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Elizabeth Reninger

"If a tree falls ...."

By February 21, 2013

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I've been grooving, in recent weeks, on the work of Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley, most commonly known as the one who asked -- "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" -- which turns out to be a really fun question to explore, from various angles.

I've written previously about Berkeley's views, in relation to Taoist philosophy and practice. And this essay in the Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy offers an excellent overview of his philosophical system.

Berkeley's general orientation is encapsulated in the phrase: "to be is to be perceived." It's a form of Idealism which conceives of so-called "material objects" as being bundles of ideas, based upon observed co-occurrence of various perceived qualities (i.e. patterns of perception), in relation to which we assign names to the "objects" -- thus establishing their "existence" within our inter-subjectively agreed-upon "physical world."

Anyway, this sentence in the SEP article caught my attention:

"Berkeley holds that there are no such mind-independent things, that, in the famous phrase, esse est percipi (aut percipere) -- to be is to be perceived (or to perceive)."

What stands out here are the two options: "to be is to be perceived" and "to be is to perceive." Very different statements, yes? I've sent off an email to Lisa Downing -- the author of the essay -- asking for clarification around this point, in relation to Berkeley's system as a whole ..... so we'll see (hopefully) what she has to say.

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