George Berkeley, who the city of Berkeley, California, USA, was named after, was ordained as a Bishop in Cloyne, Ireland, and was also a famous idealist philosopher of the early modern European period. His works reflect metaphysical ideas and concepts of what is today known as “subjective idealism.” He was very resilient in defending his claims by providing logical reasoning to support his arguments.

In his “Principles of Human Knowledge” and in “Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous” Berkeley defends two metaphysical understandings: idealism and immaterialism. Idealism is the claim that everything that exists either is a mind or depends on a mind for its existence. And Immaterialism is the claim that matter does not exist. His contention that all physical objects are composed of ideas is encapsulated in his famous motto “esse est percipi” — to be is to be perceived.

The dialogues between Hylas and Philonous were written in opposition to skeptics and atheists. Berkeley made a direct attack on the supporters of materialism by juxtaposing the claims of a materialist and his counter arguments. He used fictitious characters in this work in the likeness of Hylas and Philonous to explain his views about the perception of things and how these could be attributed to skepticism and atheism. He expressed his ideas in the words of Philonous, the “lover of mind,” as he was conversing with Hylas, who represents the materialist viewpoint. In the preface of his work, Berkeley explained that if the inferences he made would be validated, the concepts of atheism and skepticism would no longer be applicable. He believed that if his ideas were applied, there would be a re-evaluation of the principles of modern Science.

Although Berkeley’s early works were idealistic, he says little in them regarding the nature of one’s knowledge of the mind. This new dialogue, written by me, is an extension of Berkeley’s arguments, but framed in a way that supports the insights and clarifications that are being presented in this book, and which overcomes the source of the modern framing of his arguments as “subjective,” which is, of course, anathema to modern Science.

In honoring George Berkeley’s efforts and accomplishments, while introducing a new character, I have maintained their way of speaking in his time and place, and have situated this conversation in the Old Stand Pub, where George Berkeley may have met with his own friends, and which still exists today, three blocks from Trinity College on Exchequer Street, near Hog Hill.

This new character is Noeinus, who takes the role of “νοεῖν” (noeîn), which is the present active infinitive of the Greek word νοέω (noéō), which means “from mind”, and thus noeîn is literally the activity of ‘minding’ the world — in Berkeley’s sense: “to perceive, observe, see, notice, think, suppose, devise, contrive, will, and conceive.

This is a playful way for me to introduce what comes in the next section, What is Experience, Where is Mind, What is Consciousness, and What About Time?

Philonous enters the Stand pub three blocks from Trinity College on Exchequer Street, near Hog Hill, to meet his two friends Hylas and Noeinus, who he finds sitting at a small table in the front corner of the pub under a small red gas lamp that imparts a golden glow to the well-elbowed wooden table. They are in animated conversation. Philonous hails them:

Philonous: What ho gentlemen!

Noeinus: Philonous! we have been waiting for you. Hylas has been telling me of your recent conversations. I must own that I am intrigued by your presentation. But tell me, are you of the opinion that God is of two natures?

Hylas: I have attempted, Philonous, to transmit your arguments as best I could, but Noeinus is quite stuck on a few points that I was unable to adequately cover.

Philonous: Well, I see that we are in for a good evening of conversation then. Barman! ale if you please! Now gentlemen, perhaps you can provide me with a bit more of a setting for Noeinus’ question?

Noeinus: Well, Philonous, Hylas has explained your excellent and most agreeable argument against a reality of physical objects separate from a perceiving mind, how you emphasize that to be is to be perceived, and how you grant to God a mind that comprises all things. I make use of the vulgar term “things” in your fashion to mean the ideas that are imparted in our minds by our perceptions, and not anything separate and apart from our minds. Where I am at a loss, tho, is whether we shou’d then believe that God has both a perfectly good and a perfectly evil nature, or if there are two Gods as the heretical religions believe?

Philonous: But why, my good sir, do you ask such a question? To my mind there is no need for any such complication of reality, and what’s more, there is no foundation for such a position in the sacred book.

Noeinus: Hylas informs me that you are amenable to finding absurd the holding that there is any imperfection in God.

Philonous: That is true.

Noeinus: When Hylas commented that you then seem to hold that God suffers the existence of pain and every sort of painful sensation, since these ideas are known and understood by God, and it is from him that we obtain these ideas, you remarked that God perceives nothing by sense as we do and that his will is absolute and causes all things.

Philonous: I own it.

Noeinus: Further, you informed him that we are chained to the idea of a body, which you clarified by saying that our perceptions are connected with corporeal motions.

Philonous: Yes.

Noeinus: Well, are these motions not known to God then? Both the extent and range of possible motions, as well as the actualities of all of our motions now and forever suffer’d?

Philonous: The good book does indicate that it is so.

Noeinus: Then, even though God himself does not suffer these pains, must it not be the case that he is aware that we will suffer them? And shou’d we not infer from this that God is both a Just and a Cruel sovereign?

Hylas: Remember Philonous, you argued that since all things that we perceive must have an existence, either they, or their archetypes, must exist in an understanding, which you argue resides in God. If then this be the case, then God, who knows all things, must know pain and suffering. I grant that it is the case that God, not being dependent upon sensational phenomena, will not suffer these diseases in the same manner as we, yet I cannot afford a congruency between God’s understanding of pain and his creating creatures such as ourselves and our less fortunate brethren in the animal kingdom, who suffer the most frightful dis-eases. Is this not, then, the most premeditated of evils? I fear that we shou’d rethink your conception of God.

Noeinus: My thoughts are even bolder, Philonous, as I cannot reconcile the perfection of God, in whom nothing is lacking, or so the good book says, and his creation of beings who must endure, suffer, or feel anything by sense, which you own’d to Hylas was an imperfection. If we are but ideas in the mind of God then our very imperfection imparts imperfection to God, and our suffering, an injustice beyond ken in this world!

Philonous: I see your points, and find my mind temporarily at a loss as to how to respond. Perhaps I have glossed over a difficult part of this argument when speaking with Hylas earlier.

Noeinus: You chided Hylas for founding his positiveness of the reality of external material upon prejudice. Perhaps you have been as guilty in this regard.

Philonous: I own that it might be so.

Noeinus: I see two ways out of this morass. Either we must posit that there is a good God and an evil God, as the heretics hold, or we must question the authorship of this world as a creation by God.

Philonous: What! Noeinus, what manner of thought is this last? Is it not the case that all the phenomena be caused by the agency of willful intent? And shou’d we not grant, as I did in my discussions with Hylas that God is not the only agent producing motions in bodies, but that this is very consistent with allowing to thinking, rational beings, the use of limited powers that are ultimately derived from God?

Noeinus: Yes, Philonous, we shou’d. But how does this get us around this difficulty that God’s full knowledge that our own volitional movements will cause pain and suffering thus imparts a premeditation upon God to do evil? Shou’d we not hold that God intentionally creates everything he creates, or what wou’d you have?

Philonous: Ah, I understand your meaning, and a hard one it is. It would seem we must either assert a dual nature in God, or suffer that God is not perfect, and if not perfect, then he is not the God of the good book.

Hylas: Shou’d we not go back then to your beginning of your argument?

Philonous: What! you have not, once again, found yourself holding to an external substratum?

Hylas: No, no, you have banished that from my thoughts forever! I meant only that when we spoke the third time you enlarged the sense of the word idea in order to bring in an image of God, based as you said, on an act of spirit and that you necessarily inferred the existence of a God.

Philonous: Yes, I remember this quite well.

Hylas: Well then, as you yourself own’d: you are conscious of your own being and that you are not your ideas but somewhat else, to whit, a thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wills, and operates about ideas. Noeinus here has introduced the thought that the overarching principle that you ascribe to a perfect God might not be but the same, yet on a wider ground.

Philonous: I do not understand this last Hylas. Perhaps dear Noeinus wou’d be so good as to elaborate?

Noeinus: Yes, of course. What I wish to introduce is something that I have felt for a long time — call it an intuition — that may be difficult for you to accept. But I shou’d just say it and suffer your recriminations: When I reflect upon my being I find that my ability to be conscious of my ideas, as you use this word in its most vulgar sense, is different than the idea of my consciousness, and thus I am led to believe that while I am not my ideas, neither, truly, am I my consciousness, but that the implicate ordering of all my ideas is what I time and time turn to when I think of my self.

Philonous: You mean the continuity and entanglement of all your ideas as well as your thoughts upon them, and the willful movements that you have enacted?

Noeinus: Yes, that exactly. Which has led me to question whether my consciousness is not that of God himself and not some separate and distinct thing — for I am never able to form a separate and distinct awareness of this consciousness but that it takes the form of an idea only, a mere reflection, and thus is different than a consciousness that reflects upon ideas. And if this be the case, I find myself in the position to say that we are nothing but ideas in the mind of God, mere thoughts and not some separate creation of him, as the story of Genesis would imply, but merely the nature of God. That there is no intentional act on his part that results in the creation of this world, in which we suffer, merely that the nature of he that is constrains him to give rise to being in all its manifest forms and upon which he may reflect so as to perceive, know, will and operate about the ideas that form from the phenomena that he himself gives rise to!

Philonous: But of what origin then are these laws of nature that constrain your absolute being?

Hylas: Philonous, perhaps I can step in here, as one who recently held that such laws of nature spontaneously existed and guided the motions of an external substratum of matter. I see nothing against your arguments that a separate reality of external things does not exist, in what Noeinus has presented. If being has no form than it cannot be. Is it not enough to just agree that the form of being, in which we find ourselves now, is just the way it is? Is it possible for your mind to form an idea, no matter how speculative, which could allow a reality without form? Yet we must, truthfully, own that there is a reality of which we are a part, tho’ we be mistaken about our separateness from it, as you yourself Philonous have argued against the separate existence of things. Is this not just a continuation of your strong argument based upon common sense?

Philonous: I see Hylas that you and Noeinus have turned the table on me and presented me with a novelty!

Hylas: As I said to you before Philonous, new notions shou’d be always discountenanced as they unsettle men’s minds and nobody knows where they will end.

Philonous: Aye, and there’s the rub! It was my own argument that has now been turned around upon me.

Noeinus: But Philonous, is this new idea not somewhat congruent with your own admission to Hylas that we can have but an imperfect understanding of God’s nature? Is it not preferable to own only those things absolutely necessary to explain the sensations that we have? And is not my explanation preferable to one that posits the imperfection of God, or that God is of two natures?

Philonous: I believe it is Noeinus, but I am still of the mind that there is a two-fold nature: the one ectypal or natural, the other archetypal and eternal.

Noeinus: But is this not exactly what I have argued against: that God is not two natures but one only and this one nature is that which gives rise to the sensible world and that our consciousnesses are not separate from God’s own, but are God’s own. Would you place a limit on God, to not be aware of even the littlest thing in the sensible world? Why allow that a machine that man has made has the ability to perform multiple actions at the same time and yet restrict the perfection of God to follow a single stream of consciousness as if he were a mortal being?

Philonous: I own, good sir, that you have most roundly shaken my beliefs in this matter. Tho I see that it profoundly changes my idea of God. Perhaps you wou’d afford me time to reflect upon what you have presented to me, that I might better defend myself?

Hylas: Til the morrow then!

Noeinus: Raise your glasses, sirs, for a final sip of this most delicious conversation!

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