Berkeley pp 56-67 | Cite as

Sense Variations and Scepticism

  • Harry M. Bracken
Part of the Philosophers in Perspective book series


The principle that ‘an idea can be like nothing but an idea’ (Principles § 8) is employed by Berkeley against representative theories of perception in general and specifically against the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. It is a distinction discussed by a number of seventeenth-century philosophers including Bayle and Locke. However, in section 10 Berkeley offers the inseparability argument. This presupposes anti-abstractionism, the likeness principle and ontological inherence. The anti-abstractionist component is stated as early as P.C. entry 253 and also at 494 where Berkeley notes, ‘… we cannot imagine Colour without extension’. This application of anti-abstractionism gives a powerful and original turn to the attack on the primary/ secondary quality reduction argument available to Berkeley from Bayle. Berkeley says:

For my own part, I see evidently that it is not in my power to frame an idea of a body extended and moved, but I must withal give it some colour or other sensible quality which is acknowledged to exist only in the mind. In short, extension, figure, and motion, abstracted from all other qualities, are inconceivable. Where therefore the other sensible qualities are, there must these be also, to wit, in the mind and no where else.


Sense Experience Modern Philosophy Real Thing Material Thing Secondary Quality 
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  1. 3.
    Cf. R. H. Popkin, History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, revised edn ( New York, Harper & Row, 1968 ).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Andrew Baxter, An Enquiry Into the Nature of the Human Soul (London, 1733) n, 284, § ii.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Cf. Benson Mates, ‘Berkeley Was Right’, in George Berkeley ( Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1957 ) pp. 158–74.Google Scholar

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© Harry M. Bracken 1974

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  • Harry M. Bracken

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