Berkeley's dynamical instrumentalism

1992 1992

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Abstract (summary)

The aim of this dissertation is to explore a central aspect of Berkeley's philosophy of science, namely, his philosophical account of the status of Newton's mechanics. In De Motu, Berkeley's treatise on mechanics, he makes plain that he accepts Newton's mechanics as an excellent scientific theory, while refusing to admit the existence of physical forces. Thus, Berkeley is an anti-realist about Newtonian mechanics. In the dissertation, I seek to identify the grounds and nature of this anti-realism.

Although Berkeley's motivations for maintaining dynamical anti-realism are largely metaphysical (stemming from his idealism and his denial of non-spiritual causes), Berkeley's case against realism in De Motu does not presuppose an immaterialist metaphysics. Rather, his main argument in De Motu is based on a strict empiricism and a claim about the conceptual requirements for reference. Essentially, Berkeley maintains that we can't understand dynamics realistically (i.e. it's nonsensical to posit forces) because we lack any appropriate concepts of force, nor can we acquire any, given the sort of things that forces are supposed to be. Other ways in which Berkeley impugns dynamical realism in De Motu reveal interesting affinities between his position and Cartesianism.

Berkeley's alternative to realism is, I argue, a sort of instrumentalism. Here I disagree with a number of commentators who have seen Berkeley as a reductionist, that is, someone who claims that dynamics is reducible to kinematics. I develop my interpretation of Berkeley's dynamical instrumentalism by showing how it is connected in important ways with his views about the aims of science and about the significant of action-guiding language. In conclusion, I contrast Berkeley's instrumentalism about forces with his realism about particles in Siris.

Indexing (details)

Science history
0422: Philosophy
0585: Science history
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Berkeley, George; antirealism
Berkeley's dynamical instrumentalism
Downing, Lisa Jeanne
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 53/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Wilson, Margaret
Princeton University
University location
United States -- New Jersey
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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