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BISHOP OF CLOYNE*
DR. GEORGE BERKELEY was the son of William Berkeley of Thomas Town, in the county of Kilkenny, whose father after the Restoration (the family having suffered greatly for their loyalty to Charles I.) was appointed to the Collectorship of the Customs at Belfast. He was born March 12, 1684, at Kilcrin, near Thomas Town; received the first part of his education at Kilkenny, under Dr. Hinton; and was admitted a pensioner of Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of fifteen, under the tuition of Dr. Hall. In June, 1707, he was admitted a Fellow of the society; having previously sustained with honour the very trying examination, which the candidates for that preferment are by the statutes required to undergo.
The first proof, which he gave of his literary abilities, was his · Arithmetica absque Algebrå aut Euclide demonstrata;' which, from the preface, he appears to have written before he was twenty years old, though he did not publish it till 1707. It is followed
* AUTHORITIES. Life prefixed to his Works.
by a Mathematical Miscellany, containing some very ingenious observations and theorems.
His · Theory of Vision' was published in 1709. This, as Dr. Reid observes, was the first attempt to distinguish the immediate operations of the senses from the conclusions we habitually deduce from our sensations. The author clearly shows, that the connexion between the sight and the touch is the effect of habit : insomuch that a person born blind, and suddenly made to see, would at first be utterly unable to foretell how the objects of sight would affect the sense of touch, or indeed whether they were tangible or not; and that until experience had repeatedly taught him, what events were concomitant with his sensations, he would be incapable of forming any notion of proximity or distance. These, and other interesting positions have since been experimentally veri. fied; more especially in the instance of the young man (couched at fourteen years of age, in 1720) whose case is recorded at the end of Cheselden's • Anatomy,' which has since been quoted and copied by numerous writers on the science of the human mind.*
His · Principles of Human Knowledge' appeared in the ensuing year. Addicted to the reading of romances, disgusted with the metaphysics then received in the University, and inquisitively attentive to the operations of the mind, which had been explored about that time by Malebranche and Locke, he derived probably from these sources his disbelief of the existence of matter. † In the introduction to this
* A vindication of the Theory of Vision' was published by Dr. Berkeley in 1733.
† When his · Principles of Human Knowledge' were first
work, he objected to Locke's doctrine of Abstract Ideas. Locke had asserted, that the mind is
published, he sent copies of the work to Dr. Clarke and Mr. Whiston. What effect it produced upon the latter, the reader may possibly be entertained with learning from his own words: • And perhaps it will not be here improper, by way of caution, to take notice of the pernicious consequence such metaphysical subtilties have sometimes had, even against common sense and common experience; as in the cases of those three famous men, Mons. Leibnitz, Mr. Locke, and Mr. Berkeley. [The first, in his pre-established Harmony: the second, in the dispute with Limborch about Human Liberty.)-And as to the third-named, Mr. Berkeley, he published, A.D. 1710, at Dublin this metaphysic notion, that “ matter was not a real thing; nay, that the common opinion of it's reality was groundless, if not ridiculous.” He was pleased to send Dr. Cļarke and myself, each of us, a book. After we had both perused it, I went to Dr. Clarke, and discoursed with him about it to this effect; that I, not being a metaphysician, was not able to answer Mr. Berkeley's subtile premises, though I did not at all believe his absurd conclusion, I therefore desired that he, who was deep in such subtilties, but did not appear to believe Mr. Berkeley's conclusions, would answer him : which task he declined. I speak not these things with intention to reproach either Mr. Locke, or Dean Berkeley. I own the latter's great abilities in other parts of learning; and to his noble design of settling a College in or near the West Indies, for the instruction of the natives in civil arts and in the principles of Christianity, I heartily wish all possible success. It is the pretended metaphysic science itself, derived from the sceptical disputes of the Greek philosophers, not those particular great men who have been unhappily imposed on by it, that I complain of. Accordingly, when the famous Milton had a mind to represent the vain reasonings of wicked spirits in Hades, he described it by their endless train of metaphysics, thus : • Others apart sat on a hill retired, &c.'
Par. Lost, II. 557-561. : Many years afterward, at Mr. Addison's instance, there was a meeting of Drs. Clarke and Berkeley to discuss this speculative point; and great hopes were founded upon the conference. capable of leaving out of the complex idea of an individual whatever constitutes it's peculiarity, and thus obtaining an abstract idea, wherein all the particulars of the same kind equally partake.' Berkeley affirmed, that we had no abstract ideas; but that, in cases where such ideas have been supposed to exist, the object of attention is some general proposition or truth, which being applicable to a great number of individuals may be used for their classification.'
In 1712, the principles inculcated in Mr. Locke's * Two Treatises of Government’seem to have turned his attention to passive obedience; in support of which, he printed the substance of three Commonplaces, delivered by him that year in the collegechapel; a work, which had subsequently nearly done him some injury in his fortune. Lord Galway, to whom he had been recommended by their late Majesties for preferment in Ireland, having heard of those sermons, represented him as a Jacobite. His friend Mr. Molyneux, however, removed this impression by producing the work in question, and showing that it contained nothing but principles of loyalty to the existing establishment. This was the first introduction of Dr. Berkeley to the acquaintance of Queen Caroline.
In February 1713, he published in London a farther defence of his celebrated system of imma.
The parties, however, separated without being able to come to any agreement. Dr. B. declared himself not well satisfied with the conduct of his antagonist on the occasion, who though he could not answer, had not candor enough to own himself convinced.' But the complaints of disputants against each other, especially on subjects of this abstruse nature, should be heard with suspicion.
terialism,* in « Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonöus. Acuteness of parts, and a beautiful imagination, were so conspicuous in his writings, that his reputation was now established; and his company was courted, even where his opinions did not find admission. Two gentlemen of opposite principles concurred in making him known to the learned and the great; Sir Richard Steele, and Dr. Swift. For the former he wrote several papers in the Guardian, † and at his house became acquainted
* These works, according to Hume, “form the best lessons of scepticism, which are to be found either among the ancient or modern philosophers, Bayle not excepted.” Beattie, also, considers them as having a sceptical tendency. If Berkeley's argument be conclusive, he adds, it proves that to be false, which every man must necessarily believe, every moment of his life, to be true; and that to be true, which no man since the foundation of the world was ever capable of believing for a single moment." Berkeley's doctrine attacks the most incontestable dictates of
common sense, and pretends to demonstrate that the clearest > principles of human conviction, and those which have determined the judgement of men in all ages (and by which the judgements of all reasonable men must be determined) are, certainly, fallacious. It ought to be remembered, that the author broached his opinions upon this abstruse subject, before he was twenty seven. They are explained, and confuted, at great length by Dr. Reid (Intellect. Powers, x. xi.)
+ He had a guinea and a dinner with Steele, for every paper which he contributed. The Nos. claimed for him by his son and others, are 3, 27, 35, 39, 49, 55, 62, 69, 70, 77, 83, 88, 89, and 126; of most of which the principal design is, to explain and defend some branch of the evidences of Christianity against the 'freethinkers' of the age, as they were somewhat improperly called, or to elucidate it's peculiar doctrines in a popular manner. The stile is, therefore, plain and perspicuous and the arguments such as are easily comprehended and remembered. In Nos. 35 and 39 a humorous turn is given to the subject of free-thinking by a very ingenious device. Of No. 3, however, the first publication opposed to Collins' superficial and illiberal Discourse,' some have claimed the merit for Steele.