Berkeley on Space, Sight and Touch

Philosophy 53 (203):102-105 (1978)
In his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision Berkeley argues that it is only a happy accident that we are aware of space and objects in space by means of vision, and that the logically primary way in which we are aware of space is by touch. Berkeley 's argument is that all connections between the visual and the spatial properties of things are contingent. Thus we may judge an object's distance from us by noting the number and size of intervening objects, by the sensations arising when we turn our eyes to it, from the confused appearance of the object, or from the straining of our eyes ; but in each case there is only a contingent connection between the method used and the distance of the object from the observer. Similar considerations apply to the judgements we make by sight of magnitude and situation. If this is so then clearly we must have some other way of making spatial judgements, for how else could we establish the various contingent links between what we see and space? This other method must, of course, be by touch, but then touch cannot be merely contingently related to space, for then we would need a third method and so on. Berkeley is therefore led to maintain that there are necessary connections between touch and space. For Berkeley, then, it is impossible for us to make spatial judgements, judgements of the distances between objects and of the magnitudes and positions of objects, by means of sight alone, whereas it is possible to make such judgements on the basis of information obtainable from touch alone. It is this joint claim that I wish to consider
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