Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World

Oxford: Oxford University Press (2017)
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Abstract

Berkeley's philosophy is meant to be a defense of commonsense. However, Berkeley's claim that the ultimate constituents of physical reality are fleeting, causally passive ideas appears to be radically at odds with commonsense. In particular, such a theory seems unable to account for the robust structure which commonsense (and Newtonian physics) takes the world to exhibit. The problem of structure, as I understand it, includes the problem of how qualities can be grouped by their co-occurrence in a single enduring object and how these enduring objects can bear spatiotemporal, causal, and other relations to one another. I argue that Berkeley's solution to these problems lies in his views about language. At one level, human language allows us to exploit patterns in our perceptions to construct a highly structured representation of the physical world which allows us to make accurate predictions at minimal cognitive expense. At a deeper level, these patterns occur in perception because our perceptions themselves form a language in which God speaks to us.

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Kenneth L. Pearce
James Madison University

Citations of this work

7 Berkeley On the Meaning of General Terms.Keota Fields - 2024 - In Manuel Fasko & Peter West (eds.), Berkeley’s Doctrine of Signs. De Gruyter. pp. 127-142.
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Locke, Arnauld, and Abstract Ideas.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2019 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (1):75-94.
How Berkeley's Gardener Knows his Cherry Tree.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (S1):553-576.

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