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BERKELEY, George (1685–1753)

Alciphron : or, the minute philosopher. In seven dialogues. Containing an apology for the Christian Religion, against those who are called free-thinkers … the Second edition

London: printed for J. Tonson in the Strand, 1732
2 volumes 8vo: A4(–A4) a4 B–Z8 2A2, 185 leaves, pp. [14] 356; A4 B–2A8, 188 leaves, pp. [8] 218 [13] 216–351 [1] (last page blank), title to ‘An essay towards a new theory of vision’ on P6 in vol. II. Engraved scene on each title, woodcut decorations and initials.
Condition: 193 x 122mm.
Binding: Contemporary sprinkled calf, blind ruled sides, gilt spines, red sprinkled edges. A little rubbed.
Provenance: Earls of Portsmouth with engraved bookplate of the second Earl (Franks F.30719) and gilt shelf numbers on spine. A contemporary inscription in vol. I identifies the author and quotes Pope’s second dialogue, 1738.
Second London edition, with some revisions (first edition London, followed by a Dublin edition, both 1732; another edition omits the words ‘Second edition’ on the title); including the text of A new theory of vision (1709).
Bibliography: Keynes, Berkeley 17; ESTC t86055.

The second edition of Berkeley’s defence of revealed religion, regarded as an outstanding example of English literature. It contains references to Rhode Island (not noticed by Sabin) where Berkeley was living at the time.
This edition includes the New theory of vision (1709, reprinted here in volume II) considered the most significant contribution to psychology of the eighteenth century (Brett’s History of Psychology). Praised by Adam Smith as ‘one of the finest examples of philosophical analysis that is to be found, either in our own, or in any other language’, it was accepted in France by Voltaire, Condillac and Diderot (Keynes pp. 7–8).

‘[Berkeley] examines the factors that determine our ability to see things at a distance, the assumption being that the sense of vision itself is incapable of doing so. Rather, seeing distant objects requires the suggestions supplied by other senses, especially that of touch, as well as such other experiences as visual distortion caused by failure of eye accommodation. We do not “judge” by means of quasi-optical calculation of the distance of objects (the traditional account of Berkeley's predecessors); rather, we let one group of sensations suggest another, in virtue of experience and custom. Moreover, from saying that all visual sensations “seem to be in the eye,” Berkeley moves to his basic contention, later generalized in his Principles of human knowledge (1710), that visual ideas are in our minds. Given his general doctrine that the “being” of things amounts to their being perceived, i.e., being ideas in a mind (the ultimate reference is to the divine mind), he infers that external space is not basic, but is “only suggested” to us by visual ideas, via tactile and other ideas.’ (Gerd Buchdahl, DSB II, p. 16b).
Keywords:     physiology