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Commentary on The First Dialogue between Hylas and Philonous

The argument for the mind dependence of secondary qualites.

From Pg. 221 to Pg. 233 Philonous attacks and Hylas defends the reality, independent of the perceiver, of heat (Pp. 221-225), tastes (Pp. 225-226), odors (Pp. 226-227), sounds (Pp. 227-29), colors and light (Pg. 229- 233). There are a number of inter esting features of these arguments.

Heat is a mind dependent quality

Now we want to look at some of the particulars of the arguments which Berkeley offers to show that qualities such as heat, odors, tastes, sounds and colors are all mind dependent. The arguments about heat are the first, and set the pattern for the re st, though there is some variation. Another reason for going over the section on heat carefully is that it has several parts. Rereading this section, I found myself at the end confused about what Berkeley had just done. The way to avoid such confusion is to sort out the parts. It turns out that between Pg. 221 and Pg. 225 Berkeley gives five distinct arguments related to heat and cold. If you do not distinguish these you are very likely going to mix them together, and hence end up confused! There are two main sections. The first has to do with extreme heat (the first three arguments), and the second with moderate heat and cold (the next two arguments). There is a final argument which goes back to issues about extreme heat.

On Pg. 221 Berkeley begins with heat. First he establishes that it is a sensible quality. He raises the issues about whether to be is to be perceived in terms of heat. He continues:

Phil. "I speak with regard to sensible qualities only; and of these I ask, whether by their real existence you mean a subsistence exterior to the mind, and distinct from their being perceived?"

Hyl. "I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and without any relation to their being perceived."

Phil. "Heat, therefore, if it is to be allowed a real being, must exist without the mind.

Hyl. "It must."

So, here is the issue about heat. Is it a mind dependent quality which only exists in relation to some perceiver, or is it a quality which exists independently of the mind, and which can be perceived or not perceived as the case may be.

Heat is mind dependent: the first argument

Berkeley now begins by considering degrees of heat. This is because he plans to connect heat and cold with pleasure and pain. Can you figure out why he would try to do this? First, he gets Hylas to agree that real existence is compatible with all de grees of heat which we perceive and not just some. Hylas replies: "Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be s ure the same exists in the object that occasions it." Philonous asks about the extremes -- "the greatest as well as the least?" Hylas insists that with the greatest we are even more certain of its real existence. Now we come to the connection with pain.

line 1 Phil. "But is not the most vehement and intense degree of heat a very great pain?

line 2 Hyl. "No one can deny it."

line 3 Phil. "And is any unperceiving thing capable of pain or pleasure?

line 4 Hyl. "No, certainly."

line 5 Phil. "Is your material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed with sense and perception."

line 6 Hyl. "It is senseless without doubt."

line 7 Phil. "It cannot therefore be the subject of pain.

line 8 Hyl. "By no means."

line 9 Phil. "Nor consequently of the greatest heat perceived by sense, since you acknowledge this to be no small pain.

line 10 Hyl. "I grant it."

line 11 Phil. "What shall we say then, of your external object; is it a material substance or no?"

line 12 Hyl. "It is a material substance with the sensible qualities inhering in it."

line 13 Phil. "How then, can a great heat exist in it, since you own it cannot [be] in a material substance? I would desire you would clear this point.

Reconstruction of the first argument

What we have here is an argument. Its conclusion is that heat cannot exist in a material substance. If we put this argument in the standard form for argument reconstruction, it will look like this:

P1. The most vehement and intense degree of heat is an intense pain.
P2. No unperceiving thing is capable of feeling pleasure or pain.
P3. Material substance is senseless and unperceiving. Therefore:
P4. Material substance not capable of feeling pain. (From 2 and 3)
P5. Material substance is not capable of feeling the greatest heat perceived by sense. (from 1 and 4)
P6. Ex hypothesi: The external object which has heat in it corresponding to the heat which we perceive is a material substance with sensible qualities inhering in it.
P7. Such a material substance cannot have a great heat in it. from 5 and 6
Cl. 8 So heat cannot exist in an external object or material substance but must exist in something which senses and perceives. from lines 2, 6 and 7

Note how this reconstruction was done. P1 is derived from lines 1 and 2 where Philonous asks whether intense heat is a pain and Hylas agrees. Since Hylas agrees we can take it as established as a truth -- hence Premise 1. In the same way, P2 is deri ved from lines 3 and 4, P3 from lines 5 and 6. The "therefore" before P4 indicates that we are getting an intermediate conclusion derived from previous premises. This intermediate conclusion itself serves as a premise, and so is listed as P4. P5 is (as indicated) derived from P1 and P4. The hypothesis refered to in P6 is: "Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be sure the same exists in the object that occasions it." It is this view which Berkeley aims to show cannot be maintained. P6 is derived from this sentence and lines 11 and 12. P7 derives the contradiction of the hypothesis. Cl 8 -- the main conclusion, is that the hypothesis cannot be true, and (by implication) the competing hypothesis that heat is a mind dependent quality mu st therefore be true. This main conclusion contradicts the position which Hylas holds. Thus, it is the point which Philonous wants Hylas to "clear" -- that is explain.

Heat is mind dependent: the second argument

Hylas responds by claiming that he should not have agreed to the truth of the first premise of the argument -- that intense heat is a great pain. He says: "Hold Philonous, I fear I was out in yielding intense heat to be a pain. It should seem rather, that pain is something distinct from heat, and the consequence or effect of it." Good going Hylas! This is a much more reasonable position to defend. Philonous now has to show that the relationship between heat and pain is not a cause effect relationship, but rather one of identity, as the first premise of the previous argument asserts. Here is how he goes about it (towards the bottom of Pg. 222):

line 1: Phil. Upon putting your hand near the fire, do you perceive one simple uniform sensation, or two distinct sensations?

line 2: Hyl. But one simple sensation.

line 3: Phil. Is not the heat immediately perceived?

line 4: Hyl. It is.

line 5: Phil. And the pain?

line 6: Hyl. True.

line 7: Phil. Seeing that they are both immediately perceived at the same time, and the fire affects you with only one, simple, or uncompounded idea, it follows that this same simple idea is both the intense heat immediately perceived, and the pain; and consequently, that the intense heat immediately perceived, is nothing distinct from a particular sort of pain.

Line 7 gives the argument, it picks up all the preceeding premises and draws the conclusion that the intense heat is identical with the pain. It follows that they are not distinct, and so Hylas revised claim that they are distinct, and in fact stand i n the relation of cause to effect, must be false. You should now follow the pattern of reconstruction which I described above and reconstruct this argument. The first question you should ask yourself is: "What is the main conclusion?" All the rest will be premises.

One of the beauties of engaging in the process of sorting out the different parts of a passage like this, and reconstructing arguments, is that it puts you in a position to evaluate the arguments given. My suspicion is that this last argument is rather weak. If I were going to write a paper, arguing against Berkeley about heat, I would very likely focus my attention on this argument.


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