secondary to primary qualities.
One question we should consider is why Berkeley gives all these
arguments about secondary qualities at all? Why does he have Hylas
maintain the reality independent of the mind of what philosophers from
Galileo to Locke had called secondary qualities? These philosophers had
denied the independent reality of secondary qualities. So, in effect,
Berkeley makes Hylas start out holding the position, not of the "modern"
philosophers, but of the Schools. The Schools (sometimes called the
Scholastics) were the dominant force in the Universities. They held an
Aristotelian view of perception which claimed that all qualities are real
and exist independent of the mind. Galileo, Descartes, Boyle and Locke
all rejected the Scholastic view, and were at pains to show that this is
not true of a whole set of qualites -- the set of qualities which
Descartes calls "sensible qualities" and which Boyle and Locke refer to as
secondary qualities. Berkeley is repeating the arguments of these
philosophers and perhaps going into even more detail than they do in
making these arguments. Since he agrees with them about the nature of
these qualities, why recapitulate the arguments in great detail? The
answer has to do with the nature of dialogue. I suggest you consult the
section on "Dialogue" in the OSU Philsophy Department Writing
Philosophy Papers: A Student Guide for an explanation.
On Pp. 233-4 we get to the heart of what the first dialogue is all
about. Hylas is at last forced to make the distinction between primary
and secondary qualities, and Philonous tells him the strategy he is going
to follow to show that the distinction is not tenable. Berkeley is going
to show that the same kind of arguments which show that the so called
secondary qualities are mind dependent apply to the primary qualities as
well, and so no distinction can be drawn between them --at least on the
basis of empirical evidence. Here we have, at least in part, the
justification for the detailed arguments going to show that secondary
qualities are mind dependent. They are going to serve as the model for
showing the same result applies to primary qualities. And the beauty of
it is, that the other side, Descartes, Boyle and Locke -- all of whom make
the distinction to which Berkeley objects, all accept the arguments in the
model! Here is what Berkeley writes:
Phil. You are still then of the opinion, that extension and
figure are inherent in external unthinking substances.
So, there it is, that is the main conclusion which this whole first
dialogue is aimed to establish.
Hylas I am.
Phil. But what if the same arguments which are brought against
secondary qualities, will hold proof against these also?
Hylas Why then I shall be obliged to think, they too exist only
in the mind
On Pp. 234-236 Berkely deals with figure and extension together. On
Pg. 236 he takes up motion, then on Pg. 237 (towards the bottom) returns
to extension, when Hylas makes a distinction between "absolute and
sensible extension" and which leads to a discussion of abstraction and the
ideas of "extension in general and motion in general." This discussion
continues up to Pg. 240. There Hylas makes yet another distinction,
between the sensation of something and the object which causes the
sensation. This leads (Pg. 241) to a distinction between two elements in
perception, active and passive. This ends towards the bottom of Pg. 242.
Hylas then makes another distinction, between qualities and modes, on the
one hand and substances or substratum on the other. The substratum or
substance is necessary to support the qualities. Philonous finishes with
this on Pg. 244. Hylas then (at the bottom of Pg. 244) makes the
suggestion that the problem is that Philonous took the qualities
separately, rather than together. This continues until the top of Pg.
246. Hylas then introduces some new problems. The first of these is the
claim that we see objects at a distance. Philonous finishes with this on
Pg. 248. Hylas brings up the causal or representational theory of
perception. This finishes on Pg. 251.Philonous then concludes that he has
demonstrated from Hylas' principles that Hylas is a skeptic. Hylas admits
that while he is not entirely convinced, for the present he is silenced.
They agree to meet again the next day to reconsider the matter.
So, it turns out that the actual analysis of primary qualities is much
more brief than that of the secondary qualities. The arguments about
extension, figure and motion go for about three pages. Then Hylas starts
make distinctions which lead to the discussion of abstraction, of the
active and passive elements in perception (with the conclusion that
perception is purely passive), and the discussion of the doctrine of
substance and substratum. (Here we have an attack on Locke's account of
material substance, using Locke's own doubts about the cogency of the
concept to conclude that it is incoherent! Yet Berkeley believes in
immaterial substances!) The discussion of whether qualites together can
exist outside of the mind leads to the assertion of one of Berkeley's most
fundamental claims, that to be is to perceive or be perceived, and that no
thing can exist unperceived. Then we get the discussion of seeing at a
distance. If we actually immediately see things at a distance, that
suggests that extension exists independently of the mind. Berkeley had
dealt with that problem in his first book A New Theory of Vision,
and his conclusion is that we do not immediately perceive distance, we
infer it. Finally, he takes up the representational or causal theory of
perception and demonstrates some fundamental problems in it, at least
interpreted in the way in which he interprets it. In effect we get the
problem of the "veil of perception" -- that because we see ideas, we do
not see objects, and hence there is no basis for saying the ideas resemble
the objects which cause them. In fact, in principle, we cannot experience
such objects. Nor do we have any reason to say that they exist.