George Berkeley

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Berkeley, George

(bär`klē, bûr–), 1685–1753, Anglo-Irish philosopher and clergyman, b. Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he became a scholar and later a fellow there. Most of Berkeley's important work in philosophy was done in his younger years. His Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), and the famous Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713) are among his more important works. At considerable personal sacrifice he organized a movement to establish a college in the Bermudas to convert the indigenous peoples, going to Rhode Island in 1728 to wait for promised support. This support never came, and after three years he returned to England. He was made bishop of Cloyne in 1734. Berkeley in his subjective idealism went beyond LockeLocke, John
, 1632–1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke summed up the Enlightenment in his belief in the middle class and its right to freedom of conscience and right to property, in his faith in science, and in his confidence in the goodness of
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, who had argued that such qualities as color and taste arise in the mind while primary qualities of matter such as extension and weight have existence independent of the mind. Berkeley held that both types of qualities are known only in the mind and that therefore there is no existence of matter independent of perception (esse est percipi). The observing mind of God makes possible the continued apparent existence of material objects. God arouses sensations in us in a regular coherent order. Selves and God make up the universe. Berkeley felt that his argument constituted a complete disproof of atheism. He believed that qualities, not things, are perceived and that the perception of qualities is relative to the perceiver.


See edition of his works by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (9 vol., 1948–57); G. Pitcher, ed., The Philosophy of George Berkeley (8 vol., 1988–89); biographies by J. O. Urmson (1982) and G. J. Warnock (1983).

Berkeley, George


Born Mar. 12,1685, near Kilkenny, Ireland; died Jan. 14, 1753, at Oxford. English philosopher; representative of subjective idealism.

Berkeley was born into an English gentry family. He studied at Dublin University. In 1734 he became bishop of Cloyne (Ireland).

Berkeley criticized the concept of matter as the material basis (substance) of bodies, the teaching of I. Newton on space as the receptacle of all natural bodies, and the teaching of J. Locke on the origin of concepts of matter and space. According to Berkeley, it is impossible to form general ideas of space and matter by abstracting from the particular properties of individual things: we do not have sensory perception of matter as such. Contrary to Locke, Berkeley asserted that our minds can form a general idea of a thing, but not a general idea of matter. Furthermore, a general idea of matter is entirely unnecessary in science or philosophy, because it adds nothing to the properties of things beyond what is given by sensory perception. Berkeley argued against the distinction between primary and secondary qualities: all qualities are secondary to the extent that their being is entirely attributable to the ability to be perceived.

Rejecting the being of matter, Berkeley recognized only the existence of spiritual being, which he divided into “ideas” and “spirits.” Ideas, subjective qualities perceived by us, are passive and involuntary; the content of our feelings and perceptions is absolutely independent of us. On the other hand, spirits are active and can be causes.

Attempting to escape the unavoidable consequences of subjective idealism that lead to solipsism, Berkeley contended that the perceiving subject is not alone and that a thing that one subject has ceased to perceive can be perceived by other subjects. But even if all subjects disappeared, things would continue to exist as the sum of ideas in the mind of god—the subject who exists eternally and who “inserts” into the consciousness of separate subjects the content of their sensations. Here Berkeley “approaches . . . objective idealism” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 24). As Lenin showed in Materialism and Empirical Criticism, Berkeley’s philosophy was the prototype and one of the sources of the subjective idealist theory of bourgeois philosophy of the end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century.


The Works, vols. 1–9. London, 1948–57.
In Russian translation:
Traktat o nachalakh chelovecheskogo znaniia. St. Petersburg, 1905.
Opyt novoi teorii zreniia. Kazan, 1912.
Tri razgovora. . . . Moscow, 1937.


Blonskii, P. P. Uchenie Berkli o real’nosti. Kiev, [1907].
Bogomolov, A. S. Kritika sub”ektivno-idealisticheskoi filosofii Dzh. Berkli. Moscow, 1959.
Luce, A. A. Berkeley’s Immaterialism. London, 1945.
Warnock, G. J. Berkeley. London, 1953.
Ritchie, A. D. G. Berkeley. [Manchester, 1967].


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