chapter  16
14 Pages

Denying the obvious

Berkeley’s radical reinterpretation of human experience

All through this book so far I have been trying to put over the idea that the most important single feature of seventeenth-century European thought, as articulated, legitimised and popularised by our six philosophers, was what I have called the invention of a new reality – the development of the idea that our day-to-day experience of the world is only the superficial appearance of things, and that reality is known if at all only to the expert. All the philosophers we have looked at so far have been participating in or responding to the establishing of that view, and Berkeley is no exception. What is different about Berkeley’s work, though, is that he thought that this new metaphysics and epistemology in general – and those of Locke in particular – were leading us in exactly the wrong direction. His whole philosophical effort was therefore devoted to the attempt to destroy them, and to replace them with radically different versions of his own. Unfortunately for him he failed to persuade his contemporaries that they were wrong. And

what we have inherited from that time and now take for granted is something very like the views that he fought against as being harmful, irreligious, false and absurd.