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Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.
J. B. Lippincott Company
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.,
J. B. Lippincott Company / 1881–1906
What is the nature of knowledge? George Berkeley answered this question by arguing that humans can derive knowledge only from sense experience. Known as empiricism (from the Greek empeiria meaning “experience”), Berkeley’s way of understanding knowledge revolutionized Western philosophy.
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Bishop George Berkeley (1685–1753) was born in Thomastown, County Killkenny, Ireland, and attended Trinity College in Dublin. He earned an MA in 1707 and a doctorate in divinity in 1721. He taught Greek, Hebrew, and divinity at Trinity College until 1724, when he was appointed Dean of Derry in the Church of Ireland. In 1728, he moved to Rhode Island with the hopes of starting a college in Bermuda. Funds for the new college did not arrive as expected, and Berkeley was forced to return to London. While in London, he worked at the Foundling Hospital and helped establish a home for abandoned children. He was appointed Bishop of Cloyne in 1734, living there until he retired in 1752.
Berkeley’s brand of empiricism is known as immaterialism (sometimes subjective idealism). Berkeley taught that matter, as an abstract entity, had no existence on its own. Rather, said Berkeley, objects only exist if they are perceived. An apple, for example, is made up of a number of different qualities (color, smell, taste, etc.). If there is no mind to perceive those qualities, taught Berkeley, the apple would not exist. His motto, “to be is to be perceived,” sums up this philosophy. Berkeley’s empiricism supports the Lockean idea that knowledge relies on observation. It departs from Locke in denying the existence of matter as an abstract entity.