Berkeley: Perception, conception, and indexical thought

Theodore Michael Daniel Cooke, Marquette University


The doctrine of matter, mind/body interaction, the primary/secondary quality distinction, the doctrine of absolute time: these are just some of the tenets of early modern philosophy that are vigorously attacked by George Berkeley (1685-1753), the Anglo-Irish bishop and philosopher who offered his own theory of immaterialism to replace the problematic dualistic philosophies of his day. In this study it is argued that Berkeley's rejection of abstract ideas underscores his strongest attacks on all of these tenets. The first five chapters give an account of how Berkeley's rejection of abstract ideas plays a pivotal role in his most famous and powerful arguments--arguments like the "Master Argument" and the "Inseparability Thesis." These arguments, it is maintained, are just as tight and convincing today as they were back then. In a critical vein, however, the final chapter of this study attacks Berkeley for his failure to distinguish adequately the conditions under which minds can be said to own ideas. Berkeley's failure to do this, it is maintained, reintroduces the possibility of skepticism and the problem of explaining how finite minds can be free in a world determined by God's will. It is concluded that, in the absence of such criteria, Berkeley cannot give an adequate account of the apparent uniqueness of the experiential perspective of each finite mind such that the personal identity of the finite mind is reduced to being just one part of God's mind which is infinite. This interpretation is in accord with Berkeley's understanding of God as "that in Whom we live and move and have our being."

Recommended Citation

Cooke, Theodore Michael Daniel, "Berkeley: Perception, conception, and indexical thought" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9901723.