Friday, July 10, 2015

Berkeley's arguments against matter

Can Berkeley be refuted? Lewis said that his arguments were unanswerable.

A redated post.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

How is different from solipsism?

John W. Loftus said...

Refuted is a strong claim, Vic. Is that the standard here, that I must refute these beliefs? Such a high standard you seem to have. One would think probability or improbability is good enough. And in that sense one wonders why we even have livers, hearts, brains and lungs if Berkley is right.

One thing I know is that this argument comes from a Bishop who was defending his culturally adopted faith, just like Anselm's ontological argument came from his culturally adopted faith. Berkeley was offering a solution to the mind brain problem initiated with intensity by Descartes. So what to do when his religious beliefs required a soul that would be judged by God in the face of there being no reasonable contact between a person's mind and body? Deny a material world. Let all of our senses be created by God.

No scientifically minded person can possibly take this seriously.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know if that is a strong claim. Maybe not a decisive refutation. Just some indication of what premises you have doubts about, and why you have them.

No scientifically minded person can accept this position? Are you telling me that scientifically minded persons have to accept scientific realism, or realism in general? Many well-known scientists were thoroughgoing anti-realists, as you know well.

Leah said...

I'm amused to see Loftus beat me to the punch with his comment about livers and hearts. I remember, when I had to write on Berkeley for my freshman philosophy course I wrote about the appendix, which made no clear impression on any person until we began dissections of humans, but presumably existed prior to that point. If appendixes, atoms, and planets could exist and one day be discovered, is it reasonable to assume the existence of a substance or of matter not because of direct sense experience, but because it is a prerequisite for what you do observe?

--Leah @ Unequally Yoked

Leah said...

Oh, and this is a small point, but it seems weird to accept the premise that a great heat is indistinguishable from a pain. It may belong to the subset of pains, but the fact of it being heat carries additional information that prevents pain <--> great heat from being a one to one mapping. The step from great heat is sometimes experienced as pain to great heat is indistinguishable from pain didn't seem necessary to me. Can you explain?

bossmanham said...

If I'm not mistaken, Berkley held that God held ideas like that in being, didn't he?

John W. Loftus said...

One other thing Vic. I distinctly remember Stanley Jaki in his book "The Road of Science..." saying creative science never came from the Idealist tradition of thought.

If so, and I think he's right, then Berkeley's views can actually best be described as anti-scientific.

Shame that in order to defend your faith you must entertain something like that.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not defending Berkeley. I'm just saying that he is harder to argue against than most people give him credit for being. I don't think the existence of a physical world is something you can just take for granted, if you are being really critical in your thinking.

Anonymous said...

Berkeley isn't in the business of denying that there exist hearts or brains or lungs. He's in the business of questioning just what hearts and brains and lungs in fact are ultimately. In particular, he's questioning whether they are "things" out there in a world distinct from our (or any) thought that we can, practically by definition, never directly experience because the only way we ever come to know of them are by thoughts and subjective experiences.

So according to Berkeley, our thoughts and experiences are not only sufficient to describe "reality", but to go beyond them would require a huge supposition that we could never verify. So why make that step? We can discuss hearts and atoms and livers just fine while recognizing they're all thoughts, not some kind of distinct "stuff".

The posturing that all this is unscientific sounds like similar claims that various things were unscientific, or even supernatural, from gravity (action at a distance instead of cartesian physics? Sounds supernatural to me!), to quantum theory (Schrodinger's Cat! Measurement problems! Superposition!)

Incidentally, there's something funny about relying on Jaki's impression of the origins of science, since Jaki's view is that science arose out of Christianity, and that atheism would best be regarded as an impediment to science.

Bobcat said...

Organs are perfectly compatible with Berkeley's idealism. So, too, are things that are real but that we haven't yet perceived. What Berkeley says is we can say they exist because if we take certain steps, we will perceive them. In other words, if something is possibly perceivable by us or by actually perceived by God, then it exists.

As for idealism being anti-scientific, well, according to the philosopher of physics Hans Halvorsen, Heisenberg was an idealist.

Brenda said...

"Berkeley be refuted?"

One cannot refute idealism as such but one can show that it is inconsistent or leads to incoherent results.

1. Suppose external realism is true. Then there exists a real world, independently of us and our interests.

2. If there exists a real world, then there is a way that the world really is. There is an objective way that things are in the world.

3. If there is a way that things really are, then we ought to be able to say how they are.

4. If we can say how things are, then what we say is objectively true or false depending on the extent to which we succeed or fail in saying how they are.

Attempts by anti-realists to provide a counter argument seem to me to fail. Their arguments are usually incoherent and logically inconsistent. But it seems to me that there is a deeper reason why anti-realists reject the idea that there is an objective external world. That is because it offends their will to power. Many people, including many philosophers just find it offends them that there should exist an external world where we could be wrong. Idealism and Relativism are appealing because they satisfy a basic urge to power. It seems too disgusting that we should be at the mercy of a real world and that our representations should be answerable to anything other than us.

Steve Lovell said...

I've not read Berkeley, but in the material Vic is linking to the following argument seems very weak:

(1) If X and Y can be conceptually separated, X and Y can exist separated in reality.
(2) Any conception of a state of affairs is, by definition, existing perceived by the mind.
---------------------------------------------------
(3) Thus, it is not possible to conceive of a unperceived object.
---------------------------------------------------
(4) Thus, it is not possible for an unperceived objcet to exist.


Suppose we grant (1) and (2), and that (3) follows from (2). It seems clear enough that (4) does not follow from (1) and (3). The first premise states the consequences of saying something is conceivable, but the inference in question is from something being inconceivable. At the very least, for the argument to work, (1) must be strengthened to a biconditional ... and I don't want to accept that biconditional.

Steve

Ilíon said...

VR: "... Lewis said that his arguments were unanswerable."

Much as it might pain us to realizes it, even Lewis could be mistaken.

While refuting Berkeley isn't Edward Feser's immediate purpose in this post, he does nonetheless refute him therein.

Ilíon said...

VR: "... I don't think the existence of a physical world is something you can just take for granted, if you are being really critical in your thinking."

1) How is this logically different from saying, "I don't think the [idea that you are not a "brain in a box"] is something you can just take for granted, if you are being really critical in your thinking"?

1a) The person who wants to (ahem) argue that I/we are "brains in boxes" needs to make a case, and a very good on at that. Instead, what he tries to do is shift the burden of proof to my shoulders, demanding that unless I prove him wrong -- and keeping in mind that he doesn't actually say anything with which one can rationally engage -- that his (ahem) position prevails.

2) It is the same with the (ahem) reasoning of the idealist.

Gyan said...

Berkeley concludes with things that are ideas in the mind of God. But the classical argument or the existence of God proceeds via consideration of changes that occur in objects. Thus, Berkeley seems caught in a vicious circle.How does he arrive at God?

Edgestow said...

How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
They cannot be counted,
They are more than the sand.
(Psalms 139:17-18)

DougJC said...

Is it necessary to refute Berkeley rather than just ignore Idealism in favor of something--anything-- more parsimonious? Since Idealism can't explain the progress of science in falsifying hypotheses, falsifying intuition-friendly ideas, or even in explaining why things are found to be different from how we perceive them, it seems safe to ignore Idealism as a possible state of affairs unless or until science runs out of steam.

Ilíon said...

Science isn't truth. Not only is science not the *only* means to discover truth, but it isn't even *a* means to discover truth -- science doesn't give truth, except incidentally. And there is no means within science to which scientific statements are true from which are false.

So, no, appealing to science is no way around Idealism. However, understanding the point Edward Feser is making in the piece I linked would help one understand that there is nothing to contend with in Idealism in the first place.

Ilíon said...

"And there is no means within science to [separate] which scientific statements are true from which are false."

Jim S. said...

Berkeley's views are unanswerable in the same way that skepticism is. According to the evil genie hypothesis, or the brains-in-vats scenario, the world would be exactly as it is if it were veridical. So we can't devise a test to see if the world is really real or just an illusion. The same goes for Berkeley's idealism. If "esse est percipe" then the world would appear exactly as it would if it had an extra-perceptual existence. So we can't devise a test to see if Berkeley is correct or if some form of realism is.

But of course, none of this gives us a reason to accept these views. Just saying that such a view cannot be ruled out in an absolute sense is a far cry from holding it up as a genuine possibility.

DougJC said...

Ilion,

I see science as simply a means to discover iteratively where our maps of reality are slightly wrong and how they can be slightly corrected. That to me is more useful to the human condition than "truth" (since I've never found a methodological alternative to science that both leads to truth and has held up reliably under scrutiny.)

B. Prokop said...

Doug,

Just be careful you don't end up like Pilate. ("What is Truth?")

Ilíon said...

People find what they want to find ... and they don't find what they don't want to find.

DougJC said...

Correction: I see science as simply a means to discover iteratively where our maps of reality are slightly or massively wrong and how they can be slightly corrected (a massive correction in the form of paradigm shift is infrequent). My view is that our understanding of reality today is likely to change dramatically and our maps of today, while working to a first approximation, will be found to be very incomplete.

B. Prokop, certainly, truth is a thing to always strive for.

Ilion, the art and zen of best scientific practice is in neither hoping to find nor fearing to find, just accepting provisionally what is.

Gyan said...

DougJC,
There is no "science" but a lot of different "sciences" each with its own area. Eg physics deals with metrical properties of nonliving matter. Nonliving matter has other qualitative properties as well but physics is unconcerned with those.

oozzielionel said...

I always find something in the last place that I look.

Crude said...

Since Idealism can't explain the progress of science in falsifying hypotheses, falsifying intuition-friendly ideas, or even in explaining why things are found to be different from how we perceive them,

Idealism 'explains' the progress of science and intuition-friendly ideas as well as or better than the alternatives (particularly where materialism is concerned), and 'why things are found to be different from how we perceive them' is a non-starter, since it references yet more perceptions, or extrapolations from perceptions.

Metaphysical views like Idealism, Materialism, etc are not empirically falsifiable. And if one binds themselves to remain agnostic about what can't be empirically falsified, well - that's going to entail a lot more agnosticism than most feel comfortable with.

But if someone says that the inability to empirically falsify this or that is no barrier to belief, then so much for 'you can't prove your view is true' being a knock-down complaint.

Ilíon said...

"I always find something in the last place that I look."

And, oddly enough, I'm sure you never find a thing in the place you never look.

Gyan said...

Crude,
"Idealism 'explains' the progress of science and intuition-friendly ideas as well as or better than the alternatives"

Which alternatives do you mean? Does idealism explains existence of natural laws (of physics for instance) better than realism?

DougJC said...

Crude,

"Idealism 'explains' the progress of science and intuition-friendly ideas as well as or better than the alternatives (particularly where materialism is concerned), and 'why things are found to be different from how we perceive them' is a non-starter, since it references yet more perceptions, or extrapolations from perceptions."

Any form of realism would be able to explain the fact that hypotheses, intuitions and perceptions have been falsified: a world exists independently of the mind. Idealism can only say that one idea has replaced another idea for some mysterious reason. Why should one way of perceiving be radically different and eventually be accepted as superior to another if mind is all that genuinely exists?

"Metaphysical views like Idealism, Materialism, etc are not empirically falsifiable. And if one binds themselves to remain agnostic about what can't be empirically falsified, well - that's going to entail a lot more agnosticism than most feel comfortable with.

I think more people than you think are comfortable with this; I'm happy being agnostic on Idealism while holding Materialism as provisionally correct. But it's also a pragmatic approach: taking the most parsimonious view as the one provisionally correct (yet not absolutely true) disproves more conceptual possibilities if the view in fact turns out to fail.

Crude said...

Any form of realism would be able to explain the fact that hypotheses, intuitions and perceptions have been falsified: a world exists independently of the mind. Idealism can only say that one idea has replaced another idea for some mysterious reason.

For these purposes, idealism is just another form of realism. 'The external world' is just ideas, and not all percepts are internal to the viewer anyway. Materialism just devolves into another set of 'for some mysterious reason' replies at bottom.

I think more people than you think are comfortable with this; I'm happy being agnostic on Idealism while holding Materialism as provisionally correct

Actually, you're not. In fact, you're contradicting yourself - if you hold that materialism is 'provisionally correct', you're not agnostic on idealism.

Try being agnostic about materialism, and naturalism.

But it's also a pragmatic approach: taking the most parsimonious view as the one provisionally correct

There's no need to take any as provisionally correct, and which view is 'parsimonous' A) remains unclear, and B) doesn't indicate truth. The idealist is in a better position to argue theirs is the parsimonious view - after all, they just have ideas and do away with this weird, unverifiable 'matter devoid of all thought or perception' structure.

So go right ahead - say you're agnostic about naturalism, and agnostic about metaphysics. You're welcome to that view, which is what you're left with if you're agnostic about that which can't be empirically falsified. But you won't bite that bullet, because the complaints about the need for empirical falsifiability ring hollow, just as they always have.

DougJC said...

Crude,

"For these purposes, idealism is just another form of realism. 'The external world' is just ideas, and not all percepts are internal to the viewer anyway. Materialism just devolves into another set of 'for some mysterious reason' replies at bottom."

I don't follow how creating an internal and external division doesn't imply realism. Of course materialism does eventually resort to mysterious reason but the idea is to do that as little as possible. That's how one can responsibly choose philosophies: by the least reliance on mystery.

"Actually, you're not. In fact, you're contradicting yourself - if you hold that materialism is 'provisionally correct', you're not agnostic on idealism.
"

You're taking 'provisionally correct' in the wrong way. I can not say that materialism is true and likewise I can not say idealism is false. Yet, parsimony shows (by my calculations anyway) that materialism is the preferable theory to test "as if" true.

"There's no need to take any as provisionally correct"

Taking a view as provisionally correct means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes. For example, all current scientific theories today are under constant scrutiny because they must hold up under the weight of new data. Their ability to do so defines how well they continue to be the current paradigm. One must be agnostic about their absolute correctness while still taking them as provisionally correct.

"and which view is 'parsimonous' A) remains unclear, and B) doesn't indicate truth"

There is no need to leave the idea of parsimony unclear; the best strategy I think is guided by information theory and expresses well-defined concepts in terms of their Kolmogorov complexity. That at least gives us somewhere to start.

While Kolmogorov complexity doesn't indicate truth, choosing the approach with the least Kolmogorov complexity as the dominant paradigm makes sense as a means of disproving observation and honing in on truth, if such a thing is possible. I'm basically talking about Solomonoff inductive inference, here.

Crude said...

Of course materialism does eventually resort to mysterious reason but the idea is to do that as little as possible.

A) The idea, based on what? Whim? And B) Idealism relies on less mystery than materialism.

Yet, parsimony shows (by my calculations anyway) that materialism is the preferable theory to test "as if" true.

No, it doesn't. Materialism leads to even more bafflement than materialism. Nor are you 'testing' the 'theory' at any point. It's not subject to empirical falsification, remember Welcome to metaphysics.

Not have you even established that you need any 'theory'. You can just remain agnostic and remain with the plurality of frameworks.

And no, I'm not taking 'provisionally correct' the wrong way - you apparently don't want it means to provisionally affirm something is correct. What you may mean is that you're agnostic about materialism and naturalism, but you use your models 'as if' materialism is true. But -that- doesn't help you, because you can use idealism, or dualism, or panpsychism or any other 'models' - or remain agnostic, since science doesn't model metaphysics.

Taking a view as provisionally correct means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes.

No, it doesn't. And no, science doesn't require that.

There is no need to leave the idea of parsimony unclear; the best strategy I think is guided by information theory and expresses well-defined concepts in terms of their Kolmogorov complexity. That at least gives us somewhere to start.

Oh, so if you take a materialistic base to begin with - despite materialism not at all being obviated or even implied by the science - then it makes sense to start with materialism? You don't say.

See, right back to what I said. You said 'Not many would have a problem being agnostic about metaphysics, I bet!', but your immediate move is to avoid agnosticism like the plague. Worse, you're talking about kolmogorov complexity thresholds without realizing that just what's being measured by komologorov /is itself a metaphysical question that that measure is silent on/.

As I said: all the talk about sticking to the empirically falsifiable views and remaining agnostic otherwise is a bluff. No one actually wants to do it - what they want is agnosticism about the views they dislike. Theirs, however, should be the default, even though in principle there's no need for a default - and if one's going to arbitrarily start with any beginning at all, there's no need to prefer their own starting point.

grodrigues said...

@Crude:

"Worse, you're talking about kolmogorov complexity thresholds without realizing that just what's being measured by komologorov /is itself a metaphysical question that that measure is silent on/."

It is worse than that, as it is nothing more than crank sillyness.

B. Prokop said...

I came across these rather interesting quotes from British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington this morning, which may have some bearing on this discussion:

"The external world of physics has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions."

"The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind. To put the conclusion crudely — the stuff of the world is mind-stuff."

"It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference — inference either intuitive or deliberate."

"The scientific answer is relevant only so far as concerns the sense-impressions. For the rest the human spirit must turn to the unseen world to which it itself belongs."

//Hmm... It appears that Sir Arthur had more than one tool in his toolbox.//

"Objections to religious mysticism lose their force if they can equally be turned against natural mysticism."

"To those who have any intimate acquaintance with the laws of chemistry and physics the suggestion that the spiritual world could be ruled by laws of allied character is as preposterous as the suggestion that a nation could be ruled by laws like the laws of grammar."

Jezu ufam tobie!

DougJC said...

Crude,

I'm getting lost here. Let me go back to a couple of points that I didn't see you address specifically and attempt to discover what I'm missing.

I'm suggesting that taking a view as provisionally correct means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes. For example, all current scientific theories today are under constant scrutiny because they must hold up under the weight of new data. Their ability to do so defines how well they continue to be the current paradigm. One must be agnostic about their absolute correctness while still taking them as provisionally correct.

Now I assume you disagree with this. Let me ask you specifically about say, General Relativity. I say we must be agnostic about its absolute correctness while still taking it as provisionally correct. Do you disagree? If so, how do you take GR and/or how should we take GR?

I would argue that GR is taken as provisionally correct which effectively means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes. Do you disagree? How should we take it instead?

"Worse, you're talking about kolmogorov complexity thresholds without realizing that just what's being measured by komologorov /is itself a metaphysical question that that measure is silent on/.

Are you assuming that information theory and Kolmogorov complexity require materialism to begin with? I don't really see why that is, could you expand?

Basically Solomonoff induction is just a more formal notion of the intuitive idea behind Occam's Razor. I don't see anything anti-Idealist or pro-materialist about Occam's Razor.

I'm also not seeing explicit criticism from you of the metaphysics behind behind Solomonoff induction. A lengthy explanation is at LessWrong but the gist of it is that simpler explanations should be preferred not because they are more likely to be true, but because disproving a simpler explanation eliminates a larger search space. Is there something in the logic/math/science of that argument that can not be metaphysically relied on for a worldview?

Crude said...

Grod,

It is worse than that, as it is nothing more than crank sillyness.

Agreed.

I'm suggesting that taking a view as provisionally correct means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes.

Oh, then it's irrelevant, since materialism is a metaphysical view, not a scientific one, and thus it's not being 'tested' in that context whatsoever. It's literally irrelevant to science, so we can dispense with it altogether in that context.

Now I assume you disagree with this.

You apparently are very misinformed about what science is.

Are you assuming that information theory and Kolmogorov complexity require materialism to begin with?

I'm saying that Kolmogorov complexity is useless for determining metaphysical truth in this context.

I'm also not seeing explicit criticism from you of the metaphysics behind behind Solomonoff induction.

It's irrelevant to the matter at hand. Also, that's quite a trick, since it doesn't mention 'metaphysics' once, and 'simpler answers are more likely' is just a hilarious non-seq.

Seriously, Lesswrong isn't a very fucking impressive place.

Gyan said...

Thomas Jared Farmer on Berkeley:
"Berkeley held to the notion that all that we can know—and indeed all there is to know—are our perceptions. For instance, Berkeley would argue that we do not see an apple. Rather, we perceive its qualities: its spherical shape, reddish/green color, its smoothness to the touch, etc. He would have contended that it is impossible for us to think of an apple devoid of any of these characteristics"

Edward Feser writes today
"Statements like “There is currently a reddish patch in the center of my field of vision” are not more basic than statements like “This apple is stale,” but less basic. The notion of a reddish patch in the center of one’s field of vision (to stick with that example) is parasitic on the notion of everyday experience of objects like apples, an abstraction from such ordinary experiences."

Feser is critiquing empiricism but I think Berkelyean idealism with emphasis on perception fits Feser's critique.
Aagain
"Notoriously, attempts to reconstruct everyday knowledge and scientific knowledge from such purportedly more basic statements all fail."
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.in/2015/07/feyerabend-on-empiricism-and-sola.html

DougJC said...

Crude,

"Oh, then it's irrelevant, since materialism is a metaphysical view, not a scientific one, and thus it's not being 'tested' in that context whatsoever. It's literally irrelevant to science, so we can dispense with it altogether in that context.
"

I like to avoid metaphysics when I can, so I'm not interested in materialism as a metaphysical view but rather materialism/physicalism as the hypothesis that what exists supervenes in some sense on the physical. In that case, the view is trivially less complex than theism since it poses "theism minus God", effectively. However, it must stand up to observation as well as theism to be taken as more parsimonious, and this is where the question/controversy lies of course. I think it does stand up to observation so far, you do not.

So on that view, I find the theory of materialism more parsimonious (while granting that these are my informal calculations, not necessarily established fact) so I take it as provisionally correct; but nevertheless I have to be agnostic about the absolute truth of it since there's no way to know if all future observation will also prove to be consistent with materialistic assumptions.

I can't tell where you stand on that analysis.

"You apparently are very misinformed about what science is."

Very well; I am misinformed, you are informed. If that satisfies the dominance hierarchy to your liking, we can move on to the more interesting issue (to me anyway) of how the view I expressed holds up under analysis. I'll just cut/paste it again.

--
I'm suggesting that taking a view as provisionally correct means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes. For example, all current scientific theories today are under constant scrutiny because they must hold up under the weight of new data. Their ability to do so defines how well they continue to be the current paradigm. One must be agnostic about their absolute correctness while still taking them as provisionally correct.

Now I assume you disagree with this. Let me ask you specifically about say, General Relativity. I say we must be agnostic about its absolute correctness while still taking it as provisionally correct. Do you disagree? If so, how do you take GR and/or how should we take GR?

I would argue that GR is taken as provisionally correct which effectively means making it the dominant theory for testing purposes. Do you disagree? How should we take it instead?
--

"I'm saying that Kolmogorov complexity is useless for determining metaphysical truth in this context."

I like to avoid metaphysical assumptions when I can and I believe it is possible to do this in this case. K-complexity is a measure that should apply equally regardless of metaphysical assumptions. Logic and math, equally, should apply regardless of metaphysical assumptions (or at least I can't imagine a metaphysical view that attempts to question logic for example). Occam's razor seems equally valuable and used under secular and religious metaphysics alike. Solomonoff induction should be a valid strategy under religious metaphysics I'd think and I don't see a particular reason why it would be rejected.

So again, what metaphysical assumptions behind Solomonoff induction occur that you think should be rejected or that invalidate the whole approach? I don't see any metaphysics there except perhaps the bare building blocks that all metaphysics rely on.