Problem: What is the relation between the external world and our experience?
Do things exist in the external world independent of our experience?
We can’t be aware of the external world if we are not experiencing it.
When we have experiences, why are they experiences of the external world and not just experiences?
As scientists, we believe in causation (notice the big jump from Aristotle’s full set of causes to emphasis on only one — efficient cause). We believe that matter in the physical world has causes that result in experiences. Where is the jump to psychology in all this? How can physical processes cause psychological experience?
Berkeley – for now, concentrate on the experience side (he IS an empiricist). How can we have an experience OF material, external events? Remember the old distinction between primary and secondary qualities of Descartes, Galileo, and Locke. Also like Aristotle’s common and special sensibles. Representationalism – some experiences represent the real world. How? Before Berkeley, the traditional answer was from the primary qualities, which were thought to be similar to their causes in the world. Number, extension, shape were the same thing in the world and in experience. Berkeley – But if we start from our experience, what can we compare it to, but other experiences? How do we know that the primary qualities are similar to their causes without independent access to those causes? We just have experiences. What are rocks and apples? Sets of experiences of colors, tastes, feels. Thus, Berkeley argued for there being no distinction between primary and secondary qualities. There was, for him, no special access to external reality.
Does the world exist if we are not experiencing it? Makes no sense to Berkeley.
Therefore “esse est percipi”
Berkeley is an empiricist and an idealist (as opposed to materialist)
Representationalism — What is the connection between our experiences and “reality?” Berkeley used the model of the relation of words to their referents. What makes the connection between a cat and the English word cat? Could some other word have been chosen to mean cat? Could the word cat have meant something else? Say, a given flower smell. Ordinarily we think of the relation between words and what they refer to as arbitrary, as conventional. We just stipulate what goes together. There is no deep physical, causal reason for the reason that certain words are related to their referents.
Berkeley’s “New Theory of Vision” of 1709 said that this was the way our sensory experiences are related to the world — by convention established through associations among experiences, but nothing deeper.
Much of the modern computer view of the mind is essentially this. The physical processes in a computer can be interpreted in a variety of ways. We establish conventions about what represents what and can have coherence as long as we all agree of the same conventions and use them consistently. There is nothing in a computer that inherently “visual” or “auditory” or “haptic.” It just depends on what we hook the computer up to for “output.”
Berkeley summary: All qualities are like the traditional secondary qualities. They give us no special access to the world. They are all we can know.
We have no warrant for the existence of things outside of us (that would be realism) except through our experience. Hence, “esse est percipi.” That is, “to be is to be perceived.” Finally, the connection between the qualities we can experience and what we think of as their external causes are based on essentially symbolic relations, thus arbitrary connections.