For Berkeley, how do subjective experiences exist?



In Three Dialogues, Berkeley advances a theory of subjective idealism. Things only exist as experiences of individual consciousnesses. These things are static and themselves unthinking, as they are pure ideas. And they persist even when we are not looking at them because God is looking at them all the time.

Here's the thing, though---if esse est percipi, how do we exist? We aren't always perceiving ourselves. We sleep, for instance. And our actual selves are not just pure ideas. We are active and thinking. So we can't exist in God's mind in the same way that, for instance, a tree does.

If only unthinking substances can be perceived, and only that which is perceived can exist, how does anything exist to do the perceiving?


Posted 2017-03-15T21:25:21.597

Reputation: 1 914


"Berkeley's metaphysics has in effect two categories of existence: perceptions and perceivers. Objects of thought, can exist only as perceptions in some mind or another... But this is only half of Berkeley's metaphysics. The other half is the assertion that there are entities or substances ("thinking things") which do the perceiving. These Berkeley calls "minds" or "spirits."" The full motto is esse est percipi aut percipere, see How Berkeley Argues for Metaphysical Idealism.

– Conifold – 2017-03-15T21:49:27.430



There's not just percepts, there's also perceivers. How you are using "perceiving" implies a relation between a perceiver and the perceived.

One point here might be that it's everything else beyond percepts/perceptual-apparatus which are virtual for Berkeley. In particular, his metaphysical target is the idea of material objects.

You can read the "Berkeley: Immaterialism" entry on for a little more on the motivations of immaterialism.

Joseph Weissman

Posted 2017-03-15T21:25:21.597

Reputation: 8 327