Berkeley <i>v.</i> Locke on Primary Qualities

Barry Stroud

in Philosophers Past and Present

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199608591
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729621 | DOI:
Berkeley v. Locke on Primary Qualities

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This chapter examines Berkeley's objections to Locke's view that our ideas of so-called ‘secondary’ qualities like colour, taste, and smell do not ‘resemble’ anything in the objects that cause them; while our ideas of ‘primary’ qualities like weight, shape, and motion do ‘resemble’ qualities in independent objects. Locke's support for that view came from the fact that colours, tastes, smells, etc., have no place in the independent world as described by the most successful ‘corpuscular’ scientific account of it. Berkeley argued that all the qualities we perceive — shape, size, and motion as well as colour, taste, and smell — depend on the state of the perceiving subject. That would appear to be no objection to Locke if his defence of his view does not rest on the distinctive ‘relativity’ of the perception of ‘secondary’ qualities. But Berkeley's real opposition to Locke lies in the doctrine that esse is percipi, which he claims to be supported by the facts of perception as he understands them. That metaphysical doctrine implies the impossibility, and for Berkeley even the unintelligibility, of any qualities existing in unthinking, unperceived things. Berkeley was right that there is a real conflict between his views and Locke's.

Keywords: secondary qualities; Berkeley; Locke; perception

Chapter.  8795 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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