When it comes to thinking about what the mind is, it is very easy to start from the starting point of consciousness. Many things can be doubted, but as the philosopher Descartes says, there is no doubt that we exist, at least as a self-aware mind. Everything else, including our personality and our behavior patterns, seems more uncertain.
This approach is solipsistic, that is to say that it is part of the starting point of everyone’s conscious “I” and questions quite other than that. One of the most radical thinkers to bring solipsism to its ultimate consequences was the Englishman George Berkeley. In the following lines I will explain how George Berkeley saw the world through his idealistic theory.
Who was George Berkeley?
The philosopher George Berkeley was born in Ireland, more precisely in a town called Kilkenny, in 1685. After studying at Kilkeny College and then at Trinity College in Dublin, he became an Anglican priest and devoted himself to study and writing. testing.
In 1710 he wrote his first major work, the Treatise on the Principles of Human Understanding, and three years later, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonus. In them he embodied a way of thinking deeply influenced by idealism, as we will see.
In 1714, after having written his major works, he moved to London and occasionally traveled through Europe. He then moved to Rhode Island with his wife with the goal of starting a seminary. This project failed due to lack of funds, which led him to return to London, then to Dublin, place where he was appointed bishop a few years later. He lived there the rest of his years until his death in 1753.
George Berkeley’s idealist theory
The main aspects of Gerorge Berkeley’s philosophical theory are:
1. A strong idealism
Berkeley started from the postulate that the main thing is to analyze everything from the point of view of ideas, of the intangible. Therefore, he was interested in the study of logical and formal systems, And his thinking focused on working with concepts, beyond empirical observations. This was relatively common in his day, since the influence of medieval scholastic philosophy, dedicated to justifying the existence of God by reflection, was still felt in Europe. However, as we will see, Berkeley carried his idealism to its ultimate consequences.
As we have seen, George Berkeley was primarily concerned with ideas, which he equated with the spiritual. However, unlike other idealists, he was not a dualist, in that he did not believe that reality was composed of two fundamental elements such as matter and the spiritual. He was a monist in a sense that hardly anyone had been: he only believed in the existence of the spiritual.
3. Extreme solipsism
From the combination of the two preceding characteristics results this third. Berkeley believed that in reality everything we think and perceive is part of the same thing: the spiritual. In his Christian conception of things, everything around us is a spiritual substance created by the Christian god for us to live there. This has the following implication, the most striking feature of George Berkeley’s theory.
For Berkeley, when we see a mountain that looks tiny on the horizon, it is really tiny and it will transform as we approach it. When we see that the oar bends as it dives into the water, the oar is actually bending. If it seems to us that a sound arrives muffled through the wood of a door, this sound really is, not because a material element has passed through it.
Everything we perceive is truly as we perceive itSince everything is spirit, there is nothing in it which must follow fixed rules. What is happening is the spiritual substance which is transformed before our eyes by the will of the Christian god. In turn, he believed that what exists is what is perceived, so that everything that is not disappears, literally and all over the place.
Even if it was not his intention, George Berkeley’s philosophy shows us how absurd we can fall if we only look at our own ideas, if we reject the possibility that there is a material reality there.
It is something that you can fall into whether or not you believe in a religion. It is basically an extreme relativism that we sometimes use in certain contexts and situations, but which if we continued in any situation would lead us to fall into the absurd.