Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy

Section Two: Period of the Thinking Understanding
Chapter II. — Transition Period, A Idealism & Scepticism

This idealism, in which all external reality disappears, has before it the standpoint of Locke, and it proceeds directly from him. For we saw that to Locke the source of truth is experience, or Being as perceived. Now since this sensuous Being, as Being, has in it the quality of being for consciousness, we saw that it necessarily came to pass that in Locke's case some qualities, at least, were so determined that they were not in themselves, but only for another; and that colour, figure, &c., had their ground only in the subject, in his particular organization. This Being-for-another, however, was not by him accepted as the Notion, but as falling within self-consciousness — i.e., self-consciousness not looked on as universal, — not within mind, but within what is opposed to the implicit.

George Berkeley was born in 1684 at Kilcrin, near Thomastown, in the county of Kilkenny, Ireland: in 1754 he died as an English Bishop.(1) He wrote the “Theory of Vision,” 1709; “A Treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge,” 1710; “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,” 1713. In 1784 his collected works were published in London in two quarto volumes.

Berkeley advocated an idealism which came very near to that of Malebranche. As against the metaphysic of the understanding, we have the point of view that all existence and its determinations arise from feeling, and are constituted by self-consciousness. Berkeley's first and fundamental thought is consequently this: “The Being of whatever is called by us a thing consists alone in its being perceived,” i.e., our determinations are the objects of our knowledge. “All objects of human knowledge are ideas” (so called by Berkeley as by Locke), “which arise either from the impressions of the outward senses, or from perceptions of the inward states and activities of the mind, or finally, they are such as are constituted by means of memory and imagination through their separation and rearrangement. A union of different sensuous feelings appears to us to be a particular thing, e.g., the feeling of colour, taste, smell, figure, &c.; for by colours, smells, sounds, something of which we have a sensation is always understood.”(2) This is the matter and the object of knowledge; the knower is the percipient “I,” which reveals itself in relation to those feelings in various activities, such as imagination, remembrance, and will.

Berkeley thus indeed acknowledges the distinction between Being-for-self and Other-Being, which in his case, however, itself falls within the “I.” Of the matter on which activity is directed, it is no doubt in regard to one portion allowed that it does not exist outside of mind — that is to say, so far as our thoughts, inward feelings and states, or the operations of our imaginary powers are concerned. But in like manner the manifold sensuous conceptions and feelings can only exist in a mind. Locke certainly distinguished extension and movement, for example, as fundamental qualities, i.e., as qualities which pertain to the objects in themselves. But Berkeley very pertinently points out inconsistency here from the point of view that great and small, quick and slow, hold good as something relative; thus were extension and movement to be inherent or implicit, they could not be either large or small, quick or slow; that is, they could not be, for these determinations rest in the conception(3) of such qualities. In Berkeley the relation of things to consciousness is alone dealt with, and beyond this relationship they do not in his view come. From this it follows that it is only self-consciousness that possesses them; for a perception which is not in a conceiving mind is nothing: it is a direct contradiction. There can be no substance, he says, which neither conceives nor perceives, and which is yet the substratum of perceptions and conceptions. If it is represented that there is something outside of consciousness which is similar to the conceptions, this is likewise contradictory; a conception can alone be similar to a conception, the idea to the idea alone.(4)

Thus, while Locke's ultimate point is abstract substance, Being generally with the real determination of a substratum of accidents, Berkeley declares this substance to be the most incomprehensible assumption of all; but the incomprehensibility does not make this Being into an absolute nullity, nor does it make it in itself incomprehensible.(5) For Berkeley brings forward against the present existence of external objects only the inconceivability of the relation of a Being to mind. This inconceivability, however, is destroyed in the Notion, for the Notion is the negative of things; and this moved Berkeley and Leibnitz to shut up the two sides in themselves. There nevertheless remains a relationship of what is “other” to us; these feelings do not develop from us as Leibnitz represents, but are determined through somewhat else. When Leibnitz speaks of development within the monads, it is nothing but empty talk; for the monads as they follow in succession have no inward connection. Each individual is thus determined through another, and not through us; and it does not matter what this external is, since it remains a contingent. Now in relation to the two sides of Leibnitz which are indifferent to one another, Berkeley says that such an “other” is quite superfluous. Berkeley calls the other the objects; but these, he says, cannot be what we call matter, for spirit and matter cannot come together.(6) But the necessity of conceptions directly contradicts this Being-within-self of the conceiver; for the Being-within-self is the freedom of the conceiver; the latter does not, however, produce the conceptions with freedom; they have for him the form and determinateness of an independent “other.” Berkeley likewise does not accept idealism in the subjective sense, but only in respect that there are spirits which impart themselves (in the other case the subject forms his own conceptions), and consequently, that it is God alone who brings to pass such conceptions; thus the imaginations or conceptions which are produced by us with our individual activity remain separate from these others,(7) i.e. from the implicit.

This conception gives an instance of the difficulties which appear in regard to these questions, and which Berkeley wished to escape from in a quite original way. The inconsistency in this system God has again to make good; He has to bear it all away; to Him the solution of the contradiction is left. In this idealism, in short, the common sensuous view of the universe and the separation of actuality, as also the system of thought, of judgments devoid of Notion, remain exactly as before; plainly nothing in the content is altered but the abstract form that all things are perceptions only.(8) Such idealism deals with the opposition between consciousness and its object merely, and leaves the extension of the conceptions and the antagonisms of the empirical and manifold content quite untouched; and if we ask what then is the truth of these perceptions and conceptions, as we asked formerly of things, no answer is forthcoming. It is pretty much a matter of indifference whether we believe in things or in perceptions, if self-consciousness remains possessed entirely by finalities; it receives the content in the ordinary way, and that content is of the ordinary kind. In its individuality it stumbles about amid the conceptions of an entirely empirical existence, without knowing and understanding anything else about the content: that is to say in this formal idealism reason has no content of its own.

As to what Berkeley further states in respect of the empirical content, where the object of his investigation becomes entirely psychological, it relates in the main to finding out the difference between the sensations of sight and feeling, and to discovering which kind of sensations belong to the one and which to the other. This kind of investigation keeps entirely to the phenomenal, and only therein distinguishes the various sorts of phenomena; or comprehension only reaches as far as to distinctions. The only point of interest is that these investigations have in their course chiefly lighted on space, and a dispute is carried on as to whether we obtain the conception of distance and so on, in short all the conceptions relating to space, through sight or feeling. Space is just this sensuous universal, the universal in individuality itself, which in the empirical consideration of empirical multiplicity invites and leads us on to thought (for it itself is thought), and by it this very sensuous perception and reasoning respecting perception is in its action confused. And since here perception finds an objective thought, it really would be led on to thought or to the possession of a thought, but at the same time it cannot arrive at thought in its completion, since thought or the Notion are not in question, and it clearly cannot come to the consciousness of true reality. Nothing is thought in the form of thought, but only as an external, as something foreign to thought.

David Hume (next section) — Contents

1. Nachrichten von dem Leben und den Schriften des Bischofs Berkeley (in Berkeley's philosph. Werk. Pt. I. Leipzig, 1781), pp. 1, 45; Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. V. Sect. 1, pp. 86-90.
2. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. V. pp. 90, 91; The Works of George Berkeley, Prof. Fraser's edition (Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous), Vol. I. p. 264, seq. et passim.
3. Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. V. Sect. 1, pp. 92, 93; The Works of George Berkeley, Vol. I. p. 279 seq.
4. Buhle, ibidem, pp. 91, 92; Berkeley, ibidem, pp. 288 seq., 300 seq. et passim.
5. Buhle, ibidem, pp. 93, 94; Berkeley, ibidem, pp. 289, 308. seq.
6. Buhle: Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, Vol. V. Sect. 1, pp. 94, 95; The Works of George Berkeley, Vol. I. pp. 308, 335.
7. Buhle, ibidem, pp. 96-99; Berkeley, ibidem, p. 325, seq. et passim.
8. Cf. Berkeley, ibidem, passim.

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