Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

Our blogging schedule has me signed up for artwork production on Saturdays. I’m currently working on a couple of drawings – some for a book, one for a text adventure, one piece of fanart for a Harry Potter fanfiction (which, I think, either I or Nick will most probably be talking about more), and a couple of ideas I had for a site banner for this blog. I’m going to kick things off by presenting one of the drawings I did for a banner:

A Philosophical Refutation

Johnson refutes Berkeley's idealism

The depiction is of Samuel Johnson’s famous refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s idealism. Berkeley, a prominent philosopher, maintained that the world around us existed only in perception: ours, and God’s – a position which made it seem as if the world itself were unreal (he named his philosophy “immaterialism”, which didn’t help; I believe it’s now considered a form of Idealism) and which could easily tip over into solipsism. David Hume famously described Berkeley’s philosophy as neither admitting the slightest refutation, nor inspiring the slightest conviction. Samuel Johnson, as recorded by Boswell, disagreed:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’

It is not recorded, so far as I know, whether Berkeley considered himself refuted by this procedure.

I must here confess that the last time I attempted independent thought (I think it was a little over half a year ago) I came to roughly the same conclusion as Berkeley, and indeed the whole idea of idealism seems to me to be almost common sense (which is not to say that it’s actually right, or useful, or other than totally insane; common sense is very subjective, and a most imperfect authority). The issue of how mind and matter interact can be resolved by claiming that mind is an illusion or emergent property of matter, as maintained by those neurologists who sometimes speak of how the brain tricks itself into thinking it’s conscious; this seems to me a little unsatisfactory, and the idea that matter is an illusion and mind is the only reality has fewer problems. However, this is problematic on grounds religious and aesthetic: that it seemed to me to be a form of Gnosticism, which is frowned upon by all Christian authority and tradition, and which, in dismissing matter and the created world, displays a fundamental ingratitude for the world given us to live in.

I wonder now if I wasn’t too hasty. Berkeley’s idealism does not mean that objects in the world are unreal just because they are thoughts in the mind of God; it means only that reality, or the objects which possess reality, are a particular subset of thoughts in the mind of God. I am unsure if this is a position as unassailable as Hume so flippantly described, but the fact that we think of our own thoughts as unreal does not mean that the thoughts of God are unreal. (It is tempting to utter some deep statement like “God is more real than reality”, but if you were to ask me what I meant by that I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.)

This is the site banner I created from this image (click for larger version):

Johnson refutes Bishop Berkeley's Philosophy

A Philosophical Refutation

We decided not to use this one (as the reader may see; I wonder, however, if we can use chibi-Johnson as a site mascot?), and I’ve got some other promising ideas on the way, my favourite of which I intended to present today; but alas that one’s proving refractory, and is only around 2/3rds complete. Happily, however, I had this post scheduled for next week already, so I merely brought it forward. (I have learnt from experience that art-related deadlines are very easy to miss, and thus have decided on a policy of having art posts done in advance or otherwise held in reserve.)

UPDATE: this post seems to attract a lot of search-engine hits – greetings, googlers! Alas that there’s little hardcore philosophising here to enjoy, but I hope the silly pictures amuse you.


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