Truth suffers from too much analysis

George Berkeley’s Immediate Perception and Mediated Perception

Posted by allzermalmer on October 7, 2012

George Berkeley makes two distinctions based on things presented to the human senses. There are those things immediately perceived those things that are mediately perceived. But it should be made clear, both things mediately and immediately perceied, only exist in a mind.

“Having of a long time experienced certain ideas, perceivable by touch – as distance, tangible figure, and solidity – to have been connected with certain ideas of sight, I do upon perceiving these ideas of sight forthwith conclude what tangible ideas are, by the wonted ordinary course of nature, like to follow. Looking at an object I perceive a certain visible figure and colour, with some degree of faintness and other circumstances, which from what I have formerly observed, determine me to think that if I advance forward so many paces or miles, I shall be affected with such and such ideas of touch. So that in truth and strictness of speech I neither see distance itself, nor anything that I take to be at a distance. I say, neither distance nor things placed at a distance are themselves, or their ideas, truly perceived by sight. This I am persuaded of, as to what concerns myself; and I believe whoever will look narrowly into his own thoughts and examine what he means by saying he sees this or that thing at a distance, will agree with me that what he sees only suggests to his understanding that, after having passed a certain distance, to be measured by the motion of his body, which is perceivable by touch, he shall come to perceive such and such tangible ideas which have been usually connected with such and such visible ideas. But that one might be deceived by these suggestions of sense, and that there is no necessary connexion between visible and tangible ideas suggested by them, we need go no farther than the next looking-glass or picture to be convinced…when I speak of tangible ideas, I take the word ‘idea’ for any the immediate object of sense or understanding, in which large signification it is commonly used by the moderns.

“But if we take a close and accurate view of things, it must be acknowledged that we never see and feel one and the same object. That which is seen is one thing, and that which is felt is another. If the visible figure and extension be not the same with the tangible figure and extension, we are not to infer that one and the same thing has divers extensions. The true consequence is that the objects of sight and touch are two distinct things.”

“In order therefore to treat accurately and unconfusedly of vision, we must bear in mind that there are two sorts of objects apprehended by the eye, the one primarily and immediately, the other secondarily and by intervention of the former. Those of the first sort neither are, nor appear to be, without the mind or at any distance off. They may indeed grow greater or smaller, more confused or more clear, or more faint, but they do not, cannot, approach or recede from us. Whenever we say an object is at a distance, whenever we say it draws near or goes farther off, we must always mean it of the latter sort, which properly belong to the touch, and are not so truly perceived as suggested by the eye in like manner as thoughts by the ear.”

“No sooner do we hear the words of a familiar language pronounced in our ears, but the ideas corresponding thereto present themselves to our minds. In the very same instant the sound and the meaning enter the understanding; so closely are they united that it is not in our power to keep out the one, except we exclude the other also. We even act in all respects as if we heard the very thoughts themselves. So likewise the secondary objects, or those which are only suggested by sight, do often more strongly affect us, and are more regarded than the proper objects of that sense, along with which they enter into the mind and with which they have a far more strict connexion than ideas have with words. Hence it is we find it so difficult to discriminate between the immediate and mediate objects of sight, and are so prone to attribute to the former what belongs only to the latter” An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (Italics are my own emphasis)

This is George Berkeley showing that each of the senses are distinct from one another, and they have no connection to one another. Sight is not sound, or taste, or tactile, or smell. So what we see by sight has no qualities of sound, taste, tactile, or smell. But we still immediately perceive something by sight, but we can mediate it with sound, taste, tactile, or smell. We can combine these two distinct things, and something new comes about, i.e. sight and touch forms distance or 3d vision.

We interweave one sense with another sense, and confound them together into the same “object”. This object can be a tower. We have a visual idea, or immediate perception of it, and we also have a tactile idea, or immediate perception of it. We connect these two distinct ideas together into the same “object” or “idea”. But each of these things are “naturally” distinct from one another and have no connection expect those that we make by connecting them. From all of these immediate perceptions, we mediate them by connecting them together with former connections we have made, and find that what we are experiencing “suggests” the tower getting closer or moving further away, or its height.

It becomes second nature to take the mediated for the immediate, even though it is not immediately given in by that sense (i.e. visual or tactile). It is something that the human mind creates itself, and takes it for being immediately given or suggested by experience. The immediate things are not done by the human mind, but the mediated things are done by the human mind. They are what the human mind adds on to what is immediately perceived by the senses.

One of Berkeley’s big points is that “sensible things are those only which are immediately perceived by sense.” So those things immediately perceived by the senses are ‘sensible things’, and those things that are mediately perceived by the senses are not sensible things. This would mean that depth or 3d are not sensible things. Like seeing someone’s face flush red, sensible thing, does not mean that it is sensible thing that the person had a passion arise in them. It might be “suggested”, but it is not by vision that the conclusion was reached, but because it was mediated by something else, which was itself not immediately perceived.

The example of written word is a great example. There are certain colors and shapes that are seen, and from these things seen one obtains some thoughts. But the thoughts were not themselves found in the visual experience itself. So one mediated what was immediately perceived through something else, which was thought. Vision was mediated with thoughts, which are two distinct things. This is sometimes closer to what is called theory-ladden observation.


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