Thursday, July 09, 2015

On kicking the stone

Someone mentioned Johnson's refutation of Berkeley. This is a discussion of it.

1 comment:

Bilbo said...

Berkeley offered a refutation of common sense realism: One cannot conceive of a physical object that is not being conceived of by someone. Why? Because the moment that one is trying to conceive of such an object, it is being conceived of by someone.

A philosophy professor (I forget his name) once pointed out what he thought the problem was with Berkeley's refutation: He was confusing two senses of the word "conceive." It can mean "imagine" as in "have a mental image of." Or it can mean entertaining a proposition about it, as in "an unobserved tree exists." The difference between the two becomes obvious when we consider someone trying to imagine a chiliagon, and someone entertaining the proposition, "A chiliagon exists." Imagining a chiliagon is damned impossible for most impossible, but anybody can entertain the idea that a chiliagon exists.

Now if Berkeley's refutation depends upon "conceive" in the first sense, "imagine," then there is certainly a difference between imagining oneself kicking a rock, and actuallyt kicking a rock. Thus, Johnson refuted Berkeley.

If Berkeley's refutation depends upon "conceive" in the second sense, then it doesn't seem to work, either, since no one is conceiving of a chiliagon, but only that that one exists.