Philosophy 458: Major Figures in Modern Philosophy

Fall 2007


The Philosophy of George Berkeley


George Berkeley



Talia Bettcher

Meeting Time

M/W 4:20-6:00

Meeting Location

KH B2007

Office Hours

MW 10:00-11:00, 3:00-4:00

Office Location

E & T A 423

Office Phone


Home Phone




Course Description:

In this course we will explore the central doctrines of Berkeley’s philosophy – the thesis that there is no such thing as matter and the thesis that sensible things (such as trees, tables, and the like) are dependent for their existence upon the mind. We will pay particular attention to Berkeley's religiously motivated agenda of undermining atheism and skepticism, as well as his stunning project of restoring philosophers to “common sense.” His Philosophy of Spirit will play a central role in our understanding of the overall philosophical account.

Course Objectives:


(1)   To help you understand some of the philosophical problems, themes, and positions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

(2)   To help you understand Berkeley’s basic philosophical views (and his arguments in

favor of those views).

(3) To help you develop your ability to interpret text, provide arguments in favor of your

interpretation, assess the interpretations of others, etc.

(4)   To help develop your ability to identify, and evaluate arguments, assumptions, perspectives of

great philosophers such as Berkeley.

(5) To help you exercise (and thereby improve) you own analytic and synthetic reasoning skills.

(6)   To help you develop a sensitivity to historical/intellectual context and the difficulties involved in making sense of the history of philosophy


Berkeley Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, ed. Robert Merrihew Adams, Hackett Publishing, 1979

Berkeley A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, ed. Kenneth Winkler, Hackett Publishing, 1983 

Bettcher, Talia Berkeley: A Guide for the Perplexed (unpublished manuscript, available on-line)

I may assign other readings (handouts, etc.).



Late Policy: Papers not submitted will receive 0 pts. I accept late papers up to two weeks past the due date. After that, papers receive 0. I deduct 1/6 of a grade for every day the paper is late (including weekend days, vacation days, etc.). Lateness will be excused ONLY in the case of documented emergency (health, family, etc.).    


Plagiarism and Cheating: “At Cal State L.A., plagiarism is defined as the act of using ideas, words, or work of another person or persons as if they were one’s own, without giving proper credit to the original sources” (CSULA 2007-09 University Catalog, p. 760). In this course, any cheating or plagiarism will be penalized with a failing grade for that assignment. Administrative sanctions may also follow (some sanctions include expulsion, suspension, probation). For further information please see the University Catalog, pp. 760-6).



(1)   Attendance and Participation


It is essential that you attend class regularly and that you participate actively in small group/entire class discussion. Additionally, I may assign short homework exercises.


This requirement is ungraded. Instead, I will use this requirement in assessing ‘borderline cases.’ Additionally, excellent completion of this requirement may boost your grade by a ‘+’ and a serious failure to complete this requirement may result in your grade being decreased by a ‘+’.


(2)   Two In-Class Tests @ 20% each (total at 40%).


Tests will be used to assess general understanding of readings, lectures, and in-class discussions. They will be comprised of questions requiring mostly short to medium-length answers and will last approximately 30-40 minutes.


DATES: 10-31 WK 6; 12-3WK 11


(3)   Term Paper


(A) Students will select a passage from Berkeley and then write a short paper (5 pages, double spaced) which presents Berkeley’s core ideas in the passage and which critically assesses Berkeley’s position (15%).  Due: 10-24 WK 5.


(B) Students will receive comments back from instructor. They will revise their work in light of these comments (15%). Due: 11-7 WK 7.


(C) Students will exchange papers with another student. Pairs will exchange

comments/criticisms (which will also be submitted to instructor) (15%). Due: 11-

21 WK 9.


(D) Students will re-write papers in light of these comments in consultation with instructor (15%).  Papers should be 7-10 pages. Due 12-7: WK 11.   


More detailed instructions will be provided in class and on-line.


Email submissions are preferred.




Class Schedule


“PHK” stands for the Principles of Human Knowledge. The numerals which follow indicate sections.


“3D” stands for Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. The roman numerals which follow indicate dialogue number (First, Second, or Third). This is usually followed by page number (i.e. p. xx). If you have any questions, please let me know.   


“TMB” stands for Bettcher’s Berkeley: A Guide for the Perplexed


NOTE: This schedule lists the passages on which we will be focusing for any given day. My recommendation is to, in addition to keeping up with the passages, read both the Principles and the Dialogues from cover to cover as soon as possible. 


Week One


Sept 24 Introduction/Admin


Sept 26 Man and Myth

3D xxvii-xxviii

            TMB Man and Myth


Week Two


Oct 1 The Project

PHK Title Page, PHK Preface, Intro (§1-5) & PHK §155-6

3D Title Page, Ed. Intro, 3D Preface

TMB The Project


Handout One


Oct 3 above continued


Week Three


Oct 8 Philosophy of Language

PHK Editor’s Intro 1 (xi-xxi), PHK Intro (§6-to end)

TMB Philosophy of Language


             Handout Two


Oct 10 above continued


Week Four


Oct 15 The Universe According to Berkeley

PHK §1-2, 7, 27, 89, 135-144 (Spirits); 3D III pp. 63-7 (Spirits Defended).

TMB The Universe According to Berkeley


            Handout Three


Oct 17 above continued


Week Five


Oct 22 Common Sense and the Mind Dependence of Sensible Things

3D First Dialogue

TMB Common Sense and the Mind Dependence of Sensible Things

Handout Four The First Dialogue/Pain Argument

Handout Five Material Substratum


Oct 24 above continued


Week Six


Oct 29 Perception and the Divine Spirit

3D II pp. 43-50; 3D III (Complete)

TMB Perception and the Divine Spirit


Handout Six Argument for God's Existence

Handout Seven Problem of Time


Oct 31 above continued


Week Seven


Nov 5 Ontology and the Mind Dependence of Sensible Things

PHK I §1-24

TMB Ontology and the Mind Dependence of Sensible Things


            Handout Eight The Master Argument


Nov 7 above continued


Week Eight


Nov 12 No Class


Nov 14 Causation and the Divine Spirit

PHK §25—33 (Argument for the Existence of God); PHK §50-53 (Causation Objection); PHK §43-44 (Perception of Distance); PHK §145-56 (Spirits Represented by Ideas and    

  the Problem of Evil)

3D II pp. 50-60 (end) (Rejecting Matter as Cause); 3D III (pp. 69-71) (Causation


TMB Causation and the Divine Spirit


            Handout Nine The Divine Language


Week Nine

Nov 19 above continued


Nov 21 Mathematics and Natural Science

PHK I 101-134

TMB Mathematics and Nature Science


            Handout Ten The Rentrenchment


Week Ten

Nov 26 above continued


Nov 28 The Return to Virtue

TMB The Return to Virtue