Berkeley – esse est percipii

Irish philosopher George Berkeley believed that Locke’s Essay did not carry the principles of empiricism far enough.

Philosophers like Descartes and Locke tried to forestall problems of perceptual illusion by distinguishing between material objects and the ideas by means of which we perceive them.

  • (perceiver—–ideas—–material objects)

But the representationalist approach can provide no reliable account of the connection between ideas and the objects they are supposed to represent. The results of this failure, Berkeley believed, are bound to be skepticismand atheism.

There is, however, an obvious alternative. Common sense dictates that there are only two crucial elements involved in perception: the perceiver and what is perceived. All we need to do, Berkeley argued, is eliminate the absurd, philosophically-conceived third element in the picture: that is, we must acknowledge that there are no material objects. For Berkeley, only the ideas we directly perceive are real.

  • (perceiver———-ideas)

Immaterialism is the only way to secure common sense, science, and religion against the perils of skepticism.

As an idealist, Berkeley believed that nothing is real but minds and their ideas. Ideas do not exist independently of minds. Through a complicated and flawed line of reasoning he concluded that “to be is to be perceived.” Something exists only if someone has the idea of it.

Though he never put the question in the exact words of the famous quotation, Berkeley would say that if a tree fell in the forest and there was no one (not even a squirrel) there to hear it, not only would it not make a sound, but there would be no tree.

In brief, According to the argument Esse est percipi: “To be is to be perceived” – all the qualities attributed to objects are sense qualities. Thus, hardness is the sensing of a resistance to a striking action, and heaviness is a sensation of muscular effort when, for example, holding an object in one’s hand, just as blueness is a quality of visual experience.


But those qualities exist only while they are being perceived by some subject or spirit equipped with sense organs. The 18th-century Anglo-Irish empiricist George Berkeley rejected the idea that sense perceptions are caused by material substance, the existence of which he denied. Intuitively he grasped the truth that “to be is to be perceived.” The argument is a simple one, but it provoked an extensive and complicated literature, and modern idealists considered it irrefutable.

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