Berkeley between Malebranche and Locke

The role of Malebranche in understanding Berkeley. Malebranche, a follower of Descartes, very influential in France, is important in understanding Berkeley. Malebranche understands ‘what is it for one thing to cause another’ in terms of necessity; it must be, when A happens, B necessary follows. Why is this? Because the only real cause in universe is God, and God sustains the world by recreating it every instant (see Malebranche 1688, 1.10; 2.4; 3.5; 3.16).

Revised Occasionalism

When A happens and B necessary follows, how do I see this? Berkeley answers that God is creating in me those perceptions. He is the cause of our perceiving of what we do. He creates the ideas in us. Thus, there are no material substances at all, because God is responsible for all our perceptions. Berkeley’s position is an adaptation of Malebranche’s occasionalism.

Perceptions of the Mind

Locke’s theory of perceptions [when we see an material object, we are perceiving it; we are directly aware of our ideas on our minds; how can we know there is a real material object?] is criticized by Berkeley in that he identifies the object with the perception. There is nothing beyond perception; all what we have is the perception created by God. All objects are perceptions in the mind caused directly by God )see Locke 1689, 1.3; 1.5; 2.9; 2.10; 2.11; 2.15; 2.24).
When Berkeley talks about primary and secondary qualities he says that we can be mistaken about primary qualities just as about secondary qualities: they are too in the mind. All ideas are derived from experience, hence our ideas of primary qualities (e.g. shape) are infused with those of the sensory secondary qualities by which we perceive them (e.g. color that fills the space). Primary qualities without secondary qualities are inconceivable. We cannot make any sense of something non-material resembling an idea (see Berkeley 1710, 1.1-6; 1.9-11).

Instrumentalism and Science

Immaterialism might seem to undermine physical science, but Berkeley (following Newton) advocated instrumentalism. The aim of science is to discover ‘laws’ that generate true predictions about phenomena. It is irrelevant whether the theoretical entities (e.g. forces) invoked have any real existence. God benevolently arranges the observed phenomena to follow these patterns, as ‘signs’ to enable us to direct our lives.

Berkeley, George. 1710. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Dublin: Aaron Rhames.
Locke, John. 1689. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Part 1.
Malebranche, Nicolas. 1688. Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion.

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