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George Berkeley (1685–1753). Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

GEORGE BERKELEY, Bishop of Cloyne, was born in the County of Kilkenny, Ireland, March 12, 1685. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he became acquainted with the writings of Locke, and grew enthusiastically interested in the “new philosophy,” as it was called, in contrast to the scholasticism which Trinity College had not yet officially discarded. When he was only twenty-four he published his “Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision,” and in the next year his “Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”; but being disappointed in the comparative neglect of his new ideas by the philosophers of the day, he proceeded to discuss both objections and answers in the “Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous” published in 1713, and here reprinted.

Meantime, Berkeley had been appointed to various college offices; and in 1713 he crossed to England and gained access to the circles of Addison and Pope. Through Swift’s influence he went to Italy as chaplain to Lord Peterborough; and after several years, spent partly in London and partly on the Continent, he returned to Ireland in 1721 as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant, became Dean of Derry, and inherited property.

Berkeley had now become possessed with the idea of a great future for Christianity in America, planned a college in Bermuda, and, while the grants of money which he hoped for were in suspense, he crossed the Atlantic and spent the years 1728–31 in Rhode Island. Becoming hopeless of ever getting the required endowment for his college, he returned to England, published, “Alciphron,” which he had written on his American farm, and retired to the Bishopric of Cloyne, where he lived almost to the end of his life, practising benevolence in his diocese and publishing the virtues of tar-water, a panacea in which he believed with characteristic enthusiasm. He died at Oxford, January 14, 1753.

The following Dialogues are the best defense of Berkeley’s main doctrines, and are regarded by Leslie Stephen as “the finest specimen in our language of the conduct of argument by dialogue.” His chief editor, Fraser, calls them “the gem of British metaphysical literature.”