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JOHNSON'S Boswell, in a certain conversation with his hero, ventured to say a word or two in favour of Berkeley's idealism. The Doctor, by way of reply, set his foot "with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it," and exclaimed, "I refute it thus !"
The argument was striking and forcible, but it would not have convinced the Irish Bishop; neither would that other, respecting which the same Boswell tells us that,-being in company with a gentleman who had defended the transcendental notion of things existing but as perceived in thought,-when the gentleman was going away, Johnson said to him, "Pray, sir, don't leave us; for we may per haps forget to think of you, and then you will cease to exist!"
Either of these arguments would have been accepted by Swedenborg: Bishop Berkeley would have repudiated both; and yet each of these distinguished thinkers set out from the same Cartesianism! For other reasons, then, besides that of the advantage always derivable from mental calisthenics, it may be worth while inquiring how these two men came to conclusions so widely different.
GEORGE BERKELEY was born at Kilerin, Kilkenny County, in March 1684. After receiving a good rudimentary education at the Irish Eton--the Grammar School of Kilkenny-he was removed to Trinity College, Dublin, where, in 1707, the year in which he obtained his fellowship, he published his first work—“ An Attempt to demonstrate Arithmetic without the aid of Algebra." The essay was in Latin, and the title of it suggestive of an intellect fond of abstract reasoning, and given to paradox and innovation. Such was indeed the case. In his Commonplace-Book, and while speaking of certain mathematical works, he tells us he was "distrustful at eight years old, and consequently by nature disposed for these new doctrines." It may thus be said that there was with Berkeley a constitutional bias towards idealism. Singularly enough, he could subsequently ascend to one of the highest dignities in the Church, and yet this spirit of sceptical scrutiny and innovation should never touch his Anglican orthodoxy-even though the age was that of Chubb and Tindal! Here Berkeley could do much, as the Norwegian does with his nine-feet skates, in speeding along towards an obstacle-make a transcendent whisk upwards and forwards in front of the danger, and alight safely on the other side. Thus the divine whose philosophy could revoke into doubt our
belief in an eternal world, and could shake our faith in a God who is more than an idea; could rail against Collins, and declare that "if ever a man deserved to be denied the common benefits of air and water, it is the author of 'A Discourse of Freethinking;'" yea, could even declare, in regard to the religion of Protestantism, "in this a humble implicit faith becomes us, such as a Popish peasant gives to propositions he hears at mass in Latin."
In this strange spirit of seeming doublemindedness, Berkeley published, in 1709, his contribution "Towards a Theory of Vision," and sought to draw a distinct line between perceptions solely visual and those in which complex perceptions are produced through the conjoint operation of sight with one or more of the other senses. A year later and his celebrated "Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge" came from the press; it gives us the idealistic philosophy called Berkeleyism. When the work appeared it confirmed the opinions of those two different parties with whom Berkeley during his student years had necessarily come into contact-"those who were slightly acquainted with him and took him for a fool, and those who shared his intimate friendship and thought him a prodigy of learning and goodness of heart." He had read in Descartes how the latter, up to a certain period, had admitted many things as "clear and evident" which had afterwards been found doubtful, such as the earth, the sky, the stars, and all those other objects he had been wont to perceive by the senses. "What was it that I clearly perceived in them?" the Frenchman had asked in his self-scrutiny. "Only this, that the ideas and thoughts of those objects were presented to my mind. But I had also affirmed, what in truth I did not perceive at all, I mean the existence of objects external to me, from which those ideas came, and to which they held a perfect resemblance. It was here I was mistaken, or, if I judged correctly, this assuredly was not traced to any knowledge I possessed of these things" (Médit. iii.).
It was the idea of God involved in this reservational "if" that carried Descartes safely beyond the dismal swamp in which Berkeley foundered. To the French philosopher it became evident, upon more careful search, that God existed; that God was truthful, that God willed every man should have a firm belief that the human mind received impressions from spheres which were outside mind;-from their God, from heaven, from external nature. For such a belief to be willed of God and yet be grounded upon a delusion-" the baseless fabric of a vision"—this was to impugn the Divine veracity.
Berkeley (though not in express terms) did call in question this truthfulness of God. He would not take into account as real that perfection of Deity which we postulate in accepting the reliable character of the teachings of consciousness as to the existence of an outward universe. "I agree in nothing with the Cartesians as to the existence of bodies and qualities," he had written in his Commonplace-Book. Now, in his treatise, he would prove that thought and existence are one and the same thing; that matter is not thought, and is therefore a name only; that personality is of the mind, is limited by mind, and in mind has its only place of actuality wherein "to be, to do, and to suffer;" that the domain of the perceiving and the perceivable, of the Subject and the Object-is intellect and intellect only; that the human mind cannot be transcended, for there is nothing outside it; that the amplitudes of nature, the infinities of being, are really only mind and its ideas.
Lest he should be misunderstood as to the aim of his book, he assures us in the preface that what he is about to make known has, "after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed to him evidently true and not unuseful to be known, particularly to those who are tainted with scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul." He does not seem to have been aware that his argument cut with most desolating effect in the other direction. However, we must give the Bishop credit for pious intentions, and will at least agree with him in one of his first statements here, namely, that it is indeed "a hard thing to suppose that right deductions from true principles should ever end in consequences which cannot be maintained or made consistent." "We should believe that God has dealt more bountifully with the sons of men than to give them a strong desire for that knowledge which He had placed quite out of their reach." The Bishop was of opinion that the fault of our misconceptions lay entirely with ourselves: "we had raised a dust, and then complained we could not see." One would fancy that in the true light there would be the least dust where there was the farthest seeing in all directions: but patience!
Berkeley had been strengthened in his idealism by Père Malebranche's "Quest of Truth," and soon after the publication of his own work on Human Knowledge, the young Irishman went abroad, and while in France paid a visit to this Father Malebranche. With customary audacity and an expansiveness altogether national, the traveller would have the Frenchman conform to the newest transcenden
talism. The old man of seventy-six he had found in a cell, cooking, in a pipkin, some medicine required for his diseased lungs. Calm converse was desirable; irritation dangerous. But the war of words soon began, and the pipkin was straightway neglected. The contest was one of Gael and Celt; the argument that of abstractions. The result was a melancholy one. Our impetuous young islander so harassed, confused, and agitated the venerable Father of the Oratory, that the malady under which the latter laboured was greatly aggravated by the way he had been compelled to refine, define, subtilize, and gesticulate; thus he had to betake himself to his pallet, and in a few days later die there, a victim of idealism in its cruellest reality. Berkeley returned home, and wrote other books bearing more or less upon his victorious philosophy. He finds he is quickly growing famous. He gains favour in the highest circles of society, and soon wins substantial promotion in the Church.
After many vicissitudes, governmental benefactions, and disappointments, Berkeley, in his old age, settled down with his family at Oxford, in the year 1752. He would occasionally go up to the metropolis, now so near; Dr. Johnson was at this time at home in the great city, and was penning his entertaining "Ramblers" for every Tuesday and Saturday; Swedenborg was also there, busy with the middle volumes of the " Arcana Coelestia." It is probable the three men never met, but in the fact of the possibility of such a meeting, we may imagine the foreigner looking on with no little interest as burly Samuel Johnson takes to task the now celebrated Bishop of Cloyne respecting a theory at length so widely talked about, so generally admired, so little believed in. The conversation has not lasted long when " Dictionary Johnson" finds there is no room for his pompous phrases-the field is the Bishop of Cloyne's.
"It is evident to any one who takes a survey of the objects of his knowledge," says he, "that these objects are either ideas actually (1) imprinted on the senses; or else such as are (2) perceived by attending to the passion and operation of the mind; or lastly, ideas (3) formed by the help of memory and imagination, either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways. Such is the objective field of mentality: now for the subjective, discriminating power. Besides that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises divers operations, as willing
imagining, remembering about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call mind, spirit, or myself; by which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, wherein they exist, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived" (Prin. Hum. Kn. i. §§ 1 and 2).
Here Swedenborg would notice there was confusion as well as distinction. To speak of the object existing in the subject is not the same as to speak of the subject by which the object is perceived. Nevertheless he will wait and see the drift by the next portion of the Bishop's argument, which is as follows:
"The various sensations, or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (i.e., whatever objects they compose), cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them. The table I write on, I say, exists; i.e., I see and feel it, and if I were out of my study, I should say it existed, meaning thereby, that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it. There was an odour, i.e., it was smelled; there was a sound, i.e., it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all I can understand by these and the like impressions. For, as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percepi-their being is being perceived-nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them" (Ibid. § 3).
This statement was to meet the Doctor's difficulty about the "stump" and the "departing friend;" but we can imagine Johnson pressing the idealist for better arguments; the evidence, so far, is unsatisfactory, even if the reasons be irrefutable. Berkeley replies majestically, and with fullest assurance: "All the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth,-in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world—have not any subsistence without a mind; there being (esse) is to be perceived or known; consequently, so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind, or in that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit; it being perfectly unintelligible, and involving all the absurdity of abstraction, to attribute to any single part of them an existence independent of a spirit. To be convinced of this, you need only reflect and try to separate in your own thoughts the being of a sensible thing from its being perceived" (§ 6).