Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MARCH 12th  

On this day in history in 1685, was born George Berkeley.

Berkeley was a mathematician, theologian and philosopher who is best remembered for his theory of the non-existence of matter.

Berkeley was born on 12th March 1685, the son of an army officer in the dragoons. He was brought up in Dysert Castle in Ireland and entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1700, graduating in 1704. He attempted to write a mathematical thesis in order to obtain a college fellowship, and during the course of his studies read the works of the philosophers, John Locke and Nicolas Malebranche, who argued that all new discovery requires complete scepticism in accepted beliefs. Taking this policy to the extreme, Berkeley argued that an object could only exist when a person perceives it to exist, by using the basic five senses. An object, which is not perceived, does not in fact exist, and therefore matter as such does not exist.  

Berkeley went on to take his fellowship on a thesis based on the more conventional ideas of theology and mathematics. In 1721, Berkeley took holy orders and in 1724, was consecrated a bishop. His life was devoted to theology, with occasional discourses in mathematics. He challenged Newton’s theory of calculus, but it was his theory of the non-existence of matter, which made him famous. The theory became the focus of intellectual debate largely because it could not be scientifically disproved. Many philosophers attempted to disprove Berkeley’s theory and these anti-Berkeley philosophies were, in turn, challenged by other philosophers, thereby bringing a whole sequence of new ideas into play. Dr Johnson, when challenged by Boswell to refute the theory of the non-existence of matter, took Boswell to a milestone on the road, and, kicking it, stated, “Sir, I refute it thus!” 

Berkeley died at his home in Oxford on 14th January 1753 and is buried in Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford. [St Aldgates, Oxford OX1 1DP]

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