Are Skeptics Faulty Thinkers? (Dec. 1)

Are Skeptics Faulty Thinkers?
Offhand we say a skeptic is one who doubts everything. But
does he? And are his doubts caused by too much learning, or too
little? Berkeley presents both sides of skepticism.
Read from Berkeley’s THREE DIALOGUES Vol. 37, pp. 189-199

THREE DIALOGUES
BETWEEN
HYLAS AND PHILONOUS, IN OPPOSITION TO
SCEPTICS AND ATHEISTS
THE FIRST DIALOGUE

PHILONOUS.  Good morrow, Hylas: I did not expect to find
you abroad so early.
Hylas. It is indeed something unusual; but my thoughts
were so taken up with a subject I was discoursing of last night, that
finding I could not sleep, I resolved to rise and take a turn in the
garden.
Phil. It happened well, to let you see what innocent and agreeable
pleasures you lose every morning. Can there be a pleasanter time of
the day, or a more delightful season of the year? That purple sky,
those wild but sweet notes of birds, the fragrant bloom upon the
trees and flowers, the gentle influence of the rising sun, these and a
thousand nameless beauties of nature inspire the soul with secret
transports; its faculties too being at this time fresh and lively, are fit
for those meditations, which the solitude of a garden and tranquillity
of the morning naturally dispose us to. But I am afraid I
interrupt your thoughts: for you seemed very intent on something.
Hyl. It is true, I was, and shall be obliged to you if you will permit
me to go on in the same vein; not that I would by any means deprive
myself of your company, for my thoughts always flow more
easily in conversation with a friend, than when I am alone: but my
request is, that you would suffer me to impart my reflexions to you.
Phil. With all my heart, it is what I should have requested myself
if you had not prevented me.
Hyl. I was considering the odd fate of those men who have in all
ages, through an affectation of being distinguished from the vulgar,
189

190 GEORGE BERKELEY
or some unaccountable turn o£ thought, pretended either to believe
nothing at all, or to believe the most extravagant things in the world.
This however might be borne, if their paradoxes and scepticism
did not draw after them some consequences of general disadvantage
to mankind. But the mischief lieth here; that when men of less
leisure see them who are supposed to have spent their whole time in
the pursuits of knowledge professing an entire ignorance of all
things, or advancing such notions as are repugnant to plain and
commonly received principles, they will be tempted to entertain
suspicions concerning the most important truths, which they had
hitherto held sacred and unquestionable.
Phil. I entirely agree with you, as to the ill tendency of the
affected doubts of some philosophers, and fantastical conceits of
others. I am even so far gone of late in this way of thinking, that I
have quitted several of the sublime notions I had got in their schools
for vulgar opinions. And I give it you on my word; since this revolt
from metaphysical notions to the plain dictates of nature and common
sense, I find my understanding strangely enlightened, so that
I can now easily comprehend a great many things which before
were all mystery and riddle.
Hyl. I am glad to find there was nothing in the accounts I heard
of you.
Phil. Pray, what were those ?
Hyl. You were represented, in last night’s conversation, as one
who maintained the most extravagant opinion that ever entered into
the mind of man, to wit, that there is no such thing as material substance
in the world.
Phil. 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.
Hyl. What! can anything be more fantastical, more repugnant to
Common Sense, or a more manifest piece of Scepticism, than to
believe there is no such thing as matter?
Phil. Softly, good Hylas. What if it should prove that you, who
hold there is, are, by virtue of that opinion, a greater sceptic, and

FIRST DIALOGUE
maintain more paradoxes and repugnances to Common Sense, than
I who believe no such thing?
Hyl. You may as soon persuade me, the part is greater than the
whole, as that, in order to avoid absurdity and Scepticism, I should
ever be obliged to give up my opinion in this point.
Phil. Well then, are you content to admit that opinion for true,
which upon examination shall appear most agreeable to Common
Sense, and remote from Scepdcism ?
Hyl. With all my heart. Since you are for raising disputes about
the plainest things in nature, I am content for once to hear what you
have to say.
Phil. Pray, Hylas, what do you mean by a sceptic?
Hyl. I mean what all men mean—one that doubts of everything.
Phil. He then who entertains no doubts concerning some particular
point, with regard to that point cannot be thought a sceptic.
Hyl. I agree with you.
Phil. Whether doth doubting consist in embracing the affirmative
or negative side of a question?
Hyl. In neither; for whoever understands English cannot but
know that doubting signifies a suspense between both.
Phil. He then that denies any point, can no more be said to doubt
of it, than he who affirmeth it with the same degree of assurance.
Hyl. True.
Phil. And, consequently, for such his denial is no more to be
esteemed a sceptic than the other.
Hyl. I acknowledge it.
Phil. How cometh it to pass then, Hylas, that you pronounce me
a sceptic, because I deny what you affirm, to wit, the existence of
Matter? Since, for aught you can tell, I am as peremptory in my
denial, as you in your affirmation.
Hyl. Hold, Philonous, I have been a little out in my definition;
but every false step a man makes in discourse is not to be insisted
on. I said indeed that a sceptic was one who doubted of everything;
but I should have added, or who denies the reality and truth of
things.
Phil. What things? Do you mean the principles and theorems
of sciences? But these you know are universal intellectual notions,

192 GEORGE BERKELEY
and consequently independent of Matter. The denial therefore of
this doth not imply the denying them.
Hyl. I grant it. But are there no other things? What think you
of distrusting the senses, of denying the real existence of sensible
things, or pretending to know nothing of them. Is not this sufficient
to denominate a man a sceptic?
Phil. Shall w e therefore examine which of us it is that denies the
reality of sensible things, or professes the greatest ignorance of
them; since, if I take you rightly, he is to be esteemed the greatest
sceptic?
Hyl. That is what I desire.
Phil. What mean you by Sensible Things?
Hyl. Those things which are perceived by the senses. Can you
imagine that I mean anything else?
Phil. Pardon me, Hylas, if I am desirous clearly to apprehend
your notions, since this may much shorten our inquiry. Suffer me
then to ask you this farther question. Are those things only perceived
by the senses which are perceived immediately ? Or, may those
things properly be said to be sensible which are perceived mediately,
or not without the intervention of others?
Hyl. I do not sufficiently understand you.
Phil. In reading a book, what I immediately perceive are the
letters; but mediately, or by means of these, are suggested to my
mind the notions of God, virtue, truth, &c. Now, that the letters are
truly sensible things, or perceived by sense, there is no doubt: but I
would know whether you take the things suggested by them to be
so too.
Hyl. No, certainly: it were absurd to think God or virtue sensible
things; though they may be signified and suggested to the mind
by sensible marks, with which they have an arbitrary connexion.
Phil. It seems then, that by sensible things you mean those only
which can be perceived immediately by sense?
Hyl. Right.
Phil. Doth it not follow from this, that though I see one part of
the sky red, and another blue, and that my reason doth thence evidently
conclude there must be some cause of that diversity of colours,

FIRST DIALOGUE 193
yet that cause cannot be said to be a sensible thing, or perceived by the
sense of seeing?
Hyl. It doth.
Phil. In like manner, though I hear variety of sounds, yet I cannot
be said to hear the causes of those sounds?
Hyl. You cannot.
Phil. And when by my touch I perceive a thing to be hot and
heavy, I cannot say, with any truth or propriety, that I feel the cause
of its heat or weight?
Hyl. T o prevent any more questions of this kind, I tell you once
for all, that by sensible things I mean those only which are perceived
by sense; and that in truth the senses perceive nothing which they
do not perceive immediately: for they make no inferences. The deducing
therefore of causes or occasions from effects and appearances,
which alone are perceived by sense, entirely relates to reason.
Phil. This point then is agreed between us—That sensible things
are those only which are immediately perceived by sense. You will
farther inform me, whether we immediately perceive by sight anything
beside light, and colours, and figures; or by hearing, anything
but sounds; by the palate, anything beside tastes; by the smell, beside
odours; or by the touch, more than tangible qualities.
Hyl. We do not.
Phil. It seems, therefore, that if you take away all sensible qualities,
there remains nothing sensible ?
Hyl. I grant it.
Phil. Sensible things therefore are nothing else but so many sensible
qualities, or combinations of sensible qualities?
Hyl. Nothing else.
Phil. Heat then is a sensible thing?
Hyl. Certainly.
Phil. Doth the reality of sensible things consist in being perceived?
or, is it something distinct from their being perceived, and that bears
no relation to the mind?
Hyl. T o exist is one thing, and to be perceived is another.
Phil. I speak with regard to sensible things only. And of these
I ask, whether by their real existence you mean a subsistence exterior
to the mind, and distinct from their being perceived?

194 GEORGE BERKELEY
Hyl. I mean a real absolute being, distinct from, and without
any reladon to, their being perceived.
Phil. Heat therefore, if it be allowed a real being, must exist
without the mind?
Hyl. It must.
Phil. Tell me, Hylas, is this real existence equally compatible to
all degrees of heat, which we perceive; or is there any reason why we
should attribute it to some, and deny it to others? And if there be,
pray let me know that reason.
Hyl. Whatever degree of heat we perceive by sense, we may be
sure the same exists in the object that occasions it.
Phil. What! the greatest as well as the least?
Hyl. I tell you, the reason is plainly the same in respect of both.
They are both perceived by sense; nay, the greater degree of heat
is more sensibly perceived; and consequently, if there is any difference,
we are more certain of its real existence than we can be of the
reality of a lesser degree.
Phil. But is not the most vehement and intense degree of heat a
very great pain?
Hyl. No one can deny it.
Phil. And is any unperceiving thing capable of pain or pleasure?
Hyl. No, certainly.
Phil. Is your material substance a senseless being, or a being endowed
with sense and perception?
Hyl. It is senseless without doubt.
Phil. It cannot therefore be the subject of pain?
Hyl. By no means.
Phil. Nor consequently of the greatest heat perceived by sense,
since you acknowledge this to be no small pain?
Hyl. I grant it.
Phil. What shall we say then of your external object; is it a material
Substance, or no?
Hyl. It is a material substance with the sensible qualities inhering
in it.
Phil. How then can a great heat exist in it, since you own it cannot
in a material substance? I desire you would clear this point.
Hyl. Hold, Philonous, I fear I was out in yielding intense heat to

FIRST DIALOGUE 195
be a pain. It should seem rather, that pain is something distinct from
heat, and the consequence or effect of it.
Phil. Upon putting your hand near the fire, do you perceive one
simple uniform sensation, or two distinct sensations?
Hyl. But one simple sensation.
Phil. Is not the heat immediately perceived?
Hyl. It is.
Phil. And the pain?
Hyl. True.
Phil. Seeing therefore they are both immediately perceived at
the same time, and the fire affects you only with one simple or uncompounded
idea, it follows that this same simple idea is both the
intense heat immediately perceived, and the pain; and, consequendy,
that the intense heat immediately perceived is nothing distinct from
a particular sort of pain.
Hyl. It seems so.
Phil. Again, try in your thoughts, Hylas, if you can conceive a
vehement sensation to be without pain or pleasure.
Hyl. I cannot.
Phil. Or can you frame to yourself an idea of sensible pain or
pleasure in general, abstracted from every particular idea of heat,
cold, tastes, smells? &c.
Hyl. I do not find that I can.
Phil. Doth it not therefore follow, that sensible pain is nothing
distinct from those sensations or ideas, in an intense degree ?
Hyl. It is undeniable; and, to speak the truth, I begin to suspect
a very great heat cannot exist but in a mind perceiving it.
Phil. What! are you then in that sceptical state of suspense,
between affirming and denying?
Hyl. I think I may be positive in the point. A very violent and
painful heat cannot exist without the mind.
Phil. It hath not therefore according to you, any real being?
Hyl. I own it.
Phil. Is it therefore certain, that there is no body in nature really
hot?
Hyl. I have not denied there is any real heat in bodies. I only say,
there is no such thing as an intense real heat.

I96 GEORGE BERKELEY
Phil. But, did you not say before that all degrees of heat were
equally real; or, if there was any difference, that the greater were
more undoubtedly real than the lesser ?
Hyl. True: but it was because I did not then consider the ground
there is for distinguishing between them, which I now plainly see.
And it is this: because intense heat is nothing else but a particular
kind of painful sensation; and pain cannot exist but in a perceiving
being; it follows that no intense heat can really exist in
an unperceiving corporeal substance. But this is no reason why
we should deny heat in an inferior degree to exist in such a substance.
Phil. But how shall we be able to discern those degrees of heat
which exist only in the mind from those which exist without it?
Hyl. That is no difficult matter. You know the least pain cannot
exist unperceived; whatever, therefore, degree of heat is a pain exists
only in the mind. But, as for all other degrees of heat, nothing
obliges us to think the same of them.
Phil. I think you granted before that no unperceiving being was
capable of pleasure, any more than of pain.
Hyl. I did.
Phil. And is not warmth, or a more gentle degree of heat than
what causes uneasiness, a pleasure?
Hyl. What then?
Phil. Consequently, it cannot exist without the mind in an unperceiving
substance, or body.
Hyl. So it seems.
Phil. Since, therefore, as well those degrees of heat that are not
painful, as those that are, can exist only in a thinking substance; may
we not conclude that external bodies are absolutely incapable of any
degree of heat whatsoever?
Hyl. On second thoughts, I do not think it so evident that warmth
is a pleasure as that a great degree of heat is a pain.
Phil. I do not pretend that warmth is as great a pleasure as heat
is a pain. But, if you grant it to be even a small pleasure, it serves
to make good my conclusion.
Hyl. I could rather call it an indolence. It seems to be nothing
more than a privation of both pain and pleasure. And that such a

FIRST DIALOGUE 197
quality or state as this may agree to an unthinking substance, I hope
you will not deny.
Phil. If you are resolved to maintain that warmth, or a gentle
degree of heat, is no pleasure, I know not how to convince you otherwise
than by appealing to your own sense. But what think you
of cold ?
Hyl. The same that I do of heat. An intense degree of cold is a
pain; for to feel a very great cold, is to perceive a great uneasiness:
it cannot therefore exist without the mind; but a lesser degree of
cold may, as well as a lesser degree of heat.
Phil. Those bodies, therefore, upon whose application to our
own, we perceive a moderate degree of heat, must be concluded to
have a moderate degree of heat or warmth in them; and those, upon
whose application we feel a like degree of cold, must be thought to
have cold in them.
Hyl. They must.
Phil. Can any doctrine be true that necessarily leads a man into
an absurdity?
Hyl. Without doubt it cannot.
Phil. Is it not an absurdity to think that the same thing should be
at the same time both cold and warm?
Hyl. It is.
Phil. Suppose now one of your hands hot, and the other cold,
and that they are both at once put into the same vessel of water, in
an intermediate state; will not the water seem cold to one hand, and
warm to the other?
Hyl. It will.
Phil. Ought we not therefore, by your principles, to conclude
it is really both cold and warm at the same time, that is, according
to your own concession, to believe an absurdity?
Hyl. I confess it seems so.
Phil. Consequently, the principles themselves are false, since you
have granted that no true principle leads to an absurdity.
Hyl. But, after all, can anything be more absurd than to say, there
is no heat in the fire?
Phil. To make the point still clearer; tell me whether, in two
cases exactly alike, we ought not to make the same judgment?

I98 GEORGE BERKELEY
Hyl. We ought.
Phil. When a pin pricks your finger, doth it not rend and divide
the fibres of your flesh?
Hyl. It doth.
Phil. And when a coal burns your finger, doth it any more ?
Hyl. It doth not.
Phil. Since, therefore, you neither judge the sensation itself occasioned
by the pin, nor anything like it to be in the pin; you should
not, conformably to what you have now granted, judge the sensation
occasioned by the fire, or anything like it, to be in the fire.
Hyl. Well, since it must be so, I am content to yield this point,
and acknowledge that heat and cold are only sensations existing in
our minds. But there still remain qualities enough to secure the
reality of external things.
Phil. But what will you say, Hylas, if it shall appear that the
case is the same with regard to all other sensible qualities, and that
they can no more be supposed to exist without the mind, than heat
and cold?
Hyl. Then indeed you will have done something to the purpose;
but that is what I despair of seeing proved.
Phil. Let us examine them in order. What think you of tastes—
do they exist without the mind, or no?
Hyl. Can any man in his senses doubt whether sugar is sweet, or
wormwood bitter?
Phil. Inform me, Hylas. Is a sweet taste a particular kind of pleasure
or pleasant sensation, or is it not?
Hyl. It is.
Phil. And is not bitterness some kind of uneasiness or pain?
Hyl. I grant it.
Phil. If therefore sugar and wormwood are unthinking corporeal
substances existing without the mind, how can sweetness and bitterness,
that is, pleasure and pain, agree to them?
Hyl. Hold, Philonous, I now see what it was deluded me all this
time. You asked whether heat and cold, sweetness and bitterness,
were not particular sorts of pleasure and pain; to which I answered
simply, that they were. Whereas I should have thus distinguished:—
those qualities, as perceived by us, are pleasures or pains; but not as

FIRST DIALOGUE 199
existing in the external objects. We must not therefore conclude
absolutely, that there is no heat in the fire, or sweetness in the
sugar, but only that heat or sweetness, as perceived by us, are not
in the fire or sugar. What say you to this ?
Phil. I say it is nothing to the purpose. Our discourse proceeded
altogether concerning sensible things, which you defined to be, the
things we immediately perceive by our senses. Whatever other
qualities, therefore, you speak of as distinct from these, I know
nothing of them, neither do they at all belong to the point in dispute.
You may, indeed, pretend to have discovered certain qualities
which you do not perceive, and assert those insensible qualities exist
in fire and sugar. But what use can be made of this to your present
purpose, I am at a loss to conceive. Tell me then once more, do you
acknowledge that heat and cold, sweetness and bitterness (meaning
those qualities which are perceived by the senses), do not exist without
the mind?
Hyl. I see it is to no purpose to hold out, so I give up the cause
as to those mentioned qualities. Though I profess it sounds oddly, to
say that sugar is not sweet.
Phil. But, for your farther satisfaction, take this along with you:
that which at other times seems sweet, shall, to a distempered palate,
appear bitter. And, nothing can be plainer than that divers persons
perceive different tastes in the same food; since that which one man
delights in, another abhors. And how could this be, if the taste was
something really inherent in the food?
Hyl. I acknowledge I know not how.
Phil. In the next place, odours are to be considered. And, with
regard to these, I would fain know whether what hath been said of
tastes doth not exactly agree to them ? Are they not so many pleasing
or displeasing sensations?
Hyl. They are.
Phil. Can you then conceive it possible that they should exist in
an unperceiving thing?
Hyl. I cannot.
Phil. Or, can you imagine that filth and ordure affect those brute
animals that feed on them out of choice, with the same smells which
we perceive in them ?

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