George Berkeley (1685 – 1753) als lezer van Spinoza

“Spinoza was Berkeley's archetypal enemy,” net als Hobbes trouwens, zoals je kunt horen zeggen in de boeiende BBC Radio 4-uitzending van 20 maart 2014 over Bishop Berkeley [cf.]. Je kunt op internet veel toelichtende teksten over hem vinden, maar dit gesprek met een aantal kenners van zijn werk, is wat mij betreft een aanrader.

Ook in Jonathan Israel’s Verlichting onder vuur [Enlightenment Contested] vind je vooral meermalen de Spinoza-vijandigheid van Berkeley verwoord, b.v. dat hij in 1732 in zijn Alciphron Spinosa (sic) als “de grote leider van onze moderne ongelovigen” omschreef (p. 78); en op meerdere pagina’s haalt Israel naar voren dat Berkeley Collins, Tolland e.a. ‘deïsten’ als atheïsten en spinozisten bestempelde.

Maar de laatste tijd begint er aandacht te komen voor datgene waarin Berkeley met Spinoza overeenkomt en groeit het inzicht, zo lijkt het, dat hij mogelijk dingen uit de Opera Posthuma (die hij citeert) heeft geleerd en wellicht overgenomen. Zo vergaand dat zoals hieronder zal blijken, een stuk de titel kon meekrijgen: "Was Berkeley a Spinozist?" 

Zo ontdekte ik onlangs een zeer boeiend artikel waarin Stephen H. Daniel afziet van wat Berkeley uitdrukkelijk over Spinoza zégt, want dat is altijd negatief, maar passages naar voren haalt waaruit grote gelijkdenkendheid met Spinoza blijkt. Hij laat dat zien mede vanuit hoe Bergson en Peirce Spinoza en Berkeley lazen. Dat maakt het artikel niet eenvoudig, maar wel extra rijk: 

• Stephen H. Daniel, “ Berkeley and Spinoza ” in: Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 2010/1 (Volume 135) , p. 123-134 [cf. hier de vrijgegeven tekst; cf. de printversie]

Ik heb het stuk nu meermalen gelezen en ik kreeg er de idee bij dat het helpt om via al die vernuftige lezers van Spinoza op bepaalde punten tot beter begrip van Spinoza zelf te komen. B.v. door de sterke benadrukking van hen allen dat de substantie (en God) niet als ‘een ding’ [tussen de dingen] gezien moet worden. Hier laat ik het bij en nodig ieder uit dat stuk te lezen. Om daar mogelijk toe te verlokken haal ik de introductie hier (zonder referenties) naar binnen:

There is a widespread belief that Berkeley and Spinoza have little in common, because Berkeley shares none of materialistic, pantheistic, or deterministic views he attributes to Spinoza. Indeed, he refers to Spinoza as a declared enemy of religion and “the great leader of our modern infidels”, and he identifies Spinoza –along with Vanini, Hobbes, Leibniz, Bayle, and Anthony Collins– as a closet atheist and fatalist because of his identification of the universe with God.

However, Berkeley also admits that, like Spinoza, he endorses St. Paul’s doctrine that “we live and move and have our being” in God. Furthermore, for Berkeley, nature is not “some being distinct from God,” for God is the principle by which all things are perceived according to certain laws However, as Berkeley’s early critics remark, this doctrine seems to link him to Malebranche (and thus indirectly to Spinoza), in that it implies that our ideas are expressions of God’s essence.

Berkeley objects to being linked to Malebranche, noting that the passivity of our ideas is inconsistent with God’s active nature. But it is difficult not to detect Spinozistic themes in his Siris pronouncements that “God alone exists”, and “so long as mind or intellect is understood to preside over, govern, and conduct the whole frame of things,” the universe can be conceived to be God, and creatures can be conceived to be “partial manifestations of the divine essence”. Berkeley insists that there is nothing atheistic about considering God together with nature “as making one whole, or all things together as making one universe”, for such a view acknowledges the immanent presence of the divine mind in the differentiation and harmony of all things without equating that mind with those things.

This, of course, is the same point that Spinoza makes in distinguishing between God as the free, though immanent cause of the universe (natura naturans) and the determined and determinate universe he creates (natura naturata). So it is only by failing to note the nuances of this distinction that Berkeley can develop his caricature of Spinoza. That is why my focus is less on what Berkeley says about “Spinoza” and more on how their actual doctrines distinguish them from many of their contemporaries.

Overige teksten over Berkeley en Spinoza:

• Stephen H. Daniel, “Berkeley's Pantheistic Discourse." In:  International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jun., 2001), pp. 179-194

• Geneviève Brykman, "Berkeley lecteur de Spinoza." In: Pierre-François Moreau (Ed.), Architectures de la raison. Mélanges offerts à Alexandre Matheron. Fontenay/Saint-Cloud, ENS Editions, 1996, p. 87-102. – books.google direct naar pagina 87.

• Geneviève Brykman, “Berkeley, Spinoza, and Radical Enlightenment”, in: Silvia Parigi (Ed.), George Berkeley: Religion and Science in the Age of Enlightenment. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010 – books.google pp 159-170

Abstract: I put Spinoza in my title in order to signal my paper’s purpose. Instead of taking the Enlightenment to be, as it is usually understood, an early-eighteenth-century phenomenon, my intention is to show that Berkeley is to be included in that period of ferment, after Spinoza’s death, when the defence of free expression, the critique of religion and of language connected with “mysteries,” and the impertinence of any form of authority were openly considered. By contrast, before 1677, the defence of free-thinking was expressed only in clandestine clubs and coteries. Now, in his masterly work Radical Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel reveals the central role of Spinoza’s philosophy and its diffusion, as early as 1650, in sharpening the human desire for liberty.

• Caterina Menichelli, "Was Berkeley a Spinozist? A Historiographical Answer (1718–1751)", in: Silvia Parigi (Ed.), George Berkeley: Religion and Science in the Age of Enlightenment. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010 – books.google pp 171-188

Abstract: “By the time of Immanuel Kant, Berkeley had been called, among other things, a sceptic, an atheist, a solipsist and an idealist. In our own day, however, the suggestion has been advanced that Berkeley is better understood if interpreted as a realist and man of common sense”.[Cf.]

• Branka Arsiæ, The Passive Eye. Gaze and Subjectivity in Berkeley (via Beckett). Stanford University Press, 2003, 224 pp

The Passive Eye is a revolutionary and historically rich account of Berkeley's theory of vision. In this formidable work, the author considers the theory of the embodied subject and its passions in light of a highly dynamic conception of infinity. Arsic shows the profound affinities between Berkeley and Spinoza, and offers a highly textual reading of Berkeley on the concept of an "exhausted subjectivity." The author begins by following the Renaissance universe of vision, particularly the paradoxical elusive nature of mirrors, then shows how this conception of vision was translated into the optical devices and in what way the various ways of deception could be conceived. Reading Berkeley against the backdrop of competing theories, in relation to Leibniz, Spinoza, Newton, Malebranche, Hume, Locke, Molyneux and others, this book gives a meticulous historic reconstruction of Berkeley's theory.

This excellent scholarly work presents Berkeley's theory in a new and radical light. The book, presented in three parts, begins by presenting the conceptions of vision prior to Berkeley's intervention. In the second part, the author moves through a careful study of Descartes' theory of vision to arrive at Berkeley. The third part addresses the author's version of Berkeley in which the eye and the image become inseparable due to the collapse of the universe of representation. The problem of vision becomes not that of representation, but of presentation. Through an erudite historic reading of Berkeley's theory and astute comparative assessments, the author uncovers Berkeley's place as a contemporary theoretician, corresponding with such thinkers as Deleuze, Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida.

Voor de volledigheid verwijs ik, hoewel ik daarin geen uitgebreide vergelijking van Berkeley met Spinoza heb kunnen ontdekken, naar

• Jonathan Francis Bennett, Learning From Six Philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume - 2 Volumes. Oxford University Press (hardcover), 2001 / Clarendon Press (paperback), 2003

Voor de curiositeit wijs ik erop dat er een apar jaar geleden een aparte cursuswerd gegeven: een “Spinoza and Berkeley Seminar” [cf. PDF]