A piece of philosophical history from the Library of Trinity College Dublin's manuscript collection.
George Berkeley (1685–1753) was an Irish bishop and philosopher. He arrived at Trinity College Dublin as a student in 1700. He received the B.A. in 1704 and was elected Fellow in 1707. He maintained his affiliation with the College until 1724, when he resigned to become dean of the Protestant cathedral at Derry.
Thomas Burgh's library was the greatest addition to College during Berkeley's time in Trinity, with construction beginning in 1712 and continuing until 1732; Berkeley himself had left in 1724.
Berkeley had acted as the College's Librarian for a period in 1709. The modern Berkeley Library, considered the finest Brutalist-style building in Ireland, is named in his honour.
Although some of the text is included in the edition of Berkeley’s Works edited by A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (published 1948–1957), this version does not indicate the numerous markings, insertions, deletions, and marginal comments that appear in the manuscript. These can be found only in the diplomatic edition prepared by Bertil Belfrage, which was printed in a limited run of only 500 copies in 1987.
The lengthy section Berkeley has marked for omission, beginning on folio 20, discusses in detail two examples that are used to illustrate Berkeley’s view that not every meaningful word stands for an idea. The first example is the proposition ‘Melampus is an animal’. (‘Proposition’ is Berkeley’s word for a sentence.) Regarding the word ‘animal’ in this example, Berkeley writes: “Nor does it as used in that Proposition stand for any Idea [at all] at all. All that I intend to signify thereby being only this. That the particular [creature] thing I call Melampus has a right to be called by the name animal.”
This example does not appear anywhere in the published text.
The second example Berkeley gives in this passage is the Biblical asssertion “[that] the good things which God hath prepared for them that love him are such as Eye hath not seen nor Ear heard nor hath it enter’d into the Heart of Man to conceive.” According to Berkeley, no one has any idea corresponding to the words ‘good things’ in this promise yet it is meaningful.
The beginning of this discussion originally read, “I ask any man whether when he tells another that such an Action is Honourable ... whether this be not his full Purpose namely that those words should excite in the mind of the hearer an esteem of that particular action and stirr him up to the performance of it?”
Some scholars have seen this passage as offering an emotivist theory of moral language. Emotivism is a theory, popular in the early 20th century, which holds that the use of moral language does not attempt to state truths but only to express emotions and to influence the emotions and actions of others. If Berkeley is advocating such a view, he may have been the first to do so.
We do not know why Berkeley rejected this passage. Moral language is not discussed in the published Introduction
This exhibition was curated by Dr Kenneth L. Pearce, Ussher Assistant Professor in Berkeley Studies (Early Modern Philosophy), Trinity College Dublin.
Technical support provided by Greg Sheaf, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
Photography by Gill Whelan, Digital Resources and Imaging Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.