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The Implication of Berkeley'sEarliest Philosophy ConcerningThings* GEORGE H. THOMAS PROBABLY THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE in Berkeley's philosophy is his view of things (physical objects). 1 In this study we shall investigate the very first stage of his thought in this area. 2 It is possible to discover Berkeley's earliest thought through a careful examination of his Philosophical Commentaries. 3 By deliberately excluding his later correc- * This paper was first presented to a staff seminar in the department of philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. Consequently I wish to thank Prof. E. J. Furlong and Mr. David Berman, both of Trinity College, and Mr. Bertil Belfrage, of the University of Lund (Sweden) but a frequent visitor to Trinity College, for their expert and very helpful comments on the paper. Also I must express my gratitude to Prof. A. A. Luce who, although he did not advise me on this paper, has taught me much about the Philosophical Commentaries through his assistance on a new edition of them that I have prepared (to which he has consented to append the encyclopedic notes from his own diplomatic edition). 1 There is an ambiguity in Berkeley's use of "thing." When he is referring to objects or bodies he uses "thing" and "idea" synonymously. But he sometimes uses the term in a much broader sense that includes both ideas (things in the narrow sense) and minds or spirits (which he differentiates from ideas [369, 644, 872--the reference numbers are those assigned by Prof. A. A. Luce to each of the entries in the Philosophical Commentaries]). It is the narrow sense of "thing" (object or bodies) that 1 am discussing. 2 "First stage" is deliberately used rather than "the beginning" of Berkeley's thought. This is because his serious thought on the nature and existence of things began prior to the Philosophical Commentaries, as is reflected in the early entries. However, since we have no extant writings on this topic predating the Philosophical Commentaries, we may view this document as representing the first stage of Berkeley's thought. As for those who insist that there were earlier writings, the contents of which can be deduced from the Philosophical Commentaries, I offer the following dilemma: If Berkeley's earlier writings differ from the Philosophical Commentaries, we can never know them since they are not extant and cannot be inferred from the Philosophical Commentaries; and, if they are like the Philosophical Commentaries (inferred from that work) then they are a needless and redundant supposition, and we can use the Philosophical Commentaries as Berkeley's earliest thought. In either case we are justified in saying that the Philosophical Commentaries represent Berkeley's earliest thought concerning the nature and existence of things. a The edition of the Philosophical Commentaries used in this paper is: A. A. Luce (ed.), The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited, 1967), Vol. I. This source will be referred to hereafter as Commentaries. This edition has been carefully checked with the diplomatic edition: A. A. Luce (ed.), Philo- [425] 426 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY tions we can reduce the Commentaries to their original form. 4 We then have a version of them just as Berkeley left them prior to reworking them. With this source we can begin our scrutiny where he began his. sophical Commentaries, generally called the Commonplace Book: George Berkeley, Bishop o/ Cloyne (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited, 1944). This latter source will be referred to hereafter as Dipl. Ed. Also a photographed copy of Berkeley's manuscript of the Philosophical Commentaries (photographed from Add. MS. 39305 in the British Museum) has been consulted in all cases. 4 The methodological discussion in this footnote is as important to the study of Berkeley's writings as is the entire body of the paper, and should be given comparable attention. The following analysis (which can be followed only with the Dipl. Ed.) is intended as a justification of the claim that the entries used in this paper represent the original, unrevised edition of the Commentaries, and as an example of the kind of stratification of the Commentaries that needs to be performed on a far...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 425-430
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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