Category Archives: Idealism

Berkeley’s Neglected Argument for God

“Some Truths there are so near and obvious to the Mind, that a Man need only open his Eyes to see them.” George Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge

Has anyone yet refuted Berkeley? Has any Naturalist addressed his point that ‘unperceived matter’ is literally unthinkable, and therefore cannot even be rationally thought to exist? I don’t think his case has been made often enough. So let me try to make it below.

Berkeley’s argument against materialism is simply that it is impossible to conceive anything existing independently of a mind perceiving it. To separate abstractly the “thing in itself” as Kant did – to make a statement about “unperceived matter” – is literally a contradiction, since any conception or statement already involves an act of mind. It’s like saying “perceived unperceived-matter.” Therefore, he concludes, it is impossible to assert that matter exists in and of itself without also implying that some mind somewhere perceives it.

All conceptions we form – say of matter existing ‘in itself’ – are themselves already products of minds. It is, then, self-contradictory to suppose that the physical world exists without being perceived by a mind. For ‘physical world’ is not itself a mind-independent concept. No one has ever ‘seen’ or ‘sensed’ a mind-independent reality for the simple fact that all our sensations are only experienced through our own rational minds. ‘Unperceived matter’, therefore, is literally unthinkable – a contradiction. Just WHAT is implied but some concept, the contents of which exist in a MIND which has used its senses to arrive at the particular idea? It cannot then be meaningfully asserted that the physical universe exists ‘in itself’, independent of mind.

Consider the following. Those who hold to a Big Bang, independent of a mind at the time of it occurring, must simultaneously hold to both a) all models of the Big Bang — all our descriptions of it which are supposedly true – are products of minds; that is, they models themselves don’t exist anywhere else except in a mind. Yet they hold that b) this thing that occurred at the beginning of the universe which the models is describing did so entirely independent of any mind perceiving it. But then we have an implicit contradiction: this thing that is mind-dependent – i.e. this model – existed as mind-independent. But just what are we talking about that is mind-independent? No such description is possible, for every description presupposes mind.

Therefore what the Naturalist must hold if he is to be self-consistent is that the Big Bang, insofar as we understand it, is really only a description of what is going on in our minds when we create a particular hypothesis of the origin of the universe. It cannot describe a reality that occurred independent of a mind, for that is an implicit contradiction. And insofar as we don’t understand the Big Bang at all (if he wants to go that route), it is impossible to say it actually occurred. For we can only believe in things that we first have some conception of, however small. To make pronouncements on the possibility of that which we have absolutely no knowledge of at all is impossible.

But how, then, can the universe exist independently of our mind perceiving it, say when we are asleep or when we die? By existing in an eternal Cosmic Mind.

To complete the quote that this post began with:

“VI. Some Truths there are so near and obvious to the Mind, that a Man need only open his Eyes to see them. Such I take this Important one to be, to wit, that all the Choir of Heaven and Furniture of the Earth, in a word all those Bodies which compose the mighty Frame of the World, have not any Subsistence without a Mind, that their Being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my Mind or that of any other created Spirit, they must either have no Existence at all, or else subsist in the Mind of some eternal Spirit: It being perfectly unintelligible and involving all the Absurdity of Abstraction, to attribute to any single part of them an Existence independent of a Spirit. To be convinced of which, the Reader need only reflect and try to separate in his own Thoughts the being of a sensible thing from its being perceived.”