Authored by: Jasper Reid

The Routledge Companion to Eighteenth Century Philosophy

Print publication date:  March  2014
Online publication date:  March  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415774895
eBook ISBN: 9781315815558
Adobe ISBN: 9781317807926


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The term “immaterialism” was introduced by George Berkeley in the third of his Three Dialogues (1713), to designate his own opinion that there was no such thing as material substance, and that bodies were not to be understood in terms of qualities that inhered in an independent, unthinking substratum, but rather as collections of mind-dependent ideas. The term “idealism” would subsequently come to be used for positions of this kind, especially among German philosophers, first introduced by Christian Wolff in 1721 and first applied to Berkeley’s own position by Christoph Matthaeus Pfaff in 1725 (Bracken 1965: 19–21). Both terms are ambiguous—witness the case of Joseph Berington’s “immaterialism” below—but “idealism” has been used over the centuries to designate a far wider range of theories than “immaterialism,” and it is the latter term that I shall use here. Now, whereas the history of most philosophical positions can be traced back almost as far as the discipline itself, immaterialism is unusual in that its birth can be pinpointed to a precise moment in time, in the first decade of the eighteenth century. There are, it is true, a few candidates for earlier precursors; but they really are very few indeed.

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