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Reviewed by:
  • Berkeley’s Three Dialogues: New Essays ed. by Stefan Storrie
  • Margaret Atherton
Stefan Storrie, editor. Berkeley’s Three Dialogues: New Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. x + 217. Cloth, $50.00.

This book is, as the editor claims, the first collection of essays dedicated to Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. It also derives largely from a conference held at Trinity College, Dublin in 2014. The editor, therefore, was somewhat at the mercy of those who submitted papers to the conference to determine the contents of the volume. In pointing this out, I do not intend to be casting aspersions on the quality of the papers included. By and large, the contributors are among the most prominent Berkeley scholars working today and the quality is high. I will want, however, to think about the extent to which this collection provides materials for an overall understanding and assessment of Three Dialogues.

Five of the papers in the volume concern Berkeley’s idealist account of sense perception, while seven others are more of a mixed bag. Because I have been allotted limited space, I have room only for brief discussion of the first more unified five. Lisa Downing shows that, while Berkeley’s argument against materialist mechanism in Principles of Human Knowledge relies on an attack on the representative theory of sense perception it entails, Three Dialogue centers on problems surrounding the primary/secondary quality distinction, stemming from Hylas’s assertion both that all qualities are primary and that we can identify a double [End Page 172] existence of sensations and causes. I think this analysis is on target. Additional support for Downing’s argument can be found in Hylas’s initial denials of double existence, as in his assertion that the heat we perceive is the heat in the fire. Tom Stoneham queries the relation between Berkeley’s account of immediate perception and his view that we perceive objects like coaches. Structuring his account around two prominent proposals, that of Pappas and Dicker, he argues that the view their accounts entail, that we perceive most of the qualities that constitute an object, is implausible, and we should instead suppose that many of the qualities perceived when we immediately hear a coach are ideas of the imagination. Stoneham’s account is indeed, on its face, far more plausible, but perhaps he should have said more about the ontological claim that underlies Pappas’s and Dicker’s account, namely, that objects just are collections of ideas. Jennifer Marusic queries how objects of perception can be accounted mind-dependent, if in perceiving the mind does not change modally by taking on the quality perceived. She holds we can claim that the mind changes, but merely by being presented with a particular kind of object, an appearance. I do wonder if she has increased the plausibility of her account by contrasting it with a highly implausible account of how a mind changes its modes, namely, that to perceive red the mind becomes red, but her story is well worth developing. Keota Fields’s problem is how divine ideas can explain that ideas are internal to a mind but external to all minds. Focusing on an aspect of the problem revealed by the Molyneux Man, Fields proposes that since finite minds can only immediately perceive unintegrated batches of ideas, all the ideas we perceive ultimately include a divine idea as the essence of the object. Fields provides an interesting take on this problem, but I would like to hear more about how divine ideas function. James Hill looks at the problem of the nature of mental activity in perception for Berkeley. His proposal rests on the observation that Berkeley clearly contends that mental activity is not just volition but includes understanding. Therefore, perceiving an integrated world requires not just receptivity but constructive activity as well. Although I earlier proposed an alternative account that Hill was kind enough to call plausible, I have been lately moving in the direction of one closer to Hill’s.

Other papers in the volume concern the proof for the existence of God in Dialogues (Rickless), the limited nature of Berkeley’s occasionalism (Lee), God’s knowledge...


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pp. 172-173
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