Nineteenth-Century Interpreters


As mentioned above, Hegel is another leading source of the idea that Berkeley was a "subjective idealist", and it was on the rejection of this subjective view that he opposed his own "objective idealism". He begins the section on Berkeley of The History of Philosophy by declaring: "This idealism, in which all external reality disappears, has before it the standpoint of Locke, and it proceeds directly from him." (1896: 364). Thus, he was a sufficiently sound historical thinker to understand that Berkeley's philosophy was a response to Locke's (and others with similar views), something ignored by some later critics of Berkeley. But he has goes badly astray in claiming "all external reality disappears": as we have seen, Berkeley most emphatically sought to assert the reality of the external world, and fight the skepticism about its existence that he saw as the consequence of the Lockean view.

And how does a thinker as acute as Hegel miss this point? As with many others, it is by ignoring the role of the mind of God in Berkeley's thought: "we have the point of view that all existence and its determinations arise from feeling, and are constituted by self-consciousness" (1896: 365). Berkeley never would have accepted this formulation of his ideas; quite the contrary, for him, in confronting reality we find ourselves constantly being made aware of the presence of another consciousness, the unlimited one that is keeping this world present before us. One may find this notion of Berkeley's unsound, but it will hardly do to characterize it as being one in which existence is merely self-consciousness. And Hegel makes the same error just a little later: "Berkeley thus indeed acknowledges the distinction between Being-for-self and Other-Being, which in his case, however, itself falls within the 'I'" (1896: 365).

It is interesting that in later lecture series on the same topic Hegel did not even address Berkeley.

The "British Hegelians"

To what extent did they accept Hegel's mis-reading?