Berkeley's Theory of Immaterialism

As man progressed through the various stages of evolution, it
is assumed that at a certain point he began to ponder the world around
him. Of course, these first attempts fell short of being scholarly,
probably consisting of a few grunts and snorts at best. As time passed
on, though, these ideas persisted and were eventually tackled by the
more intellectual, so-called philosophers. Thus, excavation of "the
external world" began. As the authoritarinism of the ancients gave way
to the more liberal views of the modernists, two main positions
concerning epistemology and the nature of the world arose. The first
view was exemplified by the empiricists, who stated that all knowledge
comes from the senses. In opposition, the rationalists maintained that
knowledge comes purely from deduction, and that this knowledge is
processed by certain innate schema in the mind. Those that belonged to
the empiricist school of thought developed quite separate and distinct
ideas concerning the nature of the substratum of sensible objects.
John Locke and David Hume upheld the belief that sensible things were
composed of material subezce, the basic framework for the
materialist position. The main figure who believed that material
subezce did not exist is George Berkeley. In truth, it is the
immaterialist position that seems the most logical when placed under
close scrutiny.

The initial groundwork for Berkeley's position is the truism
that the materialist is a skeptic. In the writing of his three
dialogues, Berkeley develops two characters: Hylas (the materialist)
and Philonous (Berkeley himself). Philonous draws upon one central
supposition of the materialist to formulate his argument of skepticism
against him; this idea is that one can never perceive the real essence
of anything. In short, the materialist feels that the information
received through sense experience gives a representative picture of
the outside world (the representative theory of perception), and one
can not penetrate to the true essece of an object. This makes logical
sense, for the only way to perceive this real essence would be to
become the object itself! Although the idea is logical, it does
contain a certain grounding for agnosticism. Let the reader consider
this: if there is no way to actually sense the true material essence
of anything, and all knowledge in empiricism comes from the senses,
then the real material essence can not be perceived and therefore it
can not be posited. This deserves careful consideration, for the
materialist has been self-proclaimed a skeptic! If the believer in
this theory were asked if a mythical beast such as a cyclops existed
he would most certainly say no. As part of his reply he might add that
because it can not be sensed it is not a piece of knowledge. After
being enlightened by the above proposed argument, though, that same
materialist is logically forced to agree that, because the "material
substratum1" itself can not be sensed, its existence can not be
treated as knowledge. The materialist belief has, in effect, become as
futile as proving that the cyclops exists; his ideas have lead him
into skepticism.

Having proven that the materialist is, at best, a doubter,
Berkeley goes on to offer the compelling argument that primary and
secondary qualities are, together, one thing. As the materialist
believes, primary qualities of an object are those things that are
abstract (not sense oriented). Examples of these would be number,
figure, motion, and extension. Secondary qualities are those things
that are concrete (sense oriented), such as color, smell, sound, and
taste. The materialist feels that these primary qualities persist even
when the secondary ones are not there. Thus, if a person were blind,
then that individual would not be able to hear or to touch items; yet
the so-called real qualities such as figure would remain existent in
the objects. As previously shown, the materialist is agnostic in his
belief of these real (primary) qualities. It is here that Berkeley
directs an alternate hypothesis: that the abstract primary qualities
don't exist at all. In fact, the immaterialist position states that
these qualities are merely secondary in nature, as they, too, can not
be perceived as being separate from an object. For inezce, if a
person is asked to imagine a primary quality alone, as an abstraction,
it is impossible. To illustrate this point, suppose that a person is
asked to think simply of number alone. This person may reply that the
idea he is