley did not hold that view. According to Berkeley, we have ideas of sensory phenomena that are regularly followed by other specific ideas of sensory phenomena. But the idea of a causal link between them is an illusion.

What did George Berkeley think of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities?

Seventeenth century empirical philosophers believed that secondary qualities are what we perceive—namely colors, sounds, textures, and smells. They thought that primary qualities like mass and number were the qualities of atoms that made up objects. We can't perceive primary qualities, but the seventeenth century empiricists held that it is the interaction between the primary qualities of atoms that cause our perception of secondary qualities. For example, the atoms in red paint interact with our eyes, through light, to cause the experience of red. But Berkeley denied that there was a distinction between primary and secondary qualities because it is impossible to have an idea of a primary quality such as mass, extension, size, or number without also having an idea of its color, texture, or other secondary qualities.

Why did George Berkeley like tar water so much?

Some biographers claim that George Berkeley suffered the constant discomforts of constipation over his entire life, until finally, in late middle age, he found lasting relief in tar water, which is an extract of tree bark. The following appears in A Century of Anecdotes from 1760-1860, by John Timbs.

"Bishop Berkeley having received benefit from the use of Tar-Water, when ill of the colic, published a work On the Virtues of Tar-Water"; and a few months before his death, a sequel, entitled "Further Thoughts on Tar-Water"; and when accused of fancying he had discovered a nostrum in Tar-Water, he replied, that, "to speak out, he freely owns he suspects Tar-Water is a panacea."

Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole preserved the following epigram on Berkeley's remedy: "Who dare deride what pious Cloyne has done? The Church shall rise and vindicate her son; She tells us all her bishops shepherds are, and shepherds heal their rotten sheep with tar."

What was Berkeley's answer to whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound?

Berkeley said that objects we sense only exist insofar as we have ideas of their sensory qualities. When we do not perceive those qualities, such as the sound of a tree falling in a forest, then they do not exist as our ideas. However, this would not entitle us to conclude that such a tree makes no sound. Our ideas of sensory qualities come to us from God, who has created them. If a tree falls in the forest and God creates the sound of its crashing down, then that idea in God's mind would guarantee the occurrence of the sound, even though human beings could not perceive it. The same reasoning was applied by Berkeley to the continued existence of a room when no people are inside it. It would still exist as a series of ideas in God's mind.

What was Berkeley's critique of Newtonian science?

Berkeley did not think that we can have an idea of absolute motion, apart from particular things that move, or of absolute space, apart from specific distances. He thought that Newton's hypothesis of force and action at a distance might be useful for mathematical calculations, but that there were no grounds to posit it as a real entity.

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