Reading Questions: Berkeley

While reading the Three Dialogues, it is important to recognize that the views of the character Philonous represent what Berkeley himself believes. The character of Hylas is there to play devil's advocate. Your reading assignment includes, in the first dialogue, pp. 7-27, and from the first speech of Philonous on p. 30 ("Consequently the very same arguments...") through the end of the first dialogue, p. 42, the entire second dialogue, pp. 43-60, (you should focus mainly on pp. 43-47 and pp. 50-55), and in third dialogue, p. 61 through the last speech of Philonous on p. 64 ("..the laws of nature.") and from the last speech of Hylas on p. 67 ("I own myself satisfied...") through the last speech of Philonous on p. 82 ("...their gross original sense."). Recommended reading includes pp. 89-94.

1. Whose "odd fate" was Hylas kept up the night pondering? What is Philonous's response to Hylas's concern? (7-8)

2. What "extravagant" opinion does Hylas accuse Philonous of holding? Is the accusation true? Does Philonous agree that this opinion is skeptical? What does Philonous suggest that he will prove instead? (8-9)

3. Philonous gives a definition of a skeptic on p. 9. What is it? What is wrong with it? They eventually agree on a different criterion for determining which of them is "the greatest skeptic". What is it? (10)

4. What definition do they, after discussing it, eventually agree on for a "sensible thing"? (11)

5. They get into a discussion about heat (one sensible quality). At the beginning, does Hylas think that heat exists only in the mind or outside ("without") the mind? (11)

6. Philonous equates intense heat with a sort of pain, and gentle warmth with a sort of pleasure. Why does he do this? What problem with Hylas's position is he trying to point out? (12-14)

7. What other problem with Hylas's position is Philonous trying to point out with the cold-and-warm-hands-in-water example? (14-15)

8. After discussing heat, they move on to other sensible qualities: tastes (15-16), odors (16-17), sounds (17-19) and colors (19-23), and Philonous gives very similar arguments. What is the general form of all these arguments? What does Philonous always try to get Hylas to admit?

9. Hylas tries to raise an objection on p. 16 by making a distinction between two different sorts of qualities. What does he say? Why does Philonous dismiss this objection, at least for the time being? (16) How does this relate to Hylas's distinction between sound as a sensation on the one hand and as a movement of air on the other? (17-18)

10. The distinction is finally drawn between primary and secondary qualities on p. 23. What qualities does Hylas put in what category? (23)

11. Philonous goes on to give arguments about extension (24-26), motion (26) and solidity (26-27), which are very similar to those he gave about sensible qualities. Again, what does he try to get Hylas to admit? What general point is he after?

12. Hylas tries to distinguish between two components of perception: the sensation and the object. One is passive, one is active. Which is which? How does Philonous try to show that this distinction will not work? (30-32)

13. Hylas introduces the notion of a "material substratum" or a "material substance". What does he mean by this? (33) How does this relate back to Descartes's discussion of the wax itself?

14. What does Philonous say in order to show that the idea of material substance as something that "supports" attributes is incoherent? (33-35)

15. What contradiction does Philonous find in the idea of matter which exists unperceived and unconceived? (35-36)

16. Does Philonous believe we can actually perceive distance? Why or why not? (37-38)

17. What distinction does Hylas suggest at the bottom of p. 38? How does it relate to the discussion of the picture of Julius Caesar? What does Philonous think the Julius Caesar example shows about from where Hylas must think we know material objects? (38-40)

18. What objections does Philonous raise to the idea that ideas might resemble "material objects"? (40-41)

19. Near the end of the first dialogue, Philonous accuses Hylas of being a skeptic. Why? (41)

20. How does Philonous react to the suggestion that the brain causes our ideas? What does he think the brain is? (43-44)

21. They get into another discussion about skepticism. Hylas believes that what has been concluded so far leads to skepticism, but Philonous disagrees. Why? (45-46)

22. Does Philonous think that the reality of the things he perceives depends on his mind alone? If not, whose mind does it depend on? (46-47)

23. Philonous claims that the existence of sensible things gives us "a direct and immediate demonstration, from a most evident principle, of the being of a God". Why is this? (47)

24. According to Philonous, who or what causes our perceptions? What else can be known about who or what causes our perceptions? (50)

25. How does Philonous react to the suggestion that matter may be the "subordinate and limited cause" of our ideas? (50-52)

26. How does Philonous react to the suggestion that matter may be used as an "instrument" (i.e. a tool) in bringing about our ideas? Does Philonous think that God ever needs to use instruments? (52-54).

27. What does Hylas mean by suggesting that the presence of matter might be an "occasion" for our perceptions and ideas? (54) What similar response to this suggestion does Philonous give? (54-55)

28. At this point, Hylas finds himself still believing in matter, even though he can't describe what it is or what properties it has or how it should be defined. Briefly, what does Philonous think about Hylas clinging on to this belief? Does he think it makes any sense? (55-60)

29. What does Philonous mean when he says, on p. 64, that for ideas, "their existence consists in their being perceived"? Why does Philonous think this solves the skepticism into which Hylas now seems to be thrown? (61-64)

30. Most of the rest of the third dialogue can be understood as a series of objections to immaterialism raised by Hylas and Philonous's responses to them. For each one, briefly explain the objection and the response.

a.) Would the things I perceive stop existing if I did? (64)

b.) Isn't the idea that the being of sensible things is their being perceived contrary to common sense? (67-68)

c.) What is the difference between real things and images in dreams and things we just imagine? (68-69)

d.) Doesn't it sound strange to say that only ideas and minds exist? (69)

e.) If God causes all our ideas, doesn’t that make God the author of murder, sacrilege, adultery and other sins? (69-70)

f.) Isn't immaterialism contrary to common sense? (70-71)

g.) If immaterialism is true, then aren't oars that look crooked in water really crooked? And isn't the moon really just a flat circle of a tiny diameter? Are people who think these things actually mistaken at all? (71-72)

h.) Couldn't we still say that matter exists if we redefine what it means? (72-73)

i.) If we get our ideas of pain from God, doesn't that mean that God feels pain, and thus does not exist in a perfect state of being? (73-74)

j.) How can we make sense of the claims of science if there is no matter? (74-75)

k.) Why would God deceive us into believing in matter if there is none? (76-77)

l.) Isn't immaterialism, by reducing all things to mere ideas, just another form of skepticism? (77)

m.) If things are just certain perceptions, then how can the same thing be perceived so differently, for example, with the naked eye and with a microscope? (77-78)

n.) Since we don’t have access to other people's ideas, how can two people ever perceive the same thing? (80-81)

o.) How do "all those trees and houses" fit in a person’s mind? (82)

31. Several times towards the end (77-79,81-82), and throughout the dialogues, they discuss skepticism. In general, why does Philonous think that immaterialism evades skepticism better than the alternative? Do you think he is right?


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