Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were the major philosophers of British Empiricism. Locke had said that mind came from matter; Berkeley said that matter came from mind; and Hume said there was neither mind nor matter. This module examines the idealism of Berkeley and the skepticism of Hume. As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: 1. How was Berkeley's philosophy both similar to and different from Locke's?

2. What was Berkeley's theory of vision?

3. What is meant by saying that Berkeley was an "idealist?"

4. What is the difference between "impressions" and "ideas" according to Hume?
5. When Hume decided that we could never know cause and effect relationship, what implications did this have for the "mind-body" problem?


Berkeley comes in the middle of British empiricism, immediately after Locke and before Hume and the Mills. He was a success both as philosopher and politician and was prominent as a clergyman during the early part of the eighteenth century. He was an "idealist" because he believed that mind was the major reality, that objects existed only because they were perceived by someone or by God. Berkeley was a Bishop in the Anglican Church at the beginning of the eighteenth century.1 This was the period of Queen Anne.

Theory of Vision.

Although Berkeley's ontology was opposite to that of Locke, he did believe that one learns through experience. This empiricism is best illustrated by his theory of vision. Berkeley wrote his New Theory of Vision in 1709. His empirical theory of vision maintained that depth perception is a function of non-visual sensory experiences. Depth perception is not innate but a product of our experiences. We have to do something to learn depth. When the eyes converge on an object in space, the rotation of the eye balls create tension in the ocular muscles. These kinesthetic muscular cues become associated to the sensation in the fingers as one touches seen objects. When the eyes focus on distant objects, the eye balls remain relatively parallel, there is minimal ocular tension, and there is no touch. If the object is near, the eyeballs rotate inward, the tension increases, and the hands touch that object. The association between the amount of ocular tension and the presence or absence of cutaneous touch from hands creates a learned experience of depth perception. The greater the tension the sooner your hands touch an object and, therefore, the closer the object is perceived in space. Berkeley is, therefore, an empiricist.

Berkeley's Idealism.

Berkeley agreed with Locke on epistemology, i.e., that knowledge comes from experience, but he disagreed with Locke on the ontology, the nature of reality. Here he turns Locke around. Locke began with matter and concluded that matter (the sensations from "out there") created mind. Berkeley began with mind (awareness) which created a world out there. His dictum was "Esse est percipi." To be is to be perceived. Several aphorisms poking fun at Berkeley became popular. Lord Byron is supposed to have said: "When Bishop Berkeley said 'there was no matter,' and proved it -- 'twas no matter what he said.'"

Berkeley was a bishop in the Anglican Church during a period of declining institutionalized religion in England.2 Nevertheless, signs of a new humanism were emerging. Shortly after Berkeley's epistemological treatise was published, the last convictions for witchcraft were handed down in England, and a few years after he was made Bishop of Cloyne, the death penalty for witchcraft was repealed (Trevelyan, 1930).

As a humanist, Berkeley had great faith in and he helped to further the progress of mankind. One of his projects was to establish a new university for the Indians in Bermuda, and in 1728 he sailed for America. He waited in Newport, Rhode Island, for the promised royal grant which never came. He eventually returned to England. Berkeley was finally honored a century later, when, in 1869, after the gold rush brought large migrations of persons to the West Coast, the State of California decided to name their new institution of higher learning after the philosopher whose dream of the westward expansion of human culture was finally realized. Berkeley, California, was the name given to the location for the state university. The first student newspaper, The Berkeleyan, of the University of California, emblazoned on its cover in 1880 those first lines from the famous poem, "On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America," written by Berkeley in 1752:

Westward the course of empire takes its way; The first four acts already past, A fifth shall close the drama with the day: Time's noblest offspring is the last.

DAVID HUME (1711-1776)

Hume was one of the brightest but among the most controversial of the British Empiricists. He destroyed, in one swoop, both the matter of Locke and the mind of Berkeley. He changed philosophy so drastically because he doubted the existence of causes and effects. Such doubting led eventually to a complete skepticism about knowing anything.

In following many other philosophers, Hume had acknowledged three laws of mental association: resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect. These laws accounted for the association of one idea to another. Any two events which possessed a cause and effect relationship were perceived together and remembered together. And they could form more complex ideas. Hume believed that most complex concepts emerged because cause and effect relationships created most concepts. He was finally convinced, however, that cause and effect relationships were only an illusion -- an illusion because no sure way existed for determining which event was the cause and which was the effect. When a ball has been dropped into a billiard table pocket, the final cause is unclear. One can describe only a sequence of preceding events -- the ball that knocked the ball in; the ball that knocked the ball that knocked the ball; the cue stick that knocked the ball that knocked the ball; the arm that pushed the cue that knocked the ball that...and ad infinitum. There is no way to isolate a single solitary cause.3

Then came Hume's tour de force. If one cannot be sure of the cause behind the effect, then one cannot be sure of the matter that creates the sensation; nor can one know the mind that creates the idea. So, Hume concluded, we can be sure of neither matter nor mind. We know only the history of the past, the remembered sequences of yesterday's events; and we trust, in a similar fashion, the orderly development of the occurrences of tomorrow. Hume at this point demolished three philosophies -- materialism, because we know only the mental world of ideas; spiritualism, because we can never perceive "spirit;" and immortality, because there is no "mind" to survive the spirit (Durant, 1963, p. 143).

The times were anti religious, and Hume was popular for the times. It was the time of Voltaire and the French Encylopedists. And it was also the time of the Scottish enlightenment when, in the eighteenth century, Scotland was enjoying a period of intense educational revival. Public schools and universities, newly established, fed the enlightenment. Out of this period emerged great men, namely the philosophers Hume, Hutcheson, Reid, Robertson, and Adam Smith. And there were the great universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and Glasgow.4

Hume, the Scot, was popular in France, where he met and befriended the prominent philosopher Rousseau. Hume even invited Rousseau in later years to his home in the Scottish hills as a place to recover from a mental breakdown. During his last years, Rousseau published stinging attacks on his good friend. History will have to attest that the world's leading skeptical, materialistic, modern philosopher displayed great sensitivity as he tenderly ministrated to that French founder of humanistic philosophy.

Impressions and Ideas.

In developing his epistemology, Hume proposed two kinds of perceptions. On the one hand, there were the vivid and violent perceptions (or sensations), which he called "impressions." Secondly, there were the less vivid perceptions, the "faint images of these (impressions) used in thinking and reasoning," which he called "ideas." These two perceptions,impressions and ideas, differ in intensity, clarity and the order in which they entered consciousness. Impressions were strong, clear and occurred first (like seeing a sunset); ideas were faint, fuzzy, and followed the impressions (e.g. recalling a sunset from last summer).

Ideas were of two kinds. There were simple ideas and there were complex ideas. Simple ideas were formed primarily from simple impressions. A simple idea was unitary and possessed no distinct internal separations. A complex idea had differentiated parts, identified by separate sensations. For example, an apple is a complex idea because it is made up of various colors, tastes, and smells, all clearly distinguishable. Each distinct impression or simple idea does not fuse together into a general whole.

Now, assuming that these impressions and ideas were the subject of the mind, and that the simple ideas became transformed into more complex ideas, just how did this transformation take place? Hume maintained that simple ideas were connected together to produce complex ideas by a bond called a "gentle force." Although the nature of this force was not clear, it was analogous to the chemical, magnetic, and electrical concepts which were in vogue at the time. This notion of a force connecting several ideas was primarily unique to Hume and may have its parallels in the Freudian "trauma" and Behaviorists' "reinforcement."

The qualities of association were three: resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect. One or more of these qualities accounted for the association among simple ideas. If two simple ideas have a similar resemblance, then a gentle force binds them together and they become associated. Later, the presentation of one idea will call up the other idea. Secondly, contiguity is the process whereby two events which occur close together in space or time will become bound together, and the presence of one will suggest the other. Thirdly, if one event precedes another in time, the first is perceived as a cause of the second and the connection between the two becomes a cause and effect relation.

After a period of time, impressions may be recalled. There are two forms of this reminiscence or recollecting process. On the one hand, there is memory, a faculty whereby impressions return with a vivacity which is half way between impressions and ideas. When something is remembered, the impression is called up, not quite as vivid, but more vivid than a figment of the imagination. On the other hand, there are products of imagination, where impressions may return, but with less vivacity; the result is a perfect idea.

Impressions always occur, when they do, before an idea. But an idea, on the other hand, may exist without an impression. For example, one might have the idea of a mermaid or a purple dragon without ever having a corresponding impression or sensation. Psychotic episodes and dreams are other examples of ideas without impressions. Jung's notion of archetypes, however, would seem to suggest that even bizarre ideas might result from some racial past.

Hume was really a positivist; he believed that the observed fact was the only reality. Therefore, one can make no probability statements about the future; one can only make statements about history. However, it is an observed fact that expected events have recurred. Therefore, one could anticipate, if our past observations have any validity, a future which might be similar to the past. From this standpoint, his theory contains a bit of hopefulness.

But in general, Hume's skepticism about denying that we can be sure of anything demolished the last residual of both mentalistic and materialistic philosophy. From such a dilemma, only a man of comparable stature could save philosophy. And from across the Channel, on German soil, supported by the rising Prussian admiration for academic and cultural pursuits, encouraged by such enlightened despots as Frederick the Great, and steeped in the intricacies of the human mind was Immanuel Kant who formulated an articulate and convincing rebuttal which once and for all settled the pressing problem of body and mind. At least the matter was settled for Kant and it was settled for the century.




Check those answers which are correct (one or more) or fill in the blank spaces.

1. Berkeley's philosophy was closest to whose?
a. Descartes
b. Locke
c. Hume
d. Bacon

2. Berkeley believed that:

a. The world exists because we perceive it
b. Our perceptions occur because the world impinges upon our sense organs
c. Our experiences exist because God perceives us
d. Experience is the basis for knowledge

3. Berkeley was called an empiricist because his theory of vision maintained that:

a. Depth perception results from an association between muscular tension and touch
b. Vision occurs because of the building up of a variety of associations during childhood
c. The earliest visual memory is related to the experiences which a person has
d. Corpuscular elements are the basis for visual patterns which a person experiences

4. Hume attacked other philosophers by critically analyzing which of the following laws of association?

a. Resemblance
b. Contiguity
c. Cause and effect
d. Similarity

5. Berkeley's emphasis upon the mind rather than on sensations, makes him a(n):
a. empiricist
b. peripheralist
c. centralist
d. materialist

6. Hume believed that impressions ________________ ideas.
a. were faint copies of
b. were more vivid than
c. came after
d. always produced

7. Hume claimed that if we could never be sure what the cause was for an event, then we could not know:
a. what caused mind
b. what caused matter
c. anything about either matter or mind
d. anything at all.

6 or more correct GO TO MODULE 6.

LESS THAN 6 - Complete Exercises.



1. The second major British empiricist, the one to follow immediately after Locke was __________________________________.

2. When the University of California was founded, the location was named "Berkeley" in honor of George Berkeley, who several centuries earlier had attempted to found _______________________________.

3. Berkeley believed that our capacity to view the world in terms of depth perception was because we built up associations between the tension experienced by __________________________ and the sensation of ___________________________.

4. Berkeley was a major church figure and he held the position of a _________________ in the ___________________ Church.

5. The reason we don't know the matter behind the mind and therefore don't know either matter or mind, is that we can't know the ________________ behind the _____________________.

6. Hume explained the development of complex ideas, by saying that they were made up of ______________________________.

7. Hume claimed that simple ideas get connected together by a ___________________ and thus develop into complex ideas.


4. Bishop, Anglican
7. Gentle force
2. A university for Indians in the Western Hemisphere
1. Berkeley
6. Simple ideas
3. Muscles, ocular muscles; fingers, touch
5. Cause and effect




1. In Berkeley's view,
a. "I sense, therefore I think."
b. "I sense, therefore, the world is."
c. "I think, therefore I am."
d. None of the above

2. Which of the following relates to Berkeley ?
a. In order for the principles of association to work, sensations need to be held consistent by God
b. The mind gains knowledge via sensations from the external reality
c. Perception of space results from a compounding of elementary sensations
d. The "outside world" doesn't exist; it is the product of sensations produced within the mind

3. According to Berkeley, distance is perceived partly by convergence, which is:
a. Awareness of the eyes' position
b. The perception of light
c. An innate act
d. The perceived overlapping of objects in space

4. Hume maintained that a cause for any effect:
a. Could occur simultaneously with the effect
b. Could occur after the effect
c. Could never be known
d. Was usually a single isolated phenomenon

5. Hume's skeptical point of view and his attack upon cause and effect relationships successfully demolished:
a. Materialism
b. Spiritualism
c. Immortality

6. The person who attempted to save philosophy from the devastating blow wielded by Hume, was the philosopher:
a. Frederick the Great
b. Leibnitz
c. Kant
d. Hartley

7. Berkeley's emphasis on perception, humanism, and religion all make him similar to:
a. peripheralists
b. centralists
c. materialists
d. associationists

6 or more correct GO TO MODULE 6.

LESS THAN 6 - Instructor Conference

1. (p. 39). In 1702, Anne, (the second daughter of James II), ascended the throne. She was raised a Catholic, loyal to her father, and tireless in her efforts to place her brother upon the throne. Since Scotland was united to England during this period, Anne became the last monarch of the Stuart line and the first queen of Great Britain. In Austria , the Hapsburg Charles VI, succeeded to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and resided in Vienna at the Schroenbrunn Palace, constructed to rival the Parisian Versailles. In 1740, his daughter, Maria Theresa, in turn succeeded him and became one of the enlightened despots of Europe. She was a true women's liberator. Her father, through tireless efforts and the "pragmatic sanction," established for her a position secure against any counter claims of succession through the male line. Frederick II of Prussia, male chauvinist that he was, gallantly offered to defend her weakened female position in return for Silesia. When she rejected that offer as too severe, he promptly launched an invasion and took the property for himself.

2. (p. 40). This noticeable decline in religion is vividly illustrated by the bold statement of Montesquieu who said in 1731 that "there is no religion in England (Durant, v. 9, p. 116)." Apparently, according to Durant, people were ashamed to reveal themselves as Christians. In spit of this, John and Charles Wesley found vigorous support when leading a religious revolution in Christ Church, Oxford, the school attended by John Locke. The new religion, branded as "methodism" abhorred institutionalized religion. The public also lost confidence in instituionalized religion when the unpopular return of the Jacobites under James II was supported by the church.

3. (p.40). Benjamin Franklin put it this way in illustrating the continuous chain of events which leads back from an effect: ". . . for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost." --Poor Richard's Almanack, 1757.

4. (p. 41). The rest of Great Britain was both good and bad. Ireland, in comparison to Scotland, was not so well blessed; it was oppressed. The people, worse_off than Negroes in the United States, paid rents to England, drugged themselves with food and drink, gambled, lived in mud hovels, and paid duties on all products exported to countries other than England. Those who were ablest migrated from Ireland (Durant, v. 9, p. 106). In England, however, conditions were not as bad; it was a time of prosperity. For twenty years there was peace under Robert Walpole, by no means uncorrupt, but one of England's best prime ministers, a Whig serving under George II.

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