Philosophy 202
Great Traditions of Western Thought
The Modern Period

Discussion Questions for Berkeley, #1 

In the First Dialogue, Philonus, who clearly is Berkeley's mouthpiece, tries to show Hylas that the material substance is not real.  Hylas initially takes this to be an example of Philonus' skepticism, but the dialogue repeatedly turns the table on him, showing that it is one who believes in the existence of material things who departs from common sense and is the real skeptic.  In the Second Dialogue, Philonus goes on to offer a proof of God's existence, one that explains why we believe in the existence of things that we are not perceiving.

1.  Go over the various arguments by means of which Philonus undercuts all of Hylas' attempts to save the existence of things other than sensible ideas.  What are the grounds that Philonus uses to show Hylas that his opinions are false?  Are there different styles of argumentation or only one basic argument structure that he applies in different ways?

2.  Philonus claims that it is he rather than Hylas and the traditional philosophers (like Locke) whose opinions he echoes that is the defender of common sense.  What do you make of this claim?  Do you think philosophy ought to defend common sense?  Why or why not?  Should philosophy be profound?

3.  Philonus' conclusions appear unsettling to us, yet he claims that they are just what common sense would dictate.  Do you agree with him or not?  Why?

4.  What is Philonus' argument for the existence of God?  Is it a version of the ontological argument?  If not, what is the basis for the argument?

5.  How would Philonus answer the question, "If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, would it make a sound?"  Is this answer different from Locke's?  What side would you take and why? (Note: be ready to discuss this!)

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