Berkeley's Attack on the Theory of Primary and Secondary Qualities

Georges Dicker

in Berkeley's Idealism

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780195381467
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199897124 | DOI:
Berkeley's Attack on the Theory of Primary and Secondary Qualities

Show Summary Details


This chapter argues that while Berkeley's arguments against the theory of primary and secondary qualities may count against certain versions of the theory, they don't refute Locke's version, especially when modernized as proposed in Chapter 1. Berkeley's first argument is that since (a) one cannot abstract a primary quality (e.g., shape) from a secondary quality (e.g., color), and (b) secondary qualities are only ideas in the mind, so are primary qualities. Locke would reject (b), since for him secondary qualities are “powers” in objects. But there are complications, since the manifest aspect of a secondary quality is not a mere power. Dicker argues that ultimately, Berkeley's argument shows only that the manifest aspect of a color cannot exist apart from the visual manifest aspect of a shape, and doesn't support idealism. Berkeley's second, relativity argument is invalid and shows only that primary qualities would be mind-dependent if secondary qualities were.

Keywords: Locke; Phillip Cummins; one-target assumption; primary qualities; secondary qualities; manifest aspects; dispositional aspects; colors; two-term theories of perception; three-term theories of perception; perceptual relativity; resemblance thesis; no-resemblance thesis; Jonathan Bennett

Chapter.  7114 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.