« Bergius, Johannes Berkeley, George Berleburg Bible »

Berkeley, George


Bishop of Cloyne (in County Cork, about 15 m. e.s.e. of the city of Cork); b. probably at Dysert Castle, near Thomastown (90 m. s.w. of Dublin), County Kilkenny, Ireland, Mar. 12, 1685; d. at Oxford Jan. 14, 1753.

Berkeley's Philosophy.

He studied at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1704; M.A. and fellow, 1707; B.D. and D.D., 1721), and filled various college offices from tutor (1707) to junior dean (1710) and junior Greek lecturer (1712). He lived there in an atmosphere "charged with the elements of reaction against traditional scholasticism in physics and metaphysics." His Commonplace Book (first printed in the Oxford ed. of his works, 1871, iv, 419–502) shows how the stimulus worked upon a mind naturally inclined to independent investigation. Very early he adopted the idea that no existence is conceivable, and therefore none is possible, which is not either conscious spirit or the ideas (i.e., objects) of which such spirit is conscious. Locke had affirmed secondary and primary qualities of the material world; the secondary qualities, such as color and taste, do not exist apart from sensations; primary qualities exist irrespective of our knowledge. Berkeley denied this distinction, and held that external objects exist only as they are perceived by a subject. Thus the mind produces ideas, and these ideas are things. There are, however, two classes of ideas: the less regular and coherent, arising in the imagination; the more vivid and permanent, learned by experience, "imprinted on the senses by the Author of nature" which are the real things—a proof for the existence of God. According to Berkeley matter is not an objective reality but a composition of sensible qualities existing in the mind. "No object exists apart from the mind; mind is therefore the deepest reality; it is the prius, both in thought and existence, if for a moment we assume the popular distinction between the two." Berkeley appeared as an author with this theory already developed, and from it he never wavered. In 1709 he published an Essay toward a New Theory of Vision, an examination of visual consciousness to prove that it affords no ground for belief in the reality of the objects apparently seen. In 1710 appeared a Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, in which his theory received complete exposition.

Meanwhile Berkeley had taken orders, and, in 1713, he left Dublin, went to London, formed many desirable acquaintances, and gained an enviable reputation for learning, humility, and piety. The same year he published Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (ed. in Religion of Science Library, No. 29, Chicago, 1901), "the finest specimen in our language of the conduct of argument by dialogue." He visited the Continent in 1713–14 and again in 1716–20. In 1721 he returned to Ireland, again filled college offices at Dublin (divinity lecturer and senior lecturer, 1721; Hebrew lecturer, 1722; proctor, 1722), and was appointed dean of Dromore (1722) and dean of Derry, "the best preferment in Ireland" (1724).

Berkeley's American Scheme.

Berkeley now became devoted to a plan of establishing a college in the Bermuda Islands, went to London to further the project in 1724, and in 1725 published A Proposal for the Better Supplying of Churches in our Foreign Plantations, and for converting the savage Americans to Christianity by a college to be erected in the Summer Islands, otherwise called the Isles of Bermuda. By his enthusiasm and persuasive powers he won many expressions of sympathy, and came to believe that the government would support the plan. In Sept., 1728, he sailed for America and landed at Newport, R. I., Jan., 1729. Three years of waiting convinced him that his hopes were futile, and in Feb., 1732, he returned to London. He published immediately Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher, the result of his studies in America and probably the most famous of his works. It is a powerful refutation of the freethinking then popular and fashionable. In 1734 he was made bishop of Cloyne, and there he lived, happy in his family and beloved for his goodness and benevolence, till 1752, when he went to Oxford to end his days with his son, a senior student at Christ Church. He kept up his studies after his appointment as bishop and published a number of books, including the curious Philosophical Reflections, and Inquiries concerning the Virtues of Tar-water (1744; three eds. the same year, the second called Siris, a Chain of Philosophical Reflections, etc.), in which he set forth a revision of his philosophy, and expressed his faith in tar-water as a universal medicine, good for man and beast; it was the most popular of his works.

On first coming to America Berkeley bought a farm near Newport and built there a house, still standing, which he called "Whitehall" after the English palace. The shore is about a mile from the house, and a cleft in the rocks is still pointed out as a retreat whither he was wont to go and where he wrote much of Alciphron. This book is indeed a permanent record of his life at Newport, and not 61a little of its charm is due to this fact. He helped found a philosophical society at Newport and preached there in Trinity Church, a fine old wooden structure, which is still standing. He made at least one convert, the Rev. Samuel Johnson, episcopal missionary at Stratford, Conn., and afterward first president of Columbia College, New York. Attempts to show that he directly influenced the early idealistic thought of Jonathan Edwards have not proved successful. His American plans and dreams inspired the poem, written at uncertain date, which ends with the stanza:

Westward the course of empire takes its way;

The four first acts already past,

A fifth shall close the drama with the day;

Time's noblest offspring is the last.

Bibliography: The standard edition of Berkeley's complete works is by A. C. Fraser, 4 vols., Oxford, 1871, reissued 1901, of which vol. iv includes his Life and Letters and An Account of his Philosophy. Prof. Fraser has also edited a volume of Selections from Berkeley, 5th ed., London, 1899, and contributed Berkeley to the Philosophical Classics series, Edinburgh, 1881. There is an edition of The Works of George Berkeley, by G. Sampson, with biographical introduction by A. J. Balfour, in Bohn's Philosophical Library, 3 vols., London, 1897–98. An American edition of the Principles, by C. P. Krauth, Philadelphia, 1874, presents a valuable epitome of opinions concerning Berkeley. The sources for a biography are a Life by Bishop Stock first published 1778, reprinted in the Biographia Britannica, vol. ii, 1780, and prefixed to the first edition of Berkeley's Collected Works, 1784, the details being obtained from Bishop Berkeley's brother, Dr. Robert Berkeley; S. A. Allibone gives interesting details of Berkeley's residence at Newport in Critical Dictionary of English Literature, i, 174–177, Philadelphia, 1891; DNB, iv, 348–358 adds a list of the works chronologically arranged. Consult further D. Stewart, Philosophical Essays, Edinburgh, 1810; vol. v of his Collected Works, 11 vols., ib. 1854–60 (on the idealism of Berkeley); S. Bailey, A Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision, London, 1842 (adverse in its pronouncement); J. S. Mill, Dissertations and Discussions, ii, 162–197 and cf. vol. iv, Boston, 1865; F. Frederichs, Der phenomenale Idealismus Berkeley's und Kant's, Berlin, 1871; W. Graham, Idealism, an Essay, London, 1872 (connects Berkeley and Hegel); G. Spicker, Kant, Hume und Berkeley, Berlin, 1875; A. Penjon, Étude sur la vie et sur les œuvres philosophiques de George Berkeley, Paris, 1878; J. Janitsch, Kant's Urtheile über Berkeley, Strasburg, 1879; T. Loewy, Der Idealismus Berkeley's, in den Grundlagen untersucht, Vienna, 1891; T. H. Huxley, Collected Essays, vi, 241–319, New York, 1894; M. C. Tyler, George Berkeley and his American Visit, in Three Men of Letters, ib. 1895.

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