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BERKELEY'S METAPHYSICAL WORKS 1
HARDLY any English writer on philosophical subjects has attained a reputation so pleasant in itself as Bishop Berkeley. It is impossible to read his works without feeling for their author something of the sentiment which led Pope to attribute to him every virtue under heaven. In all that he writes there is an air of genuine goodness, united with an amount of precision and force of thought, and also with an enthusiasm for his opinions, to which it would not be easy to find any parallel in his own time and country.
Besides this, it ought to be said in his favour that
11. A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Wherein the chief causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences, with the grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion, are inquired into.
2. Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, in opposition to Sceptics and Atheists.
3. Siris. A Chain of Philosophical Reflections and Inquiries concerning the Virtues of Tar-Water ; and divers other Subjects connected together and arising One from Another.
he is always high-minded and public-spirited. The only charge indeed which can properly be brought against him is that, though no writer of his age had greater intellectual gifts—if indeed any one was his equal in acuteness of thought and accuracy of expression-he cared too much for the utility, and too little for the truth, of his speculations.
His inquiry into the nature of human knowledge, his dialogues on the same subject, and Siris, are undoubtedly three of the most subtle speculations of the eighteenth century, yet each is mainly directed towards a rigidly practical object. To confound scepticism, atheism, and irreligion is the object of his inquiry into the reality of matter. To preach the virtues of tar-water, which he does, with an unhesitating conviction, and an unqualified vigour of language, which reminds one at times of the literary department of the establishment of Moses and Son, and of Morison's British College of Health, is the main object of what may also be regarded as a treatise on ancient philosophy.
Of the three works on which Berkeley's metaphysical reputation rests, the first, the treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge, was published in 1710, when its author was only twenty-six years of age. The Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous were published three years afterwards, and Siris in 1744, in his fiftieth year. He was far from being a voluminous writer, for the Minute Philosopher, published in 1732, some mathematical tracts, and a few occasional, though very remarkable, sermons and pamphlets, make up the list of his publications.
The Theory of Vision, which may be put half-way between his mathematical and his metaphysical writings, was his earliest work, being published in 1709. It was perhaps because he published so little that Berkeley was one of the most consistent and pertinacious of philosophers. In every one of his works, the doctrines which he announced at twentyfive, to the great astonishment and almost to the scandal of his contemporaries, are maintained with unabated vigour and complete consistency, and they are always connected with the same practical results.
We will try to give some account of his views, for though their general tendency is sufficiently well known, there is, we think, a good deal of misunderstanding as to their real nature, and as to their place in the history of English philosophical thought.
The essay on the Principles of Human Knowledge is to a great extent in the nature of a refutation of part of Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding. Berkeley's great object was, as he says, to deliver philosophy, the study of wisdom and truth, from 'the uncouth paradoxes, difficulties, and inconsistencies which multiply and grow upon us as we advance in speculation, and from which he thought Locke's philosophy was not more free than that of his predecessors—a doctrine which he would probably have supported by reference, amongst other things, to the twenty-third chapter of the Second Book of
the Essay, on Our Ideas of Substances, in which Locke teaches that our faculties are dark and weak, and are fitted only to provide for the conveniences of living,' but not for acquiring knowledge of the 'true essence, secret composition, and radical texture of bodies.'
Of this limitation Berkeley was impatient. He says, "The far greater part of the difficulties which have hitherto amused philosophers are entirely owing to this theory; that we have first raised a dust and then complain we cannot see.' Clear away the puzzles needlessly introduced into philosophical speculation by the philosophers, and you would be able, thought Berkeley, to speculate with perfect clearness, and to solve every question which could be stated, at all events in natural philosophy.
Of the puzzles thus introduced the two most important were, first, a false notion of abstraction ; and, secondly, the doctrine of the existence of matter. The process of abstraction, as described by Locke, consists in analysing the various objects which we perceive into their elements, and in then regarding such of those elements as are common to a number of different things as general abstract ideas. "For instance, there is perceived by sight an object extended, coloured, and moved; this mixed or compound idea the mind resolving into its simple constituent parts, and viewing each by itself, exclusive of the rest, does frame the abstract ideas of extension, colour, and motion. By the application
' of this process to complex things, such as men,