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Berkeley's "Defense" of "Commonsense"

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 49, Number 3, July 2011
pp. 315-338 | 10.1353/hph.2011.0076



Nearly as famous as his denial of the existence of matter is Berkeley's insistence that his philosophy is somehow a defense of commonsense. This is most often taken to mean that Berkeley thinks of his philosophy as supporting commonsense beliefs. However, the inadequacies of such views have persuaded some to disregard entirely Berkeley's claims about commonsense. Both readings are undesirable. Extant interpretations misunderstand the relationship between Berkeley's philosophy and commonsense. In this paper, I present a new account of how to understand Berkeley's so-called defense of commonsense; it is not a defense-cum­-apology for commonsense beliefs, but a defensive attack against a skeptical threat. I then examine two rival accounts of the defense of commonsense and show how each fails to satisfy the criteria for a successful account. Finally, I briefly address the implications this view has for future scholarship.