What Is Berkeley’s ‘Master Argument’ and Is It Successful?

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What is Berkeley’s ‘Master Argument’ and is it Successful? Word count: 1,435 The Master Argument appears in one format in Three Dialogues as a discussion between Philonous and Hylas as to whether Hylas can conceive of a mind independent object. It is when Philonous points out that by conceiving of such an object, Hylas is necessarily framing the idea within his mind that Hylas admits that he has nothing but left but certain “scruples” in his defence against immaterialism. At first glance, the idea of conceiving of a mind independent object does indeed seem contradictory and initially one maybe as easily persuaded by Philonous’ challenge as Hylas is. However, it does not take long to realise that Berkley appears to have not been careful with his choice of words and has committed various conflations leading to fallacies of ambiguity. It is my view that these fallacies play a large role in undermining the success of the Master Argument. In order to analyse the strength of what Berkeley saw as his most convincing argument against the existence of mind independent objects I intend to look specifically at Bertrand Russell’s discussion of the Master Argument in his evaluation of idealism in his book The Problems of Philosophy. I will then look into the nominalist interpretation of the Master Argument in order to see if Russell’s allegations can be sidestepped once we discern the assumptions that Berkeley arguably based the Master Argument on. The Master Argument was originally known as the inconceivability argument until Andre Gallois referred to it as the former in his 1974 article as a nod to the prominence that Berkeley gives it within his attack on materialism. It appears in both Principles of Human Understanding and Three Dialogues in slightly different versions but the argument is essentially a call for Berkeley’s readers to partake in a thought experiment in
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