Taking Down Berkeley!

So Berkeley’s “to be is to be perceived” thing has been bothering me ever since we studied him last semester. So today I worked out a quick (and probably logically flawed) argument against his idea.

In case you may not know, here’s his idea in a few sentences: nothing exists if it is not being perceived in some sense by someone. This would make him the advocate of the idea that a room winks out of existence when everyone leaves it, but he’s got his catch to establish the idea that this does not occur…he says that God is constantly watching everything*, and therefore everything is always in existence (handy, huh?). But basically, he says that there is no material underpinning to the world—everything is and exists solely because it is perceived. There is no material world, existence is dependent on perception.

So because I have no job, no life, and an online class that is extremely easy and therefore takes up very little of my time, I sat around today and tried to work out a semi-coherent argument stating that there is something independent of our perceptions, and this thing is necessary for existence. This is confusing, but it works out in my head, so now I have to write it in a coherent manner. I want to see if other people can follow this train of thought, so I’m going to break it into little small sentences that build on each other in a sequential manner. It kind of work likes a proof, but I didn’t really feel like making a proof, so this is what you get.


  1. Existence cannot be perception due to the fact that to perceive something (the “positive”) requires space (the “negative”), or something in which the thing is perceived.
  2. The “negative,” or space, is imperceptible by itself.
  3. You need to perceive the “positive”, or things, in order to perceive the negative.
  4. But to perceive the positive, you need to perceive the negative.
  5. If existence were to be solely perception, it would be impossible for the things we perceive to exist because we are unable to perceive space, the quality that allows things to exist.
  6. However, one cannot perceive the positive without the negative, or the negative without the positive.
  7. If we take Berkeley’s theory as the base, then we have to perceive things in order for them to exist.
  8. Because of this idea, that means we would have to perceive space to perceive at all, since perceiving the negative is necessary to perceive the positive.
  9. However, we are not able to perceive space.
  10. But since we are able to perceive things, that must mean that space exists in some sort of sense.
  11. Space, therefore, must exist independent of our perception, because we can’t perceive it and yet we know it is there because we can perceive the positive, or things.

In fact, I’d say that space, not perception, is necessary for existence.

Does that make any sense at all? If it does, does it seem like a circular argument? I’d like to hear your reactions to this, especially if it seems unclear.


*Yes, he has a way of explaining how God exists if no one is necessarily perceiving him…don’t ask me to explain it, though, ‘cause I can’t remember it.

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