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An example of this would be, when I see a white flower it is really just a flower, the whiteness is an arrangement of cells that by their shape, motion and size produce the sensation of whiteness within us. A major critic of this theory is Bishop Berkeley (1685 – 1753) who disagrees with Locke as he believes Locke’s theory of primary and secondary qualities could lead to scepticism and atheism. Berkeley disagrees with Locke’s theory that tells us that we should doubt our senses. Though Berkeley and Locke are both empiricists, they disagree on a number of points.

Locke argues that an object contains the power to provoke a sensation within us whereas Berkeley says that this power is within us. He believes that an object consists of primary qualities but the secondary qualities are our addition to the object. To prove this, Berkeley dissects each quality in turn. He begins with temperature and states that the temperature of an object or the idea of that temperature is subjective therefore we make it what it is. An example would be, if you run a bath and you get in and find it is too cold whereas someone else could get in and find it just right.

The water in the bath cannot be both too cold and just right; it must be due to personal preference. The temperature of the water is therefore dependant upon the sensitivity of the skin and our body temperature. Berkeley then turns to taste and states the taste of an object is ambiguous as it differs from person to person. Where some people have a sensitive palette and others do not like the same things. For example Chocolate can be very desirable and pleasurable, and rumoured to be better than sex, yet not everyone feels this way!

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Some people are practically addicted to chocolate whilst others find it very unsatisfying. The question here is, how can chocolate be so pleasurable yet also distasteful? After taste, Berkeley discusses colour and how this is created by us. The colour of an object changes from person to person due to many factors. These factors include perspective, being colour blind or idiocy. Examples of this include, if you see a car in a car park you may think it is blue however the person next to you may argue it is purple.

Berkeley says that the car can not be both blue and purple at the same time therefore the colour of the car is in the eye of the observer. Motion though is a primary quality according to Locke, Berkeley states that it is still ambiguous. This is due to the fact that this too can be in down to perspective. For example when standing by the side of a motorway, a car goes by at a substantial speed. To you the people in the vehicle are moving at that considerable speed whereas to them they are sitting still.

Berkeley states a person cannot be travelling at speed whilst sitting still therefore motion is not as objective as Locke first implied. Berkeley is in a sense presenting a loophole as he takes Locke’s point of the material world providing us with pictures in our minds but then he finds a problem with it i. e. unicycles cause pictures of unicycles within our minds but to have these pictures you need to see the actual unicycle to make the comparison between the two. Berkeley states that all thoughts are images and when thinking, they are always images.

With this in mind there is nothing to compare it with. You can not escape your own mind to compare it. Another problem that Berkeley develops is with the division between primary and secondary qualities. He attempts to prove that it is impossible to make the distinction. Berkeley agrees with Locke that things are meant to be a certain shape and size but argues that they should also have a colour. This does not make sense without it. For example imagine a room – without a colour. Is this possible? Berkeley says no to this.

Locke argues that an object/substance has both primary and secondary qualities. He believes that if you strip away the secondary qualities, the essence of the object will be intact. Berkeley disagrees saying that if you have for example a blue room, if you take away the blue you will not still have the essence of the room as you will not have a perceivable room. How can you perceive a colourless room? With Berkeley’s major argument he attempts to delete the risk of scepticism and atheism. In order to exist, the object must first be perceived.

“Esse est percipi” which means “to be is to be perceived”. He argues that we can never get past our experiences therefore there can only be two things in the world, the person having the experience and the experiences meaning Berkeley has erased the world. Berkeley says sometimes experiences are controlled (imagination) and some are not (real life, dreams etc… ). The world is the stable set of experiences and it gives us a way to rule out imagination. The final point is one which Berkeley disagrees with is that cells cause things in our minds.

Berkeley says that our brains control our bodies thus mind can move matter. This means that the world must come from us but cannot. We are not in complete control of our experiences meaning that the world must come from another mind, God. We know there is a God because there is a world. This leads on to Berkeley’s perception argument. Berkeley has already stated, as has Locke that to exist you must be perceived. So what happens when we do not perceive something? Berkeley says they are always being perceived as God perceives them. To conclude, Locke appears to establish a credible theory on the whole.

It seems perfectly plausible to have two qualities about an object. However Berkeley presents an equally convincing argument against it. How can you perceive an object with no colour or how can an object be two different things at the same time? There is of course a problem with Berkeley’s argument of colour. He states that an object cannot be two colours at the same time yet you can get pearlescent cars that appear to be every colour depending on the perspective. Overall I believe that Berkeley’s argument is more convincing than that of Locke’s.

Berkeley seems to answer more poignant questions within his argument despite the fact that he uses God to answer them.

Bibliography Anthony Harrison-Barbet, Mastering Philosophy, Macmillan Press 1990, pg 108 John Cottingham, Western Philosophy an Anthology, Blackwell Publishing 2005, pg 80 – 85 Nigel Warburton, Philosophy the Basics, 4th Edition, Routledge 2005, pg 100 http://www. philosophyonline. co. uk/tok/empiricism5. htm http://www. faithnet. org. uk/Philosophy/Descartes/descartes_qualities. htm http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/George_Berkeley.

Categories: Philosophy


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