Berkeley’s Idealism Concerning “Sensible Things” essay

Berkeley is the supporter of the idealistic theory in philosophy. He states that idealism is self-evident. His own words can prove it: “idealism is so near and obvious to the mind that a man need only open his eyes to see [it]”.[1] Berkeley theory is mainly a response to Hobbes and Locke’s philosophical works. Lock is an empiricist and he states that people get knowledge by the means of senses and record it in mind. Nevertheless, he leaves no role for God in his theory and, Berkeley, being a Bishop, could not accept this fact. He argues with Locke that there is no subsistent reality beyond our senses. In Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous Berkeley presents his theory about “sensible things”. “Sensible things” are all things around us, such as windows, potatoes and chairs. According to Berkeley, all these things are only ideas and so it is obvious that they exist in mind. This philosopher claims that knowing “sensible things” makes people subconsciously perceive them. According to him, to say that the thing exists means actually to perceive. In Principles 4 Berkeley states that people can perceive nothing but their ideas and hopes. So, he presents such a logical chain: sensible things are perceived by the means of senses. Only ideas can be perceived by the means of senses. This dependence proves that sensible things are ideas. Ideas are inert and passive.

Now it is just time to find out why our world is stable and continuous if it consists only of people’s perception.

Berkeley states that God maintains this stability by creating these ideas. Then, God is also only people’s idea of Him.

God is an active being, people can not have an idea of Him, people have a notion of God.

In Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous by Berkley two opponents present their points of view. Hylas is the representative of Materialism theory, while Philonous supports Idealism. The choice of names is not accident: in ancient Greece materialists usually were called Hylicists, while Philonous can be translated from Greek as “love of mind”. Idealist Philonous states that Materialism necessarily leads to skepticism. It happens because we can not explain the reality beyond our senses, because according to Idealism all our knowledge can be perceived only through senses. Not knowing the reality, people become skeptics. Hylas claims that our world and reality consist of material objects and they exist not in our mind. People get knowledge of these material objects, they are common sense objects. Philonous does not deny common sense objects, he only believes that they can not exist beyond our mind, so they are sensible objects, not material ones.

Berkeley presents his own argumentation and proves his Idealism theory. Knowledge is the result of perception with the help of senses. Sensible things can be perceived only immediately. The process of perception is a mental act and so sensible things can be treated as mental objects. Reality can be only deduced or perceived. Causes and effects of sensible things are not sensible, they are a deduction. From all these statements we can make a conclusion that there can be no existence beyond perception, so reality can be only perceived.

A. Berkeley’s Idealism Argument

 Berkeley’s Principles 4 are the following:

“P1. Sensible objects are perceived by means of the senses.

P2. The only things perceived by means of the senses are sensible qualities or collections thereof.

P3. Sensible qualities are ideas.

P4. Sensible objects are not identical to single qualities”.[2]

It is necessary to make all the notions clear in order to support Berkeley’s arguments. Sensible things are things perceived by the means of senses. We can perceive only ideas or collections of them by senses, so sensible things are ideas. Sensible things are perceived immediately by the means of senses, and those things that are immediately perceived are sensible qualities.


[I]n truth the senses perceive nothing which they do not perceive immediately.


You will farther inform me, whether we immediately perceive by sight any thing beside light, and colours, and figures: or by hearing, any thing but sounds: by the palate, any thing beside tastes: by the smell, beside odours: or by the touch, more than tangible qualities.


We do not.[3]

So, all sensible qualities are those we perceive with the help of the means of senses. We can imagine that sensible qualities exist beyond our mind and do not depend on our perception. Let’s take an easy example. We put our both hands in cold water. If sensible qualities really are qualities outside our mind then we must feel one temperature of the water, not two, but we sense two temperatures, it is obvious. This example proves that there are no qualities beyond our mind, it is our mind, which forms sensible qualities and so the reality. We can give other examples to prove Berkeley’s theory about sensible things and their origin. Two persons of the same age, gender and race tastes the same juice. The first person says that it is cold, sour and tasteless, while the second person states that it is not cold, sweet and very tasty. This example proves one more time that sensible qualities are not objective; they are the effects of out mind. That is why two similar persons tasting the same juice name absolutely different qualities.

Philonous states in his Dialogue with Hylas: “that nothing that is perceived by the mind by virtue of the fact that it is suggested to the mind by something else is itself perceived by sense”.[4]

To sum up, Berkley gives us convincing proof of his main principles. Sensible things are those things perceived by our senses, no one can object it. Sensible things are only ideas or collections of them, which are formed in our mind.

This fact can also be proved, because every person perceives the same things in his or her own, individual way. It happens because people form different ideas about the same object in their minds. Sensible things are those things that are perceived immediately. It is also true, because touching or tasting, or hearing something a person reacts immediately, subconsciously. All the reality is perceived by senses and so people get knowledge only by the means of senses. It can be explained by the fact that we can get information from the world only by the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These senses form sensible things and these things are only ides about them in our mind.

[1] The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, 9 vols,

edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. London: Nelson and Sons, 1948-57.

[2] The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, 9 vols,

edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. London: Nelson and Sons, 1948-57.

[3] The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, 9 vols,

edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop. London: Nelson and Sons, 1948-57.

[4] Armstrong, David M., ed., Berkeley’s Philosophical Writings. New York: Collier Books, 1965

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