With this advice, coming reassuringly from the combined forces of scepticism and religion, we may leave the embryonic mind to its own devices, satisfied that even according to the most malicious psychologists its first step toward the comprehension of experience is one it may congratulate itself on having taken and which, for the present at least, it is not called upon to retrace. The Life of Reason is not concerned with speculation about unthinkable and gratuitous “realities”; it seeks merely to attain those conceptions which are necessary and appropriate to man in his acting and thinking. The first among these, underlying all arts and philosophies alike, is the indispensable conception of permanent external objects, forming in their congeries, shifts, and secret animation the system and life of nature.
Note—There is a larger question raised by Berkeley’s arguments which I have not attempted to discuss here, namely, whether knowledge is possible at all, and whether any mental representation can be supposed to inform us about anything. Berkeley of course assumed this power in that he continued to believe in God, in other spirits, in the continuity of experience, and in its discoverable laws. His objection to material objects, therefore, could not consistently be that they are objects of knowledge rather than absolute feelings, exhausted by their momentary possession in consciousness. It could only be that they are unthinkable and invalid objects, in which the materials of sense are given a mode of existence inconsistent with their nature. But if the only criticism to which material objects were obnoxious were a dialectical criticism, such as that contained in Kant’s antinomies, the royal road to idealism coveted by