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George Berkeley

George Berkeley was one of the early modern period's greatest philosophers. He was a great metaphysician who became well-known for defending Idealism.

Bishop George Berkeley (1685 – 1753) was an Enlightenment-era Irish philosopher best known for his thesis on immaterialism, a subset of Idealism. This radical kind of Empiricism, derived from his quote “to be is to be perceived,” brings him on the level with John Locke and David Hume, two other key figures in the British Empiricism movement.

Works of Philosophy

In the late-seventeenth century, Berkeley encountered new science and philosophy, marked by opposition toward Aristotelianism. Berkeley’s philosophical notebooks contain an extensive record of his early philosophical evolution. The reader can use his philosophical journals to track Berkeley’s immaterialism philosophy.

One of his best-known works is the Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713), which he wrote in his early twenties.

The purpose of George Berkeley’s Three Dialogues with Hylas and Philonous is to explain the truth and perfection of human knowledge, the immaterial nature of the soul, mind, and the immediate intervention of a deity in opposition to sceptics and atheists. The goal is also to open up a way to make the sciences easier and more valuable.

Idealism is defended by challenging the materialist alternative in Berkeley’s metaphysical works. First, one should know that “materialism” means “the idea that material objects exist”. Second, George Berkeley asserts that materialism fosters scepticism and atheism. 

Scepticism since materialism indicates that our senses deceive us about the natures of such material things.

Atheism as materialism suggests that our senses mislead us about the natures of such material things.

George Berkeley Three Dialogues (Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous)

George Berkeley’s book Three Dialogues, published in 1713, is a philosophical treatise on metaphysics and Idealism. After being criticised for publishing “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge,” Berkeley wrote a book in the style of a dialogue in response to criticism he experienced.

The Three Dialogues cover three significant concepts: perceptual relativism, the conceivability/master arguments, and Berkeley’s phenomenalism.

According to the theory of perceptual relativity, the same entity can perceive distinct properties (for example, shape) based on the observer’s point of view. Therefore, because objective properties of entities cannot change without causing the item to change, the form cannot be an objective characteristic.

Based on George Berkeley’s theory of abstract notions, every philosophical uncertainty and illusion can be traced back to them. As Locke explained abstract thoughts (Berkeley considered Locke’s the best description of abstraction), he argued in his preface to the principles of human knowledge.

  • They cannot be formed.
  • They are not required for communication or the acquisition of knowledge, and
  • They are confused and so improbable.

For George Berkeley, these are two metaphysical theses:

  • Idealism (the belief that everything exists is either a mind or is dependent on a mind) and
  • Immaterialism (the idea that matter does not exist).

His motto, esse is percipi, encapsulates his thesis that all objects are made of ideas.

The Major Argument In Favour Of Materialism

Berkeley’s criticism of his contemporaries’ materialism begins with a short argument in Principles.

Berkeley makes the following arguments:

  • We observe ordinary objects (buildings, mountains, etc.).
  • We observe only ideas.


  • Ordinary objects can be considered as ideas.

If you look at the premise, it’s hard to believe it’s false. George Berkeley believes that all current philosophers accept this premise. Berkeley’s Principles follow the idea-theoretic traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. Berkeley feels his chief targets, Descartes and Locke, accept this premise in some form.

Contributions To Philosophy

Berkeley questioned the metaphysical nature of matter but still never denied the presence of tangible items like books, doors, and tables. Immaterialism is the core claim of his ideas.

In Principles, he stated, “esse is percipi”. This phrase refers to the fact that everything we know or believe we know comes to us via our senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Therefore, if a person cannot perceive something, how can he be certain of its existence?

Berkeley believed that something exists if it is not currently perceived but can be perceived if necessary actions are taken. This viewpoint was fundamentally opposed to the Materialists’ theory.

A devout Christian and bishop, George Berkeley felt God was present as the ultimate cause of all human experiences.

Immaterialism and conventional religion have a rather evident relationship. Materialism promotes atheism, doubt, and scepticism by implying that objects may not exist beyond the human perspective. On the other hand, immaterialism restores God’s faith by demonstrating his existence.


When it comes to George Berkeley, he thinks that the world is made up of only minds and ideas. Ordinary things are collections of thoughts. Concepts from one sense can become indicators for ideas from other senses. Philosophically, this synchronisation of regular concepts becomes how we know our world and construct real objects in his writings. There is no room for some scientific theories if only brains and ideas exist. Berkeley is now renowned for his earlier immaterialist theory, in which he used strictly empiricist principles to support the concept that only minds or ideas exist.


Frequently asked questions

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What exactly does George Berkeley claim?

Ans.George Berkeley claims that the correlation between vision and touch explains the visual experience of distance. This associat...Read full

How does Berkeley represent when it relates to ideas?

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Was Berkeley a believer in the existence of an external world?

Ans. He stated that no material objects existed. He asserted that the external world was immateria...Read full

What does Berkeley's subjective Idealism entail?

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What made George Berkeley famous?

Ans. Empiricism and Idealism are two of George Berkeley’s most well-known philosophica...Read full