George Berkeley: Philosophy of Science George Berkeley announces at the very outset of Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous that the goals of his philosophical system are to demonstrate the reality of genuine knowledge, the incorporeal nature of the soul, and the ever-present guidance and care of God for us. He will do this in … Continue reading George Berkeley: Philosophy of Science →.
In this doctoral thesis, I will argue that in his De motu (1721, ‘On motion’), Bishop George Berkeley (c.1684–1753) develops a pragmatist theory of causation regarding mechanical theories outlined previously with Newtonianism. I place chief emphasis on the importance of logic and mathematics in Berkeley’s scientific approach, on which the other levels of semantics, epistemology, and mechanics build up. On my rendering, Berkeley’s pragmatic method to conceive or mathematically imagine causation makes sense in terms of mechanical causes or ‘mathematical hypotheses’. (...) For the mechanist maintains the usefulness and truthfulness of causation by the following definition. Definition. A pragmatist theory of causation is one which holds that: 1 Causal terms are indispensable in scientific deliberation for their usefulness; they cannot be eliminated [contra reductionism]. 2 What a cause is is defined by one’s temporal deliberative practices, independent of a temporal structure that theories hold [contra structuralism]. 3 Causal laws (theories formulated in causal terms) are genuinely true, not fictitious, when one confirms and deduces them [contra instrumentalism]. By justifying this definition, I will object to three rival readings—reductionism, structuralism, and instrumentalism—to my reading of Berkeley as a pragmatist about causation. In particular, my pragmatist reading criticises the most popular instrumentalist reading because, according to the latter, talk of causal terms like forces can be false or merely fictitious inasmuch as one can hold the utility of theories in mechanical practices. The instrumentalist reading is then compatible with mathematical formalism, according to which it is not truth or meaning that counts as formal manipulation or game of meaningless symbols, thereby eschewing a platonist attitude towards mathematical objects. However, I rebut the formalistic instrumentalism from Berkeley’s logical and realist standpoint, maintaining the irreducibility of occult qualities that mathematical objects have in their formulation from hypotheses to propositions. Light shall be shed on the tenet I propose that law-propositions formulated in hypothetical, causal terms must be true, neither false nor fictitious, when we (1) frame, (2) confirm, and (3) express them to the extent of our discursive thinking (in three steps). [339 words]. (shrink)
This article argues that George Berkeley’s (1685–1753) interpretation of scientific and religious language was significantly received in C.S. Peirce’s (1839–1914) pragmatist semiotic.1 To this end, their similar views against transubstantiation in the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion) will be considered. Berkeley being an Anglican bishop and Peirce’s life being linked to the Episcopal Church,2 a chief emphasis will be placed upon Peirce’s deriving his pragmatic method from Berkeley’s philosophy of language. At least three times, Peirce reviewed Berkeley’s works, including Manuscript (...) Introduction (to the Principles of Human Knowledge, 1710), in which he identified his version of Berkeleyan nom- inalism. (shrink)
Berkeley, Newton, Explanation, and Causation -/- I argue in this paper that Berkeley’s conception of natural law explanations, which echoes Newton’s, fails to solve a fundamental problem, which I label “explanatory asymmetry"; that the model of explanation Berkeley uses fails to distinguish between explanations and justifications, particularly since Berkeley denies real (efficient causes) in non-minded nature. At the end I suggest Berkeley might endorse a notion of understanding, say in astronomy or mechanics, which could be distinguished from explanation.
ABSTRACTThis paper responds to two issues in interpreting George Berkeley’s Analyst. First, it explains why the text contains no discussion of religious mysteries or points of faith, despite the claims of the text's subtitle; I argue that the subtitle must be understood, and its success assessed, in conjunction with material external to the text. Second, it’s unclear how naturally the arguments of the Analyst sit with Berkeley’s broader views. He criticizes the methodology of calculus and conceptually problematic entities, and the (...) extent to which they require one to bend the rules of classical mathematics. Yet, elsewhere, Berkeley’s opinion of classical mathematics and its intelligibility is low, and he defends a pragmatic approach to word meaning that should not find fault with so functionally successful a theory. The ad hominem intention of the text makes it difficult to discern to what extent Berkeley is committed to the sincerity of these criticisms. This component of the text is rarely discussed, but I argue that when trying to decide what Berkeley’s true position is in the Analyst, we should treat its ad hominem component as its primary intention. (shrink)
In the First of the Three Dialogues, Berkeley’s Hylas, responding to Philonous’s question whether extension and motion are separable from secondary qualities, says: What! Is it not an easy matter, to consider extension and motion by themselves,... Pray how do the mathematicians treat of them?
BERKELEY: THE ORIGIN OF CRITICISM OF THE INFINITESIMALS Abstract: In this paper I propose a new reading of a little known George Berkeley´s work Of Infinites. Hitherto, the work has been studied partially, or emphasizing only the mathematical contributions, downplaying the philosophical aspects, or minimizing mathematical issues taking into account only the incipient immaterialism. Both readings have been pernicious for the correct comprehension of the work and that has brought as a result that will follow underestimated its importance, and therefore (...) will not study as should be. Against traditional readings I make one that stand out both philosophical and mathematical aspects, with the purpose to show that richness and complexity of the work deserve that it has an special place within Berkeley´s works. (shrink)
Ao defender, nos Princípios matemáticos de filosofia natural, a existência de uma força de gravitação universal, Newton desencadeou uma onda de dúvidas e objeções filosóficas. Suas próprias declarações sobre a natureza da gravitação não são facilmente interpretáveis como formando um conjunto consistente de opiniões. Por um lado, logo após fornecer as três definições de "quantidades de forças centrípetas" (Defs. 6-8), Newton observa que está tratando tais forças "matematicamente", sem se pronunciar sobre sua realidade física. Mas, por outro lado, no Escólio (...) Geral inserido no final da segunda edição do livro, Newton diz que foi capaz de "explicar" vários fenômenos de movimento por meio da força de gravidade - que ele mostrou ser um tipo de força centrípeta -, embora não tivesse ainda conseguido explicar a causa dessa força. Uma interpretação plausível dessas últimas afirmações é que Newton acreditava que pôde inferir, a partir dos fenômenos, a existência da força de gravidade, enquanto agente causal real de certos movimentos, mas que ainda não havia tido sucesso em descobrir a causa dessa causa. O objetivo principal do presente artigo não é aprofundar a análise histórica das declarações de Newton, mas examinar como essa questão se insere no debate mais geral sobre o estatuto epistemológico das hipóteses científicas que transcendem a experiência imediata. Segundo a posição defendida, entre muitos outros, por John Locke, tais hipóteses devem ser interpretadas como tentativas legítimas de descrever aspectos inobserváveis da realidade. Em contraste com isso, no caso específico das hipóteses sobre forças - de gravitação ou quaisquer outras -, George Berkeley argumentou vigorosamente a favor de sua interpretação como meros artifícios teóricos úteis às "demonstrações matemáticas" na ciência da mecânica. Ao longo da análise das vantagens e desvantagens filosóficas dessas posições opostas, indica-se aqui que, embora a interpretação realista pareça fazer mais justiça ao desenvolvimento real da física após os Princípios matemáticos, a interpretação instrumentalista de Berkeley tem o mérito filosófico inegável de representar uma adesão mais firme ao empirismo, que é, de um modo ou de outro, valorizado por ambas as partes envolvidas na disputa sobre a natureza da gravitação. Newton's defence, in the Principia, of the existence of a universal force of gravity immediately gave rise to a wave of philosophical doubts and objections. His own remarks on the nature of gravitation are not easily amenable of a consistent, uniform interpretation. This paper begins by reviewing briefly these remarks. Its primary objective is, however, to examine how this important scientific issue contributed to demarcate two main epistemological positions on the status of scientific hypotheses transcending immediate experience. In Newton's time, two exponents of these positions were, respectively, Locke and Berkeley. Intriguingly, Newton fuelled both the Berkeleyan, instrumentalist interpretation, and the Lockean, realist interpretation. On the one hand, immediately after offering the definitions of "quantities of centripetal forces" (Definitions 6-8), he warned that he was treating these forces "mathematically", without pronouncing on its physical status. This remark lends support to Berkeley's anti-realist interpretation of forces, as Berkeley himself was keen to point out. But in the General Scholium, at the end of the book, Newton declared that he could "explain" certain important phenomena of motion by the force of gravity, although he had not yet been able to explain the cause of this force, adding, famously, that he would "feign no hypotheses" about this issue. A natural, realist interpretation of this statement is that Newton believed that he could infer, from the phenomena, the existence of gravity, as a real, causal physical agent, but that he had not yet succeeded in discovering the cause of this cause. In discussing the shortcomings and advantages of these opposing views, we indicate that although the realist interpretation appears to do more justice to the actual development of physics after the Principia, Berkeley's interpretation has the philosophical merit of representing a firmer adherence to empiricism, a position valued, in one way or another, by all parties involved in the dispute on the nature of gravitation. (shrink)
For well over a century the dominant narrative covering the major thinkers and themes of early modern British philosophy has been that of “British Empiricism”, within which the great triumvirate of Locke-Berkeley-Hume are taken to be the dominant figures. Although it is now common to question this schema as a way of analyzing and understanding the period in question, it continues to command considerable authority and acceptance. (One likely reason for this is that no credible or plausible alternatives structures or (...) schemas of analysis have suggested themselves.) Be this as it may, the analysis of the rival systems of Clarke, Berkeley and Hume makes clear that this narrative, however deeply entrenched it may be, is wholly misleading and both distorts and obscures key themes and figures in the period in question. (shrink)
Ce livre, issu d’une thèse de doctorat sur Berkeley et les sciences, constitue la première étude systématique des rapports entre Berkeley et la chimie. C’est aussi une tentative originale pour examiner la cohérence et la pertinence d’un des derniers textes de Berkeley, la Siris, souvent considérée comme un ouvrage mineur, voire comme une erreur de vieillesse. Ces deux projets novateurs se croisent, puisque c’est par la philosophie de la chimie que Luc Peterschmitt cherche à montrer l’intérêt ..
In ?155 of his New Theory of Vision Berkeley explains that a hypothetical ?unbodied spirit? ?cannot comprehend the manner wherein geometers describe a right line or circle?.1The reason for this, Berkeley continues, is that ?the rule and compass with their use being things of which it is impossible he should have any notion.? This reference to geometrical tools has led virtually all commentators to conclude that at least one reason why the unbodied spirit cannot have knowledge of plane geometry is (...) because it cannot manipulate a ruler or a compass. In this article I will show that such an interpretation is flawed. I will instead argue that Berkeley's understanding of Euclidian geometry was based on Isaac Barrow's account of the foundations of geometry. On this view geometrical objects are conceived in terms of the idealized motion that generates the objects of geometry. Consequently, that what the unbodied spirit cannot do in this context is to form an idea of motion rather than being unable to handle geometrical tools. 1All references to Berkeley are from, A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (eds.), The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1948) The following abbreviations are used: An Essay Towards A New Theory of Vision, section x = New Theory x; Philosophical Commentaries, entry x = Commentaries x; Part I of A Treatise concerning the Principles of Knowledge, section x = Principles x. All other references to Berkeley's works are of the form The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, volume x, page y = Works, x, y. (shrink)
George Berkeley's Siris (1744) has been a neglected work, for many reasons. Some of them are good and some bad. The book is difficult to decipher, mainly because of its ancient metaphysics. He talks about the world as an animal or plant. He speculates about man as a microcosm which is analogous to the universe as a macrocosm. He recommends tar-water as a universal medicine. This was understandable in his own time. But Siris is also a Newtonian treatise which both (...) criticizes and develops important physical and chemical theories. Berkeley's own contribution is formulated in terms of light and fire. I study these arguments in detail. It is also clear that Siris is no longer an immaterialist treatise. The doctrine of ideas is not so important to him any more. However, he never changed his doctrine of causality. I analyze several versions of it. This looks like his lasting main contribution to the philosophy of science. And causality is also theologically crucial, as I try to show. We must keep in mind the fact that Berkeley might have been interesting in the contemporary science, but he insisted that science must ultimately be ruled by religion. Science is never an autonomous or sovereign field of human enterprise. (shrink)
Berkeley’s general tenet about immaterialism is presented and discussed. I examined apart the several theses that concur to the immaterialist theory. After that, the general argument is presented and discussed. In particular, I stress Berkeley’s assumption that a world without matter and a world with matter would be indistinguishable from the point of view of the content of perceptions, natural science. I stress that this assumption depends on a relative account of circular motion, generating the centrifugal forces, as Newton shows (...) in his bucket experiment. In spite of the efforts by Leibniz and Huygens, such a relative account of rotational motion was never presented. So the thesis about the scientific and perceptual identity between worlds with and without matter remains a simple case of wishful thinking in need for a justification. (shrink)
La Siris de Berkeley est peu lue et souvent jugée inutilement obscure et érudite. La replacer dans le contexte de la chimie du XVIIIe siècle permet d'en montrer l'intérêt. Berkeley y propose d'accorder à la chimie une place de plein droit au sein de la philosophie naturelle. À partir de là, il développe une théologie naturelle originale. Mais il n'est pas question de fonder en métaphysique la chimie ni de développer une métaphysique à partir de la chimie.
Bertil Belfrage has recently given a "new interpretation" of Berkeley's Theory of Vision. He opposes the view that it is a contribution to metaphysics; it is, he argues, a scientific theory comparable with physics and mechanics. I shall argue that both alternatives are mistaken: Berkeley does not present any definite theory at all in his essay on vision; it is not a contribution either to science or metaphysics but an essay towards a theory that would include both scientific and metaphysical (...) aspects. Even if the Theory of Vision is not a treatise on ontology or theology, and it is no doubt an empirical work, it is not a contribution exclusively to empirical psychology. Berkeley wanted to show the need for a new theory of vision. This explains why he seems to deal with both scientific and metaphysical themes at the same time. (shrink)
Berkeley's Siris is a chain of arguments which ends in God. First God is a metaphysical principle causally regulating the world or Macrocosm. But in the final paragraphs of Siris, God is treated in a theological perspective. This is to say that Berkeley introduces the idea of the Trinity and relates it to the rest of his chain argument. He says that Father, Son, and Spirit correspond to the philosophical notions of sun, light, and heat. I study the final theological (...) paragraphs of Siris and try to relate them to the preceding arguments of this book, especially the corpuscular theory of light. La Siris est une série d'arguments qui aboutit à Dieu. D'abord, Dieu est un principe métaphysique qui, par causalité, régit le monde, ou macrocosme. Mais les paragraphes terminaux de la Siris traitent de Dieu dans une perspective théologique : Berkeley introduit la notion de Trinité et la relie à ses raisonnements antérieurs. Il dit que le Père, le Fils et l'Esprit correspondent aux notions philosophiques de soleil, de lumière et de chaleur. J'étudie ces paragraphes théologiques et leur articulation avec ce qui, dans les développements antérieurs, concerne plus particulièrement la théorie corpusculaire de la lumière. (shrink)
This essay deals with a quite unexplored topic : Berkeley's sources from Renaissance. In fact, while the relationships between Berkeley and the most well-known modern philosophers (as Descartes, Malebranche, Locke and Hume) have been widely analysed, the importance of Berkeley's classical learning and erudition for the development of his own philosophical thought has usually been overlooked. After some general considerations, I focus on two topics : ether and tar-water in Siris. Cet essai traite un sujet très peu exploré : les (...) sources de Berkeley dans la Renaissance. Alors que les relations entre Berkeley et les plus célèbres philosophes modernes (comme Descartes, Malebranche, Locke et Hume) ont été amplement analysées, l'importance de la culture classique et de l'érudition de Berkeley pour le développement de sa propre philosophie a été généralement méjugé. Après quelques considérations générales, je me concentre sur deux questions : l'éther et l'eau de goudron dans la Siris. (shrink)
J'entends montrer que Berkeley ne traite pas de la physique mathématique dans les Principes de la connaissance humaine, alors qu'il aurait dû le faire. En effet, la manière dont il conçoit la nature est, sur des points cruciaux, à l'opposé de ce qui fonde le traitement géométrique des phénomènes. Dans cette mesure, l'application des mathématiques reste un impensé de l'immatérialisme en 1710, et elle ne sera prise en charge que dans le De Motu. My aim is to show that Berkely (...) does not deal with mathematical physics in the Principles of Human Knowledge, even although he should have addressed the question. The way he conceives nature differs on crucial themes from what grounds the geometrical treatment of phenomena. Thus, the use of mathematics in physics is a blind point of immaterialism in 1710 ; Berkeley will deal with this question only in the De Motu, ten years after. (shrink)
In this paper, I would like to show how it is possible to understand and comment on Berkeley’s Siris. This book is not that difficult nor that obscure. Siris is unusual: Berkeley seems to have or to invent a new philosophical style. However, firstly, it is still philosophy; and, secondly, it is necessary to stress that, unlike his first works, Siris was read everywhere in Europe.
A tese da inexistência de causas eficientes no mundo corporal desempenha papel central na filosofia de Berkeley. Neste trabalho mostra-se, inicialmente, como Berkeley a deriva a partir de sua concepção idealista de corpo e da tese da transparência epistêmica das idéias. Passa-se, depois, ao exame de diversas de suas implicações no âmbito da filosofia da ciência: a concepção de leis naturais, as funções preditiva e explicativa dessas leis, o estatuto epistemológico das hipóteses científicas, o confronto entre o mecanicismo estrito e (...) a visão newtoniana da mecânica, etc. Destaca-se, em cada etapa, como as posições defendidas por Berkeley de fato se enquadram em seu projeto de tornar as ciências naturais "mais fáceis e úteis", pela adesão a um referencial empirista estrito. Ressalta-se, por fim, o cuidado que Berkeley teve de, havendo ele próprio discutido e proposto teses metafísicas diversas e bem conhecidas, separar nitidamente os domínios da filosofia natural e da metafísica. Alguns paralelos importantes entre as teses berkeleyanas no primeiro desses domínios e posições empiristas e anti-realistas na filosofia da ciência contemporânea são brevemente indicados ao longo do artigo. (shrink)
The report is dedicated to modern understanding of the correlation between science and religion that is based on the analysis of certain ideas formulated by Newton, Berkeley and Mach. Newton proceeded from the existence of infinite (absolute) Space that he interpreted as the Sensory of the intelligent omnipresent Being (God) who sees things themselves intimately, and throughly perceives and comprehends them. Human being also has his little “Sensoriums” perceiving the images of things, the Order and the Beauty of their arrangement. (...) Mach emphasized that since Newton’s period space and time have become “immaterial substances that form the most important basis of our sensual world outlook”. Apparently, this “immateriality of substances” manifests itself in the way Machinterprets our perceptions, conceptions, will, feelings, i.e. all inner and outer world, which he understands as small number of homogeneous elements called sensations (Empfindungen). These sensations are compared in the report to what Berkeley called ideas while he denied the existence of the real absolute noncreated space that is part, or attribute, of God. If we accept the idea that beside space and time inseparable from matter as it is scientifically comprehended, there exist absolute space and time as Newton interpreted them, then these space and time must exist outside our universe or parallel to it. This brings us to the panentheistic model (Eduard I. Sorkin, ХХIst World Congress of philosophy, Abstracts 2003, pp. 374‐375). According to Mach the law of causality is separated from space and time while the laws of nature are just limitations that our experience dictates to our expectations. The report shows that if the Mach’s concept had been supplemented by the “idealistic” views of Newton and Berkeley, it would have been more convincing – something contrary to fideism. (shrink)
Although George Berkeley himself made no major scientific discoveries, nor formulated any novel theories, he was nonetheless actively concerned with the rapidly evolving science of the early eighteenth century. Berkeley's works display his keen interest in natural philosophy and mathematics from his earliest writings (Arithmetica, 1707) to his latest (Siris, 1744). Moreover, much of his philosophy is fundamentally shaped by his engagement with the science of his time. In Berkeley's best-known philosophical works, the Principles and Dialogues, he sets up his (...) idealistic system in opposition to the materialist mechanism he finds in Descartes and Locke. In De Motu, Berkeley refines and extends his philosophy of science in the context of a critique of the dynamic accounts of motion offered by Newton and Leibniz. And in Siris, Berkeley's flirtation with neo-Platonism draws inspiration from the fire theory of Boerhaave as well as Newton's aetherial speculations in the Queries of the Optics. In examining Berkeley's critical engagement with the natural philosophy of his time, we will thus improve our understanding of not just his philosophy of science, but of his philosophical corpus as a whole. (shrink)
The rich connections between metaphysics and natural philosophy in the early modern period have been widely acknowledged and productively mined, thanks in no small part to the work of Margaret Wilson, whose book, Descartes, served as an inspirational example for a generation of scholars. The task of this paper is to investigate one particular such connection, namely, the relation between occasionalist metaphysics and strict mechanism. My focus will be on the work of Nicholas Malebranche, the most influential Cartesian philosopher after (...) Descartes himself. I begin with two crucial facts about Malebranche’s philosophy: (1) Malebranche was an occasionalist, that is, he held that God was the only true cause, that all modifications of bodies and of minds can be produced by God alone. (2) Malebranche adhered firmly to strict mechanism. By strict mechanism, I mean the view, found most prominently in Descartes and in Boyle’s more ideological writings, that the qualities of bodies are exhausted by a very short list (size, shape, motion, and perhaps solidity) and that, most importantly, bodies interact only at contact by impact. Another way of describing this “contact action” requirement is as the thesis that the only fundamental laws of physics are laws of inertial motion and laws of the communication of motion at impact. In.. (shrink)
I call attention to Berkeley’s treatment of a Newtonian indispensability argument against his own main position. I argue that the presence of this argument marks a significant moment in the history of philosophy and science: Newton’s achievements could serve as a separate and authoritative source of justification within philosophy. This marks the presence of a new kind of naturalism. A long the way, I argue against the claim tha t there is no explicit opposition or distinction between “philosophy” and “science” (...) until the nineteenth century. Finally, I argue for the conceptual unity between Berkeley’s immaterialism and instrumentalism. I argue that Berkeley’s commitment to immaterialism requires his reinterpretation of science and, thus, the adoption of instrumentalism. (shrink)
(Original French text followed by English version.) For Berkeley, mathematical and scientific issues and concepts are always conditioned by epistemological, metaphysical, and theological considerations. For Berkeley to think of any thing--whether it be a geometrical figure or a visible or tangible object--is to think of it in terms of how its limits make it intelligible. Especially in De Motu, he highlights the ways in which limit concepts (e.g., cause) mark the boundaries of science, metaphysics, theology, and morality.
Philosophy is one of the most intimidating and difficult of disciplines, as any of its students can attest. This book is an important entry in a distinctive new series from Routledge: The Great Philosophers. Breaking down obstacles to understanding the ideas of history's greatest thinkers, these brief, accessible, and affordable volumes offer essential introductions to the great philosophers of the Western tradition from Plato to Wittgenstein.
In the course of his discussion of the sensible quality of color in the Dialogues Berkeley advances an argument that I shall refer to as the argument from microscopes (AFM). I offer an account of the AFM that treats it as part of Berkeley’s extended Reductio of Hylas’ philosophical theory of metaphysical realism. I then criticize two representative interpretations of the AFM which fail to appreciate its Reductio structure and, as a consequence, mistakenly attribute to Berkeley such problematic claims as (...) that sensible objects are not colored and that the microscopic view of objects reveals the real nature of objects. If I am correct, properly construed, Berkeley’s AFM escapes these and other objections commonly raised against it. (shrink)
While De Motu, Berkeley's treatise on the philosophical foundations of mechanics, has frequently been cited for the surprisingly modern ring of certain of its passages, it has not often been taken as seriously as Berkeley hoped it would be. Even A.A. Luce, in his editor's introduction to De Motu, describes it as a modest work, of limited scope. Luce writes: The De Motu is written in good, correct Latin, but in construction and balance the workmanship falls below Berkeley's usual standards. (...) The title is ambitious for so brief a tract, and may lead the reader to expect a more sustained argument than he will find. A more modest title, say Motion without Matter, would fitly describe its scope and content. Regarded as a treatise on motion in general, it is a slight and disappointing work; but viewed from a narrower angle, it is of absorbing interest and high importance. It is the application of immaterialism to contemporary problems of motion, and should be read as such. ...apart from the Principles the De Motu would be nonsense.1.. (shrink)
I. Introduction Siris, Berkeley's last major work, is undeniably a rather odd book. It could hardly be otherwise, given Berkeley's aims in writing it, which are three-fold: 'to communicate to the public the salutary virtues of tar-water,'1 to provide scientific background supporting the efficacy of tar-water as a medicine, and to lead the mind of the reader, via gradual steps, toward contemplation of God.2 The latter two aims shape Berkeley's extensive use of contemporary natural science in Siris. In particular, Berkeley's (...) focus on what he calls fire (or aether or light) as a quasiuniversal 'cause' of natural change3 serves these purposes, for the 'activity' of the aether, in his view, can both explain the miraculous virtues of a certain medicine, i.e. tar-water, and reveal God's action and his divine order.4 Berkeley's corpuscular speculations, including his use of fire-theory, are not especially idiosyncratic as natural philosophy. In his theorizing, as Jessop and other have noted, he is heavily indebted to the work of Hermann Boerhaave, the Dutch chemist, botanist, and physician whose teachings were highly influential in mid-eighteenth century Britain.5 Boerhaave, along with other Dutch natural philosophers cited by Berkeley, assigned a central role in accounting for physio-chemical activity to fire, a subtle, insensible particulate substance, sometimes identified with light. (shrink)