Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Michael Ayers on Berkeley’s Idealism

This is an old interview by Bryan Magee with the philosopher Michael Ayers on Berkeley, from The Great Philosophers (1987) series of interviews, and it gives a short overview of Berkeley’s Idealism.

The first video begins with the end of their discussion of John Locke. Discussion of Berkeley begins at 6.45 in the first video.


  1. (1) I have to disagree that Berkeley's primary motivation was theological. When I first read him mine certainly was not. But I did find the dualist and materialist doctrines didn't add up. I think that his secondary motivation was theological, his first was definitely metaphysical.

    (2) Ayers lapses into incoherence at 5.50 onwards. He just spent about 5 minutes explaining that Berkeley did believe there exists something "out there" -- i.e. the ideas placed in our mind by God's mind -- and then he says that Berkeley denied the existence of anything with its own independent nature "out there". I think this is symptomatic of most discussions of Berkeley's arguments -- even somewhat sympathetic ones like this. They tend to end up dismissing the argument incoherently and I think prejudicially. I think this accounts for the odd fact that Berkeley is often -- like Keynes -- cited, but then pushed quietly behind the curtain, as it were.

    (3) This then ties into the "mysteriousness" that he talks about at the end (and which his student Colin McGinn is pushing as an actual philosophical position!). I would accuse this of being a mystical argument against Berkeley. But I would still say that it is better than most arguments against him as, unlike them, it takes what he wrote as seriously as should be taken.

    1. On (2), I note that John Leslie Mackie in The Miracle of Theism (1982), p.66, prefers to call Berkeley's system "immaterial realism" to stress the point that he was a realist about minds and the ideas given to finite minds by god.