Issue #42 July 2021

Neo-Berkeleyan Meditations on Systems, Rules, Freedom, Death, and the Last of my Kind

Max Ackermann, "Composition", 1969


Imprinted idea: an idea which I did not produce or “excite” by myself, imprinted upon my senses from without.

Notion: distinct from ideas; my self-knowledge of myself as a control center, for one, is a notion, not an idea.

System: a succession or set of successions of heterogeneous ideas associated with one another in steady configurations.

Rule: a “system” where, if so-and-so ideas have been inputted into this system, so-and-so other ideas would be imprinted upon my senses; a system which, therefore, I can exploit to have imprinted upon my senses those particular ideas I wish for.

Control center: the cause of ideas which also organizes ideas into so-and-so systems and rules, which is also irreducible to any such system and rule.

Primary control center: a control center which directly “regulates”, i.e. directly causes and organizes ideas into systems and rules.

Secondary control center: a control center which can only indirectly “regulate” systems and rules, by exploiting rules to prompt primary control centers into imprinting certain ideas upon its senses.




Imprinted ideas arrive at my senses already assembled into certain systems.1placeholder By a “system”, I refer to a succession or set of successions of heterogeneous ideas bound up in steady successions with one another.2placeholder An apple then, constituted by visual, tactile, olfactory, etc. ideas which we daily perceive, is a system. The common association of this apple to particular uses (e.g. as a foodstuff, as a popular icon in Christian art) likewise forms a system in its own rights. What I call my “body” is also a series of systems (e.g. organs, bones, nervous systems, connective tissues) or, alternatively, subsystems in succession with one another, adding up to the wider system that is my “body”.



Every system of imprinted ideas is never self-contained but open: it always receives input from other systems (e.g. foodstuff chewed and lubricated in the oral cavity passed down to be broken down in the stomach) and generates output which is then inputted into another system (e.g. digested foodstuff passed down from the large intestines to the anus).

These inputs and outputs between systems can give rise to modifications to the configurations of ideas within each system. Ideas within systems are swapped out for others, while new ideas might also come to be included within those systems, until the modified systems cease to resemble the earliest ones. With these modifications come then the evolution of simple systems containing few ideas or whose ideas are associated with one another in relatively few configurations to complex ones (e.g. unicellular organisms evolving to multicellular ones); the stabilization of unstable systems whose configurations of ideas are easily dissipated from encounters with other systems to stabler ones (e.g. potassium reacting violently with water to form the stabler potassium hydroxide), etc.



I appear capable of exciting some ideas by my own,3placeholder but what ideas I excite are always derivative of the systems of imprinted ideas: be it those ideas I frame by memory or imagination, or those ideas I excite which give way to the movements of my body, there is no exciting any of those ideas without some measure of dependence upon imprinted ideas.

a. When I frame an idea by memory, I do not simply recall previous ideas I have perceived or excited by myself. Whatever idea I excite in my efforts to recall is always preceded and succeeded by imprinted ideas contained within that system we call the hippocampus. To be strictly physiological, we may also say that those very ideas we call our “recollections of so-and-so” are really imprinted ideas outputted by the system which is our hippocampus, whereas those ideas we excite are located at the far ends of the successions leading up to our recollections.

In particular instances when I recall a certain succession of ideas after encountering a certain object, those ideas I excite must also be preceded by those systems constitutive of the object which triggers my recollection.

b. When I frame an idea by imagination, I recall what systems of imprinted ideas I have previously perceived and “compoun[d], divid[e], or barely represent[t]”4placeholder those ideas to form those ideas I would imagine. What I have said then of memory also applies here and, to be sure, even as I begin to “form” those ideas I would imagine, this “forming” is likewise a process which passes through myriad systems, from systems within my body to grammatical, ethical, etc. systems. It is also a process which culminates in ideas which, again, physiologically speaking, are imprinted ideas as well.

c. When I frame an idea which gives way to the movements of my body, this idea, again, can be nothing more than one idea in succession with imprinted ideas contained within myriad systems.5placeholder

d. I appear capable of exciting some ideas by my own. This notion comes to me “immediately, or intuitively”6placeholder upon self-reflection,7placeholder but this notion is also distinct from any idea.8placeholder There is, indeed, no framing an idea of myself, no empirical perception or conception of the “I” which does not frame only sets of systems variously named my body, my habits, my possessions, etc. without also framing I myself.

What then, in a word, am I? I am that being which “always thinks” and excites ideas, whose existence is synonymous with my activities.9placeholder My activities make of me the ghostly organizing principle behind those systems which are my body, habits, possessions, etc., but a minor one as well, derivative of more major principles—what I shall call a secondary control center.



What I call the “I” can be conceived of as a secondary control center to any system of imprinted ideas it involves itself with.

Whatever ideas I excite by myself, I always excite in terms of inputs from the systems I am involved with (i.e. certain imprinted ideas), but those ideas I thus excite also give way to the subsequent imprinting of other ideas which need not have been imprinted (e.g. pushing an otherwise stationary rock). In other instances, those idea I excite might also have been excited, specifically, to the end of having imprinted upon my senses some ideas over others10placeholder (e.g. speaking or writing in a certain style to elicit certain reactions previously observed in audiences towards that style). In thus prompting the imprinting of certain ideas, the ideas I excite also serve to amplify or reduce particular activities of and the corresponding inputs those systems (i.e. the production and imprinting of various ideas). Hence, those ideas I excite perform a regulatory function in relation to those systems the aforementioned imprinted ideas are contained within.

In simultaneity though, this regulatory function does not work by directly causing certain ideas to be imprinted upon my senses over others. To the contrary, I “regulate” by exploiting certain rules already existing within the systems I am involved with. By a “rule”11placeholder I refer merely to a pattern observed among imprinted ideas which, in other instances, I might call a “system” instead. Strictly though, to avoid terminological redundancy which might give way to confusion, I have opted to refer to those patterns I exploit in order to have imprinted upon my senses certain ideas as “rules” within “systems”.

In any case, so long as my “regulation” of systems do not directly cause any idea within those systems, but function instead via the exploitation of rules, my regulation must always double as intervention into an established configuration of ideas. I can only ever an interloper, a control center secondary to the direct regulation of the systems of imprinted ideas, performed by what I would call primary control centers.



What I call “primary control centers” are control centers I causally infer12placeholder to exist which, like me,13placeholder also excites ideas and, in so doing, regulates systems of imprinted ideas, but they are also distinct from me in that they regulate systems to a far greater measure than me. They are those control centers which directly regulate systems of imprinted ideas by causing and organizing ideas into those rules and systems I readily perceive, as well as imprinting those rules and systems upon my senses.14placeholder

To start from the beginning: upon perceiving systems and rules, which I certainly did not excite by myself, I infer that they must have been caused by beings which, like me, also excite ideas and regulate systems. More than me, however, such beings must also directly excite and organize ideas into those systems.15placeholder Hence, I call them primary control centers, where I am secondary.

Now then, of primary control centers, I know the following: that they exist as control centers exciting ideas and regulating systems like me, and that they excite and organize ideas into those systems I am involved with. I can know no more of primary control centers without presuming further.16placeholder



As a secondary control center, there is nothing I can do but play within the rules of imprinted ideas set forth by primary control centers.

Even in instances where I excite ideas yet to be included in any rule (e.g. the introduction of non-native species into an ecosystem) and, therefore, can be said to have prompted the modification of preexistent rules (e.g. the reorganization of the native ecosystem consequent of damage done to habitats by the introduced species, etc.), this modification is never directly caused by me, but by primary control centers reacting to my ideas (e.g. native species to the activities of the introduced species and the accompanying colonists). My contribution here to this modification consists solely in indirectly causing this modification, without knowing in advance that my ideas would prompt such a modification, or that my ideas would prompt the intended modification. When all is then said and done, I receive those modified rules as new rules to play within. My freedom consists in this play regulated by rules among imprinted ideas.

a. One exercise of my freedom is to be found in my feeling of any emotion. Now, it might be naively believed that, in feeling joy about a certain object, I have discerned the essence (kokoro こころ) of this object as joy,17placeholder but, in truth, whatever emotion I feel about any object is always determined by at least two sets of rules and systems. The first is the rules and systems of the objects themselves. The second is the rules and systems binding together significations (kokoro 意), events (koto 事), and words (koto 言), which are distinct to particular eras and locales.18placeholder The second associate to the first those emotions I ought to feel concerning objects constituted by the first, and I, in terms of both sets of rules and systems, thusly feel those emotions or otherwise.19placeholder In any case, I am free to feel those emotions I ought to feel about certain objects, in terms of rules constitutive of objects and spatiotemporally local nexuses of signification-event-word.

b. Those rules I am free to play within are not static but “change” before my senses, due to my discovery of new rules and/or20placeholder modifications effected by primary control centers in response to my ideas. These “changes” correspond to moments when those objects we wish to acquire or preserve come under threat (e.g. when I discover a hitherto unnoticed variable in a chemical reaction, which is integral to the production of the desired compound, but also introduces unpredictability contra the established equation for this chemical reaction) or becomes altogether unattainable by familiar means (e.g. when my car breaks down and I must proceed to my destination on foot or by public transport), etc. These moments are also moments where I must choose between adapting to new rules and pushing ahead with invalid old rules, in the hope of coercing primary control centers into restoring those old rules.

c. My freedom to play within rules includes the freedom to attempt provoking modifications of rules among imprinted ideas and/or preserving certain rules from modification and, even, extinction. When I excite ideas yet to be included within any rule, I stand to provoke modifications. When I continue to excite ideas in anticipation of certain imprinted ideas, even when the rules formerly uniting them have ceased to hold, I stand to restore those ceased rules.

Either case remains, however, at best an attempt to those effects. The former, when attempted upon living systems especially, might not yield any modification without delay (e.g. the housebreaking of a dog), if at all (e.g. persuading a layperson into discarding prejudices unjustifiable under reasoning known well chiefly to intellectuals). The latter has an even higher likelihood of failing, since the restoration of ceased rules is never directly caused by me but by primary control centers.

d. My dependence upon rules does not preclude the freedom to move from one set of rules and systems to another, though certain systems contain mechanisms to ward off my movement to other systems. Systems such as family, friendships, and romances, for one, guard against my departure with successions which provoke my recollections of happier days or have me pity those I would leave behind. Systems such as nations, churches, and other human communities entice me with such ideas as rights, benefits, etc. which are allotted to me only insofar as I subordinate myself to their rules. There can be no doubt, however, that I can take leave of any system for others. Even this body, which appears the closest and most inseparable from me, can be taken leave of through other systems (e.g. suicide by various means), just as I can be made to leave by other systems (e.g. murder, collision with a speeding vehicle). In simultaneity, as soon as I have taken leave of the set of systems and rules that is my body, I am immediately regulating other systems and playing within other rules.




a. My notion of myself as a secondary control center (as myself, as a cause of ideas in response to inputs from systems, as a cause of ideas indirectly causing ideas to be imprinted upon my senses) is simultaneous with those systems and rules of imprinted ideas I am involved with. When systems and rules cease to be imprinted upon my senses, the notion I have of myself must also cease, and vice versa. This total cessation of all systems and rules and the notions I have of myself as a secondary control center is what is vulgarly called death.

That said, I find that I can frame neither an idea nor notion of this so-called death, since this death requires precisely the extinction of all ideas and notions. It follows then this is not a death I can concern myself with, since, having no idea and notion of this death, I can hope to do nothing about this death (i.e. excite ideas to the effect of achieving or avoiding this death). In simultaneity, this also means that, if I am to be concerned at all with death, I must first frame an idea or a notion of death.

b. An idea of death is to be found in the deaths of those systems and rules I collectively call “living beings”. Death here consists not in the inconceivable cessation of all ideas and notions, but in modifications of systems and rules (e.g. the cessation of movements in cardiac muscles), their substitutions by other systems and rules (e.g. the removal of the body of the deceased and its substitution by a monochromatic portrait), and their associations with other systems and rules (e.g. the reporting of an otherwise unnoteworthy person made noteworthy by the circumstances of her death). As I observe those deaths, I might further causally infer those modifications to have been caused directly by primary control centers and, perhaps also, indirectly, by me.

Now, in the same vein, I might also frame an idea of my own death as modifications to the systems and rules constitutive of my body, directly caused by primary control centers and indirectly by me. This should pertain as much to my death from those causes commonly agreed to be outside of me (e.g. viruses, oncoming traffic, bullets fired by another) as to my death from suicide. Insofar as those ideas I excite can never directly cause modifications to configurations of ideas within the systems of my body, those modifications can only have been caused directly instead by primary control centers, through those systems and rules they imprint (e.g. the glorification of suicide for the sake of the kokutai and the emperor in wartime Japanese propaganda, the ostracization of specific ethnicities, sexualities, etc. which I am affiliated with and the public demand for my death, etc.).

c. Death, conceived not as total cessation of ideas and notions but as a modification, can only be the business of the “living”. As modification, death, like any system and rule, is a succession of ideas passing on into other successions. Hence, it is not uncommon that the same primary control centers which directly caused deaths also brought back those dead systems to other ends (e.g. necrophilia and cannibalism among serial killers, the selective reporting of suicides, the enshrinement of soldiers killed in combat in Yasukuni shrine for one final deployment as ghostly servants of the state). The world is, indeed, beautiful in its merciless march forward.

Max Ackermann, "Green Rotation", 1968


I am forever haunted by a dream: the thought where I roam as the last control center in the ruins of my—our civilization.

Imagine that there is no primary control center, no cause to every system of imprinted ideas I regulate and every rule I play within.21placeholder Every system and rule merely hums and turns without being made to do so by the designs of any primary control center.

This is a repugnant idea, to be sure, because I do know, from causal inferences already, that primary control center must exist as the causes to those systems and rules, but I have no difficulty whatsoever in merely perceiving systems and rules as they are, without taking the second step of locating causes for them in primary control centers. While then there could be no doubt that primary control centers must exist, I need not infer their existences at all and not doing so has no impact whatsoever on my perceptions of those systems and rules.

Imagine two worlds: an old world of systems and rules regulated by primary control centers and a new world of systems and rules uncaused by any primary control center. All of the old world has crumbled to ruins by the arrival of the new world and every primary control center, every control center except me, has been snuffed out—extinct. Within these ruins of the old world though thrive new systems and rules, no longer caused by any primary control center. Soulless replicants and androids, sapient vegetables and self-organizing inorganics have labored and perished in the ruins of the old world for ten million years, as seas flood into widening valleys and flowers bloom anew across salted meadows, as roots gnaw upon towers until the last of our cities fall, as the rotation of the planet slows and stretches a day minute by minute, as comets leave their marks to be eroded flat in time.

It is this new world I awake to long past the extinction of every control center. As soon as I wake, I find that I have been fitted into a new body, a set of systems and rules unregulated by any primary control center. Every street corner I turn, I come across more unregulated systems and rules: cairns of meat screaming, writhing, devouring; heaps of fur suckling maggots to the giggles of children; a lone boy cradling the still smiling heads of his parents, laughing shrill in a city ablaze. Nothing excited those ideas constitutive of every such system and rule. Nothing organized those ideas into those systems and rules. Nothing caused the modifications and cessations of systems and rules—but every such system and rule remains upon my senses, already in successions and ever changing, all the same.

All that discerns me from these systems and rules is the notion I have of myself as a secondary control center which confers upon me my irreducibility to any system and rule, but this notion is also a burden. For there is no more primary control center in the new world, this notion also marks me out as the last control center, as the last and sole cause and organizing principle to every system and rule.

I am alone. Everyone I have cared for, everyone I have despised, everyone I knew and everyone I did not come to know, has passed on.

Nothing is remembered.

Nothing remains.

But their smiles haunt me still.

Their voices.

Their dreams.

Their cries.

Their tears.









































All that I can remember are systems and rules.

It is as if they have never existed in the first place.

All that I have ever concerned myself with is systems and rules.

I have never had need to search for their causes in primary control centers and

Even now…

Even now…

…even now nothing has changed.


This has not been a dream.

Raphael Chim is a postgraduate student in the Department of English at Chinese University of Hong Kong, on the way to becoming an intellectualized bureaucrat so complacently complicit this complicity would, before he knows it, be remarketed as “integrity as an educator”.

Works Cited

Atherton, Margaret. “Berkeley without God.” In Berkeley’s Metaphysics: Structural, Interpretive, and Critical Essays, 231-248. Edited by Robert G. Muehlmann. Pennsylvania University Press, 1995.

Avramides, Anita. “Berkeley and knowledge of other finite spirits.” In Other Minds, 113-136. London: Routledge, 2000.

Berkeley, George. “An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision.” In The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Volume 1, 161-241. Edited by T.E. Jessop. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967.

Berkeley, George. “A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.” In The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Volume 2, 21-115. Edited by T.E. Jessop. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967.

— . “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonus.” In The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, Volume 2, 165-265. Edited by T.E. Jessop. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967.

Chim, Wung Cheong. “George Berkeley and Motoori Norinaga on other minds and there being ‘nothing-to-be-done’.” Comparative Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 1 (2021): 55-75.

Falkenstein, Lorne. “Berkeley’s Argument for Other Minds.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 7, no. 4 (1990): 431-40.

Izutsu, Toshihiko, Ishiki to Honshitsu: seishinteki tōyō o sakumete [Consciousness and Essence: the search for the spiritual East]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991, Kindle Edition.

Ksenjek, Ekaterina Y., and Daniel E. Flage. “Berkeley, the Author of Nature, and the Judeo-Christian God.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 29, no. 3 (2012): 281-99.

Loaiza, Juan R. “Molyneux’s Question in Berkeley’s Theory of Vision.” Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science 32, no. 2 (2017): 231-47.

Mori, Mizue. “Motoori Norinaga no karagokoro hihan nitsuite [Concerning Motoori Norinaga’s critique of the Chinese mind].” Kokusai tetsugaku kenkyu, vol. 3 (2013): 27-36.

Motoori, Norinaga. Kojiki-den Dai-ichi [Kojiki-den in old writing system Volume 1]. Tokyo: Nihon meicho kankō-kai, 1930.

— , “On mono no aware.” In The Poetics of Motoori Norinaga: a hermeneutical journey, 172-193. Edited by Michael Marra. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.

— . “Tamakushige.” Monumenta Nipponica 43, no. 1 (1988): 45-61. doi:10.2307/2384517.

Oda, Takaharu. “Berkeley on Voluntary Motion: A Conservationist Account.” Ruch Filozoficzny LXXIV, 4 (2018): 71-98.

Pearce, Kenneth. “Rules and Rule-following.” In Language and the Structure of Berkeley’s World, 68-85. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Sagara, Tōru. Motoori Norinaga. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press, 1978.


See George Berkeley, “A Treatise concerning The Principles of Human Knowledge” in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne Volume 2, ed. T.E. Jessop (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967), 42, 54, 55, where Berkeley characterized imprinted ideas as having “a steadiness, order, and coherence”. One such example of this steady orderliness among imprinted ideas could be found in our perceptions of distinct things. A “thing” was defined nominally by Berkeley as a succession of imprinted ideas regularly “observed to accompany each other”, which thus came to be “marked by one name, and…reputed as a thing”. Other examples could be found in our uses of various things which are premised upon prior observations of how “food nourishes, sleep refreshes, and fire warms us”. Here, again, ideas have been observed to regularly succeed one another in successions which do not often change: food by nourishment, sleep by refreshment, and fire by warmth.


See George Berkeley, “An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision” in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne Volume 1, ed. T.E. Jessop (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967), 232, where Berkeley contended that, though visual ideas we perceived might precede tactile ideas and suggest to us ideas of distance, magnitude, etc., the associations among ideas here were not formed due to “any likeness or identity of nature, but only by an habitual connexion, that experience has made us to observe between them”. The same might certainly be said of visual and olfactory ideas, olfactory and tactile ideas, tactile ideas and ideas which are not perceived sensorily but associated with sensory ideas all the same, etc. See also Juan R. Loaiza, “Molyneux’s Question in Berkeley’s Theory of Vision”, Theoria, vol. 32, no. 2 (2017), 231, where Loaiza dubbed Berkeley’s contention that “there [wa]s no necessary connection or common idea between our different sensory modalities” the Heterogeneity Thesis.


“A Treatise concerning The Principles of Human Knowledge”, 42-43, where Berkeley identified “mind, spirit, soul or my self” as all corresponding to a “perceiving, active being”. See also ibid., 54, where Berkeley cited the fact that “I c[ould] excite ideas in my mind at pleasure” as a premise for causal inference of the existences of other minds.


See Berkeley, “Principles”, 42.


See Oda Takaharu, “Berkeley on Voluntary Motion: A Conservationist Account”, Ruch Filozoficzny, LXXIV, 4 (2018), 73, 80, for an extensive review of two positions in Berkeley scholarship on the conceptions of voluntary motions within Berkeleyanism. The first position is that of occasionalism which “attribute[ed] no causal power to human minds but only to the divine mind”, and the second is that of “conservationism” which argued that “human minds [we]re causally independent of God’s omnipotence in bringing about ideas of their own motions, yet under the dependence on God”. Within limits, I think it might be said that I endorse here a secular form of the conservationist position, which attributes a bare minimum of causal power to human minds, at the far ends of the successions constitutive of voluntary bodily motions.


George Berkeley, “Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonus” in The Works of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne Volume 2, ed. T.E. Jessop (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967), 232.


Berkeley, “Principles”, 81, where Berkeley contended that “[w]e comprehend[ed] our own existence by inward feeling or reflexion”.


See Berkeley, “Principles”, 53-54, where Berkeley referred to our knowledge of “soul, spirit, and the operations of the mind, such as willing, loving, hating” as notions, while also insisting strongly that “an agent c[ould]not be like unto [an idea], or represented by, any idea whatsoever”.


Berkeley, “Principles”, 84-85.


Berkeley, “Principles”, 54-55.


Berkeley himself also used this term, often in conjunction with another term, “Law of Nature”. See, for one, Berkeley, “Principles”, 88, where he used the two terms side-by-side (“general law or law of Nature”). For another, see ibid., 70. where he referred to the associations of imprinted ideas as having been “made by rule, and with wise contrivance”. See also ibid., 54, where he defined the Laws of Nature as “the set rules or established methods, wherein the mind we depend on excites in us the ideas of sense”. Other than the laws of nature, however, the term “rule” has also been used in Berkeley scholarship to refer to the associations of words, phrases, etc. with other ideas. See here Kenneth Pearce, “Rules and Rule-Following” in Language and the Structure of Berkeley’s World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 77-79, which used the term “rules of language”. In these cases, the term “rule”, to my understanding, would refer to regular successions of ideas organized as such by other minds, which we perceive and then follow. Here, for my part, I use “rules” in a simpler sense, understood strictly from my limited standpoint, as patterns I have observed among imprinted ideas which I then make use of.


See Berkeley, “Principles”, 54, where Berkeley argued that since “the ideas imprinted…[we]re not creatures of my will…[t]here [wa]s therefore some other will or spirit that produce[d] them”. See also Lorne Falkenstein, “Berkeley’s Argument for Other Minds”, History of Philosophy Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 4 (1990), 431-432, where Falkenstein argued that Berkeley’s argument for the existences of other minds was causal and could be summarized simply as this: since there are ideas imprinted upon my senses which are not excited by me, “I go on to infer the existence of a particular cause responsible”, which “I…take to be another spirit, incidentally like myself…because…spirit…is the only possible cause”. Falkenstein also rejected that Berkeley was arguing from analogy, through readings of specific passages from the Principles.


By “like me”, I am referring only to the fact that primary control centers, like me, are causes of ideas and regulate systems. This “likeness” does not pertain to the ideas we each excite, since those ideas excited and organized by primary control centers constitute those systems and rules I can never excite by myself. Nor does this pertain to the systems we regulate, since primary control centers regulate systems directly and I only regulate by exploiting rules set forth by primary control centers.


See Ekaterina Y. Ksenjek and Daniel E. Flage, “Berkeley, the Author of Nature, and the Judeo-Christian God”, History of Philosophy Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 3 (2012), 287, where Ksenjek and Flage pointed out that passages 29 to 33 in Berkeley’s Principles culminated in the conclusion that there must exist “a spirit that [wa]s more powerful than the finite spirit that perceive[d]” systems of imprinted ideas, this “more powerful” spirit being also responsible for the causation and organization of those systems. See also Chim Wung Cheong, “George Berkeley and Motoori Norinaga on other minds and there being ‘nothing-to-be-done’”, Comparative Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 1 (2021), 66, where I have further defined this “more powerful” as “the power of this mind or minds to produce and organize ideas into an order our own minds could not attain”.


It is worth noting that this causal inference could be given a religious spin. See Berkeley, “Principles”, 55, where Berkeley readily identified this primary control center as the “Author of Nature” whose “goodness and wisdom” were testified to by the “consistent uniform working” of the systems of imprinted ideas. This leap to God, however, also concealed another option Berkeley did not take. See Ksenjek and Flage, “Berkeley, the Author of Nature, and the Judeo-Christian God”, 286-287, 292, where Ksenjek and Flage argued that, in the passages (29-33) of the Principles in question, there was actually a hidden choice between attributing the order among imprinted ideas to an almighty other mind a la Berkeley’s Author of Nature, or to innumerable finite other minds. They further suggested that Berkeley would have chosen the Author of Nature, since it would have been the simpler option. Even later into the Principles (passages 145-147), Berkeley, again, could only have chosen the Author of Nature because, again, it was the best choice to account for “perfections” in the world. In a word then, we need not posit, as Berkeley did, one almighty other mind as the primary control center to the systems of imprinted ideas. To the contrary, we may posit as many finite other minds as we wish as so many primary control centers to so many systems.


For one instance, I might further presume that primary control centers harbor ideas resembling my own, even when those ideas themselves have never been imprinted upon my senses. One instance of this would be those popular statements we hear concerning humanity as a whole, such as “Humans are selfish by nature” or “Humans cannot live without so-and-so”. For a critique of this presumption of semblance in the contents of my and other minds, see Anita Avramides, “Berkeley and knowledge of other finite spirits” in Other Minds (London: Routledge, 2001), 131, where Avramides aptly pointed out that we presumed so only because “we c[ould]not actually perceive the ideas that [we]re in another’s mind”, but this presumption would come immediately under doubt “once we s[aw] that another may have ideas very different from those that we ha[d]”. This doubt does not only compel us to reconceive other minds as “minds which are like me except…”, but also question if there is any semblance to begin with.


See Motoori Norinaga, “On mono no aware” in The Poetics of Motoori Norinaga: a hermeneutical journey, ed. Michael Marra (Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2007), 172-173, where Norinaga contended that “[w]hen one encounter[ed] something for which he should be happy and ha[d] happy thoughts, his happiness derive[d] from the understanding of the essence of that very thing about which he should feel happy”. See also Sagara Tōru, Motoori Norinaga (Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 19), 85, where Sagara likewise noted that, for Norinaga, in his early works on poetry and literature, “the ‘thing’…was the external ‘thing’”, whereas those deep emotions we felt about this thing was “internal to this ‘thing’”. See also Izutsu Toshihiko, Ishiki to Honshitsu: seishinteki tōyō o sakumete [Consciousness and Essence: the search for the spiritual East] (Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten, 1991), Kindle Edition, where Izutsu briefly discussed Norinaga’s poetics and argued that Norinaga understood our feeling of emotions about a certain thing as us “grasping a thing merely as an entity, in that state before this thing was made an object”.


Motoori Norinaga. Kokun Kojiki-den Dai-ichi [Kojiki-den in old writing system Volume 1] (Tokyo: Nihon meicho kankō-kai, 1930), 4. It bears noting here too that, contrary to the Sinograph used by Norinaga, kokoro does not translate only to “signification” but also to a way of thinking, as in his critique of karagokoro (漢意) which can be variously translated as “Chinese mind”, “Chinese meaning”, etc., and which can be understood, largely, as the Chinese way of thinking. See Mori Mizue, “Motoori Norinaga no karagokoro hihan ni tsuite [Concerning Motoori Norinaga’s critique of the Chinese mind]”. Kokusai tetsugaku kenkyu, vol. 3 (2013), 3, where Mori defined Norinaga’s karagokoro as “the mindset or desire to contend with the unknown through a given perspective and to rationalize it”. Hence, the spatiotemporally local nexuses of signification-event-word pertain not only to the signification of words, but also to how one would perceive an event and how one would feel about so-and-so objects.


See Motoori Norinaga, “Tamakushige”, Monumenta Nipponica, vol 41, no. 1 (1988), 53, where Norinaga cited an example of this “otherwise” in those individuals who refused to find their own deaths sorrowful and “ma[d]e a display of confidence and d[id] not manifest any grief…wr[o]te deathbed poems, or le[ft] grandiose statements to the effect that they ha[d] attained enlightenment”. Here this “otherwise” is due to what Norinaga would identify as “Chinese” teachings which contradicted Japanese ones, which would have those individuals experience sorrow before their deaths instead. These two sets of teachings can be conceived here as two sets of rules and systems conflicting with one another, whose conflicts culminate in the suppression of one and the individual acting in terms of the other.


In the instance where modifications effected are too dramatic, it is not inconceivable that I would fail to recognize the modified rule as modified, on account of this rule no longer resembling in the least the previous rules I have observed.


This “thought” here was based upon Margaret Atherton’s argument that Berkeley’s theory of sensory perception could be understood without reference to God. See Margaret Atherton, “Berkeley without God” in Berkeley’s Metaphysics: Structural, Interpretive, and Critical Essays, ed. Robert G. Muehlmann (Pennsylvania University Press, 1995), 232, 243, where Atherton argued that Berkeley’s theory of sensory perception was already established in his An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision with “absolutely no reference to God”. His theory, understood without God or any other mind causing those ideas imprinted upon our senses, could be summarized as one where “our sensory ideas [we]re governed by law” and “the sensible things for which our ideas st[ood] ha[d] a distinct existence, independent of any particular finite perceiver”. The attribution of these sensible things to God was, in turn, a second step tagged onto an already established theory of sensory perception. See also, for another reformation of Berkeleyanism which removed God and preserved only the phenomenal unity of ideas, Helen Yetter-Chappell. “Idealism without God” in Idealism: New Essays in Metaphysics, ed. Goldschmidt Tyron and Kenneth Pearce (Oxford University Press, 2017), 69.


July 2021


Alain Badiou – The Theory of Covering and the Ethics of the Idea

A translation by Timothy Lavenz

Nineteenth Century Interpretations of Thought and the Claims of Twenty-First Century Science

by GW Middleton

Views of Reality from Stagecraft, Science, and ‘Nowhere’

by Venkat Ramanan

Neo-Berkeleyan Meditations on Systems, Rules, Freedom, Death, and the Last of my Kind

by Raphael Chim