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"Knowledge and Reality" -- spring '07

Berkeley’s response to the skeptic is that we have ideas in our heads and that’s all there is. The outside would does not matter because all that exists for us is how we perceive the outside world. Our minds create ideas of things and there’s no way for us to know if that’s how the “real” object is or not. Berkeley is trying to say though that there really is no “real”. What is “real” is whatever is real to you. If you think all school buses are orange, then all school buses are orange because that is what your mind perceives it to be.

Descartes’ thoughts on knowledge were that if you had any doubts at all about anything then you could not consider it knowledge. You have to be completely certain of it, or it means basically nothing. He says that even our senses can deceive us. There is a chance that we are actually dreaming right now, so our senses can’t be trusted.

Berkeley’s solution seems to be a genuine response to the skeptics and Descartes, in particular. With Berkeley’s solution he is saying that it doesn’t matter if we’re dreaming because whatever is real to us, even if someone else were somehow able to prove it wrong, is still real to us. There’s no way for us to know if that person who has just disproved us is even a real person. All we know is what our mind perceives; what ideas are in our minds.

Berkeley felt that the world existed of minds and ideas. He felt that there was no external world. To Descartes’ dream theory Berkeley would say that we have the appearance of dreams and waking life. In our minds there is a difference between dreams and “reality”, so there is really no worry that we are dreaming right now. Our minds are able to perceive the difference between a dream and our reality.

Although this seems solution seems to solve the problem of the skeptics, when one looks below the surface it may not be a solution at all. The skeptics, especially Descartes, were looking for absolute truths; things that cannot be disproved. Yes, it’s true that one cannot disprove that when something is happening to them they are feeling a certain thing, but that is not really an answer to the skeptics. The skeptics seemed to feel that the truth was universal and not just for each individual. Then again, maybe this is universal. If each person’s own truth is whatever their mind perceives, even though it is only perceived by each individual, each person is still having a perception. If one person perceives a certain bowl of water to be hot and the other cold it seems to be a contradiction. But maybe Berkeley’s point was that the way we perceive things does not matter, the fact is that we all perceive something. So, maybe Berkeley’s solution is a real solution after all. Berkeley says that our knowledge is in our minds because it is. Every person has a mind that perceives. It is not so much of an issue that we all perceive something the same way, but that we’re all perceiving that something.
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