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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

§ 6. Berkeley’s Idealism

As regards material things, therefore, a single phrase expresses Berkeley’s thought: “their esse is percipi.” Theirs is a passive, dependent existence. Active, independent existence can belong to minds or persons only. From this position he never wavered, though there is a good deal of difference between his earlier and his later views. He saw that, as the existence of ideas consists in being perceived, so mind must be regarded as perceiving. “Existence … is percipi or percipere” is one of his earliest statements; and, as men may sleep or be rendered unconscious, he is willing, at first, to accept the consequence that “men die or are in a state of annihilation oft in a day.” But this solution seemed too dangerous and was soon relinquished, and thus he held it “a plain consequence that the soul always thinks.” As there is no material substance, so, also, there can be no material cause. Material things, being our ideas and altogether passive, are related to one another not as cause and effect but only as sign and thing signified. We learn to understand their grouping, and thus one idea suggests others, the like of which have followed it in previous experience; while further experience confirms the anticipation. What we call laws of nature, therefore, are simply a statement of the orderly sequences in which the ideas of the senses occur in our minds. The material substance to which philosophers refer these ideas as their cause is, he labours to prove, an unmeaning and self-contradictory abstraction. Certain ideas—those which we call ideas of imagination—are constructed by the individual mind; but the ideas of sense, or sensible things, though they exist only in the mind, are not caused by my mind or by any other finite mind. There must, therefore, be “an omnipresent eternal Mind, which knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view in such a manner, and according to such rules, as He Himself hath ordained, and are by us termed the laws of nature.”