Time Spent With the Harvard Classics: Berkeley – Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, et al

Born on March 12, 1685 and passing on January 14, 173, Bishop George Berkeley was an Irish philosopher who advanced the theory of immaterialism or subjective idealism.  This theory is much like the Hindu concept of maya (as I understand this).  Berkeley’s theory is that material things like chairs and tables and so on are only ideas as perceived by the observers (us) and so cannot and do not exist without being perceived.  His theory of abstraction is an important premise to his explanation of immaterialism.

Along the way to writing the work we are principally concerned with on this post, Berkeley also published An Essay Towards A New Theory of Vision (1709).  In this, his analysis discusses the world’s perceptions in terms of color and light and not the ultimate material objects.  In 1710, he followed this up with his philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.  Proving that talking circles, no matter how true, is seldom popular with readers, the work received a poor reception.  Never one to take a clue that perhaps the world found the whole thing a little too abstract, in 1713, Berkeley took another look at his propositions in a dialog format and called this Three Dialogs Between Hylas and Philonous.

In this work, Berkeley’s positions are taken by Philonous (Greek for “lover of mind”) and Hylas (Greek for “matter”) takes the opposing opinions embodied by such thinkers as John Locke and Isaac Newton.  Particularly argued against is Newton’s doctrines of absolute space, time and motion as presented in De Motu (ie., On Motion).  Interestingly, these conceptions led to later developments by Mach and Einstein.

The three main concepts discussed in the Three Dialogues are perceptual relativity, the conceivability argument and phenomenalism.   Perceptual relativity states that the same object can appear differently depending on one’s perspective.  From this it is extrapolated that since objective features cannot change without inherent change to the object, shape is not an objective feature… it just gets deeper from this and you can read this for yourself to understand it’s importance to the continuing development of Western Civilization.

You may read the first dialog of Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous here:


Alternatively, you may listen to the complete work at:





About alohapromisesforever

Writer, poet, musician, surfer, father of two princesses.
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