Page 1 Page 2 Summary The Dialogues begin with an anecdote. It is early morning, on a university campus, and our two protagonists, Philonous and Hylas, have just run into each other while each taking a solitary stroll. Philonous is pleasantly surprised to find his friend awake so early, but Hylas seems distracted and mildly agitated. He explains that he has been mulling over the assortment of insane beliefs that philosophers hold — both those who "pretend to believe nothing at all" i. Hylas is disturbed by the prevalence of these insane beliefs for a very practical reason: he is afraid that when common people hear supposedly learned scholars spouting off about how they know nothing at all, or else making claims that are entirely contrary to common sense, they themselves will end up becoming suspicious of the most important, sacred truths which until then they had considered unquestionable. In other words, following the lead of the philosophers, they will begin to doubt their own religious convictions and other common sense opinions.
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Berkeley offers powerful insights against the independent existence of physical substance as an inherently existent thing. I have personally found his arguments to be helpful. Maybe others will too. This is a practical commentary, not a scholarly one. This is a handy site that updates many philosophers to a more informal, contemporary English. These versions tend to be easier for modern readers to understand. So he rewrote it in dialog form and gave it the structure of objections and replies.
Who is Speaking? There are two speakers. What Was Berkeley Arguing Against? Berkeley was arguing against the idea that material substance could exist in a mind-independent way. When Berkeley wrote, ideas about what is real tended to follow the sciences. Some theories held that physical substance consisted of minute particles. It was present only as a ground or substratum of qualities, as if the qualities had to belong to something.
Other times the idea was that physical substance was the special qualities inherent to the substance, with no generic ground underneath. Berkeley refutes both notions of physical substance. In either case, what were the qualities that supposedly exist objectively, inherent in physical substance? This is an ancient philosophical problem — appearance vs.
In fact, one of the famous ancient Greek materialists wrote …by convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color; but in reality atoms and void.
Inherent Qualities a. These were the basis of the reality of any object. Sensible Qualities a. Secondary Qualities : Most of the other qualities of an object were thought of as experiences occurring to a mind, not something in the object itself. These qualities were thought to include colors, sounds, tastes, smells.
Some philosophers argued that the qualities in the mind resemble or represent the qualities in material objects. In other words, why is Berkeley so much against it? We never see the substance or its primary qualities.
All we observe are the secondary qualities. The two kinds of qualities exist in different realms. This is a major metaphysical dualism. If the reality of the world is unseen material substance, then there would be no room for God.
So for Berkeley, materialism led to atheism, which led to immoral behavior. He argued that primary qualities are just like secondary qualities, appearing as ideas to the mind. Because an idea cannot exist apart from a mind that thinks it, the qualities of matter cannot exist apart from their appearance in minds.
He also argued that we have no idea of anything that is supposed to exist external to all minds. The very conception of such a mind-independent quality actually serves to bring it into the realm of the mind.
Also, ideas cannot serve as causes. Causality is a property of the mind. We can sense this when we think about our volition, which causes us to act. Ideas come to my mind from the mind of God. The table is nothing other than the table-idea. This way, we have direct knowledge of the table.
Because ideas are never apart from the mind, we are never separate from the world. Minds can also be causes. We can observe how our own volition seems to cause the thoughts and actions that follow. He retained minds and ideas and the idea of volition in his philosophy, and never attempted to refute them the way he refuted material substance. But this is OK.
Berkeley was very interested in Christianity, and did not want to refute core Christian ideas. This is for three reasons. One reason is this. We see the world as physical and ourselves as physical bodies.
These two beliefs tend to enforce each other. We even think of minds and other subtle objects as if they were shadowy physical objects. We think of them as having location, shape, size and edges or borders. These are physical qualities. It will actually ripple through our later inquiries. The things he accepts are quite congruent with the tools of nonduality.
If you need to, you can make the following substitutions when reading Berkeley.
Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous
Summary Summary Summary Look around the room. You probably see a desk, chairs, and some books. You believe that all these things exist. Moreover, you believe that they exist in such a way that corresponds to your perception of them. If someone told you that, in fact, nothing in the room existed except for you, you would dismiss this person as a lunatic. This is because you are not a skeptic. You believe in the real existence of the objects of your experience.
Study Guide to George Berkeley’s “Three Dialogues, Part One” – Introduction
In The First Dialogue, Hylas expresses his disdain for skepticism , adding that he has heard Philonous to have "maintained the most extravagant opinion Thus, a philosophical battle of wit begins. Philonous questions Hylas systematically regarding what humans know of the world, first examining secondary qualities, such as heat, to show that such qualities do not exist outside the individual mind. The basic argument is that because matter is only known to us by its sensible qualities, it is impossible to describe or even imagine matter without these qualities.
Good morrow, Hylas: I did not expect to find you abroad so early. It is indeed something unusual; but my thoughts were so taken up with a subject I was discoursing of last night, that finding I could not sleep, I resolved to rise and take a turn in the garden. It happened well, to let you see what innocent and agreeable pleasures you lose every morning. Can there be a pleasanter time of the day, or a more delightful season of the year? That purple sky, those wild but sweet notes of birds, the fragrant bloom upon the trees and flowers, the gentle influence of the rising sun, these and a thousand nameless beauties of nature inspire the soul with secret transports; its faculties too being at this time fresh and lively, are fit for those meditations, which the solitude of a garden and tranquillity of the morning naturally dispose us to.