Immaterialism is the theory propounded by Bishop Berkeley in the 18th century which holds that there are no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds, similar to Maya in Indian religions.[citation needed] Berkeley summarized his theory with the motto "esse est percipi" ("To be is to be perceived"), but went on to elaborate it with God as the source of consensus reality and other particulars.

Today this theory is considered the first formulation of subjective idealism, a branch of idealism and a form of phenomenalism. Since it is not falsifiable, it is a theory not of science but of metaphysics and other philosophical methods. The idea that objects exist independently of mind is not testable or provable by the scientific method, because all objects we would wish to examine must enter our awareness in order to experiment on them.

Earlier ideas about the immaterial and the incorporeal go back to Plato, Augustine, Plotinus, and many other ancient and medieval philosophers. Plato and Socrates made many references to eternal forms that are immaterial or incorporeal. A classic philosophical problem is whether or not there is a First Cause or Prime Mover of this material universe. Some philosophers also wondered if the universe was eternal or repeating for eternity. A main question being what truly is eternal or timeless? Aristotle's notion of a formal cause is also partially related to Plato's idea of eternal Forms. Plato's theory of the divided line also mentions the intelligible method and the dialectical method that may lead one to The Good, or to what truly exists eternally, without change. The Good, unlike changing physical bodies, is claimed to exist in some incorporeal or immaterial state. Many philosophers have contrasted the notions of being and becoming in a similar kind of way.

Immaterialism differs from Platonism and many other early philosophies that argue for the existence of matter outside of the mind, for example, Plato's forms are objects that have material existence independently of the mind, which stands in direct conflict with Berkeley's main thesis. Berkeley argued knowledge of the world is sensory and that only sensible objects have real being. According to Berkeley, an object has real being as long as it is perceived by a mind. God, being omniscient perceives everything perceivable, thus all real beings exists in the mind of God. However, it is also evident that each of us has free will and understanding upon self reflection, and our senses and ideas suggest that other people also possess these qualities as well. According to Berkeley there is no material universe, in fact he has absolutely no idea what that could possibly mean. To theorize about a universe that is composed of insensible matter is not a sensible thing to do. This matters because there is absolutely no positive account for a material universe, only speculation about things that are by fiat outside of our minds.

Christian theology also refers to the incorporeal and immaterial in reference to God, the Holy Spirit, angels, and demons. This is in contrast to the corporeal human body of the physical realm that decays over time. The incorporeal is unchanging, whereas the corporeal is ever changing. However, the resurrection of Jesus in a physical body affirms the goodness of the material world and the hopes for its eventual redemption as part of the New Creation. The ghostly appearance of various saints, prophets, and other supernatural beings imply some kind of immaterial realm. Some supernatural miracles can also imply the existence of the immaterial realm. If it is proven that consciousness can exist after death, this would require some kind of explanation that materialist theories alone cannot explain.

Bishop Berkeley's assessment of immaterialism was criticized by Samuel Johnson, as recorded by James Boswell. Responding to the theory, Dr. Johnson exclaimed "I refute it thus!" while kicking his shoe into a rock. This episode is cited by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's "Ulysses," chapter three. Reflecting on the "ineluctable modality of the visible," Dedalus conjures the image of Johnson's refutation, before engaging in his own refutation - closing his eyes and feeling the rocks under his feet while walking along the beach. However Berkeley did not confine his theory to visual perception, but perception by any of the five senses.

See also

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Immaterialism — Im ma*te ri*al*ism, n. [Cf. F. immat[ e]rialisme.] 1. The doctrine that immaterial substances or spiritual being exist, or are possible. [1913 Webster] 2. (Philos.) The doctrine that external bodies may be reduced to mind and ideas in a mind; any …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • immaterialism — [im΄ə tir′ē al′iz΄əm] n. the theory or doctrine that material things exist only as mental perceptions or ideas immaterialist n …   English World dictionary

  • immaterialism — noun Date: 1713 a philosophical theory that material things have no reality except as mental perceptions • immaterialist noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • immaterialism — immaterialist, n. /im euh tear ee euh liz euhm/, n. 1. the doctrine that there is no material world, but that all things exist only in and for minds. 2. the doctrine that only immaterial substances or spiritual beings exist. [1705 15; IMMATERIAL… …   Universalium

  • immaterialism — noun The metaphysical denial of the existence of the material world …   Wiktionary

  • immaterialism — The denial of materialism …   Philosophy dictionary

  • immaterialism — the doctrine that there is no material substance Philosophical Isms …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • Immaterialism — a philosophy that holds that there are no material objects, but rather all reality is a construct of a flawed perception …   Mini philosophy glossary

  • immaterialism — noun the belief that matter has no objective existence. Derivatives immaterialist noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • immaterialism — im·materialism …   English syllables

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