Chapter 6 : The Mind-Body Problem

Section 4: Idealism

Metaphysical view:

Things are composed of 1. sensible properties and    2. matter


Matter was seen as necessary for differentiating one object from another.

Suppose you had two objects with the same properties --

a list of the properties of both would be identical.

how would you know that you had two objects?

Matter itself had no properties of itís own.  

Problem with Matter:

According to Berkeley - once you took away all of the sensible properties of a thing, you should be left with the bare matter. But, if it has no properties of itís own, how would you know it?  This led him to conclude that a thing is nothing more than its sensible properties.  

Things are nothing but their properties:

Consider a bucket of water at room temperature.

Hold your right hand in another pail of hot water, your left hand in a pail of cold water.

After a few minutes, place both hands in the bucket of room temp water.

How does the water feel to the right hand?

How does the water feel to the left hand?

Aha! What can we conclude from this experiment?

The "hotness" or "coolness" of the water is not in the water.

So where is the sensation of "hotness" or "coolness" existing?

In our Minds? 


If the sensible properties of things exist in the mind (not in the things themselves).

and things are nothing more than bundles of sensible properties, thenÖÖ..

Things must exist in the mind only (as ideas).  


      Similarity of perception (of objects): Why do things seem the same to all of us?

      Persistence of objects: Do things continue to exist when no one is perceiving them?

      Problem of Other Minds: How do I know other minds exist? 

Similarity of Perception:

Why do things appear the same to all of us if they are just bundles of ideas in our (individual) minds?

            Response 1 - They might not - the wall may be "blue" because we have all been taught to call it that, not because it really is "blue "            

Persistence of Objects:

Do things continue to exist when no one is looking at them?

Does the floor outside the room still exist?

Does your car still exist in the parking lot?  

Response 1:

Well, someone is out there right now "seeing" it - this keeps it in existence until I get back.

But what if no one is out there right now?

Response 2:

Someone always is "seeing" all the things in the world at once.

Couldnít that be God?  

Persistence of Objects and Similarity of Perceptions

Both can be explained by positing an All-knowing (All-seeing) God.

Idealists use God to explain how these things continue to exist.

They are as they are because God perceives them.  

The Problem of Other Minds:

Dualist response -

best explanation for what we see in the behavior of others

Biological similarity between bodies makes it even stronger.

But - In Idealism there is no such physical similarity! Only way to connect the two is to posit some sort of spiritual similarity.


Because of the lack of evidence for other minds, and because of the (supposed) lack of any perceptive faculty by which we can know God (who is needed to solve other problems) Idealism will not work as an explanation of how MIND and BODY interact.

Proceed to the next section.

Creative Commons License
Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Return to:               Table of Contents for the Online Textbook