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CHAPTER XI

BERKELEY AND CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY

THE period of English thought which followed Locke's death was fruitful both in great writers and in important movements. Locke's own influence was felt everywhere. His new way of approaching the subject, his freedom from the traditional technicalities of the schools, and his application of his method to a wide range of human interests, made philosophy count for more with reflective writers generally, and determined the line of thought taken by greater minds. Speculation turned mainly upon three problems -the problem of knowledge, the problem of religion and the problem of morality. The treatment of each problem led to striking developments; and Locke's influence affected them all, though in unequal degrees. The idealism of Berkeley followed directly from his fundamental positions; the leaders of the deists professed themselves his disciples, though they arrived at conclusions different from his; the work of the moralists was less fully determined by his speculations, though his ethical views were, perhaps, seldom far from their minds. In the present chapter, this division of problems will be followed; it will treat, in succession, of the metaphysicians, the deists and the moralists. Most writers, indeed, did not limit their interests to a single problem; and their place here will have to be determined by a view of the permanent importance of their work in different departments. Strict chronological order, also, to some extent, will be sacrificed. In this way, consideration of the writings of Samuel Clarke, for instance-although he was a prominent figure in the whole philosophical movement, and one of the earliest to attain eminence-will be postponed till the last section of the chapter.

I. METAPHYSICIANS.

George Berkeley was born at Dysert castle, county Kilkenny, Ireland, on 12 March 1685, and educated at Kilkenny school and Trinity college, Dublin, which he entered in 1700 and where he remained, first as a scholar, afterwards as fellow and tutor, till January 1713. These early years are the most remarkable in Berkeley's literary career. He published, anonymously, two mathematical tracts in 1707; his Essay towards a new theory of vision appeared in 1709, his Principles of Human Knowledge, part I, in 1710 ; and when, in 1713, he got leave of absence from his college and set out for London, it was 'to print his new book'-Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous-as well as 'to make acquaintance with men of merit.' These three books reveal the new thought which inspired his life; and the evidence of his Common-place Book (discovered and published by Campbell Fraser in 1871) shows that he was barely twenty years of age when this new thought took hold of him. Berkeley was absent from Ireland for eight years, spending his time in London, France and Italy (where, on a second visit, he resided four years). During this period, he did little literary work; he made some progress, indeed, with the second part of his Principles, but the MS was lost in his travels, and the work was never resumed; his Latin treatise De motu was written as he was on his way home in 1720, and published in 1721; he collected materials for a natural history of Sicily, but this MS also was lost; a journal written in Italy, however, and many letters remain to show his appreciation of the beauties of nature and art. His return to England gave a new direction to his energy. The country was in the period of collapse which follows a speculative mania; and Berkeley saw the true cause of the national disaster in the decline of religion, the decay of public spirit and the prevalent corruption of manners. One hundred and forty years later, Mark Pattison described the period as 'an age whose poetry was without romance, whose philosophy was without insight, and whose public men were without character1.' A similar judgment forms the burden of Berkeley's Essay towards preventing the ruin of Great Britain, published anonymously in 1721. He returned to Ireland and to Trinity college later in the same year, and was presented to the deanery of Dromore. The office attracted him because it would give him leisure for reflection and for philanthropic work; but

1 Essays and Reviews, 1860, p. 254.

a legal question arose as to the right of presentation, and his hopes received a check. Berkeley is one of the most perfect characters among men of letters; but his perfection was not colourless. He threw himself with energy into the defence of his rights, and at least had the satisfaction of a protracted lawsuit. While the case was still pending, in 1724, he was appointed to a much more valuable preferment-the deanery of Derry. 'It is said to be worth £1500 a year,' he wrote, 'but I do not consider it with a view to enriching myself. I shall be perfectly contented if it facilitates and recommends my scheme of Bermuda.' This scheme seems to have taken hold of Berkeley's mind about two years previously; to it he devoted his fortune and ten years of his life. His plan was to found a college in the Bermudas, with the twofold object of 'the reformation of manners among the English in our western plantations, and the propagation of the gospel among the American savages.' Berkeley spent four years in London in endeavouring to extract a charter and grant of money from a reluctant government and subscriptions from an unbelieving generation; he had to frequent the court and dispute twice a week with Samuel Clarke before queen Caroline, then princess of Wales; he listened to the banter of the wits of the Scriblerus club, and then replied with such eloquence and enthusiasm that they 'rose all up together, with earnestness exclaiming, "Let us set out with him immediately"'; he canvassed every member of parliament with such effect that, in the Commons, there were only two opponents of the vote; even Walpole subscribed to the scheme, though he secretly determined that the government grant of money should never be paid. Bermuda became the fashion, and Berkeley was idolised. But he grudged the waste of time, and, at last-with only a promise from Walpole that the grant would be paid-he set sail from Greenwich in September 1728, with his newly-married wife. In January 1729, he landed at Newport, Rhode island. There he remained for nearly three years, waiting vainly for the government to fulfil its promises. This it never did; he never reached Bermuda, and his college was never founded; but he left his impress upon the early efforts of American philosophy; his interpretation of the material world modified the thinking of Jonathan Edwards, the metaphysician and theologian of New England; and the memory of his visit has been treasured by the American mind. The new world also affected Berkeley's imagination and led to a set of Verses on the prospect of planting arts and learning in America.

One of his lines-Westward the course of empire takes its way -has come to be looked upon as prophetic; but his idea was not geographical; it was that better times would follow better morals, where nature guides and virtue rules.'

Berkeley remained in London for more than two years after his return to England; and a new period of authorship began, during which he joined in the controversies of the age. In Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher (1732), written in the seclusion of his home in Rhode island, he applied his general principles in defence of religion against the free-thinkers. In 1733 appeared his Theory of Vision, or Visual Language Vindicated and Explained; and, in the following year, he published The Analyst, in which he criticised the positions of the new mathematics which, in his view, were connected with a materialistic conception of the world. This bold attempt to carry the war into the enemy's country called forth many pamphlets on the other side. In the same year, Berkeley returned to Ireland as bishop of Cloyne; and, henceforth, his literary work was divided between questions of social reform and religious reflection. The reform is represented by The Querist (1735), a work full of penetrating remarks; both subjects are combined in Siris: a Chain of Philosophical Reflexions (1744), which begins by expounding the medicinal virtues of tar-water, and ends in an exposition of idealism in which the Lockean strain has given place to the Platonic. A Miscellany containing several tracts was published in October 1752. Two months earlier he had left Cloyne, that he might spend the remainder of his days at Oxford; and there he died on 14 January 1753.

When Berkeley launched his idealism upon an unsympathetic world, he had read Descartes and Malebranche and been attracted by the philosophy of Plato; he was also acquainted with the works of the mathematicians and natural philosophers, and suspected a trend to materialism in their theories; but his thought had been formed under the influence of Locke, whose Essay found earlier recognition from the academic authorities at Dublin than from those of English universities. At the time when Berkeley entered Trinity college and for ten years afterwards, the provost was Peter Browne, afterwards bishop of Cork, a student and critic of the Essay. He had already attracted attention by an Answer to Toland (1697). His more original works followed after a long interval-The Procedure, extent and limits of human understanding, in 1728, and the work called, for

short, Divine Analogy, in 1733. These two books are connected with Berkeley's later work, for the theory of our knowledge of God propounded in the former is criticised in one of the dialogues of Alciphron, and the criticisms are replied to in Browne's Divine Analogy. Browne could not accept Locke's account of knowledge by means of ideas, when it came to be applied to mind. Mind and body, he held, are not known in the same way. We have, indeed, ideas of our mental operations as these are connected with the body; but minds or spirits-whether divine or human-can be known only by analogy. This view, Berkeley, in later life, attacked; but it points to a difficulty in his own theory also-a difficulty which he came to see, without fully resolving it. There is, however, no sufficient evidence for saying that Browne had any direct influence upon Berkeley's early speculation.

Berkeley's theory emerges full-grown, if not fully armed. Even in his Common-place Book, there is no hesitation in the references to 'my doctrine,' 'the immaterial hypothesis.' Only persons exist: 'all other things are not so much existences as manners of the existence of persons.' He knows that 'a mighty sect of men will oppose me,' that he will be called young, an upstart, a pretender, vain; but his confidence is not shaken: 'Newton begs his principles; I demonstrate mine.' He did not, at first, reveal the whole truth to the world. An Essay towards a new theory of vision deals with one point only-the relation between the objects of sight and those of touch. Molyneux had once set the problem to Locke, whether a man born blind, if he recovered his sight, would be able by sight alone to distinguish from one another a cube and a sphere, with which he had been previously acquainted by touch. Molyneux answered his own question in the negative, and Locke expressed agreement with his solution and admiration for the insight which it showed. Berkeley was of one mind with them about the answer to the query, but for a more fundamental reason. If extension be an idea common to sight and touch (as Locke held), then visible squareness must be the same as, or have something in common with, tangible squareness. In virtue of this, the man born blind, so soon as he is made to see, should be able to distinguish between a visible square and a visible circle and to identify this distinction with the distinction between the square and the circle already known by touch. If he is unable to do so, it is because there is nothing in common between the visible object and the tangible. And this is Berkeley's view.

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