Descartes Vs Berkeley

Descartes Vs. Berkeley 03/05/95 Essay, Research Paper

In Descartes’ First Meditation, Descartes writes that he has

come to the conclusion that many of the opinions he held in his

youth are doubtful, and consequently all ideas built upon those

opinions are also doubtful. He deduces that he will have to

disprove his current opinions and then construct a new foundation

of knowledge if he wants to establish anything firm and lasting in

the sciences that is absolutely true. But rather than disprove

each of his opinions individually, Descartes attacks the principles

that support everything he believes with his Method of Doubt. The

Method of Doubt is Descartes’ method of fundamental questioning in

which he doubts everything that there is the slightest reason to

doubt. It should be mentioned that Descartes does not necessarily

believe that everything he doubts is true. He does believe,

however, that whatever can not be doubted for the slightest reason

must be true.

Descartes spends Meditation One trying to disprove his

fundamental beliefs. First, Descartes doubts that his senses are

generally trustworthy because they are occasionally deceitful (eg.

a square tower may look round from far away). Also, because he

realizes that there are no definitive signs for him to distinguish

being awake from being asleep, he concludes that he can not trust

his judgement to tell him whether he is awake or asleep. But

asleep or awake, arithmetic operations still yield the same answer

and the self-preservation instinct still holds. To disprove these,

Descartes abandons the idea of a supremely good God like he has

believed in all his life and supposes an evil genius, all-powerful

and all-clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving

Descartes by putting ideas into Descartes’ head.

With these three main doubts, each progressively more broad,

Descartes finally is satisfied that he has sufficiently disproved

his previous opinions. He now is ready to build a new foundation

of knowledge of a physical world (the real world) based on what

must absolutely be true.

Berkeley, however, would argue that Descartes is wasting his

time by trying to discover what must be absolutely true in the real

world. In his Dialogue One, Berkeley argues that there is no real

world, and that all sensible objects (those which can be

immediately perceived) exist only in the mind. He starts by

proving that secondary (extrinsic) qualities exist only in the mind

by use of the Relativity of Perception Argument. As an example,

Berkeley writes that if you make one of your hands hot and the

other cold, and put them into a vessel of water, the water will

seem cold to one hand and warm to the other. Since the water can

not be warm and cold at the same time, it must follow that heat (a

secondary quality) must only exist in the mind. Berkeley also uses

the qualities of taste, sound, and color as examples to prove that

all secondary qualities must reside in the mind.

However, Berkeley also says the same argument can be applied

to primary (intrinsic) qualities. He writes that to a mite, his

own foot might seem a considerable dimension, but to smaller

creatures, that same foot might seem very large. Since an object

can not be different sizes at the same time, it follows that

extension must exist only in the mind. Further, since all other

primary characteristics can not be separated from extension, they

too must exist only in the mind.

An interesting aspect of Descartes’ Dualistic view and

Berkeley’s Idealistic view is the necessity of God. Descartes

needs an all-good non-deceiving God to insure that the ideas of

primary qualities of objects he perceives in his mind accurately

represent those qualities of objects in the external world. In the

Third Meditation, Descartes says that God is infinite and finite is

the lack of infinite. Infinite, he says, is NOT the lack of

finite. Since our concept of the infinite could not have come from

the concept of the finite (since infinite is not the lack of

finite), the idea of infinite could only have come from God. This

proof is shaky at best.

Berkeley, on the other hand, needs God to give us the ideas of

the objects we see since there is no physical world to draw those

ideas from through the senses. But rather than proving God to

prove his philosophy, Berkeley uses his philosophy as the proof of

God’s existence. In his Second Dialogue, Berkeley says God must

exist to put the same real ideas into everybody’s minds because

minds cannot interact directly. However, if it were the case that

God did not actually exist (or had used his infinite powers to

remove his infinity after he created the universe because he was no

longer needed), both Descartes and Berkeley would find their

philosophies in trouble.



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