Berkeley’s Immaterialism and the Existence of God: A Case Study

Philosophy / April 23, 2015 / No Comments /
This paper discusses the philosopher George Berkeley’s concept of immaterialism, his subsequent argument for the existence of God, and the reasons why his argument cannot be accepted as being valid.

An intricate discussion of philosopher George Berkeley’s concept of immaterialism and his subsequent argument for the necessary existence of a Supreme Being, or God. The author outlines and analyzes Berkeley’s two major philosophical treatises, and the main arguments found in each are clearly defined and presented in a succinct, yet detailed manner. Philosophical ideas/concepts discussed include the `Likeness Principle` and the variability of sensory experience. The paper then presents Berkeley’s argument for the existence of God, which builds upon the already established theory of immaterialism by discussing the distinction between absolute and relative existence.
“Immaterialism, as defined by Berkeley, is the idea that it is impossible for any sensible qualities whatsoever to exist independent of a mind (Berkeley 1965, 5-6). This argument is brought forth succinctly and clearly in the Dialogues, in which Berkeley presents his case through the character of Philonous, and defends it against criticism by the character of Hylas. Although there are many aspects in both Principles and the Dialogues that contribute to the overall argument for immaterialism, for the purpose of this essay, only two of the strongest points will be discussed- the argument from variability and the likeness principle.

One of the key features of Berkeley’s argument for immaterialism centers on the variability of one’s sensory experiences in comparison to another’s. He notes that each individual perceives the world differently, whether in terms of smell, taste, sight, or touch. One of the ways in which this variability of sensory experiences is presented by Philonous to Hylas is during a discussion between the two concerning taste. Philonous points out that although a certain food may taste pleasant to one person, that same food may taste awful to another. `How could this be?, Philonous asks Hylas, `if taste was something really inherent in the food?` (Berkeley 1998, [180]) There is only apparent taste, and this requires dependence on a mind. The same argument is also applied to smell, touch, sight, extension, motion, and solidity, and is reasoned to be just as effective. Perceptual variability occurs with these senses/qualities as well, and none of the apparent smells or colors seem to be any more real than any other ([68-78]).`

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