No longer shackled by the bright-line division between perceivers and perceived, Berkeley’s late neo-Platonism accommodated a realist outlook about unperceived sensibles much more easily than his earlier thought. As Gabriel Moked has argued trenchantly, the Berkeley of the Siris has even come to endorse a “corpuscularian” philosophy of his own, which is happily realist about the existence of microscopic particles. So, Berkeley writes of “the extreme minuteness, mobility, and momentum of [mercury’s] parts,” and even supposes, with Newton, that light has a corpuscular structure.
These particles are not, of course, imperceptible in the sense of being unknowable, nor do even they exist unperceived. However, their existence as sensibles is no longer carefully hedged about with the counter-factual disclaimers and speculations about temporal discontinuity that the young Berkeley’s inner Bertrand Russell was constantly whispering in his ear. Rather, the physical world—even its microscopic constituents—subsists in being known and willed by the LORD, and it lies within the domain of the intelligible which is the “space of reasons.” As Moked puts it, “In the view of the author of Siris, both the primary and secondary qualities are real (because equally perceived by an infinite Observer, and equally perceivable by all finite observers) and mind-dependent.”
The late Berkeley’s most striking deviation from his early immaterialism is his rehabilitation of the concept of “matter” itself. Having read more widely and sympathetically, he seems to have outgrown his youthful conflation of the Lockean corpuscular real essence with Platonist-Aristotelian “prima materia.” Now, he recognizes, “Neither Plato nor Aristotle by matter, hylē, understood corporeal substance, whatever the moderns understand by that word. To them certainly it signified no positive actual being,” but rather “only a pura potentia, a mere possibility.” “That matter is actually nothing, but potentially all things,” he notes, “is the doctrine of Aristotle, Theophrastus, and all the ancient Peripatetics.”
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