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Introduction, Section Twenty-two

29 September, 2015 - 16:49

First, I shall be sure to get clear of all controversies purely verbal—the springing up of which weeds in almost all the sciences has been a main hindrance to the growth of true and sound knowledge.

Secondly, this seems to be a sure way to extricate myself out of that fine and subtle net of abstract ideas which has so miserably perplexed and entangled the minds of men; and that with this peculiar circumstance, that by how much the finer and more curious was the wit of any man, by so much the deeper was he likely to be ensnared and faster held therein.

Thirdly, so long as I confine my thoughts to my own ideas divested of words, I do not see how I can easily be mistak- en. The objects I consider, I clearly and adequately know. I cannot be deceived in thinking I have an idea which I have not. It is not possible for me to imagine that any of my own ideas are alike or unlike that are not truly so. To discern the agreements or disagreements there are between my ideas, to see what ideas are included in any compound idea and what not, there is nothing more requisite than an attentive perception of what passes in my own understanding.

  1. ‘We have first raised a dust and then complain that we cannot see.’ (Introduction, Section Three. Who is ‘we’? What is the dust?
  2. What are Berkeley’s targets?
    Abstraction 1:Taking a simple idea (of a determinate shape, for example) and paring it off from the other ideas with which it came into the mind.

    Abstraction 2:Taking a bunch of complex ideas (of extended objects, for example) and isolating what’s com- mon to them (extension as a determinable; human being as a kind).
    By contrast,what is Abstraction3,and why is it fine?
  3. There are two big puzzles posed by the introduction. First, what exactly is the argument against abstract ideas supposed to be? It looks as if Introduction, Section Ten  goes something like this:
    1. I (Berkeley) cannot abstract in sense 1 and 2.
    2. _______
    3. _______
    4. Therefore, no one can abstract in senses 1 and 2.

What weaknesses do you see in this argument?
In a later work (Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher, 1732), Berkeley offers a different argument against abstract ideas. In this dialogue, Euphranor is Berkeley’s spokesman; Alciphron is supposed to represent Locke’s views:
Euphranor:Pray, Alciphron, which are those things you would call absolutely impossible?
Alciphron: Such as include a contradiction.
Euphranor:Can you frame an idea of what includes a contradiction?
Alciphron:I cannot.
Euphranor:Consequently, whatever is absolutely impossible you cannot form an idea of.
Alciphron:This I grant.
Euphranor:But can a colour or triangle, such as you describe their abstract general ideas, really exist?
Alciphron:It is absolutely impossible such things should exist in nature.
Euphranor:Should it not follow, then, that they cannot exist in your mind, or, in other words, that you cannot conceive or frame an idea of them? 1
Reconstruct Euphranor’s argument:
Premise1:If xis impossible, then xincludes a contradiction.
Premise2:If xincludes a contradiction, then _________ .
Premise3:It follows that if xis impossible, xis ___________ .
Premise4: _____________   
Conclusion: _________
  1. Thesecondpuzzle:why isBerkeley soworried about abstraction?Keepthisquestioninmind asyoureadtherestof thePrinciples.