« PreviousContinue »
these himself, so neither would he tolerate any inquiry into them on the part of others. The great body of his beliefs on the most important subjects were the result of feeling and association, rather than of knowledge and insight. He accepted his strongest convictions in a concrete mass as embodied in existing institutions, and he so completely identified the institutions with the unsifted bulk of established opinion and belief that he almost unconsciously regarded any adverse criticism of either as an attack on the foundations of government, morality, and religion. With regard to revealed truth he explicitly says that in this a humble implicit faith becomes us, such as a popish peasant gives to propositions he hears at mass
in Latin. As a Fellow at Trinity College he preached and printed three discourses on passive obedience, in which he expounds his theory, or rather rule of action, on the subject. In opposition to Locke's noble, just, and liberal conception of government, he urges the most slavish submission to authority, whatever the authority may be. In the preface he expressly stigmatises the notion that government should be measured and limited by the public good as pernicious to mankind and repugwant to right reason. And he faithfully followed his own doctrine in this particular. He lived at a time when the greatest political crime recorded in our history was deliberately perpetrated, the enactment of the Penal Code against his Catholic fellow-countrymen,--the Code justly described by Macaulay as having polluted the Irish statute-book by intolerance as dark as that of the Dark Ages. But he never uttered a word against its unexampled and vindictive cruelty. He was a member of the Irish Parliament for seventeen years, when the same atrocious policy, of which we are still reaping the bitter fruits, was in the ascendant. But he never seems to have urged the relaxation of penal laws that were a reproach to human nature, and a legalised assault on the welfare and even existence of the Irish race. The only occasion on which he is said to have appeared in Parliament was to urge that a Freethinking Sociсty lately established in Dublin should be suppressed with the utmost rigour of the law.
Even slavery being established seems to have been regarded by him as a Divine institution, and while urging that the slaves should be taught Christianity he does so very much on the utilitarian ground that they would be more valuable to their masters. The same principle of extreme and unreasoning deference to what is established runs through the whole of his career.
In metaphysical speculation, it is true, he is somewhat more independent and free, philosophy being less identified with
any existing institution. But even here he is far more of a modern schoolman than a rational thinker or philosopher in the true sense of the term. Just as the schoolmen, working within a fixed circle of dogmatic assumptions, showed the utmost intellectual acuteness and logical dexterity in adapting Aristotle's philosophy to the defence of the faith and the interests of the Church, so Berkeley—times having changed—showed the same kind of dialectical skill in employing the principles of the new philosophy for a similar purpose. As usual, he borrowed his principles, but in his eagerness to use them for his own immediate objects he never attempted to co-ordinate them, and hence the radical contradictions and developed confusion and inconsistency of his thought. His ideal system rests on principles that are diametrically opposed. It is an incongruous mixture of sensational psychology and intuitional metaphysics. He starts with sensationalism of the extremest type, formally narrowing Locke's sources of knowledge to the single inlet of sensation. On this theory, the higher and rational elements of our knowledge are necessarily excluded. Berkeley, accordingly, denied the sensible intuitions of time and space, the rational intuitions of substance and cause, and left no ground for the moral intuitions of freedom and personality. The senses being the supreme and only source of knowledge, the higher activities of the intellect are not recognised by him at all. In the Commonplace Book he evidently perceives, in fitful gleams, this and other consequences of his psychological system. Pure intellect, for example, he says,
I understand not at all.' His theory of knowledge leaves no scope for the activities of reason, and Berkeley accordingly denies its distinctive products. The impressions of the senses being not merely the only truths accessible to man, but in the last resort capricious and uncertain, . What becomes,' he pertinently asks, of the æternæ veritates?' And his emphatic reply is, * They vanish.' So again with regard to moral con
• ceptions. We cannot reason conclusively, he says, about virtues or vices, or moral actions, having no ideas, or, in other words, no knowledge of them. When I say fortitude is a virtue, , · I shall find a mental proposition hard or not at all to come • at.' In the same way with regard to the criterion of truth, he says, 'We must with the mob place certainty in the senses.' As mind is simply sense, superior minds are simply superior senses ; 'the most comprehensive and sublime intellects see more • minima visiabilia at once, that is, their visual systems are the
largest.' Again, instead of rationality being the characteristic of man, his superiority over the brute lies in the power
of making in imagination incongruous combinations of senseimpressions, such as a blue horse or a chimera.'
It is worth noting, moreover, that in these hasty glimpses or rapid surveys of sensualistic results, Berkeley expressly anticipates the extremest conclusions of Hume. The following sentences are taken from a series of jottings in which he formally resolves all the elements of our mental life and moral being into impressions of sense :- Mind is a congeries of perceptions. Take away perceptions and you take * away the mind. Put the perceptions and you put the mind. ...: The understanding seemeth not to differ from its per
ceptions and ideas. . . . The understanding taken for a ' faculty is not really distinct from the will.' Here the sentence in italics at once recalls the celebrated phrase as to the mind being merely a bundle of impressions in which Hume gives the upshot of his nihilistic argument. But that the Commonplace Book is now published for the first time, it would be natural to conclude that Hume must have borrowed the description from Berkeley, merely varying the terms. The definition of mind in either case, however, springs from the radically false conception of its nature which the sensualistic hypothesis involves. Berkeley's strong theological instincts and polemical aims withheld him from developing, or even steadily contemplating, the more sceptical aspects of this hypothesis. At no time, indeed, did he fully apprehend the real scope and ultimate bearings of the psychological principles he adopted. But in the early period of his speculative activity, he was quick-witted enough to perceive some at least of the negative conclusions to which they led. Nor does he shrink from theoretically applying the same principles to the highest questions of ethics. If impressions of sense are the only reality and truth competent to man, the gratification of the senses must be his highest good, and Berkeley expressly recognises this. • Sensual pleasure,' he says, “is the summum bonum; • this is the great principle of morality:
His psychology is, in fact, that of the gilded sty, and it is a curious nemesis of rash and one-sided speculation that Berkeley, of all men in the world, should have seized upon it with such avidity. The truth is, he grasped at extreme sensationalism as a convenient instrument for getting rid of matter, not perceiving that it got rid of spirit as well. In his blind zeal to destroy material realities, he cut away the only ground on which moral realities can rest. Panting to destroy nature in the objective sense, he unwittingly annihilated the rational evidence for the existence of God, and
that, too, in the interest of a system which is nothing if not theistic. The explanation is that he had no real insight into the deeper meaning and drift of the principles he accepted, and did not perceive that they were in tendency necessarily sceptical and even atheistic. Having thus, as he imagined, destroyed matter by his sensational psychology, he fell back upon the metaphysics of an opposite school to establish the activity of spirit. In order to reach his theistic conclusion he postulated the rational intuition of power or efficient
This, though in itself a perfectly valid ground of reasoning, was incompetent to Berkeley, being wholly inadmissible on his theory of knowledge. Power, or causation, is not a perception of the senses at all, as Berkeley is afterwards compelled, in the exigencies of debate, to allow. The senses give only the coexistent and the successive, but not substance or cause, the rational ground of these relations.
As we cannot perceive causation through the senses, on Berkeley's theory we can have no knowledge of power or efficiency. Power is, however, the central and governing conception of his whole system. His doctrine of causation is thus in hopeless conflict with his theory of knowledge. The introduction of such a conception is on the theory wholly illegitimate, and, if introduced, it will inevitably bring back in its train the other rational elements of our knowledge which Berkeley so emphatically stigmatises and rejects.
But, apart from the hopeless conflict between the radical elements of his system, Berkeley's psychology is in itself confused and contradictory. Even the primary question as to whether he is an idealist may be answered affirmatively or negatively from different parts of his system, and each with equal authority. At the outset of the Principles of Know
ledge' he is undoubtedly an idealist on very easy terms, as he begs the whole question at issue in the most summary and decisive manner.
The question is as to whether there is an objective element in knowledge—whether we can directly know anything beyond our thoughts and sensations. There is, of course, a subjective element in all knowledge, from the mere fact of the mind being itself the source of cognitive energy. Is there also an objective element ? Now Berkeley, in his definition of knowledge, carefully excludes the latter possibility. He absolutely restricts knowledge to its subjective side or element, and having done this at the outset, the detailed reasonings of the treatise, though interesting, are wholly superfluous, as he himself more than once admits. The plan adopted in the special arguments and illustrations, is that of
bringing forward alleged specimens of objective knowledge, comparing them with the purely subjective definition, asserting that, as they do not agree with it, they are not knowledge, and forth with rejecting them on that account. So far, Berkeley is not only an idealist, but, as we have said, an idealist upon incomparably casy terms. As he himself suggests, a page would indeed have answered quite as well in the way
of proof as a volume, and the multiplied details of the treatise, though interesting as exercises, are wholly unnecessary as arguments. To anyone who accepts the definition, the long array of socalled proofs and replies to objections are as needless as the Alexandrian Library to the Calif Omar.
Unfortunately, however, for the system, they are in the end something more than superfluous. In expanding his argument, the author illustrates the maxim of going farther and faring worse. For the special expositions and amplifications, instead of strengthening the definition of knowledge given at the outset virtually destroy it. As we read on, we cannot help asking, Is Berkeley an idealist after all ? and the reply is less and less ambiguously in the negative. In order to meet the invincible belief in the existence of bodies as well as minds, Berkeley is obliged to sacrifice the fundamental point of his theory. As we have seen, knowledge, according to him, is restricted to impressions of sense--in a word, sensations, and sensations are undoubtedly subjective. But he is still obliged to recognise a universe of being distinct from the mind, and having qualities, such as extension, solidity, figure, which mind cannot possess. Nothing can be more explicit than his assertions as to the existence of sensible bodies which are distinct in nature from minds. In the Treatise on Motion,' he says,
• expressly: 'We find by experience there is a thinking, active
being, the source of motion which we call soul, mind, or 'spirit; and we also find there is a being extended, inert,
moveable, which differs altogether from the other, and consti“tutes a new class.' In other words, there is the mind or spirit that moves, and bodies that are moved, each equally separate and distinct from the other. Now, what are these bodies, extended, solid, figured, inert, but the very matter against which his whole polemic is directed? Though elaborately exorcised at the outset, the evil spirit, the obnoxious element, returns in a shape more subtle, perhaps, but equally real and equally material. It is true that Berkeley explains,
. in a not very intelligible phrase, that these sensible bodies are in the mind. But this makes no real difference whatever, the dispute between Berkeley and his opponents being in fact