To Be More . . . Neighborly
At Home, Post No. 1

A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

Principles, Dialogues and Philosophical CorrespondencePrinciples, Dialogues and Philosophical Correspondence by George Berkeley
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In 2016, while on a family trip to Ireland, we spent a couple of days in Kilkenny and our hotel was Berkeley House. The good bishop had gone to school in Kilkenny, so knowing he had some connection to the city, I asked the clerk if this was the house that Bishop George Berkeley the philosopher had lived in? She stared at me blankly and said she didn't know. Sigh.

In 2014, while at the Yale Writer's Conference, conference attendees all stayed in in Berkeley College, definitely named after the bishop. Annoying, Yalies mispronounce the name as if it is "Burk-ley" instead of "Bark-ley."

For some time now I've been reading back through the philosophical canon, including texts I last read in grad school a quarter of a century ago, such as this one, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

I liked the Introduction, which I didn't remember being so strong. It is a criticism of abstract ideas with good discussions of how language works. Here he anticipates William James's pragmatism, Alfred North Whitehead's fallacy of misplaced concreteness, and some aspects of Analytic Philosophy. An example, "Whereas, in truth, there is no such thing as one precise and definite signification annexed to any general name, they all signifying indifferently a great number of particular ideas." A good rebuke to, among others, Socrates and his attempts to get THE definition of various concepts.

But after the Introduction, as Berkeley argues for Idealism--the philosophy that only ideas exist--I just found him much harder to take than I did when I first read it. And since I don't have to read it for a class or comps, I was able to quickly skim through, re-reading some texts I had liked before (such as a paragraph on the difficulty of understanding time that I quoted in my dissertation) but otherwise finding his arguments and claims rather bad.

So, interestingly, my recent re-reading of Leibniz elevated him in my appreciation and Berkeley drops in my estimation.

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