The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
- Romans 1:18-20
“The second of the British empiricists was the Irishman, GEORGE BERKELEY (1685-1753), a teacher at Trinity College in Dublin who eventually became the Anglican Bishop of Cloyne. As a philosopher, he was impressed by Locke’s work and wanted to correct what he took to be its errors and inconsistencies while remaining true to the basic platform of empiricism (‘blank slate’ theory, psychological atomism, nominalism, commitment to Occam’s Razor). In fact, he applied Occam’s Razor to the idea of material substance so scrupulously that he shaved it clean away and was left with a type of SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM – the view that only minds and ideas exist.
“… As Berkeley put it, their esse is percipi – their ‘being’ is ‘to be perceived.’
“Notice that the notion of ‘material substance’ (Locke’s ‘something, I know not what’) has simply disappeared in Berkeley’s system. And … a concatenation of individual objects has been taken over by LANGUAGE. … Berkeley believed that with these two categories (sense data and language) he could account for all possible human knowledge – all except the knowledge of GOD. (Berkeley was a bishop, after all, so don’t be surprised to find God playing a key role in Berkeley’s philosophy, even if it was a bit embarrassing to him that God’s esse is not percipi.) God’s existence can be deduced from the regularity and predictability of sense data. If the so-called physical world’s ‘being’ is to ‘be perceived,’ and hence is dependent on the mind, then why is it that when I return to an empty room that I had vacated earlier, everything is just as I left it? Why didn’t the room disappear when I stopped perceiving it? Because God was perceiving it while I was out. God is the guarantor of the laws of nature.”
- Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter
When we reached “esse” is “percipi” in Philosophy class and how my bedroom had simply failed to exist because I was no longer in it and thus not perceiving it, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and I was blissfully not perceiving the remainder of the professor’s lecture. How can this be an improvement over Locke’s philosophy?
Oh, if I had only been a student of George Berkeley’s. I would have such fun. I will explain using how people that I worked with had fun with a co-worker that was profoundly Obsessive-Compulsive.
This OCD gentleman was one of the best project managers that I ever had the pleasure of working with, but he had some… idiosyncrasies that others had fun with. We all had desks and tables with fake wood grain surfaces. It wasn’t real wood, but the printed surface has wood grain. This project manager would lay out his pens and pencils on the desk so that they aligned with the grain of the print on the desk. When he would leave his office for a meeting or some other reason, someone would enter his office and shift a pen or pencil by spinning it 5-10 degrees out of sync with the grain on the fake wood surface. The project manager would return. He might get as far as sitting down. Then, he would stand up and carefully look at his desk. He would pace back and forth a few times. Then, he would lean over and adjust the offending pen or pencil. He would then leave his office, stand in the hallway, and say to no one in particular, “Don’t do that again!!!!” With his frustration vented, he would return to his office and go back to work.
For those of you who cannot visualize 5-10 degrees, there are 360 degrees in a full turn. For the minute hand on the clock to go from the 12, all the way around to the twelve again, that is 360 degrees. A turn of 5-10 degrees would be imperceptible to possibly 80-90 percent of the population, but if everything must be that perfect all the time, then it becomes noticeable. And Berkeley’s entire philosophy hinged on nothing existing unless it was being perceived at that very moment, for matter did not really exist.
With George Berkeley thinking that his office only stays as he left it by God guaranteeing that everything stayed in its place, continuing to perceive it in Berkeley’s absence, there had to be a student that would rearrange his office on occasion. I doubt if they would nail his desk to the ceiling. But, you know, turn the desk in the opposite direction. Place his chair outside the office door. Things like that.
As with the moved pen above, at the same place of “business,” but in this case, monkey business, there was a different boss. He was one of those bosses that you throw a party when he has a day off. He was constantly micromanaging, and for every input of the boss, who everyone thought to be insane, it took hours to fix each of his “inputs.” Yet, upper management liked him, because almost all of his projects were completed exactly on time and exactly on budget. But this boss made everyone fill out their timesheet in pencil, so that he could cook the books before the timesheet went to Accounting. If upper management ever forced him to take a job that he had not estimated, the project was destined to be double the budget in overruns – teaching upper management to never do that again, but they still did, giving him the place to put the “other hours” for his employees. Every timesheet became a lie. When I worked for him, I filled out my timesheet in pen. He seemed to explode each Thursday when I turned it in. Funny, my jobs made more profit than his jobs did.
Why do I bring this up? One day, his office chair disappeared while he was out of the office. He spent thirty minutes at the next executive staff meeting ranting that he would bring the thief up on charges. Firing him was not good enough. The thief had to go to jail. Everyone knew, including the executives, that there had been a meeting in the conference room that was so well attended that they “borrowed” a few chairs from adjacent offices so that everyone could sit down. They just forgot to return his chair after the meeting. Nobody that worked for him liked him, so let him get his chair back on his own. But after the tirade, the chair was only seen once more. A photo of the chair was placed on milk cartons and the milk cartons distributed around the company, giving the date of disappearance, the number of days that the chair had been missing, with the photo captioned for the expected difference in appearance over that timeframe, and if anyone knew anything, they should call the “Crime Stoppers” hotline.
And you thought engineers did not have a sense of humor!! If George Berkeley had had any of my co-workers, especially the one who was never identified as the thief, there would have been enough changes in Berkeley’s office that he would have to abandon his philosophy altogether.
But in a strange way, Berkeley stumbled over something, even though he seemed to back into it, trying to fill a large hole in his philosophy. God is indeed watching and caring for us. He is not guarding our office so that it will be, upon our return, as we left it, but He cares enough about us to take care of us.
But I have a beef with the author, or maybe Berkeley himself. God’s esse is percipi. God is a spirit, and He does not have a body like man, but Jesus did and Jesus was real enough to see, smell, touch, and oh could you ever hear Jesus when Jesus taught the disciples. And from a spiritual sense, we can perceive God in everything. We can hear God’s voice. In some cases, for some people, it is an audible voice, sometimes a voice in our minds, and sometimes a voice through a persistent idea that just will not go away. Remember on the road to Damascus, Paul, at the time Saul, heard Jesus speak to him, but the others heard something that sounded like thunder. Jesus spoke audibly, thus, why disbelieve it today? We can read Scripture and Scripture comes alive within us. The workings of the Holy Spirit can be sensed.
This may not be tangible enough for George Berkeley, but it works for me.
But one thing that seems to be a bizarre coincidence… And I do not believe in coincidences. My belief in God’s sovereignty is too strong for that.
The town of Berkeley, California is named for this bishop of Cloyne, George Berkeley. The University of California, Berkeley seems to be the epicenter of all things that are radically liberal and secular. Hmmmm. Maybe they have a problem with reality disappearing simply because they left the room and it was rearranged upon their return.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.