On Berkeley’s ‘Three Dialogues’​: Dreaming of Mighty Mysteries


Rhythm and Colour at Park Mooting. Peredos Last in the Grand Natural. Velivision victor. Dubs newstage oldtime turftussle, recalling Winny Willy Widger. Two draws. Heliotrope leads from Harem. Three ties. Jockey the Ropper jerks Jake the Rape. Paddrock and bookley chat.

And here are the details.

Tunc. Bymeby, bullocky vampas tappany bobs topside joss pidgin fella Balkelly, archdruid of islish chinchinjoss in the his heptachromatic sevenhued septicoloured roranyellgreenlindigan mantle finish he show along the his mister guest Patholic with alb belongahim the whose throat hum with of sametime all the his cassock groaner fellas of greysfriaryfamily he fast all time what time all him monkafellas with Same Patholic, quoniam, speeching, yeh not speeching noh man liberty is, he drink up words, scilicet, tomorrow till recover will not, all too many much illusiones through photoprismic velamina of hueful panepiphanal world spectacurum of Lord Joss, the of which zoantholitic furniture, from mineral through vegetal to animal, not appear to full up together fallen man than under but one photoreflection of the several iridals gradationes of solar light, that one which that part of it (furnit of heupanepi world) had shown itself (part of fur of huepanwor) unable to absorbere, whereas for numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom of Entis-Onton he savvy inside true inwardness of reality, the Ding hvad in idself id est, all objects (of panepiwor) allside showed themselves in trues coloribus resplendent with sextuple gloria of light actually retained, untisintus, inside them (obs of epiwo). Rumnant Patholic, stareotypopticus, no catch all that preachybook, utpiam, tomorrow recover thing even is not, bymeby vampsybobsy tappanasbullocks topside joss pidginfella Bilkilly-Belkelly say patfella, ontesantes, twotime hemhaltshealing, with other words verbigratiagrading from murmurulentous till stridulocelerious in a hunghoranghoangoly tsinglontseng while his comprehendurient, with diminishing claractinism, augumentationed himself in caloripeia to vision so throughsighty, you anxioust melancholic …

- James Joyce, (1882–1941), ‘Finnegans Wake’

In this final chapter of the Wake Paddrock and bookley meet and have a dialogue. That is to say, St. Patrick, (5th Century), patron saint of Ireland, chats with Irish philosopher, Anglican bishop of Cloyne, born at Kilkenny, George Berkeley, (1685–1753), archdruid Balkelly as he is here. Quite why Joyce has Balkelly speaking pidgin English I do not know but there is much in this text that is a mystery to me. George Berkeley made his arrival earlier in the narrative with a bump, , the Irish philosopher and Anglican bishop of Cloyne, born at Kilkenny, arrives with a bump, ‘the Burklley bump’. This bump is a reference to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s, (1709–1784), well known endeavour through kicking a stone to refute Berkeley’s immaterialist metaphysics that maintains that to be (esse) is to be perceived (percipi). The incident was recorded by James Boswell, (1740–1795):

‘After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus’. This was a stout exemplification of the first truths of Pere Bouffier, or the original principles of Reid and of Beattie; without admitting which, we can no more argue in metaphysicks, than we can argue in mathematicks without axioms: To me it is not conceivable how Berkeley can be answered by pure reasoning; but I know that the nice and difficult task was to have been undertaken by one of the most luminous minds [i.e. Edmund Burke] of the present age, had not politicks ‘turned him from calm philosophy aside.’ What an admirable display of subtilty, united with brilliance, might his contending with Berkeley have afforded us! How must we, when we reflect on the loss of such an intellectual feast, regret that he should be characterised as the man,

‘Who born for the universe narrow’d his mind,

And to party gave up what was meant for mankind?’’

- ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.’

For if, Johnson reasoned, as Berkeley said stones had no material substance and were in fact just collections of ideas, a shoe should pass right through one without any resistance. Johnson didn’t quite fully grasp the Berkeleyan theory if I can call it that, and claimed to be on the side of common sense, but then so did Berkeley who claimed that to have common sense is to trust our senses and he considered his views to be in accord with our ordinary views of the world which cause us to believe that what we immediately perceive are the real things. In his ‘Philosophical Commentaries’ Berkeley remarked that the view that things in themselves are separate from what we sense of them, such that ‘the Wall is not white, the fire is not hot’ is one he could not accept and in fact he states : ‘We Irish men cannot attain to these truths’. That is to say, things are not merely there but are there as objects of perception having a relation to the mind, and Berkeley may well be a subjective idealist but he is not a solipsist, for things do not come in and out of existence relative to our perception of them, rather, their being is independent of our being but not of God’s being for God perceives all things at all times and all things are always in the mind of God and God is immaterial.

Berkeley’s philosophy began with with ‘An Essay on a New Theory of Vision’ wherein he critiques the geometric conception of seeing presented in ‘La dioptrique’ by René Descartes, (1596–1650), and maintains that distance is not attained by the convergence of angles of the object seen but is suggested by what is seen and which has a contingent and not a necessary relation to us. Secondary qualities such as the colour of an object depend upon the light in which we see it and things appear differently at midday than they do at dusk. Primary qualities on the other hand such as the size and shape of an object vary according to our distance from it and angle of sight. ‘Balkelly’, as explained in the passage from the Wake above, has ‘all too many much illusiones though photoprismic velamina of hueful panepiphanal world spectacurum’.

Berkeley described the things of the world as ‘furniture of earth’, that is, ‘zoantholitic furniture, from mineral through vegetal to animal, not appear to full up together fallen man than under but one photoreflection of the several iridals gradationes of solar light, that one which that part of it (furnit of heupanepi world) had shown itself (part of fur of huepanwor) unable to absorbere’. His subjective idealism is one of what is seen is what there is and unlike Immanuel Kant’s, (1724–1804). transcendental idealism there is no thing-in-itself, not even the self is a thing-in- itself. To quote again from the passage above: ‘the Ding hvad in idself id est, all objects (of panepiwor) allside showed themselves in trues coloribus’. The mind is not the id, as Sigmund Freud, (1856–1939), would later put it, nor, Berkeley contends, is it the brain for the brain is an idea in the mind that the mind has of itself based upon its perception.

Berkeley’s last philosophical work is a rather odd contribution to philosophy: ‘A Chain of Philosophical Reflexions and Inquiries concerning the Virtues of Tar-Water, and Divers Other Subjects Connected Together and Arising from One Another’, later known by the title of its second edition ‘Siris’. A greater part of the book is concerned with the merits and consumption of tar water as a cure-all but it also continues with the theme of divine activity as the ultimate cause of phenomena. An exchange between Muta and Juva in the Wake refers to it:

Muta: Suc? He quoffs. Wutt?

Juva: Sec! Wartar watar! Wett

- ‘Finnegans Wake’

The exchange between Muta and Juva also contains elements of Berkeley’s most widely read presentation of his philosophy: ‘Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous’, an exchange that begins like Berkeley’s first dialogue with the ‘risen sun’ the purpose of which is ‘The while we, we are waiting, we are waiting for. Hymn’. The purpose of the Dialogues is to fight against scepticism and paradoxes, which Hylas the materialist promotes, by the pursuit of divine reason and the reality of mind that Philonous represents:

Muta: So that when we shall have acquired unification we shall pass on to diversity and when we shall have passed on to diversity we shall have acquired the instinct to combat and when we shall have acquired the instinct of combat we shall pass back to the spirit of appeasement?

Juva: by the light of the bright reason which daysends to us from the high.

- ‘Finnegans Wake’

Berkeley knows that much of philosophy is rather preposterous and rubs up against common sense and he asserts in his preface to the Dialogues: ‘Upon the common principles of philosophers, we are not assured of the existence of things from their being perceived. And we are taught to distinguish their real nature from that which falls under our senses’. Hence: ‘We spend our lives in doubting of those things which other men evidently know, and believing those things which they laugh at, and despise’.

These are ‘the phyllisophies of Bussup Bulkeley’, to quote from an earlier passage in the Wake.

And as Juva says: ‘Bulkily, and he is fundementially theosophagusted over the whorse proceedings’. Balkelly, archdruid of islish in a bulky manner is theosophagusted, (theosophy, but I won’t go into all that here, suffice to say it sought a profounder knowledge of nature than was obtainable through the method of Aristotle, (384–322 BC), and more contemporary philosophers, plus, disgusted, plus oesophagus), over the whole proceedings, (whorse proceedings, a horse race).

‘Licht’ (Blinde Öllampenverkäuferin in römischen Katakomben zur Zeit der Christenverfolgung), (‘Light’ (‘Blind oil lamp seller in Roman catacombs at the time of the persecution of Christians’)), 1871, Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max

The principal ideas advanced in ‘Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous’ are as follows:

1. The universe is composed not of matter but of minds and spirits, and material objects, conceived of as non-mental substances existing outside consciousness, do not exist.

2. The universe of sensible objects is a projection of the mind and the existence of sensible objects is comparable to that of objects in dreams or hallucinations.

4. The view that tables, chairs, and other sensible objects exist independently of being perceived leads to scepticism about the existence and nature of such a realm.

5. Perceptions are not caused by material substances and an infinite Being causes and coordinates all perceptual experiences.

This is a work in which the view that matter does not exist (or more precisely that it exists as an idea) is defended, the contention being that the universe contains minds or spirits but no realm of atoms and molecules, and in Berkeley’s way of seeing things that are normally considered material objects, pebbles, roses, trousers, female lingerie (sorry) have no existence outside the minds and experiences of conscious beings. Like an object in a dream a pebble has no existence outside consciousness and if all conscious beings were to stop perceiving some sensible object, the sun for instance, that object would cease to exist and whatever you may make of that this work is philosophically significant in virtue of the many important arguments that are presented in support of the principal thesis and it it also notable for the simplicity and clarity with which the ideas are put across, ideas that are presented in the form of a dialogue between Hylas, a materialist, (hyle, Greek, for matter), and Philonous, (Greek, for lover of mind), the representative of Berkeley’s subjective idealism.

The central argument in the work centres around an examination of the set of properties of which sensible objects are composed, and Berkeley first inquires into the properties that philosophers have designated secondary qualities, heat, taste, sound, smell, colour, and so on, and argues that these properties have no existence outside sensations and perceptions in the minds of perceivers. He then contends that the same sorts of considerations will demonstrate that what have been designated the primary qualities of sensible objects, extension (length and width), shape, hardness, (certainly one of my primary qualities), weight, motion and other characteristics, also have no existence outside the perceptions of conscious beings. In contending that every property which a sensible object has exists only as a sensation or a property or a sensation within a mind Berkeley is showing that the entire sensible object has no existence outside of the mind, a cherry is nothing over an above the sensations experienced in connection with it:

P H I L O N O U S . I am content, Hylas, to appeal to the common sense of the world for the truth of my notion. Ask the gardener, why he thinks yonder cherry-tree exists in the garden, and he shall tell you, because he sees and feels it; in a word, because he perceives it by his senses. Ask him, why he thinks an orange-tree not to be there, and he shall tell you, because he does not perceive it. What he perceives by sense, that he terms a real being, and saith it is, or exists; but that which is not perceivable, the same, he saith, hath no being.

H Y L A S . Yes, Philonous, I grant the existence of a sensible thing consists in being perceivable, but not in being actually perceived.

P H I L O N O U S . And what is perceivable but an idea? And can an idea exist without being actually perceived? These are points long since agreed between us.

H Y L A S . But be your opinion never so true, yet surely you will not deny it is shocking, and contrary to the common sense of men. Ask the fellow, whether yonder tree hath an existence out of his mind: what answer think you he would make?

P H I L O N O U S . The same that I should myself, to wit, that it doth exist out of his mind. But then to a Christian it cannot surely be shocking to say, the real tree existing without his mind is truly known and comprehended by (that is, exists in) the infinite mind of God. Probably he may not at first glance be aware of the direct and immediate proof there is of this, inasmuch as the very being of a tree, or any other sensible thing, implies a mind wherein it is. But the point itself he cannot deny. The question between the materialists and me is not, whether things have a real existence out of the mind of this or that person, but whether they have an absolute existence, distinct from being perceived by God, and exterior to all minds. This indeed some heathens and philosophers have affirmed, but whoever entertains notions of the Deity suitable to the Holy Scriptures, will be of another opinion.

- ‘Three Dialogues’

Take away the sensations of softness, redness. tartness, and you take away the cherry Berkeley claims as he embarks upon his argument by reference to heat. Intense heat like intense cold is a pain, it is intrinsically unpleasant, and pain, like pleasure, is a kind of experience, it is something that cannot exist outside of someone’s consciousness, hence when someone feels intense heat or intense cold what he or she feels is in his or her own mind and not in some inert unfeeling object existing outside his consciousness and to be aware of intense heat is simply to be aware of a particular kind of pain sensation.

‘Martirio di san Lorenzo’, 1590, Lodovico Cardi detto il Cigoli. The martyrdom of St. Lawrence in which according to legend he was placed on a gridiron prepared with hot coals beneath it and after the martyr had suffered pain for a long time the legend concludes he merrily declared: ‘I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!’ Sure he did.

To the objection that intense heat is a cause of pain and not itself literally pain Berkeley responds that when a person is perceiving intense heat, the heat of which he or she is aware is not distinguishable from the pain sensation of which he or she is aware, and in perceiving the heat the person is not aware of two things, heat and a pain sensation, but of only one thing, a painful sensation. The temperature which an object appears to have differs under different circumstances, Berkeley continues, and if a person’s left hand is hot and his right hand cold and he or she then immerses both hands into a bowl of water the water appears cool to the left hand and warm to the right hand, and from this fact Berkeley concludes that the heat which the person feels cannot be a feature of some object existing outside his mind. No single object could have the incompatible properties of warmth and coolness at once, and Berkeley concludes that the warmth and coolness which the person perceives are sensations within his or her own experience. What people think of as the temperature of the water is simply the sensation experienced in connection with the water and the sensation is in the consciousness of the person perceiving the temperature, not in an unfeeling object outside his or her consciousness. Such arguments concerning heat can be paralleled for the other secondary qualities of sensible objects. A sweet taste is a form of pleasure, a bitter taste is intrinsically unpleasant or painful, and since pleasure and pain are necessarily mental phenomena, a sweet or bitter taste, because it is a pleasure or pain, must itself be a mental phenomenon, or so Berkeley reasons.

Furthermore, the taste which people perceive in an object varies under different conditions, a food which someone finds sweet at one time he may find bitter or tasteless at another time, and the taste a food has to a person when he or she is sick is different from the taste it has to him or her when he or she is well. What differs in the two cases, Berkeley reasons, is not the alleged external object but the experience had when tasting the food. In each case one has different taste sensations and these taste sensations which are the taste of the food exist in the mind of the person doing the tasting. The fact that some people delight in the same food which others find repulsive Berkeley considers furtherer proof that the taste of a food is not a property inherent in the object which allegedly exists outside people’s minds but a sensation undergone by the people who taste the food, and similar considerations can be appealed to in support of the claim that odour or smell is a sensation within someone’s mind. As occurs with other secondary qualities the colour which an object seems to have varies under different conditions. A cloud which appears some shade of white under most conditions may appear red or purple when perceived at sunset, and someone who holds that colour is an inherent property of the clouds will need to say that not all the colours that may be perceived in an object are the true colour of the object and that some of these colours are only apparent.

How then is the the colour to be distinguished from the colours which are said to be merely apparent? It might be suggested that the true colour is the one the object presents when it is viewed under white light, but such a suggestion raises problems. An object presents a somewhat different colour under candlelight from that which it presents under daylight, indeed, there are many different intensities and shades of what is designated white light, and each of these intensities and shades is as normal and common as the others, yet each shade and intensity leads to a somewhat different colour being perceived in an object. One may respond that the true colour of an object is the colour that is perceived when the object is given the most close and careful inspection possible, but this suggestion also runs into serious difficulties. To examine an object in the closest and most careful manner possible is to examine the object under a microscope, however, when an object is examined under a microscope, the microscope does not simply present one colour to the eye, a colour which one could label the true colour, rather, the microscope, like the naked eye, presents numerous colours to the eye, and the particular colour one sees in an object depends upon the magnification one gives to the microscope. To pick out one colour from the various colours which are perceived and call it the true colour of the object would require a choice which has no justification.

A further problem for someone who maintains that colour is a property inherent in objects exterior to minds is the fact that objects under the same conditions present different colours to different perceivers. Objects which appear yellow to people with jaundice appear other colours to people without jaundice, and furthermore, given the structural differences between the eyes of animals and those of people, it is probable that some animals perceive colours in objects that are different from those which people perceive. To pick out any of these perceived colours and call it the true colour would involve an arbitrary, unjustifiable decision. The view that an object has a true colour is untenable in face of the above facts, and from such considerations as these Berkeley concludes that all colours perceived in sensible objects are merely visual sensations in the minds of those perceiving the colour.

The accounts that scientists give of perception are often consistent with this account of secondary qualities and may even be interpreted as supporting it, in Berkeley’s view, albeit scientists do indeed believe in a material world existing external to consciousness which causes people to hear sounds and see colours they often think of hearing or seeing as a matter of having certain auditory or visual sensations. Scientists say, for instance, that when an object causes air to move in a certain manner and this air strikes the ear drum a certain neurological activity is produced and the neurological activity causes one to experience the sensation of sound. Colour is seen, they declare, when light rays after being reflected off some object enter the eye and stir the optic nerve such that a message is communicated to the brain, upon which the person experiences the sensation of colour. To say, as these scientists do, that sound and colour are sensations is to say that they are mental phenomena.

The view that secondary qualities are nothing but sensations in the minds of conscious beings, although queer in relation to common sense, did not originate with Berkeley, for the view had been previously defended by John Locke, (1632–1704). Berkeley’s most radical departure from previous philosophical opinion was in his contention that all properties of sensible objects, including the primary qualities, could be demonstrated to have no existence outside the minds of perceivers. If the existence of perceptual variation is reason to conclude that the secondary qualities do not exist outside minds, Berkeley supposed, then philosophers have the same reason to conclude that the primary qualities also lack existence outside minds. Like the secondary qualities, the primary qualities give rise to radical perceptual variations, the extension which an object appears to have varies as the object is perceived from different positions, Berkeley explains.

P H I L O N O U S . Is it your opinion, the very figure and extension which you perceive by sense, exist in the outward object or material substance?

H Y L A S . It is.

P H I L O N O U S . Have all other animals as good grounds to think the same of the figure and extension which they see and feel?

H Y L A S . Without doubt, if they have any thought at all.

P H I L O N O U S . Answer me, Hylas. Think you the senses were bestowed upon all animals for their preservation and well being in life? or were they given to men alone for this end?

H Y L A S . I make no question but they have the same use in all other animals.

P H I L O N O U S . If so, is it not necessary they should be enabled by them to perceive their own limbs, and those bodies which are capable of harming them?

H Y L A S . Certainly.

P H I L O N O U S . Is it not the very same reasoning to conclude, there is no extension or figure in an object, because to one eye it shall seem little, smooth, and round, when at the same time it appears to the other, great, uneven, and angular?

HYLAS. The very same. But doth this latter fact ever happen?

P H I L O N O U S . You may at any time make the experiment, by looking with one eye bare, and with the other through a microscope.

- ‘Three Dialogues’

The visible extension which a tree has, the extension which it has in relation to the expanse of a perceiver’s field of vision, grows larger as the perceiver approaches the tree and shrinks as the perceiver moves away from the tree. When a perceiver is near a tree may appear to be a hundred times larger than it does from a great distance. Imagine how much larger the moon would look if you could see it from a distance of only ten miles. It does not help to reply that the tree has the same size in feet and inches whatever one’s distance from it. For the visible extension of a foot or an inch itself is not a constant and it too goes through the same variations as one approaches or recedes from it. A twelve inch ruler looks large from very close but tiny when perceived from a distance. Furthermore, Berkeley contends, a sensible object may present differing visible extensions at one and the same time. The foot of a mouse, which seems tiny to a man would appear to be of considerable extension to the mouse. An object which extends over a large portion of the field of vision of a mouse would extend over a small portion of the visual field of a man.

Berkeley concludes that the extension of a sensible object is not a property of an object which exists outside our consciousness but a property of a sensation in the mind of a perceiver, and the types of considerations which show that the extension of a sensible object has no existence outside a mind also show that shape, hardness, and the other primary qualities are only properties of sensations within the minds of perceivers. The shape, hardness, and motion which an object appears to have also vary from one perceiver to another and vary for a single perceiver when the object is viewed under different conditions. One might suppose that the fact that objects are perceived as being at a distance from the person perceiving them proves that the objects cannot be inside the perceiver’s mind. Berkeley responds to this objection with the observation that even in dreams and hallucinations objects are experienced as being at a distance and outside of the mind, yet in spite of these appearances these imagined objects do not exist outside of the mind of the person imagining them. Therefore it clearly is possible for an object to be experienced as being at a distance from oneself even when the object is really not outside one’s own mind. Another reason why the primary qualities must be in the mind with the secondary qualities, Berkeley contends, is that all sensible qualities co-exist, and when a person perceives a table the extension and shape which he or she perceives arc joined to the colour. The shape outlines the colour, if the colour that is perceived is in the person’s mind, then so are the extension, shape, and motion which are experienced as being together with the colour.

‘The Martyrdom of St. Denis’, 1880, Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat. Denis of Paris, 3rd-century christian martyr. Decapitated with a sword, upon which he picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance. In my church-going days my mind would wander off to happy places during the tedious sermon so I heard and remembered very little of it. I suppose the same would be true if I was listening to someone preaching while holding his decapitated head in his arms .. would his lips be moving? Creepier still.

It might be supposed that when someone perceives an object he or she has an image in his or her mind which copies or mirrors a material world existing outside his or her mind, a world which is the cause of the image, and although it is the mental image and not the material world a perceiver is directly aware of the image provides accurate information about the external, material world it may be said. Berkeley finds serious problems in this view. First, if it is admitted that all the primary and secondary qualities of objects exist only within minds then there are no properties remaining for this so-called material substance outside the mind to have and talk of material substance in this context becomes meaningless. Furthermore, it is not possible, Berkeley contends, for an image which is continually undergoing radical changes, which our perception of sensible objects is doing, to be a copy of some set of objects which remains unchanged throughout this period, as the putative material substance is assumed to do. Furthermore, the model of perception that such a view presents leads to a severe scepticism about the alleged material world for according to this view a person perceiving a sensible object is not directly aware of the material world but only of the image in his or her mind, and that this image which is said to be a copy of a material world outside the mind does indeed copy or resemble the object alleged to be the original could not be known.

If our knowledge of the alleged original is derived entirely from our familiarity with the image which is said to be the copy, there is no independent means of checking that the copy is actually like the original. Indeed, since in this view people are never directly aware of the alleged material world, it follows that it is not possible even to know whether this outside, unexperienced world exists. The existence of a mental image does not itself guarantee that there is an external object causing the image, for it is logically possible for someone to have exactly the same perceptions or mental images even if no world of material objects exists. If what we consider real objects are like objects in dreams and hallucinations in having no existence outside the mind, how then does Berkeley distinguish the former from the latter? Berkeley explains that the perceptions we consider real are vivid and consistent in a way that those which we do not consider real are not. What then is the cause of people’s perceptions of sensible objects if not a world of material substance corresponding to those perceptions? Berkeley reasons that because a person does not cause or co-ordinate his own sensations, his sensations must have a cause outside himself, and this cause, Berkeley concludes, is an omnipresent infinite spirit. From the order, beauty, and design with which our sensations appear Berkeley concludes that the designer is wise, powerful, and good beyond comprehension.

P H I L O N O U S . Few men think, yet all will have opinions. Hence men’s opinions are superficial and confused. It is nothing strange that tenets, which in themselves are ever so different, should nevertheless be confounded with each other by those who do not consider them attentively. I shall not therefore be surprised, if some men imagine that I run into the enthusiasm of Malebranche, though in truth I am very remote from it. He builds on the most abstract general ideas, which I entirely disclaim. He asserts an absolute external world, which I deny. He maintains that we are deceived by our senses, and know not the real natures or the true forms and figures of extended beings; of all which I hold the direct contrary. So that upon the whole there are no principles more fundamentally opposite than his and mine. It must be owned I entirely agree with what the holy Scripture saith, that in God we live, and move, and have our being. But that we see things in his essence after the manner above set forth, I am far from believing. Take here in brief my meaning. It is evident that the things I perceive are my own ideas, and that no idea can exist unless it be in a mind. Nor is it less plain that these ideas or things by me perceived, either themselves or their archetypes, exist independently of my mind, since I know myself not to be their author, it being out of my power to determine at pleasure, what particular ideas I shall be affected with upon opening my eyes or ears. They must therefore exist in some other mind, whose will it is they should be exhibited to me. The things, I say, immediately perceived, are ideas or sensations, call them which you will. But how can any idea or sensation exist in, or be produced by, anything but a mind or spirit? This indeed is inconceivable; and to assert that which is inconceivable, is to talk nonsense: Is it not?

H Y L A S . Without doubt.

- ‘Three Dialogues’

‘The Martyrdom of St. Denis’, 1880, Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat. Denis of Paris, 3rd-century christian martyr. Decapitated with a sword, upon which he picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance. In my church-going days my mind would wander off to happy places during the tedious sermon so I heard and remembered very little of it. I suppose the same would be true if I was listening to someone preaching while holding his decapitated head in his arms .. would his lips be moving? Creepier still.

David Walter Hamlyn, (1924–2012), in ‘Sensation and Perception: A History of the Philosophy of Perception’, surveys the various theories which philosophers have had about perception and its relation to objects of perception and he offers various uses in his or her endeavour to prove that the sensible world has no existence outside the minds of those who perceive it (I use the inclusive his or her there but whether a female philosopher has ever doubted the existence of the external world … well, maybe, I must eschew gender stereotypes). One of the arguments in the ‘Three Dialogues’ Berkeley bases upon a claim that secondary qualities sometimes are inherently unpleasant or painful. To perceive intense heat is to feel a kind of pain, Berkeley contends, and since pain has no existence outside the mind, Berkeley reasons, the secondary qualities which are pains have no existence outside minds. Because intense heat is a kind of pain it is nothing but a feeling in the mind of one who perceives it, Berkeley concludes. Hamlyn writes that this argument, an argument which Berkeley picks up from John Locke, is invalid. Although people may have certain feelings or sensations while perceiving heat, the warmth or heat which they feel is not just the sensation they experience, and even if it were true that a feeling of intense heat cannot be distinguished from a feeling of pain, both feelings are distinguishable from the heat in the object which causes the feelings. From the fact that a sensation of heat is a mental phenomenon, it does not follow that its cause is a mental phenomenon. To refer to the heat is to refer to the cause of.the sensations and not to the sensations themselves. Hamlyn gives a similar account of the other secondary qualities which Berkeley says may be inherently painful or unpleasant.

When people find a certain taste unpleasant or painful the taste is the property in the object which causes the unpleasant experience and not the experience itself, the unpleasantness experienced is not itself the taste but an effect of the taste. Hamlyn explains that Berkeley is wrong to assimilate perceiving to the having of.sensations. Like Locke, Berkeley thinks of the pain which someone feels when he perceives intense heat as a part or the whole of his perceiving of the heat. However, per-criticisms of the arguments which George Berkeley uses in his attempt to prove that the sensible world has no existence outside the minds of those who perceive it. One of the arguments in 7ftree Dialogues Berkeley bases on a claim that secondary qualities sometimes are inherently unpleasant or painful. (To perceive intense heat is to feel a kind of pain, Berkeley writes.) Since pain has no existence outside the mind, Berkeley reasons, the secondary qualities which are pains have no existence outside minds.

Because intense heat is a kind of pain, it is nothing but a feeling in the mind of one who perceives it, Berkeley concludes. Hamlyn writes that this argument, an argument which Berkeley picks up from John Locke, is invalid. Although people may have certain feelings or sensations while perceiving heat, the warmth or heat which they feel is not just the sensation they experience. Even if it were true that a feeling of intense heat cannot be distinguished from a feeling of pain, both feelings are distinguishable from the heat in the object which causes the feelings. From the fact that a sensation of heat is a mental phenomenon it does not follow that its cause is a mental phenomenon. To refer to the heat is to refer to the cause of.the sensations and not to the sensations themselves. Hamlyn gives a similar account of the other secondary qualities which Berkeley says may be inherently painful or unpleasant.

When people find a certain taste unpleasant or painful the taste is the property in the object which causes the unpleasant experience and not the experience itself. The unpleasantness experienced is not itself the taste but an effect of the taste. Hamlyn explains that Berkeley is wrong to assimilate perceiving to the having of sensations. Like Locke, Berkeley thinks of the pain which someone feels when he perceives intense heat as a part or the whole of his or her perceiving of the heat. However, perceiving an object is not the same thing as having certain sensations, Hamlyn contends, to have a pain is not in itself to perceive anything. Berkeley based another of his arguments on the fact that our perceptions of objects are variable. That the colour, taste, shape, and other qualities that an object appear to have may vary under different conditions Berkeley presents as further proof that it could not be a single (material) object that is being perceived in all these instances. Hamlyn objects that the conclusion Berkeley draws does not follow from the premises. From the fact that an object may appear to have different properties under different conditions it does not follow that none of the properties it appears to have are truly inherent in the object. All that follows is that not all of the properties perceived are inherent in the object. How then can one determine which of the various properties that an object may appear to have are really inherent in the object?

The property which is inherent in an object is the one which is perceived when the object is examined under normal conditions, though Hamlyn commends Berkeley for observing that Locke had been inconsistent in failing to notice that the primary qualities are like the secondary qualities in being subject to perceptual variations. If perceptual variation is reason for concluding that secondary qualities have no existence outside minds, then there is the same reason for concluding that primary qualities also have no existence outside minds. However, Hamlyn writes, from the fact that the primary qualities are like the secondary in their perceptual variations it would have been wiser for Berkeley to conclude that both qualities are properties of external objects than it was to conclude that both exist together in the mind.

‘Berkeley takes to the extreme the view that each sense has its proper object and that they have nothing in common. He admits that a ‘visible square, is fitter than the visible circle, to represent the tangible square’, but only because the former contains the necessary number of distinct parts, while the latter does not; and he denies that it follows that a visible square is like a tangible square. Nevertheless, in the New Theory of Vision he talks of the objects of touch as if these were in fact physical objects; touch, that is, informs us of the nature of physical things, while sight informs us only of light and colour. In the Principles he came to withdraw this suggestion, maintaining that the objects of touch were sensations equally with those of sight. This does not, however, alter his position in the New Theory of Vision that the objects of sight and touch have nothing in common; his later position is in general only the logical outcome of the earlier. Berkeley’s final view, as we have already seen, is that each sense is responsible for separate and distinct sensations, and these are connected only by experience. To perceive an object is merely to have a bundle of ideas or sensations. The only permanence given to that which we should ordinarily call an object is that God has the constituent ideas when we do not. Hume was to find this view unsatisfactory, especially when he tried to do without the notion of God. But provided that we understand by ‘sensation’ a kind of Idea put into our minds by God, Berkeley’s view provides an almost perfect example of an attempt to assimilate perception to sensation throughout. The notion of a sensation is such that it could rightly be said to be proper to a sense, and Berkeley relies on that fact. When the assimilation of perception to sensation is rejected, Berkeley’s conclusions, including his somewhat paradoxical metaphysical views, no longer seem compelling’.

- ‘Sensation and Perception: A History of the Philosophy of Perception’

Martyrdom of Saint Vincent, tied to a Column’, c. 1470, Nuno Gonçalves. Vincent of Saragossa, martyred under the Emperor Diocletian, (c. 242/245–311/312), around the year 304.

Now dazzling gleams, O wonder!

Through the dark chamber wave:

Now burst the stocks asunder,

Yawns wide the dungeon-cave.

At once Vincentius haileth

The prize of hard won fight:

Bright Hope o’er gloom prevaileth,

Tis Christ who gives the light.

Sweet flow’rets are enwreathing

Those jagged shards and stones;

Strange nectar scents are breathing

Around that house of groans.

Angels their voices blended

Close to the dying man,

And one in form more splendid

Than all the rest, began.

‘Arise, thou glorious Martyr,

All anxious care dismiss,

In Heaven is sealed thy charter,

Come range with us in bliss.

‘Thy race is run, and vanished

The trial pangs accurst;

By death triumphant banished,

Torture has done her worst.

‘O warrior staunch and peerless,

O bravest of the brave,

The palm to thee, the fearless,

Aghast those torments gave.

‘O’er fellow-sufferer bending

The Christ, whose love o’erflows,

With crown of life unending

Indemnifies his woes.

‘Come, disenthralled spirit,

Leave here this fragile shell,

Come heavenward and inherit

Fit home wherein to dwell’.

— Prudentius, (348 — c. 405)


G. E. Moore, (1873–1958), in ‘Proof of an External World’, contends that chairs, stars, mountains, and all the other things which people consider material objects exist outside the minds of conscious beings. Moore does not examine or critique the arguments which Berkeley and other philosophers have used in support of the contrary position but simply offers a positive argument in favour of his own position, the position of common sense. In his endeavour to prove the existence of external objects, Moore distinguishes the idea of an object’s being ‘presented in space’ from the idea of an object’s being such that it may be ‘met in space’. To prove that there are objects of the latter sort is to prove that there are external objects, objects of the former sort are not external objects. After-images and toothaches are objects which are ‘presented in space’ because they are objects having spatial locations. An after-image appears as being outside one’s head, in front of one’s eyes, a toothache is experienced as being in or near one’s tooth. But after-images and toothaches are not ‘to be met with in space’. An object that is ‘to be met with in space’ is one which would be seen or felt by any person of normal perceptual apparatus who is in the right position. It is not possible for another person directly to perceive my after-images or pains, but if there are objects that can be perceived by more than one person then these objects are ‘to be met with in space’. If there are objects which are ‘to be met with in space’, then there are objects external to our minds.

External objects, objects which can ‘be met with in space’, are objects which can exist without being perceived, Moore explains. Part of the meaning in the distinction between an object’s existing only ‘in someone’s mind’ and an object’s being ‘external to people’s minds’ is that in saying that an object exists only ‘in someone’s mind’ we mean that it does not exist at times when he is not experiencing it, whereas in describing an object as ‘external to our minds’ we mean that it can exist at moments when it is not being perceived. To prove that there are external objects, Moore contends, it is sufficient to prove that there are ‘physical objects’. If one can prove that there is a human hand, a soap bubble, a shoe, a sock, or any other ‘material object’, then one has proven that there are things which ‘are to be met with in space’ and which exist ‘outside us’, Moore writes. The sentence ‘There is a soap bubble’ entails ‘There is a material object’ and ‘There is an external object’. The meaning of ‘soap bubble’ is such that an object would not be a soap bubble unless it were something which could in principle be perceived by more than one person. The meaning of the word is such that it is not a contradiction to speak of a soap bubble as existing at times when it is not perceived.

Can one prove that there are soap bubbles, hands, or other material objects? To do so is easy, Moore writes. To prove to another person that there are material objects, one need only hold up a hand and say ‘Here is a hand’. An additional argument could be added by raising one’s other hand and saying ‘Here is another hand’. There is no better proof, Moore argues. The statement which is the premise in the argument (‘Here is a hand’) differs from the statement which is the conclusion (‘Here is an object external to our minds’), the premise is known to be true (it would be absurd to suggest that a person does not know that he has two hands, Moore writes), and the conclusion follows from the premise. Could a person prove the premise of this argument (that he is holding up one of his or her hands)? Moore admits that he is not confident that a person can prove that he is holding up a hand, but even if he or cannot prove this he or she can know it to be true. Some things one can know to be true without being able to offer a proof for them, Moore writes. It would be absurd to claim of a normal conscious person that he or she could not know if he or she is holding up a hand, Moore writes. A philosopher who is dissatisfied with this proof of the external world, merely because the premise has not itself been proven, has no grounds for dissatisfaction.

‘It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us … must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof’.

- Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), ‘Critique of Pure Reason’

‘The words ‘it … remains a scandal to philosophy … that we are unable …’ would, taken strictly, imply that, at the moment at which he wrote them, Kant himself was unable to produce a satisfactory proof of the point in question. But I think it is unquestionable that Kant himself did not think that he personally was at the time unable to produce such a proof. On the contrary, in the immediately preceding sentence, he has declared that he has, in the second edition of his Critique, to which he is now writing the Preface, given a ‘rigorous proof’ of this very thing; and has added that he believes this proof of his to be ‘the only possible proof’. It is true that in this preceding sentence he does not describe the proof which he has given as a proof of ‘the existence of things outside of us’ or of ‘the existence of the things outside of us’, but describes it instead as a proof of ‘the objective reality of outer intuition’. But the context leaves no doubt that he is using these two phrases, ‘the objective reality of outer intuition’ and ‘the existence of things (or ‘the things’) outside of us’, in such a way that whatever is a proof of the first is also necessarily a proof of the second. We must, therefore, suppose that when he speaks as if we are unable to give a satisfactory proof, he does not mean to say that he himself’ as well as others, is at the moment unable; but rather that until he discovered the proof which he has given, both he himself and everybody else were unable. Of course, if he is right in thinking that he has given a satisfactory proof, the state of things which he describes came to an end as soon as his proof was published. As soon as that happened, anyone who read it was able to give a satisfactory proof by simply repeating that which Kant had given, and the ‘scandal’ to philosophy had been removed once for all’.

- ‘Proof of an External World’

The Martyrdom of Saint Cucuphas, 1504–7, Ayne Bru. Martyred near Barcelona during the persecution of Diocletian. After many torments and imprisonment his throat was finally cut in 304. Fortunately, it was only an idea of a knife cutting an idea of a throat, and as for the undoubted pain, do ideas ever really hurt? Sorry, I am sounding like Dr. Johnson here, I know Subjective Idealism is not that easily refuted.

Barchinon laeto Cucufate vernans,

corporis sancti tumulum honorans,

et locum sacri venerans sepulchri,

sparge ligustris.

Barcino bursts into the vernal joy,

of Saint Cucuphas, honoring his remains,

and spreads privet branches on the burial

mound and on the tomb.

- Medieval Hymn


Moore, in ‘A Defence of Common Sense’, attacks Berkeley’s view that there are no material objects and his claim that even if there were material objects we could not know of their existence. Other philosophical theses which sharply clash with common sense are also attacked, Berkeley’s view that there are no external, material objects must be wrong because there are many propositions known to be true which entail that there are material objects. Among the propositions which Moore says he knows with certainty to be true are that he has a body, that his body was smaller when he was a baby than it is at the time of his writing this article, that his body has been in contact with the earth or near the surface of the earth during his whole life, and that during his life his body has been at various distances from other objects such as his bookcase and pen. Moore writes that, first, he knows with certainty that these and other propositions are true and that, second, each of these propositions entails the existence of external objects. The propositions that he has a body and that his body has been in close contact with the earth imply the existence of material things (namely, his body and the earth). Moore writes that he knows that many other people also know with certainty the same propositions about themselves, namely, that they have bodies, that these bodies have been in contact with the earth, and so forth. The reality of material objects is also entailed by these propositions which other people know to be true. A philosopher who denies that there is a material world must be wrong, Moore contends, simply because the above propositions and many related propositions are known with certainty to be true.

Philosophers like Berkeley who say that they do not know if there is an external world or who deny the existence of such a world regularly say things inconsistent with these claims, Moore writes. When an Idealist assumes the existence of other philosophers or of the human race he or she is being inconsistent with his Idealism, since being a philosopher or any other human being entails being a creature with a body. When referring to ‘we’ or to ‘us’, an Idealist is speaking in a way that is inconsistent with his or her Idealism since he or she is alluding to other human beings, that is, to other bodily creatures who live on the earth. Moore is not simply accusing Idealists of being careless when they say things which are inconsistent with their thesis. Rather, Moore is saying that a philosopher who maintains that there are no material objects or that we do not know whether there are any such objects is defending a thesis which is inconsistent with many propositions that he knows to be true.

An Idealist who refers to other philosophers or who speak in terms of ‘we’ thereby betrays the fact that he or she, like Moore, knows that there are other people (other embodied creatures). When a philosopher claims that ‘no human being has ever known whether material objects exist’ he or she is making a claim that is not simply about him or herself, he or she is claiming, first, that there are in addition to him or herself other persons (other beings with bodies who live on the earth) and, second, that none of these other persons knows if there are material objects. Thus, the Idealist betrays the fact that he or she considers it certain that there are other embodied creatures, Moore contends, since all people even philosophers who deny the existence of a material world know that they have bodies and that there are other people with bodies, it is inevitable that they will betray their knowledge of these facts, Moore writes, and thus it is inevitable that they will say things which are inconsistent with their Idealism. The view that there are no material objects is not self-contradictory Moore argues. It is logically possible that there might not have existed material objects. Moore explains that ris reason for saying that he knows with certainty that there are material objects is the fact that he knows with certainty that his statements ‘I have a body’, ‘There are other persons with bodies’, and similar, related statements are true.

‘I think it certain, therefore, that the analysis of the proposition ‘This is a human hand’ is, roughly at least, of the form ‘There is a thing, and only one thing, of which it is true both that it is a human hand and that this surface is a part of its surface’. In other words, to put my view in terms of the phrase ‘theory of representative perception’, I hold it to be quite certain that I do not directly perceive my hand; and that when I am said (as I may be correctly said) to ‘perceive’ it, that I ‘perceive’ it means that I perceive (in a different and more fundamental sense) something which is (in a suitable sense) representative of it, namely, a certain part of its surface. This is all that I hold to be certain about the analysis of the proposition ‘This is a human hand’. We have seen that it includes in its analysis a proposition of the form ‘This is part of the surface of a human hand’ (where ‘This’, of course, has a different meaning from that which it has in the original proposition which has now been analysed). But this proposition also is undoubtedly a proposition about the sense-datum, which I am seeing, which is a sense-datum of my hand. And hence the further question arises: What, when I know ‘This is part of the surface of a human hand’, am I knowing about the sense-datum in question? Am I, in this case, really knowing about the sense-datum in question that it itself is part of the surface of a human hand? Or, just as we found in the case of ‘This is a human hand’, that what I was blowing about the sense-datum was certainly not that it itself was a human hand, so, is it perhaps the case, with this new proposition, that even here I am not knowing, with regard to the sense-datum, that it is itself part of the surface of a hand? And, if so, what is it that I am knowing about the sense-datum itself? This is the question to which, as it seems to me, no philosopher has hitherto suggested an answer which comes anywhere near to being certainly true’.

- ‘A Defence of Common Sense’

‘Martyrdom of Saint Thiemo’, 1662, Christopher Paudiß. Dietmar or Theodinarus, (c. 1040–1101/02). Archbishop of Salzburg. Tortured and killed by having his intestines pulled out of his body with a spindle. He showed a lot of guts.

‘I entirely disclaim abstract general ideas’, declared Philonous. A key point of contention between Locke and Berkeley was that of abstract general ideas, Berkeley believing that abstract general ideas were contradictory assemblies of properties but that Locke believed all language-using beings must use abstract general ideas (I say apple and you understand my meaning because an abstract general idea of an apple forms in your head, yes, not much of a theory), and in Berkeley’s view a Lockean abstract idea was an intrinsically general idea fitted to resemble and represent all members of a certain class of entities and that Locke thought creating an abstract idea involved taking a particular idea and stripping away whatever made it particular. For Berkeley such a process would rather result in a mass of contradictions, as though the abstract idea of a triangle was a particular triangle idea that was simultaneously isosceles, equilateral and scalene. Berkeley also thought Lockean abstraction was impossible because it implied the separation of qualities that cannot actually be dissociated, for instance, colour and visual extension. However, it seems likely Locke and Berkeley both thought abstract ideas were merely formed through selective attention to particular ideas. Berkeley appears to have credited himself with an insight about abstract ideas that was really Locke’s. Berkeley did allow abstraction and general ideas but held that we can only consider in abstraction those properties that can actually exist separately. Given a red apple, I can successfully abstract the ideas of redness and applehood, however, I can do so only because these properties can exist apart for instance in non-red apples and red non-apples. But if we cannot conceive of properties existing separately then those properties cannot exist separately. Appealing to our imaginative faculties as a test of ontological possibility is a recurring feature of Berkeley’s way of arguing and is a very dubious move.

And what of mathematical objects? In the ‘Principles of Human Knowledge’ on the subject of numbers (for Berkeley a number is ‘entirely a creature of the mind’) Berkeley wrote:

‘Arithmetic hath been thought to have for its object abstract ideas of number. Of which to understand the properties and mutual habitudes is supposed no mean part of speculative knowledge. The opinion of the pure and intellectual nature of numbers in abstract, hath made them in esteem with those philosophers, who seem to have affected an uncommon fineness and elevation of thought. It hath set a price on the most trifling numerical speculations, which in practice are of no use, but serve only for amusement: and hath therefore so far infected the minds of some, that they have dreamt of mighty mysteries involved in numbers, and attempted the explication of natural things by them. But if we inquire into our own thoughts, and consider what hath been premised, we may perhaps entertain a low opinion of those high flights and abstractions, and look on all inquiries about numbers, only as so many difficiles nugae, so far as they are not subservient to practice, and promote the benefit of life’.

- ‘Principles of Human Knowledge’

The claim is thereby made that in order to avoid endless absurdities and confusion arithmetic must be made subservient to practices that promote the benefit of life, and this suggests that we set aside philosophical preconceptions and examine how numerals find useful employment in daily life. Instead of indulging in speculative mathematics we should rather ask why we employ numerals at all and what precisely it is that we do with them. And so:

‘[I]t is evident from what hath been said, those things which pass for abstract truths and theorems concerning numbers are, in reality, conversant about no object distinct from particular numerable things, except only names and characters; which originally came to be considered on no other account but their being signs, or capable to represent aptly whatever particular things men had need to compute. Whence it follows, that to study them for their own sake would be just as wise, and to as good purpose, as if a man, neglecting the true use or original intention and subserviency of language, should spend his time in impertinent criticisms upon words, or reasonings and controversies purely verbal’.

- ‘Principles of Human Knowledge’

‘Il martirio di San Bartolomeo’, (‘The martyrdom of San Bartolomeo’), 1660, Francesco Mosca. One of the twelve apostles of Jesus. Skinned alive and beheaded, often being depicted holding his flayed skin or the curved flensing knife with which he was skinned, hence he is remembered and approved as the patron saint of leathermakers by people with an obvious warped sense of humour.

And here is a good instance to help explain why Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770 -1880), himself an Idealist, (an Objective Idealist, whereby philosophy discovers the same universality in the world as it discovers in subjective thought, the world is real, albeit mind-like, and would exist even in the absence of any actual minds), distanced himself from Berkleyan dodgy idealism, (although Hegel didn’t use the word dodgy, or its German equivalent, which I suppose would be zwielichtig) for something that Moore apparently overlooks is that there is more than one Idealism. Berkeley’s is a Subjective Idealism. And what does that mean? Hegel explains and critiques Subjective Idealism in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ albeit his target is Kantian Idealism which Hegel sees as subjective, a charge which Kant was obviously aware of being open to since his Transcendental Idealism, (see my articles On Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason — Making Honours of Men’s Impossibilities’ — parts one to seven), does seem to share much with Berkyeyan Idealism hence Kant attempted to distance himself from it in the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, calling Berkleyan Idealism material idealism and defining it thus: the ‘theory which declares the existence of objects in space outside us either to be merely doubtful and indemonstrable or to be false and impossible’.

In Hegel’s discussion of Idealism in the section on ‘Reason’ he removes the distinction between the subject and the world and thereby holds thoughts and things to coincide immediately:

‘Up till now [self-consciousness] has been concerned only with its independence and freedom, concerned to save and maintain itself for itself at the expense of the world, or of its own actuality, both of which appeared to it as the negative of its essence. But as Reason, assured of itself, it is at peace with them, and can endure them; for it is certain that it is itself reality, in that everything actual is none other than itself; its thinking is itself directly actuality, and thus its relationship to the latter is that of idealism . . . [I]t discovers the world as its new real world, which in its permanence holds an interest for it which previously lay only in its transiency; for the existence of the world becomes for self-consciousness its one truth and presence; it is certain of experiencing only itself therein’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Hegel appreciates the manner through which Idealism facilitates the release of consciousness from the urge for the transcendent and the need to negate the world:

‘Apprehending itself in this way, it is as if the world had for it only now come into being; previously it did not understand the world; it desired it and worked on it, withdrew from it into itself and abolished it as an existence on its own account, and its own self qua consciousness — both as consciousness of the world as essence and as consciousness of its nothingness’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Idealism is certainly a great step forward, our rationalistic faith is back ib place and re-invigorated, the subject now discovers the world accessible to reason in so far as it is created by the subject and hence ‘it is certain of experiencing only itself therein’. However, there is a fundamental flaw in this form of rationalism, namely, that such idealistic rationalism does not so much argue for its position or endeavour to take on board other points of view but rather merely dogmatically asserts that ‘Reason is all reality’. What is lacking is of course Hegel’s own philosophical method whereby alternative standpoints are gone through first:

‘[t]he consciousness which is this truth has this path behind it and has forgotten it, and comes on the scene immediately as Reason; in other words, this Reason which comes immediately on the scene appears only as the certainty of that truth … The idealism that does not demonstrate that path but starts off with this assertion is therefore, too, a pure assertion which does not comprehend its own self, nor can it make itself comprehensible to others’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

And furthermore, recall Hegel’s revolutionary notion whereby ‘everything turns on grasping the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject’. Hence Hegel endorses Idealism in some sense but it is in addition critical that he guarantee that this unity ‘does not again fall back into inert simplicity, and does not depict actuality itself in a non-actual manner’. Kantian idealists violated such a constraint with the consequence that the emptiness of the subject requires them to reintroduce another kind of negation, Kant’s unknowable thing-in-itself, hence their rationalism finishes up in a compromised position due to an underlying scepticism:

‘[Consciousness’] first declaration is only this abstract empty phrase that everything is its own. For the certainty of being all reality is at first [only] the pure category. This Reason which first recognizes itself in the object finds expression in the empty idealism which grasps Reason only as it first comes on the scene; and fancies that by pointing out the pure ‘mine’ of consciousness in all being, and declaring all things to be sensations or ideas, it has demonstrated that ‘mine’ of consciousness to be complete reality. It is bound, therefore, to be at the same time absolute empiricism, for in order to give filling to the empty ‘mine’, i.e. to get hold of difference with all its developed formulations, its Reason requires extraneous impulse, in which first is to be found the multiplicity of sensations and ideas … The pure Reason of this idealism, in order to reach this ‘other’ which is essential to it, and thus is the in-itself, but which it does not have within it, is therefore thrown back by its own self on to that knowing which is not a knowing of what is true; in this way, it condemns itself of its own knowledge and volition to being an untrue kind of knowing, and cannot get away from ‘meaning’ and ‘perceiving’, which for it have no truth. It is involved in a direct contradiction; it asserts essence to be a duality of opposed factors, the unity of apperception and equally a Thing; whether the Thing is called an extraneous impulse, or an empirical or sensuous entity, or the Thing-in-itself, it still remains in principle the same, i.e. extraneous to that unity’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Here we can see how Hegel wants his own objective idealistic rationalism to be understood, it is subjective idealism that hr opposes for the subjectivist turn is undergone in virtue of the subjective idealists thinking that reality is intelligible to consciousness only in so far as it has a form imposed upon it by the mind, while at the same time, things in themselves, which do not have this form imposed upon them, stand outside the grasp of our intellects. Hegel certainly accepts that reality must have a certain form in order to be intelligible to consciousness but he denies that it is imposed by the subject upon reality rather it is inherent in reality itself so that this form mediates between the subject on the one hand and the world on the other. As he puts it elsewhere:

‘[Thought] contains reconciliation in its purest essentiality, because it approaches the external [world] in the expectation that this will embody the same reason as the subject does’.

- ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of History’

Idealism proper is the doctrine that the world has a rational structure that is accessible to thought and so can be brought to consciousness, which is to say, consciousness can make itself aware of this rational structure as it exists in the world. But Hegel rejects any Idealism that treats such rational structures as mind-dependent or mind imposed and in this respect Hegel was like Plato, (c. 429–347 B.C.) and Aristotle a realist, whereas objectivity of thought in Kant’s sense is again to a certain extent subjective for thoughts, according to Kant, although universal and necessary categories, are still only our thoughts, separated by an impassable gulf from the thing as it exists apart from our knowledge, but the true objectivity of thinking means that the thoughts far from being merely ours must be at the same time the real essence of things and of whatever is an object to us. Hegel was an Objective Idealist and a Conceptual Realist, (as opposed to any Kantian doctrine regarding the dependence of the world on a constructive mind) whereby human consciousness reflects and makes known the fundamental conceptual order inherent in things rather than things as they are constituted by us. Subjective Idealism may appear to be an option for the rationalist in virtue of it in some sense demolishing the barrier between mind and world but in fact this option is unstable as it breaks this barrier down immediately without due respect for the mind-independence of reality, and then sceptical problems rear their ugly heads. Kantian idealism may treat the phenomenal world as constituted by the mind and hence as knowable but it is forced to posit a mind-independent noumenal reality beyond it to provide the mind with some content for its constituting activity, but this reality is then deemed unknowable, as it lies outside the world as the subject determines it:

‘This idealism is involved in this contradiction because it asserts the abstract Notion of Reason to be the True; consequently, reality directly comes to be for it a reality that is just as much not that of Reason, while Reason is at the same time supposed to be all reality. This Reason remains a restless searching and in its very searching declares that the satisfaction of finding is a sheer impossibility’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

And furthermore:

‘As to what Berkeley further states in respect of the empirical content, where the object of his investigation becomes entirely psychological, it relates in the main to finding out the difference between the sensations of sight and feeling, and to discovering which kind of sensations belong to the one and which to the other. This kind of investigation keeps entirely to the phenomenal, and only therein distinguishes the various sorts of phenomena; or comprehension only reaches as far as to distinctions. The only point of interest is that these investigations have in their course chiefly lighted on space, and a dispute is carried on as to whether we obtain the conception of distance and so on, in short all the conceptions relating to space, through sight or feeling. Space is just this sensuous universal, the universal in individuality itself, which in the empirical consideration of empirical multiplicity invites and leads us on to thought (for it itself is thought), and by it this very sensuous perception and reasoning respecting perception is in its action confused. And since here perception finds an objective thought, it really would be led on to thought or to the possession of a thought, but at the same time it cannot arrive at thought in its completion, since thought or the Notion are not in question, and it clearly cannot come to the consciousness of true reality. Nothing is thought in the form of thought, but only as an external, as something foreign to thought’.

- ‘Lectures on the History of Thought’

Whence Berkeley is led into the mire of scepticism, of an extreme kind, consequently it is he that is dreaming of mighty mysteries.

‘Martyrdom of St. Lucy’, Francesco Solimena, (1657–1747).

Her eye (I’m very fond of handsome eyes)

Was large and dark, suppressing half its fire

Until she spoke, then through its soft disguise

Flash’d an expression more of pride than ire,

And love than either; and there would arise,

A something in them which was not desire,

But would have been, perhaps, but for the soul,

Which struggled through and chasten’d down the whole.

- Lord Byron, (1788–1824), ‘Don Juan’


Notes to ‘Finnegans Wake’ quotation:

1. moot : discussion, debate; in later use esp. forensic argument, legal contest or pleading; meeting, assembly (Archaic); and Moor Park, where Jonathan Swift met Stella.

2. peredos (Greek): — seat of the Gods; and Peredos, a race horse, Mr Atherton says; and John Milton: ‘Paradise Lost’.

3. Grand National — famous horse race.

4. television: velivisio (Latin), a sail-seeing; a veil-seeing; a wish-seeing, plus veni vidi vici (Latin) — I came I saw I conquered.

6. dub :a beat of a drum; the sound of a drum when beaten.

7. stage: to put (a play, etc.) upon the stage.

8. tussle: a vigorous or disorderly conflict; a severe struggle, a hard contest.

10. willy: willing, eager; well-disposed, benevolent.

11. widger: a small gadget or mechanical device; plus J.W. Widger — the most famous rider of a Waterford racing-associated family (won the 1895 Grand National race riding a horse called ‘Wild Man from Borneo’); plus veni vidi vici (latin) — I came I saw I conquered.

12. drawers.

13. heliotrope : a light purple color, similar to that typical of heliotrope flowers; plus (colour of drawers).

14. lead: Journalism. A summary or outline of a newspaper story, a guide to a story that needs further development or exploration; Theatre. The leading or principal part in a play; one who plays such a part.

15. harem:the part of a Muslim dwelling-house appropriated to the women, constructed so as to secure the utmost seclusion and privacy.

16. jockey: a diminutive or familiar by-form of the name Jock or John, usually with the sense ‘little Jock, Jacky, Johnny’; hence, applicable (contemptuously) to any man of the common people; spec. A professional rider in horse-races; plus Jack the Ripper.

17. jerk: to jump vertically, with legs stiff and back arched, as of horses; to pull, or move with a sudden movement.

18. jake: a rustic lout or simpleton.

19. Patrick: name of the patron saint of Ireland.

20: chat: to talk in a light and informal manner, to converse familiarly and pleasantly.

21. tunc (Latin): then; plus (onomat.); Tunc page of ‘Book of Kells’.

22. bymeby: by and by — at once, immediately; in a little while, soon, presently; plus bymby (Beche-la-Mar) — Used to indicate future tense.

23. bullocky:resembling a bullock; plus Bullocky — 19th century Aboriginal cricketer (toured England as part of an Aboriginal team in 1868).

24. vamp: to make one’s way on foot, to tramp or trudge.

25. twopenny; plus Twopenny — 19th century Aboriginal cricketer (toured England as part of an Aboriginal team in 1868).

26. bob (Slang): shilling.

27. topside: the highest level of authority, in a position of authority; the upper side of anything; plus topside (Pidgin), superior.

28. joss: a Chinese idol or cult image, foreman; plus joss (Pidgin) — God.

29. pidgin:a language as spoken in a simplified or altered form by non-natives, spec. as a means of communication between people not sharing a common language; a Chinese corruption of Eng. business, used widely for any action, occupation, or affair.

30. fella: representing an affected or vulgar pronunciation of fellow.

31. Berkeley, George (1685–1752) — Anglican bishop of Cloyne, in Ireland; philosopher who, according to Ulysses (49), ‘took the veil of the temple out of his shovel hat: veil of space with coloured emblems hatched on its field’; plus Buckley; (Archdruid Berkeley or Bulkely (*C*, Chinese Pidgin English; no known historical figure of that name) speaking in debate with Saint Patrick (*V*, Nippon English) before King Leary (*E*)).

‘Beheading of Saint James the Greater’, 1640, Bartholomeus Strobel the Younger. James the Great. Patron saint of Spain. First Christian martyr, King Herod Agrippa ordered him to be beheaded. ‘Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword’. Acts 12:1–2. Apparently when Herod was presented with the head he said now this gives me an idea.

32. druid: one of an order of men among the ancient Celts of Gaul and Britain, who, according to Cæsar were priests or religious ministers and teachers, but who figure in native Irish and Welsh legend as magicians, sorcerers, soothsayers, and the like.

33. chinchin:exp. of greeting or farewell; casual talk, chatter; plus chin chin joss (Pidgin) — religious worship.

34. hepta (Greek): seven; plus chromatic — pertaining to colour; plus heptachromatikos (Greek) — seven-colored [Flood: Ireland, Its Saints and Scholars 87: ‘an Ollave… was privileged to wear the same number of colours in his clothes as a monarch’ (i.e. seven colours, as opposed to just six colours for regular poets)].

35. septicoloratus (Latin): seven-colored.

36. red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (7 colours of rainbow).

37. mantle:a loose sleeveless cloak of varying length.

38. catholic; plus patho- (Greek) — suffering-, -suffering.

39. alb: a tunic or vestment of white cloth reaching to the feet, and enveloping the entire person + (notebook 1923): ‘whiterobed girls — King’ → Flood: Ireland, Its Saints and Scholars 14: ‘When the Saint and his attendants assembled at early morning… they found there Ethnea and Felimia, two daughters of King Laery… The sisters at first thought that St. Patrick and his white-robed companions were Duine Sidhe or fairies’.

40. her mister brother? the whose name (notebook 1923)

41. cassock: a garment worn by clergymen.

42. groaner: one who groans; also slang, a thief who attends funerals or religious gatherings.

43. friary: a fraternity or brotherhood of friars; plus (Patrick’s throat hums with chant sung also by his monks, who fast with him).

44. fast (German): almost

45. quoniam (Latin): — since now, whereas + Quoniam page of ‘Book of Kells’ (Sullivan: The Book of Kells plate XIV.

46. yeh: yes.

47. noh: no.

48. scilicet: to wit, that is to say, namely; Used ironically: Forsooth.

49. illusione (Italian) — illusion.

50. photoprismos (Greek): gripping light tightly;plus photoprismatikos (Greek); light-prismatic.

51. velamina: membrane, velum, veil; plus velamina (pl.) (Latin), coverings, robes, garments, veils.

52. epiphany: manifestation, esp. an appearance of a divinity (in N.T. applied to the advent or ‘appearing’ of Christ) [‘Remember your epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?’ (Ulysses)]; plus panepiphanes (Greek) — all-visible, completely manifest.

53. spectaculum (Latin): sight, spectacle, scene; plus spectrum — the coloured band into which a beam of light is decomposed by means of a prism or diffraction grating.

54. zo: animal; plus anthos (Greek) — flower; plus lithos (Greek) — stone.

55. Berkeley used the phrase ‘furniture of earth’ to refer to totality of material objects.

56. iridal (rare.): of or belonging to the rainbow.

57. gradationes (pl.) (Latin) — series of steps, flights of stairs.

58. furniture of hueful panepiphanal world

59. absorbere (Latin) — to suck up, swallow; plus (the ‘colour’ of an object is that part of the spectrum which it reflects and does not absorb).

60. number.

61. paradox (rare.): to affect with a paradox, to cause to show a paradox or contradiction; plus dux (Latin) — leader.

62. 7 degrees of wisdom (notebook 1923) — Flood: Ireland, Its Saints and Scholars 86: ‘The course of education was divided into seven stages, or as they were called the “seven degrees of wisdom”… the highest grade was known as an ‘Ollave’… In the Bardic schools the course extended over twelve years’.

63. ens (Latin) — being; plus entis (Latin) — of a being;plus Newton, Sir Isaac (1642–1727) — English natural philosopher, author of the Principia and Universal Arithmetic; plus Einstein.

64. ontos (Greek) — being, creature; reality; ontôn (Greek) — of beings.

65. savvy: to understand, comprehend.

66. inwardness: fundamental nature, essence.

67. ding: an imitation of the ringing sound of a heavy bell, or of metal when struck; plus Ding (German) — thing; plusDing an sich (ger) — thing in itself.

68. hvad (Danish): what.

69. id est (Latin) — that is.

70. in coloribus (Latin) — in colours.

71. resplendent: shining, brilliant, splendid.

72. sextuple: sixfold; six times as great or numerous; consisting of six parts or things.

73. gloria: dazzling light bursting from opened heavens; plus gloria (Latin), glory, pride.

74. retained: kept on, preserved.

75. intus (Latin) — within; plus ‘Entis-Onton’.

76. ruminant; plus remnant; plus Roman Catholic (Patrick).

77. Roman Catholic — a member or adherent of the Roman Church.

78. stereotype: fixed or perpetuated in an unchanging form; plus opticus (Latin) — of or pertaining to sight.

79. preachy: having a preaching style, didactic.

80. utpiam (Latin): anyway.

81. Pat: abbreviation of the Christian name Patrick.

82. ante (Latin): before.

83. verbigerate:to go on repeating the same word or phrase in a meaningless fashion, as a symptom of mental disease; plus verbi gratia (Latin) — ‘for a word’: for example, for instance.

84. murmur; plus lento (Latin) — slow; lentus (Latin) — slow, sluggish; murmurillo (Latin) — to mutter.

85. stridulus (Latin): to shriek; creaking, hissing; plus stridulous — characterized by or making a shrill grating sound or noise; plus celeris (Latin) — fast, speedy.

86. harang (Hungarian) — bell (in bellfry); plus Hwang-Ho river, in China, changed course in 1852, seizing the bed of the Tsing river.

87. csengo (Hungarian): ringing; bell (in telephone); plus singsong.

88. comprehenduriens (Latin): longing to grasp, wishing to seize (O Hehir, Brendan; Dillon, John M. / A classical lexicon for Finnegans wake).

89. clarus (Latin): clear, bright; aktis (Greek) — ray, beam; and claraktinismos (Latin and Greek) — brightrayism; plus actinism (Archaic) — philosophy of radiant heat and light.

90. augmentum (Latin): increase, growth, augmentation.

91. caloripoiia (Latin and Greek):a making of heat, a heating (O Hehir, Brendan; Dillon, John M. / A classical lexicon for Finnegans wake).

92. lit. durchsichtig (German): transparent.

93. anxious.

‘Saint Sebastian’, 1623, Gerard van Honthorst. During the persecution of Diocletian he was initially tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows, though this did not kill him and he was rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome, but shortly after his recovery he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins, and as a result was clubbed to death. Which ruins the joke I was going to make about how being shot with arrows at least he got the point. But he didn’t.




David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

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David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.