What Berkeley Actually Wrote

Let us turn now to charge of often leveled against Berkeley of subjectivism: did Berkeley believe reality is "all in our heads"? We will begin by considering some of the many passages from Berkeley himself that explicitly contradict that idea. For instance, in Alciphron, he writes:

The soul of man actuates but a small body, an insignificant particle, in respect of the great masses of nature, the elements and heavenly bodies, and system of the world. And the wisdom that appears in those motions, which are the effects of human reason, is incomparably less than that which discovers itself in the structure and use of organized natural bodies, animal or vegetable. (Berkeley and Clarke 2008: 274)

Do those look like the words of a thinker who believed the world was all in his head? Or consider this passage from Siris:

What entertainment soever the reasoning or notional part may afford the mind, I will venture to say the other part seems so surely calculated to do good to the body that both must be gainers. For if the lute be not well tuned, the musicians fails in his harmony. And, in our present state, the operations of the mind so far depend on the right tone or good condition of its instrument that anything which greatly contributes to preserve or recover the health of the body is well worth the attention of the mind. (Berkeley and Clarke 2008: 315)

This is from an essay advocating the drinking of tar water for health. So those who contend that Berkeley "thought the external world didn't exist" would have us believe that he wrote an entire essay on the importance of putting imaginary tar water into his imaginary body.

In The Querist, Berkeley asks, "Whether the natural body can be in a state of health and vigour without a due circulation of the extremities, even?" (2008: 190) Again, are we to suppose that Berkeley was concerned about the imaginary circulation of imaginary blood through an imaginary body?

Berkeley himself firmly rejected the view that his own work was skeptical about the external world; he held that he was battling was skepticism. The hero of his Three Dialogues, Philonous, responds to Hylas"s charge that his doctrines are a "revolt [against] the plain dictates of nature and common sense", as follows:

That there is no such thing as what philosophers call material substance, I am seriously persuaded: but if I were made to see anything absurd or sceptical in this, I should then have the same reason to renounce this, that I imagine I have now to reject the contrary opinion... Well, then, are you content to admit that opinion for true, which upon examination shall appear most agreeable to common sense, and remote from skepticism?" (1996: 108, emphasis mine)

Berkeley was not revolting against common sense: he was rejecting a unique and novel construction of reality which had only been forwarded in the century before he wrote.