Berkeley And God

berkeley

I do not aim in these posts for a “complete” description of Berkeley’s metaphysical philosophy, but no discussion of Berkeley would be, shall we say, balanced without speaking of Berkeley’s belief in God.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Berkeley believes that Humans are only cognizant of two fundamental categories of phenomena in the Universe: 1) Ideas, and 2) Spirits. Ultimately, Ideas are dependent upon the Spirits which entertain them; thus really, Berkeley believes in only one fundamental Substance: Spirit.

As also mentioned earlier, Berkeley contends that the only way we can recognize Spirits besides ourselves in the world is via their operations– how they are affecting things out there.

To tell the truth, this gets a little convoluted since Berkley also asserts that all objects which we THINK we perceive are actually given their qualities by our own minds– that we are, in other words, each one of us PROJECTING an idiosyncratic Reality upon the world. So it seems to me quite possibly that in Berkeley’s Universe, we could be projecting things which only appear to indicate the existence of other Spirits.

Nevertheless, Berkeley leaves open the idea that there exists SOME SORT of Underlying Reality, some sort of blank screen or unformed clay (or uncarved block to get all Taoist about it) out there that our individual minds then IMPOSE qualities upon. Perhaps it is this Underlying Reality that Spirits affect, and this affecting is perceived by us even through, or in spite of, the active filters of our minds.

Be all that as it may or may not, Berkeley believes that, just as we recognize the existence of other Spirits in the world via their World-altering operations, we can also recognize the existence of the greatest Spirit of them all, God. We recognize God not only by His operations in the World, but by the Ideas he excites in us. The only difference between recognizing the presence of other human Spirits and the great Spirit of God is that, “whereas some one finite and narrow assemblage of ideas denotes a particular human mind, whithersoever we direct our view, we do at all times and in all places perceive manifest tokens of the Divinity.”

The existence of an all– and always– perceiving God also allows Berkeley to assert that Matter does not necessarily cease existence at the instant in which no one is perceiving it.

The existence of God, he contends, also explains why we lesser Spirits cannot simply open our eyes and see whatever we want to see. Berkeley believes that the human mind projects into the Universe qualities such as Number, Extension, Color, etc… but, if I’m reading him correctly, he also maintains that there is something more fundamental than these Qualities which is being imposed on us. Sensations or Perceptions –what Berkeley calls “Ideas” — are not entirely of our own choosing but are– in their fundamentals– given to us… implying of course, someone or something doing the giving.

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