The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

A short sketch of the philosophies of Locke, Condillac, Berkeley and Hume.

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 27, 2008

John Locke (1632-1704)

Locke undertook to solve the problem of the origin of ideas. According to him all ideas are acquired by sensations aided by reflection.

By reflecting he meant the labor of the reflective faculty of the human soul exercised upon the sensations. It follows that Locke denies to the mind every innate idea.

By innate ideas we mean ideas or cognitions which man has in his mind by nature.

Condillac (1715-1780).

Th philosophy of Locke was propagated in France by Condillac with certain modifications of his own.

Condillac professed to have simplified the ideological system of Locke y his suppression of reflection, which he held to be nothing more than sensation.

He thus reduced all human cognitions to sensation only. He held, therefore, that man possessed one only faculty-namely, the faculty of sensation. Memory, imagination, intelligence, and reason were only different modes of sensation.

This system was most pernicious in its consequences as well in regard of morals as of religion. For, if man has no faculty but that of sensation, it follows that good and evil are nothing more than agreeable or disagreeable sensations. Thus morality would consist in procuring for ourselves pleasant sensations, and in avoiding those which are unpleasing.

This immoral system was developed in France by Helvetius (1713-1771), and Bentham (1748-1832), the leader of the English Utilitarian school, applied its teaching to the promotion of public prosperity.

Berkeley (1648-1752)

Berkeley, and Anglican Bishop, was educated in the school of Locke. His intentions were good. Whilst some carried out Locke’s system into Materialism, he undertook to deduce Spiritualism from it in the following way.

Accepting the principle then unusually admitted, that all human knowledge must be reduced to an aggregate of sensations, he observed that the sensations can have no existence except in the being which is sensible of them, and of which they are so man modifications. The sensations then do not exist outside of man, but only in man, in the human soul.

It follows, therefore, that if man knows nothing beyond his own sensations, the objects of his knowledge are not outside him, but exist only in his own soul as modifications of his own spirit. Consequently the whole external world exists merely in appearance; it consists only of sensations which manifest themselves in the soul as modifications of itself.

This system, which denies the external existence of bodies, leaving nothing in existence but spirit, is termed Idealism.

Berkeley applied his system to the analysis of bodies, and shows that they are only certain sensations experienced by ourselves. He thence concludes that our whole knowledge of bodies consists in an aggregate of sensations, and that what we term the qualities of bodies exist not as is commonly supposed in the bodies themselves, or outside of us, but in ourselves only.

Whence then do we get the sensations” this question is proposed by Berkeley in his celebrated Dialogues of Philonous and Philylas. He replies that they are produced immediately by God in the human soul. He shows by the example of dreams that there is no need for the presence of corporeal objects in order to our acquiring the persuasion of their presence, the feeling of their presence is sufficient. Thus, according to Berkeley, human life is a continuous dream, with this difference only, that in life the several sensations have an harmonious and constant connection one with another; whereas in dreams they take place without this harmony and constancy-the visual sensations and images, for example, having no correspondence with those of touch.

Hume (1711-1776)

Hume also was educated in the school of Locke. he accepted as certain, without examination, the principle that all human cognitions may be reduced to sensation. But whilst Berkeley had arrived by this principle at Idealism, Hume, on the other hand, arrived at Skepticism, o r the system which denies all certainty to human cognitions.

he said, human reasoning is based on the principle of cause, which is thus expressed: “Here is an effect, therefore there must be a cause.” But this principle, he continued, is false and illusory, for man knows nothing but his sensations, and a sensation can never be a cause of any thing.

In fact, a cause is such only in so far as it acts-it is an active entity. But a sensation is not an entity; it is the modification of an entity; it is not active but passive, therefore a sensation can not be a cause.

But we know nothing except our sensations, we can, therefore, know nothing about cause. What we term “cause and effect” are only antecedent and subsequent sensations, and we reason falsely when we assume that the sensation which precedes is the cause of that which follows. The argument post hoc propter hoc is false reasoning; therefore whenever we speak of beings as causes of effects in the sensible world, we attempt the impossible, for it is certainly impossible to proceed from sensations to the knowledge of any cause whatever.

The impiety of this system is manifest, since by denying or doubting the principle of cause, we deny or doubt the existence of the first cause-God Himself.

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