5. Explain and assess Berkeley’s most powerful reasons for thinking that things other than minds have no absolute existence altogether apart from or independent of minds. Metaphysics is the study of the ultimate nature of reality and deals with what is truly real as oppose to what appears to be real. Berkeley is an idealist who believes that things other than minds have no absolute existence altogether apart from or independent of minds. He has several arguments but only the resemblance argument and the inconceivability argument will be discussed, as they are the most powerful reasons for thinking this.
I believe that Berkeley proves his theory of absolute existence must be dependent on the mind through resemblance and inconceivability. Realists believe what is ultimately real is independent from the mind and possess the primary qualities such as extension, shape, solidity and motion regardless of being conceived. This is opposite from Berkeley’s and other idealists views. Berkeley does not believe that these primary qualities are the only things that define existence. Secondary qualities include colours, sounds, odors, and tastes must also be present. Secondary qualities are mind dependent and they are perceptions.
These qualities are very important in Berkeley’s discussion on existence with respect to resemblance and inconceivability. One of Berkeley’s most powerful reasons for absolute existence is proved through the resemblance argument. He believes that only something visually experienced can be like a visual experience, so ideas resemble other ideas. He continues to say ideas are mind dependent so no ideas can resemble qualities of a mind independent idea with respect to sense experience. For example, the idea of a unicorn is mind-dependent and resembles unicorns from fairytales as a horse with a horn.
If there were never a sense experience with a unicorn, no ideas would resemble the qualities. Berkeley states “I appeal to any one whether it be sense to assert a colour is like something which is invisible; hard or soft, like something which is intangible; and so of the rest. ” We no what is hard because we have experiences with objects that are harder, softer, or the same. Betrand Russell objects to Berkeley’s notion of resemblance with two things, the first being that ideas represent reality by mapping reality not resembling it, and second, experiences only correspond to the idea, they do not resemble it.
Take a scenic picture, looking at the picture, one would be able to tell what objects are closer or further away but the picture is flat, not 3d. Therefore how could this possibly resemble reality which is 3d? It does not, it only maps reality. The tree in the background of the picture corresponds to the tree in the distance in reality, however, it does not resemble a tree that is physically further away when it is on the same plane as a closer tree in the picture.
Berkeley would respond to this by bringing up qualities of mind dependent ideas. The trees in the picture are green because the same senses are being excited in the picture, as they are when a green tree is seen in reality. Distance is also a mind dependent idea, and although it is not physically apparent within the picture, the resemblance of the further away tree being smaller is still apparent, and therefore the trees are mind dependent ideas with resemblance, which supports Berkeley’s theory that things must be experienced to exist.
Berkeley’s second argument, which supports his reasons for thinking that things other than minds have no absolute existence apart from the mind, is about inconceivability. It is impossible to conceive of an object existing neither experienced or even conceived because it is being conceived about not being conceived. The world opening up and swallowing all the people of the world seems inconceivable to most people, but assuming inconceivability must mean that it was being thought of and therefore is mind-dependent and conceived.
As Berkeley states “it only shews you have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind; but it does not shew that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind. ” Russell objects to this with the argument that Berkeley is confusing specifics with generalities. The example of the world swallowing up humans is very specific and is conceived compared to just the idea that there may be a complete wipe out of human kind but it is not known and therefore inconceivable.
Russell’s second objection is that Berkeley is also confused between the act of thinking with the object thought about. Thinking of the extinction of humans is the object that will or will not happen in the future. Thinking about how it will actually occur with no evidence is just an act of thinking. Therefore, things can exist without being conceived. Berkeley’s inconceivability argument is just proving that it is impossible to conceive of something without thinking about it.
If someone is told not to think about a pig flying over their house, they are thinking about not thinking about the pig and therefore are thinking about the flying pig. Or even with a realistic example, if someone is told not to think about the hardships of poverty in Africa, they are thinking about not thinking about it, which makes them think about it. Descartes supports his argument with the famous quotation “I am, I exist. ” With all this, Berkeley’s idea of thinking that things can not exist without the mind is further proved.
Through Berkeley’s two arguments of resemblance and inconceivability, the notion of him thinking that things other than minds have no absolute existence apart from minds is proved. Ideas must resemble qualities of mind dependent experiences, if they do not resemble these experiences, they can not posses sense experience and therefore can not exist outside of the mind. All objects that have absolute existence must be part of the mind or else they can not be thought of or conceived, it is impossible to conceive of something not being conceived because of the contradiction which would make it conceived.