Subjective Idealism (immaterialism or phenomenalism) describes a relationship between experience and the world in which objects are no more than collections or "bundles" of sense data in the perceiver. Proponents include Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, an Irish philosopher who advanced a theory he called immaterialism, later referred to as "subjective idealism", contending that individuals can only know sensations and ideas of objects directly, not abstractions such as "matter", and that ideas also depend upon being perceived for their very existence - esse est percipi; "to be is to be perceived".
Arthur Collier published similar assertions though there seems to have been no influence between the two contemporary writers. The only knowable reality is the represented image of an external object. Matter as a cause of that image, is unthinkable and therefore nothing to us. An external world as absolute matter unrelated to an observer does not exist as far as we are concerned. The universe cannot exist as it appears if there is no perceiving mind. Collier was influenced by An Essay Towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World by "Cambridge Platonist" John Norris (1701).
Bertrand Russell's popular book The Problems of Philosophy highlights Berkeley's tautological premise for advancing idealism;
- "If we say that the things known must be in the mind, we are either un-duly limiting the mind's power of knowing, or we are uttering a mere tautology. We are uttering a mere tautology if we mean by 'in the mind' the same as by 'before the mind', i.e. if we mean merely being apprehended by the mind. But if we mean this, we shall have to admit that what, in this sense, is in the mind, may nevertheless be not mental. Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley's argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that 'idea'-i.e. the objects apprehended-must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favour of the idealism may be dismissed."
The Australian philosopher David Stove harshly criticized philosophical idealism, arguing that it rests on what he called "the worst argument in the world". Stove claims that Berkeley tried to derive a non-tautological conclusion from tautological reasoning. He argued that in Berkeley's case the fallacy is not obvious and this is because one premise is ambiguous between one meaning which is tautological and another which, Stove argues, is logically equivalent to the conclusion.
Alan Musgrave argues that conceptual idealists compound their mistakes with use/mention confusions;
- Santa Claus the person does not exist.
- "Santa Claus" the name/concept/fairy tale does exist because adults tell children this every Christmas season (the distinction is highlighted by using quotation-marks when referring only to the name and not the object)
and proliferation of hyphenated entities such as "thing-in-itself" (Immanuel Kant), "things-as-interacted-by-us" (Arthur Fine), "table-of-commonsense" and "table-of-physics" (Sir Arthur Eddington) which are "warning signs" for conceptual idealism according to Musgrave because they allegedly do not exist but only highlight the numerous ways in which people come to know the world. This argument does not take into account the issues pertaining to hermeneutics, especially at the backdrop of analytic philosophy. Musgrave criticized Richard Rorty and Postmodernist philosophy in general for confusion of use and mention.
A. A. Luce and John Foster are other subjectivists. Luce, in Sense without Matter (1954), attempts to bring Berkeley up to date by modernising his vocabulary and putting the issues he faced in modern terms, and treats the Biblical account of matter and the psychology of perception and nature. Foster's The Case for Idealism argues that the physical world is the logical creation of natural, non-logical constraints on human sense-experience. Foster's latest defence of his views is in his book A World for Us: The Case for Phenomenalistic Idealism.
Paul Brunton, a British philosopher, mystic, traveler, and guru, taught a type of idealism called "mentalism", similar to that of Bishop Berkeley, proposing a master world-image, projected or manifested by a world-mind, and an infinite number of individual minds participating. A tree does not cease to exist if nobody sees it because the world-mind is projecting the idea of the tree to all minds.
John Searle criticising some versions of idealism, summarises two important arguments for subjective idealism. The first is based on our perception of reality;
- (1) All we have access to in perception are the contents of our own experience and
- (2) The only epistemic basis for claims about the external world are our perceptual experiences
- (3) The only reality we can meaningfully speak of is that of perceptual experience
Whilst agreeing with (2) Searle argues that (1) is false and points out that (3) does not follow from (1) and (2). The second argument runs as follows;
- Premise: Any cognitive state occurs as part of a set of cognitive states and within a cognitive system
- Conclusion 1: It is impossible to get outside all cognitive states and systems to survey the relationships between them and the reality they cognize
- Conclusion 2: There is no cognition of any reality that exists independently of cognition
Searle contends that Conclusion 2 does not follow from the premises.
Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. Proponents include Brand Blanshard.
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Other articles related to "idealism, subjective idealism":
... In the Transcendental Logic, there is a section (titled The Refutation of Idealism) that frees Kant's doctrine from any vestiges of subjective idealism, which would either doubt or deny the existence of external ... If the Refutation of Idealism indeed addresses a question left unanswered by the previous parts of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant's preceding comments ... Kant further certifies his philosophy as distinct from that of subjective idealism by defining his position as a transcendental idealism in accord with empirical realism (A366-80) ...
... See also Solipsism Subjective idealism is featured prominently in the Norwegian novel Sophie's World, in which "Sophie's world" exists in fact only in the pages of a book ... A parable of subjective idealism can be found in Jorge Luis Borges' short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, which specifically mentions Berkeley ...
... Idealism, in terms of metaphysics, is the philosophical view that the mind or spirit constitutes the fundamental reality ... Among them are Objective and Subjective idealism ... Objective idealism accepts common sense Realism (the view that material objects exist) but rejects Naturalism (according to which the mind and spiritual values have emerged from material ...
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