Thursday, 10 April 2008

Idealism unmasked

carnival mask
In the upcoming Philosophers' Carnival, a dispute about Idealism has been announced. Idealism is the belief that all existing things are just ideas, not physical matter. I am ready to take the invitation, and I'll put my focus on a cornerstone of Idealism as claimed by Berkeley: "To be is to be perceived" (esse est percipi).

Berkeley has set up a logical construction, leading from his premise "esse est percipi" to the conclusion that all existing reality is basically an idea. I accept all his logical constructions without even looking at them, because I am going to attack his premise. If his premise is false, the conclusion must be false is unsound (hat tip to The Barefoot Bum), regardless of the fact that all logic may be correct.

Hidden faces still exist

The Carnival of Venice is a celebration of beauty. What I love in particular are the half masks, showing beautiful lips and chins, surrounding the eyes of the women by sexy glitter. But for my reasoning, we need full masks such as this one. Every child knows that, while not visible, there are real faces of real people behind these masks. They cannot be perceived, yet they are there. Refutation of "esse est percipi" seems to be child's play. Are we done, then?

Just some more of this kind. We fall asleep and do no longer perceive the world, but the world continues to exist. An asteroid may strike our planet and extinct all life, and the planet would continue to exist. I better stop here because there are examples to infinity.

Not without a God

Of course, Berkeley was not dumb. He must have considered all these arguments himself, and of course he was ready to counter them. In fact, the main purpose of his whole philosophy has been a theological one: an apology of Theism and a rejection of Deism. Theism, that is the idea of a personal all-knowing and all-acting God. Deism is the idea of a God who created the Universe but does not guide it.

Berkeley says that the Universe exists because God perceives it. Well, this is one of those claims that are not falsifiable. The probability of God's existence is a function of the properties that are attributed to this God. With zero properties, I am ready to accept that God's existence is a hundred percent sure. Berkeley's God has a number of properties such as a mind, having created the Universe, and perceiving it. For me, this reduces the likeliness of such a God to a very low percentage. And the claim that only the perception of this God has brought the Universe to existence is very counter-intuitive, hence very unlikely, too. The combination of very unlikely with very unlikely is very unlikely squared.

Another look behind the mask

I am sure that Berkeley would not have accepted this as a refutation. I do not claim to have done it yet, by the way. I only point to the fact that he is using a double standard. "Esse est percipi" does not work at the Carnival of Venice. It does not work for humans. Then why should it work for God? Why should a notion that obviously is incorrect in our known world become true in a world that we do not know and making use of an entity (God) whose existence cannot be proven?

Of course, the people at Venice can be unmasked, and then their faces can be perceived. But I insist on exactness here, the devil is in the details: The claim is "esse est percipi" (to be is to be perceived) and not "esse est facultas percipi" (to be is the possibility of being perceived).

Would it be just the possibility, then Idealism would have been refuted: Something that can be perceived, but is not perceived at the very moment, not even by God, is most likely something physical.

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1 comment:

The Barefoot Bum said...

If his premise is false, the conclusion must be false, regardless of the fact that all logic may be correct.

Ouch! Not correct!

If the premises are false, then the conclusion is unsound, not false.