From Perception to Metaphysics: Reflections on Berkeley and Merleau-Ponty

Abstract
George Berkeley's apparently strange view – that nothing exists without a mind except for minds themselves – is notorious. Also well known, and equally perplexing at a superficial level, is his insistence that his doctrine is no more than what is consistent with common sense. It was every bit as crucial for Berkeley that it be demonstrated that the colors are really in the tulip, as that there is nothing that is neither a mind nor something perceived by a mind. In what follows, I shall attempt to re-examine Berkeley's argument in terms of what it appears to have meant to him. I am especially interested in the connection between Berkeley's thought concerning the relation between perception and metaphysics and that of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, with whom, perhaps surprisingly, Berkeley shared a great many intuitions and concerns. Thus part of my objective is to compare and contrast the work of two thinkers who had many common interests, and whose thought frequently led them down similar paths. I shall be especially interested in apparent points of departure, both those that turn out to reflect real divergences and those which reflect confusions of one kind or another. My main objective, however, is not mere textual analysis. Like both Berkeley and Merleau-Ponty, my main hope is to make progress in clarifying how things are. As odd as some of Berkeley's pronouncements may sound to contemporary ears – concerning especially the metaphysical consequences of what he regarded as perceptual facts – I shall argue that, in substance, he was often not far wrong at all – at least as measured by important strands of more contemporary work on the subject. More particularly, I shall contend that for going a long way down an extraordinarily fruitful path which has been subsequently explored more fully by (especially) Martin Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Nelson Goodman and Hilary Putnam, Berkeley deserves considerably more credit than he is usually accorded as a progenitor of contemporary approaches to metaphysical issues.
Keywords Berkeley  Merleau-Ponty  perception  idealism
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