Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 020
Before going to Harvard, in the 1790's, Washington Allston and William Ellery Channing attended school in Newport, Rhode Island. William Ellery, grandfather of William Ellery Channing and Richard Henry Dana Sr., was born in Newport in 1727. When William Ellery was two years old, Berkeley, while waiting for funds to start a college in Bermuda, came to Newport, Rhode Island and lived there for three years. Berkeley had brought with him the faculty and library for the college. John Smibert was to be the art teacher. Smibert painted this painting of Berkeley and his family with Berkeley shown standing on the right. Berkeley never did receive the funds needed to proceed with the college. When William Ellery was five years old, Berkeley sailed back to England. William Ellery belonged to the Philosophical Society in Newport, which was founded while George Berkeley lived in Newport.

Berkeley's view was that the essence of reality is in its perception. A century and a half later that became an underlying foundation of the American philosophy called Pragmatism, formulated by Charles Sanders Peirce and popularized by William James. For Berkeley, and for William James, anything we perceive is as real as anything else. In this view, the "man in the moon" and "big dipper" are just as real as the moon and the stars themselves, because for Berkeley and James, it is the conscious perception itself that defines the object, whether it be a physical object or a spiritual object.

Berkeley's idea that the essence of reality is in its conscious perception was presented in Alciphron, a book he is said to have worked on at Hanging Rock in what is now called Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island. Today that idea seems to be empirically supported by Quantum Physics. Also, with the amazing advances in realtime functional MRI imaging of the human brain, unconscious perception and processing are being studied along with the relationship to conscious perception and thinking. Berkeley's ideas seem to be more relevant now than ever. While Quantum Physics remains an egnima, its predictions produce many practical results, and there is increased interest in the philosophical ideas descended from Berkeley's ideas regarding the essence of reality.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website