The Universe According to Berkeley

Sensible Things = Things immediately perceived by the senses (= colors, sounds,

tastes, odors, heat, cold, tactile feels, etc.)


Mundane Entities = Everyday entities which inhabit the world of common sense

(e.g., apples, tables, trees, books, etc.)


Negative Theses:

Philosophical Immaterialism: Rejection of Material Substance


There can be no such thing as an unthinking thing which bears sensible qualities (such as extension, shape, color, and so forth)


Vulgar Immaterialism: Rejection of Natural Causes


Mundane Entities are not causes.


Positive Theses:


The Spirit-Idea Distinction

-         Ontological Exhaustion: Only spirits and ideas exist

-         The Activity Distinction: Spirits are active, ideas are passive an inert

-         The Entire Distinction: Spirits and ideas have nothing in common.


Basic Idealism

-         The Congeries Thesis: Mundane entities are collections of sensible things

-         The Ideality Thesis: A sensible thing is an idea

-         The Reality Thesis: A sensible thing is real

-         The Substantiality Thesis: An idea cannot exist without a spirit perceiving it.


Theocentric Idealism:


Divine Governance

-         God is the sole, immediate cause of all sensible things (Divine Causation)

-         Vision constitutes a Divine Language by which God directs our behavior (Divine Language)


Divine Providence

-         Mundane Entities exist independently of finite spirits “in the mind of God” (Divine Publicity)

-          In God’s mind there is no time (i.e., no succession of ideas). There is a “two-fold” state of things: Temporal and Atemporal. (Divine Eternity)


Human Spirits


Human Immortality: (1) Human spirits are incorruptible; (2) Human spirits are


Human Embodiment (1) Human bodies serves as visible signs of human spirits;

(2) Human spirits receive ideas of sense passively


Problems with Berkeley’s Theory:



(1)   The relationship between volitions and imagined ideas is unclear (how can spirits cause ideas?)

(2)   The compatibility of Human Activity with Divine Causation is unclear (How can human spirits cause their bodies to move if God causes all sensible things?)

(3)   The compatibility of Human Passivity with the Entire Distinction (If human spirits are passive, then don’t they have something in common with ideas?)

(4)   The compatibility of Human Passivity, Human Activity, and Spiritual Simplicity (How can human spirits be both passive and active as well as simple?)



(1)   Compatibility of Spiritual Substantiality with The Entire Distinction (How can spirits support ideas if spirits and ideas have nothing in common?)

(2)   Compatibility of Spiritual Substantiality with Divine Publicity (How can human spirits support sensible ideas if sensible ideas can exist independently in the mind of God?)

(3)   Compatibility of Spiritual Substantiality with Philosophical Immaterialism (If Berkeley rejects material substance, then why shouldn’t he also have to reject spiritual substance?)