Podcast: Bishop Berkeley and Idealism

This week on The Philosopher’s Zone, Alan Saunders chats with Margaret Atherton — Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin — about an important chapter in the history of perception: George Berkeley‘s argument regarding the need for an epistemological “idealism.”

Look at this way. You see a tree. You see it, you smell it, and, if it’s bearing fruit, you can taste it. You hit it and it makes a dull sound, so you can hear the tree. You touch it, you press your hands against it and you can feel that it has solidity and substance. You chop it down, perhaps, and see the concentric rings of its trunk. You place a leaf under a microscope and inspect its minutest details. You might now think that you know a lot about the tree — and Berkeley would admit that you do — but does your knowledge in any way go beyond your five senses?

Get the MP3 here, or read the transcript here.

Related Readings.

  • Ariotti, P.  (1973).  Benedetto Castelli and George Berkeley as anticipations of recent findings on the moon illusion.  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 9(4), 328-332.

Discusses early 17th and 18th century anticipations of recent studies of the moon illusion.

  • Mills, J. A.  (1987).  Thomas Brown on the philosophy and psychology of perception.  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 23(1), 37-49.

Suggests that 5 major features can be discriminated within the intellectual context of Thomas Brown’s (1805) theory of perception. The 1st is general and pervasive, comprising Brown’s views on causation, on the nature of scientific inference, and on the structure of the physical universe. The next 3 features encompass the influence of the philosophers, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Thomas Reid, respectively, on Brown’s thinking. The 5th feature is the extent to which Brown’s philosophy was influenced by the French sensationalists.

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About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.