The Enlightenment Period

George Berkeley

Who influenced George Berkeley?

According to Berkeley, our ideas of sense are real ideas so long as we perceive them. And in our perception of them, we are doing no more than in some way participating in what God has created. In that way, Berkeley’s notion of the world is an expansion of the doctrine of occasionalism, propounded by Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715) in the seventeenth century, and brought to an epiphany by Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) through his notion of “pre-established harmony.” According to that doctrine and Berkeley’s embellishment of it, God does all the real work, from which we, because we have been created by Him along with the rest of His creation, benefit.

Berkeley thus extended the presence of God in human cognition as something like a force constituting reality itself. Nonetheless, he endures as an empiricist due to his emphasis on sense data as a component of knowledge—never mind that for Berkeley, sense data were not signs or indications of what philosophers and the vast majority of non-philosophers call an “external world,” or “reality.” For Berkeley, sense data were neither real objects in themselves, nor signs of an external world, but ideas, created by God and placed in us. Period.


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