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Berkeley and Phenomenalism

  • J. W. Davis (a1)


My reason for bringing up the familiar matter of phenomenalism is both critical and historical. Almost to a man those who have been interested in arguing for or against phenomenalism have assumed that Berkeley was a phenomenalist (for some of the evidence one need only read the Aristotelian Society Proceedings on phenomenalism, beginning with Stout's paper in 1938). Now if Berkeley's doctrine is appropriately named “phenomenalism,” then it is a phenomenalism of a quite different stripe from the twentieth century variety, though many who have described his doctrine as phenomenalism have not sufficiently stressed the difference.



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1 C. D. Broad, “Berkeley's Argument about Material Substance,” Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 28, 1942, 11. My paper contends that Berkeley's doctrine of the perceivable makes him an epistemological realist and not a phenomenalist. This interpretation of Berkeley is not, of course, new; in recent years it has received forceful support from two distinguished Berkeleian scholars, A.A. Luce and T.E. Jessop. On the subject of this paper in particular see Luce, Berkeley's Immaterialism (Edinburgh, 1945), 45-46 and “Berkeley's Doctrine of the Perceivable,” Hermathena, Vol. 60, 1942, passim. Cf. also J.P. de C. Day, “George Berkeley, 1685-1753,” The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 6, esp. 110-111 , 270-281, and K. Marc-Wogau, “Berkeley's Sensationalism and the Esse est Percipi-Principle”, Theoria, Vol. 23, 1957, 12-36. Other recent studies which treat Berkeley as an epistemological realist are: W. Doney, “Two Questions about Berkeley”, Philosophical Review, Vol. 61, 1952, 382-391; D. Grey, “The Solipsism of Bishop Berkeley”, Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 2, ig52, 338-349; H.M. Bracken, “Berkeley's Realisms”, Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 8, 1958, 3-15.

2 Marhenke, “Phenomenalism” in Max Black, Philosophical Analysis, (Ithaca 1950) 301.

3 G. J. Warnock, Berkeley, (London, 1933).

4 Ibid., 239.

5 Ibid., 241.

6 Ibid., 244, ff.

7 Cf. Isaiah Berlin, “Empirical Propositions and Hypothetical Statements,” Mind, LIX, 1950, passim.

8 Op. cit., 317.

9 George Berkeley, Works (ed. A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop). Hereafter all quotations from Berkeley are from this edition. Footnote citations will be dispensed with and reference will be made to the Principles by paragraph and to the Three Dialogues by page number.

10 Marc Wogau, “Berkeley's Sensationalism and the Esse est Percipi-Principle,”, Theoria, Vol. XXIII, 1957, 22-23.

11 Mill formulated an objection to Berkeley's view of actual perception turning on the ambiguity of the word ‘same’ as applied to sensations in Berkeley's view. Cf. John Stuart Mill, “Berkeley's Life and writings” in Fortnightly Review, 1871, 517-518. Cf. also Day, op. cit., 271-273, who has reformulated Mill's argument in a way in which the force of the objection is more clearly brought out.

Berkeley and Phenomenalism

  • J. W. Davis (a1)


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