Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 4. The Merits of the Essay as a work of Psychological Analysis

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XI. Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 4. The Merits of the Essay as a work of Psychological Analysis

Some of the details of Berkeley’s Essay need revision in the light of modern study of the senses. But this does not obscure its merit as one of the most brilliant pieces of psychologic analysis in the English language. A more serious objection to it is that the author pushes too far his war against abstractions. It is true, as he urges, that sight and touch have no common element that can be separated from both and become an independent presentation. Against “abstract ideas” of this sort, his polemic was fully justified. But the different senses are not disconnected either in genesis or in function, and reflection may discover certain lines of similarity among their processes. Berkeley decides too quickly that the connection is arbitrary, because of the striking difference in their contents, and because one cannot be called cause and another effect; and he argues too easily from this arbitrary connection to divine volition. He never gave the same close attention to the conceptual factor in knowledge as he gave to sense and imagination, and in his early work the conceptual factor is almost entirely ignored.