Was Berkeley a Subjective Idealist?

Gene Callahan
State University of New York (SUNY)
Subjective idealism can be defined as the view that ‘the objective world independent of man does not exist; it is the product of man's subjective cognitive abilities, sensations, and perceptions’. George Berkeley often is said to be the founder of this species of idealism, and when someone wants to offer an example of a subjective idealist, Berkeley is usually the first person who comes to mind. However, those making this claim largely seem to be only passingly familiar with Berkeley’s work, sometimes to the point that there have been doubts they had even read him. Meanwhile, many serious readers of Berkeley have rejected this reading of Berkeley, showing that it relies on a neglect of many of Berkeley’s own claims. How has this gulf between the common impression of Berkeley and the views of many of his most attentive readers arisen and been sustained? This paper suggests that, to a large extent, it has been due to neglecting to set Berkeley’s work in its proper historical context.
Keywords Berkeley  idealism
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