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Some Suggestions about the Moral Philosophy of George Berkeley* PAUL J. OLSCAMP WHILE TRAVELLINGIN ITALYin 1716, Berkeley lost the second part of his Principles of Human Knowledge. Much later he wrote to Dr. Johnson in America, saying that he did not have the energy to do something so disagreeable as writing the same thing twice? This manuscript contained Berkeley's ethics and metaphysics , but in spite of its loss, there is much to be learned about Berkeley's moral philosophy from his extant writings. Surprisingly, very little has been written about Berkeley's ethics, and what has been written usually concentrates on Passive Obedience and virtually ignores the rest of his worksY Most of the terminology now used to classify and criticize ethical theories was, of course, unknown to Berkeley. In spite of this, much of what he says may be fruitfully compared with some of the claims of modern ethicists. I shall try to show that many of his claims might have been strikingly modern, a In this paper however, I can only deal with what would now be called the normative part of Berkeley's theory, so, perhaps, it would be of some use to give a general *All references to Berkeley's writings are to the Jessop and Luee edition, The Works o] George Berkeley, Bishop o] Cloyne (9 vols.; London: Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1948). I shall abbreviate the titles of the works in this collection as follows: A/c. for A/~phron, or the Minute Ptdlosopher; DraJt for The First Dra]~ o] the Introduction to the Priuciple8 o] Human Knowledge; Principles for The Principles o] Human Knowledge; P.O. for Passive Obedience; Disc. for A Discourse to the Macistrates; T.V. for An Essay Towards a New Theory o] Vision; T.V~E. for The Theory o] Vision Vindicated and Explained; P.C. for philosophical Commentaries; Corr ]or Philosophical Correspondence; DHP for Three Dialooucs Between Hylas and Philonous. I am deeply indebted to Professor Richard T. Garner for his help in the preparation of thispaper. 1Corr., II, 282. 'The other references are: C. D. Broad, "Berkeley's Theory of Morals," Revue Internationale de Philosophie (1953); Graham P. Conroy, "Berkeley on Moral Demonstration, Journal o] the HisLory o] Ideas, XXII (1961), and Conroy's doctoral dissertation, Language and Morals in Berkeley's Philosophy (Berkeley, 1957); H. D. Aiken, "The Fate of Philosophy in the Twentieth Century," The Kenyon Review (Spring, 1962); kvrum Stroll, The Emotive Theory o] Ethics (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1954); Ernest Albee, A History o] English Utilitarianism (London: Alien & Unwin, 1901), chap. xv; I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogden, The Meaning o] Meaning (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1923), p. 42; P. J. Olscamp, A Berlceleyan Analysis o] the Uses o] Language in Ethics, (doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, 1962); W. V. Denard, "Berkeley's Theological Utilitarianism," Acres de XI" eongr~s internationale de philosophic, XIII (1953), 87-93; G. A. Johnston, "The Development of Berkeley's Ethical Theory," Philosophical Review, XXIV, 419-430; H. W. Orange, "Berkeley as a Moral Philosopher," Mind, XV (old series), 514-523. =The definitions of any technical terms I may use will be found in William K. Frankena, Ethies, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Foundations of Philosophy Series, 1963). [147] 148 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY outline of the main features of what I think his entire system would have been, before examining part of it in more detail. Berkeley was first and last a Christian clergyman, and he therefore believed in the existence of a personal, wise, and benevolent God whose being was relevant to our daily lives. He was convinced that the natural world provides evidence for this belief, evidence as sound as that which we have for the existence of other minds. Given that the esse of objects consists in their being perceived, that only minds are active, and that no human perceiver perceives all things at all times, it follows that a cosmic mind maintains the universe it created. Moreover, the system of nature is not random, but regular; it is, in fact, a divine language in which God makes his intentions known to us, and demonstrates his wisdom...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 147-156
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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