published on September 7, 2016
Berkeley's Unseen Horse and Coach
Berkeley’s immaterialism depends on a correct answer to the question whether, in experiencing what is described as hearing a coach in the street, a perceiving subject really only immediately perceives certain sounds, auditory sensible ideas that are partly constitutive of the carriage as a sensible thing, or in immediately experiencing the associated sounds immediately perceives the carriage itself. Much hangs on how the word ‘perceive’ is thought to be propery used, and how wide and deeply penetrating its intentionality is conceived to be, whether we can perceive sensible things like carriages or only carriagey sensible ideas. There are problems with answers on both sides of the inevitable opposition, and hence a number of related dilemmas running through and sometimes across one another in this part of Berkeley’s philosophy. The coach and horse argument in Berkeley’s Three Dialogues affirms radical phenomenalism as the strictly philosophically correct thesis that all perceiving is immediately perceiving sensible ideas, to the exclusion of sensible things as total congeries of sensible ideas. Relevant passages in Berkeley’s text set in an interpretative framework and proper context of philosophical exchange between Berkeley’s dialogue partners reveals the carriage argument as more subtle in structure and more powerfully supportive of a radical idealist phenomenalism in Berkeley’s empiricist epistemology than is exemplified elsewhere in Three Dialogues.