Matter, God, and Nonsense: Berkeley's Polemic Against the Freethinkers in the Three Dialogues

In Stefan Storrie (ed.), Berkeley's Three Dialogues: New Essays. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
Abstract
In the Preface to the Three Dialogues<, Berkeley says that one of his main aims is to refute the free-thinkers. Puzzlingly, however, we are then treated to a dialogue between two Christians in which the free-thinkers never reappear. This is related to a second, more general puzzle about Berkeley's religious polemics: although Berkeley says he is defending orthodox conclusions, he also reminds himself in his notebooks "To use the utmost Caution not to give the least Handle of offence to the Church or Church-men." What is Berkeley worried about? Both of these puzzles are solved by the recognition that the argument against matter in the Three Dialogues is patterned after an argument for atheism that Berkeley attributed to Anthony Collins. Berkeley's aim is thus to use the free-thinkers' own premises and arguments against them. In doing this, however, he rejects doctrines many churchmen held dear -- most notably, the doctrine of divine analogy.
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