Sunday, March 18, 2012

this blog is not dead

Although I have struggled to keep this blog updated, I have not forgotten it completely. However the difficulty of the topic---Berkeleyan idealism---as well as the relative rarity of opportunities for developing my views on it by discussing them with others, has resulted in long dry spells. I hope to rectify this, but in the mean time simply be aware that I will not neglect it completely.

Commentators are especially welcome! Please don't be put off by the fact that some post or another is very old. I do periodically check back, I promise!

Also, I have moved this blog from its previous address to the more aptly-named I will not move it again, however, so feel free to bookmark the new address with confidence.


  1. I am still in a mode of disbelief that there are other berkeleyan idealists out there. I was beginning to think I was the only one! I am currently a seminary student at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and have taught a video series on the philosophy of George Berkeley and Jonathan Edwards called Rethinking Reality (which can be found on youtube).

  2. Interesting. I'll check it out some time.

    I'm actually quite surprised that there aren't more Berkleyan idealists out there. Or at least subjective idealists. But I guess that's just the way these things go.

    1. I see you are also into counter-apologetics, but do you have for yourself your own apologetic for theism? (I can't imagine you wouldn't being that theism is a distinctive of subjective idealism.)

    2. Hey Joshua, sorry for the late reply but I've been busy.

      No, I do not have an apologetic for theism. When I say I do "counter-apologetics," I mean I am an atheist and I have some fun arguing against theism, not in favor of it.

      Theism was part of Berkeley's belief system but I do not regard it as a part of his subjective idealism. Yes, they were closely connected, but nevertheless you can still have one without the other.

    3. By the way, if you are hoping for quicker replies, I am much more active on the "choose your own topic" forum at William Lane Craig's website. You can check it out here:

      My name there is "hatsoff".

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I don't see how you can be a Berkeleyan Idealist and not be a theist. That would be like a physicalist believing in a soul, its nonsense. You can deny matter and be an atheist (possibly), but you cannot be a "BERKELEYAN" Idealist and be an atheist.

    Even Berkeley's "Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous" is meant as an apologetic against atheism and skepticism. IT was for this end that he developed his system. He was an adamant and dedicated Christian Theist.

    An idealist who is not a theist is doomed to be a solipsist.

    and I would argue solipsism requires Theism anyway...

  5. I am in no hurry for responses. I can wait.

  6. Thanks for the responses.

    Berkeley famously used his idealism to justify his theism. However I still regard them as separate positions. I don't subscribe to Berkeley's theory of vision, either. However I do accept his thesis that there are no such things as mind-independent objects, and I accept his arguments for that thesis as compelling.

    As for solipsism, I don't think we have any reason to believe in other minds, but that doesn't mean we have reason not to believe in other minds. We are within our epistemic rights to accept their existence if we are so inclined.

  7. Where do new perceptions that enter into your mind come from?

  8. I disagree that the matter of other minds can simply be shifted negatively to foundationalism (properly basic belief). Thomas Reid's "common sense" (which you seem to be referencing here) is fundamentally realist and not idealist. Berkeley would allow of the possibility of other minds by establishing at least One other mind (The Supreme Mind, God), and then justify his belief based on the presupposing of biblical revelation (which is consistent with theism).

    In regard to his arguments that there are no mind-independent substances, i don't know how you can divorce that from his theistic views, as both the objectivity and production of perceptual reality were justified by his belief in theism. God is the source of our perceptual reality (contra skepticism) and the basis for its existence independent of my specific mind (contra solipsism). Apart from these arguments you are left with Berkeley's arguments for the reduction of primary qualities to secondary qualities and that all physical reality is explainable in terms of these secondary qualities (sensible/mind-dependent).

    However, how is that Berkeleyan? Technically such claims could equally be assumed under a sort of neo-kantian transcendental idealism where mind-independent reality is asserted as unknowable noumena, that serves as the inscrutable source/cause of our sensible experience.

    Likewise, I am not convinced that you can maintain phenomenal idealism apart from Christian theism unless you adequately demonstrate how your position does not as a default reduce to solipsism. Because even if you would argue that it is in your epistemic rights to assume, apart from rational proof, the existence of other minds, that by no means establishes their existence. This belief therefore would not make you an idealist, just a solipsist with wishful thinking.

    I guess I just feel it is disingenuous to claim berkeley's system when the core tenants of that system are ones you deny. Not to mention, that the atheism and skepticism he developed his system as a response to, you affirm.

    If you deny mind-independent substance, thats fine and dandy, but that is not Berkeleyan Idealism.

    Berkeleyan Idealism is nothing more that a rational unpacking of his underlying calvinistic theology, which sees as metaphysically central the actualizing of God's decree of human experience and that such a continuous revelation is the basis of all knowledge. It is oxymoronic to hold to such a view and be an atheist.

    1. I don't really accept that "properly basic" beliefs enjoy some kind of special status other than that they are beliefs toward which most of us seem to have a very strong disposition. So no, I'm not arguing like Thomas Reid might that belief in other minds is required for rational thought or even rational discourse. Rather, I'm just the kind of person who can't shake his belief in other minds, and presumably so are most others. I don't think this is a problem as long as I have no reason to deny the existence of other minds. Give me a reason, and then it will be a problem. Until then, I am not being irrational to continue in my belief. Perhaps you could say I am being nonrational, but that does not worry me.

      Now I want to say something about how theism supports Berkeley's idealism. To my reckoning, Berkeley uses theism to defend his idealism from objections, but he does not use theism to establish idealism in the first place. For instance, recall his argument about the unperceived tree. He shows that what we take to be unperceived objects are really just ideas in our minds. We can never get outside of our own ideas of things, and so the only kind of thing we can know to exist are ideas (be those ours or others'). Nowhere in this line of reasoning does theism intrude.

      But he DOES use theism to defend against the objection that our experiences should be so regular: he attributes that regularity to the causal powers of God. But for a causal regularity theorist such as myself, this doesn't solve the problem at all, only makes it worse by positing further regularities.

      Instead, I would reply to the regularity objection that our experiences just are regular. It seems a brute fact we cannot explain, regardless of whether we are idealists, materialists, dualists, theists, atheists, or whatever.

      I will add that I am definitely NOT a transcendental idealist like Kant. I would say that the very notion of mind-independent objects such as what Kant has in mind is empty. I can find no meaningful content whatsoever in Kant's suggestion of unknowable noumena.

      Finally, let's remember that if you want to appeal to theism for justification for the existence of other minds, then you will have to first justify theism. And then you will have to show how that gives you other minds (in the ordinary sense, i.e. that the person in the tollbooth is actually a conscious being).


  9. >>Give me a reason, and then it will be a problem. Until then, I am not being irrational to continue in my belief. Perhaps you could say I am being nonrational, but that does not worry me.<<

    That is asinine and ignores the nature of logical debate. One cannot ask for one to prove a negative (prove that minds don't exist, or that such a belief is irrational and thereby implying the opposite, a negative position).

    If one holds to the positive existence of something, the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate the veracity of that claim, otherwise it remains an arbitrary claim. If you believe in other minds arbitrarily, thats your prerogative, but that belief is neither justified nor is it established as true; therefore, in regards to my original criticism, I see no reason why your atheistic immaterialism does not logically imply solipsism. You can arbitrarily believe and assert whatever you like, but I see not logical basis for my criticism's invalidation in your statements thus far.

    >>To my reckoning, Berkeley uses theism to defend his idealism from objections, but he does not use theism to establish idealism in the first place.<<

    Both are incorrect, for he uses idealism to establish Theism, and his understanding of theism implies idealism, as a system, is dependent on that belief in God.

    This is seen plainly just by considering the title of his most famous work;

    "Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous: The design of which is plainly to demonstrate the reality and perfection of human knowledge, the incorporeal nature of the soul, AND THE IMMEDIATE PROVIDENCE OF A DEITY: IN OPPOSITION TO SKEPTICS AND ATHEISTS (i.e. Ben Wallis)." -parenthesis and emphasis added.

    Likewise you are incorrect to limit the use of Berkeley's theism to explaining regularity in perceptual awareness, for Berkeley taught that God was the continuous and active cause of our perceptual experience, and He alone could be the provider of such. In fact Berkeley, would argue, and does argue, that only a Supreme Mind could explain the existence of all phenomena. Hence, for Berkeley, God is NECESSARY for our phenomenological content.

    Secondly, God is necessary in Berkeley, not only for the source of our experiences, but also for their objectivity. We, under Berkeley, do not have a world of chance or constant spontaneous existence. When a created being stops perceiving, lets say, a cherry tree, that cherry tree does not cease to exist and then come back into existence at different moments of time. Rather, that cherry tree, when not observed by a created being, remains objectively as it subsists eternally in the Mind of God.

    regularity, which is nothing but observing similar correlations over time, is a consequence of idealism's superior explanation for the causal origination of our phenomenological content and for its objectivity. Both of which are established by theism under Berkeley.

    >>Finally, let's remember that if you want to appeal to theism for justification for the existence of other minds.<<

    One would establish 'another mind' by establishing theism, as God is a supreme "mind" in Berkeley. Berkeley does this well, and I can do it better.

    In Christ,
    Joshua Johnson

  10. Joshua,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Let me try to clear something up. When you say that atheistic immaterialism implies solipsism, can you please clarify exactly what you mean? For instance, here are four possible interpretations (not the only four):

    (1) If mind-independent material objects did not exist and God did not exist either, then other minds would not exist.
    (2) If a person is both an immaterialist and an atheist, then that person must deny the existence of other minds on pain of irrationality.
    (3) If a person is both an immaterialist and an atheist, then that person cannot affirm the existence of other minds on pain of irrationality.
    (4) If a person is both an immaterialist and an atheist, then that person cannot know that other minds exist.

    If you are trying to demonstrate (1) or (2) then you have a long way to go. Items (3) and (4) are a bit trickier. For instance to show (3), we would need to look carefully at what makes beliefs rational vs. irrational, and whether or not there is any middle ground between those. Item (4) seems even more difficult, as we would have to get into my epistemic contextualism against what I presume is your Plantinga-type externalism (which is very popular among presuppositionalists).

    Or perhaps you are trying to show something else entirely. But as things stand, I'm not really sure what you are attempting to show.

    In any case, let's remember that I am not attempting to prove the existence of other minds, and hence have no burden of proof in that regard. I just take it for granted that other minds exist, and I expect that you do much the same (even though you think you don't).


    1. (cont. from above)

      Next, let's look at your arguments for theism, which you get from Berkeley. You appear to have two.

      First, you argue that only God can cause experiences, and so, since we are having experiences at all (regular or not), God must exist. Second, you argue that since objects do not cease to exist when we stop perceiving them, there must be a mind to perceive them in our absence, and God is the best (perhaps the only) candidate for this mind.

      But remember that I am a regularity theorist of causation. So, to say that experience of type A is "caused" is just to say that its occurrence always follows some particular type of event, say of type B. And it is easy to see what events these might be: other experiences! So for instance, if I have an experience of bringing the coffee mug to my lips and tipping it back in the ordinary way, this is constantly followed by the experience of coffee running down my throat. That is, the one experience causes the other. This seems to me a perfectly satisfactory explanation.

      Now, maybe you want to try to poke holes in this explanation. Indeed, even as a regularity theorist, I am not too confident in regularity theory. So perhaps there is something wrong with my explanation above. Very well. But you still will need to show that ONLY God can cause us to have experiences. Furthermore, you will need to show that our experiences really are caused in the first place! For although they are clearly regular, if we reject a regularity theory of causation then it is no longer assured that experiences have causes at all. That is, if you reject regularity theory, then you undercut our reasons for thinking experiences even have causes.

      As to your second argument, I will need to distinguish between two kinds of existence. On one hand, an object can exist in the sense that it appears in our conceptual scheme of the world. For example, remember the unperceived tree in Berkeley's master argument. It's not really unperceived, because it exists framed in our minds as we consider it. In other words, the tree appears as an object in our mental model of reality. So it exists in that sense, whether or not someone is perceiving it in the stronger sense of actively imagining it, or stronger still, seeing, hearing, touching it, etc.

      On the other hand, Berkeley seems to be asserting that the tree is always perceived in that latter, stronger sense, of a mind always perceiving it, either by actively imagining it or by seeing, hearing, touching it, etc. But I do not believe this is true. So, in a very limited sense, I do accept that objects like trees can come into and go out of existence as we start and stop imagining them. Just please make sure you understand what I take to be the limitations of the sense in which this occurs. The tree does not disappear from our mental model except insofar as we stop thinking about our mental model. But as soon as we think of it again, the tree is there, as if waiting for us.


    2. (cont. from above)

      Finally, I don't think you took my point about the burden of the theistic apologist, so please let me repeat my concern. You claim that theists are able to justify their belief in the existence of other minds. Well, there are two steps in this process. First, you would need to show that theism is true in the first place. Second, you would need to show that theism gives us a reason to believe in other minds. And I don't mean trivially---of course if God exists, then there is at least one other mind (God's!). Rather, I mean that theism doesn't obviously get for us the existence of all the minds we seem to take for granted. For example, when you run through a tollbooth, how do you know the human body dressed in reflective orange and handing you your change is really a conscious being? Or, how do you know that this blog is not run by a p-zombie instead of a conscious being who thinks that Berkeley was correct about immaterialism but incorrect about the existence of God? Etc.

      So sure, believing in God gets you one other mind. And believing in, say, the Christian God, might get you a few more minds like the characters which appear in the Bible. But that is trivial. I want to know, how does God get you all the other minds which most of us just take for granted? Or even just most of them?