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
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