Ryan--Paper #2 - Dan Zauderer Professor Todd Ryan Early...

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Dan Zauderer Professor Todd Ryan Early Modern Philosophy—Second Paper George Berkeley, in his “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous,” posits his theory of “idealism.” The theory, also known as “immaterialism,” is opposed to John Locke’s “materialism,” the prominent empiricist school of thought in Berkeley’s time. For Berkeley, the most troubling aspect of Locke’s philosophy is his belief in mind- independent material substances; such a belief surely leads to skepticism and atheism, he feels, as a wide, unbridgeable gap exists between the theorized nature of material substance and one’s sense perceptions. Berkeley asserts that immaterialism, which concludes that mind-independent material substances don’t exist, is free from such atheistic and skeptical worries. In the first dialogue--between Philonous, the character who defends Berkeley’s idealism--and Hylas--who has a materialist and often explicitly Lockean philosophy, a debate ensues on which of the two men is more of a skeptic. In his attempt to prove Hylas the greater skeptic and to dispel his Lockean beliefs, Philonous often directly responds to and argues against the philosophy within Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” Yet in the Second and Third Dialogues the possibility of skepticism seemingly creeps into Berkeley’s own philosophy. Before the two men can adequately debate on the subject of skepticism it is important that they agree upon skepticism’s definition. The definition ultimately becomes “one who distrusts the senses, denies the real existence of sensible things, and pretends to know nothing about them.” Philonous knows that such a definition will plague Hylas as long as he can successfully demonstrate that Locke’s theory makes it impossible for Hylas to know anything about the world’s supposed “real” nature.
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Locke, from the outset of the essay, acknowledges that the scope of human knowledge is limited. No matter how hard one tries, s/she can never come to know everything about the nature of the world; certain things will remain unknowable for eternity. The metaphor “veil of ideas” aids in our understanding of the limited scope and extent of our knowledge. Humans can only come to know anything through their ideas. The mind accesses ideas through “sensation” and “reflection.” “Reflection” is the mind’s turning inward to examine its own faculty, while “sensation” is the mind’s coming into contact with the outside world through the senses. The senses can only perceive ideas in the form of “sensible qualities”; yet in Locke’s view something must support “sensible qualities”—something must be causally responsible for their regular grouping together in a law-like fashion, for their continued existence over time despite qualitative change.
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Ryan--Paper #2 - Dan Zauderer Professor Todd Ryan Early...

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