Most helpful positive review
on January 11, 2015
Esse est percipi— “To be is to be perceived.”
That is immaterialism in a nutshell, but I found this quote from the THREE DIALOGUES BETWEEN HYLAS AND PHILONOUS to be both more comprehensive and more comprehensible: “There are only things perceived and things perceiving; or that every unthinking being is necessarily, and from the very nature of its existence, perceived by some mind; if not by any finite created mind, yet certainly by the infinite mind of God, in whom we live, move and have our being.”
The idea that nothing exists unless it is perceived opposes conventional thinking, even today.
When reviewing a work of nonfiction, I take two things into consideration: the message and the delivery.
If the message is unique, significant and most important, new, then it becomes the principal consideration in my review. On the other hand, if the subject is something we’ve all heard before, then the delivery becomes the paramount factor in my assessment.
This was one of the hardest reviews I’ve written, and I’ve written many. I was considering giving the book three stars—a balance between the message (five stars) and the delivery (two stars), but this is a book that I recommend to anyone who thirsts for self-realization, and such an endorsement deserves no less than the highest rating.
Therefore, I finally decided to base my rating on the subject of immaterialism, and my review on the method of delivery. I have never done this before, but I make an exception here because the message is truly a milestone in philosophy. It shakes the very foundations of human conditioning from the moment we are taught to utter our first words. George Berkeley came up with the idea of immaterialism despite the overwhelming prejudice of the period, the dogmas imposed by western society, the risk involved in introducing novel theories—never mind radical ones—and the difficulties of in acquiring and exchanging information and ideas in general.
Now for my review, which is based solely on the delivery of the message.:
The pros: of the prose.
I found the THREE DIALOGUES BETWEEN HYLAS AND PHILONOUS easier to follow and a lot more entertaining than Berkeley’s previous work, A TREATISE CONCERNING THE PRINCIPALS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE.
Philonous comes from the Greek word, and literally translates to “friend of mind.” Hylas is another word from Greek, which means “matter.” Mind versus matter. Immaterialism versus materialism. Cute. A little too cute.
But then again, they didn’t name a city, a famous university, a library, and an Episcopal seminary after Berkeley for his writing skills.
Speaking of prose, though the language is bombastic and at times convoluted, this book makes for an easier read than his previous work.
One must be careful, however: this text was written several centuries ago, and many words had different meanings back then.
For instance, “vulgar,” in old English, means common, not coarse or rude. And by the word “repugnant,” George Berkeley is referring to the archaic “given to stubborn resistance,” rather than the modern understanding of the word: “extremely distasteful.”
Archaic vocabulary notwithstanding, the aggressive courtroom style back and forth between the two fictitious characters feels more like an argument than a philosophical discussion. I don’t know if Berkeley did this intentionally—perhaps to make the text more interesting—or if this seemingly rude discourse was the standard in communication among the educated and upper class of that era.
The dialogue is a fiction through which George Berkeley attempted to make his immaterialism more palpable to the reader. The great philosopher succeeded in this regard to a significant degree. I found clarification to many questions that arose after reading his first book, A TREATISE CONCERNING THE PRINCIPALS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. Using dialogue in the new version made the language far easier to understand. He also stretched out many subjects and approached numerous ideas from different angles.
Philonous (the character supporting Berkeley’s immaterialism) is portrayed as this genius with an unfailing understanding of, well, everything, whereas poor Hylas, though apparently educated, and of commensurate class–very important in those days–carries his arguments with comparatively diminished clarity and eloquence. It’s akin to a debate between Stephen Hawking and an eighth-grade physics teacher on string theory versus loop quantum gravity.
Hylas often raises the same objections over and over again, only varying the questions slightly. And every time Philonous counters, Hylas concedes.
Rarely does Hylas challenge Philonous with a difficult question, especially in the first two dialogues.
Given Hylas’ intellectual ineptitude, and Bishop Berkeley’s deep Christian convictions, one would think the author would have endowed his fictitious counterpart, Philonous, with commensurate compassion. But alas, Philonous though made to appear so wise, shows no heart.
Passion yes. Compassion no.
That put me off, I must admit.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in exploring the beginnings—and indeed, what some consider the foundations of—a major internal shift through immaterialism. Despite it’s many failings as a book, the delivery is clearer and covers more ground than his previous work. In short, you’ll get the message, and in the final analysis, that’s what really matters.