A. Introduction to Philosophy: 2nd Student Essay
What did Dr Samuel Johnson hope to accomplish by kicking a stone? Did the incident, in your view, succeed in proving a valid point against Berkeley?
Dr. Johnson hoped to refute Berkeley's comment concerning perception by kicking the stone. Berkeley's comment about perception applies equally to stones as well. If the tree cannot be there unless someone is looking at it, then the stone as well cannot be there until it is perceived. Perception does not limit itself to vision. In fact perception can be more intense without vision. Those who have lost their sight develop a keener sense of hearing. Listening to music with one's eyes closed intensifies one's appreciation of music. There are various modalities of perception. Velvet cloth is not there until I perceive its softness through my fingers. Food is not served until my sense of smell perceives it. Dr. Johnson by kicking the stone attempted to disprove Berkeley, but he merely re-affirmed Berkeley's contention. Had he not kicked the stone he would not have perceived it as a stone. Without our sense of perception the world is an empty space. Nothing exists without perception. Can we describe an elephant to someone who has never seen one? Can one believe in the existence of dinosaurs whose sense of vision has never encountered fossils? How do we describe a Bellini opera, a Beethoven symphony to one who has no concept of music?
Let us assume that somewhere there exists a tribe that inhabits a cave. This tribe has developed no arts, no religion. They venture out of the cave only at night to hunt nocturnal animals and so they have never encountered the glories of nature. For them trees do not exist because they have never perceived them, and having never perceived them one can say that they are purblind. They have never heard music and so music does not exists. They have not developed art, and so cave paintings are non-existent. To be denied the glories of the senses is to be convinced that that which pertains to the senses does not exist. To be unaware of the sense of smell is to be unaware of food as an art. To lack touch is to be unaware of human warmth. It does not matter that all of these exists. If one is not aware of sensual deprivation one is blind, deaf and dumb. We know now that children who have not been hugged and cuddled as babies have brains that do not develop as well as children who have been cuddled and those children grow up emotionally stunted.
There is little difference between the real and unreal if we cannot differentiate between perception and lack of perception. Dr. Johnson's stone is not there until he sees it and it is not a stone until he kicks it. Dr. Johnson has not proven anything against Berkeley.
Perception does not guarantee truth. The tree is not a tree until I see it, but is a human being a human being until I perceive him as such? Perception when it deals with society is fraught with inconsistencies. Had I lived in the early l800's I most likely would not have perceived the black man as human. I see a man or woman with dark skin who appears to be like me, but my society has altered my perception of him as a human being and that alteration of perception has distorted my thinking. The Japanese who committed atrocities in Nanking were able to do so because of altered perception. The Chinese were not looked upon as human. and by the same token the Einsatzgruppen looked upon the Jewish victims as "untermenschen", as beneath contempt and so perception here too was altered. And so one can say that perception alone is not what allows us to sense, to feel, but that altered perception allows us to follow patterns of distortion that affect society sometimes for generations.
The tree may not be there until I see it, but what if that tree is not there until some one tells me I can see it? And what if someone convinces me that that beautiful tree is not a beautiful tree but a diseased specimen. It is not enough to be aware that a tree of flower or bird is not there until it is perceived, but more important still is the awareness that my perceptions can be distorted by the powers that be. The gourmet perceives a lobster as delicacy. The orthodox Jew sees it as an abomination. The western man views a woman in a bikini as a thing of beauty ( provided that she is not three hundred pounds) but the Moslem sees this as an abomination. A steak is perceived as a mouth watering delight to westerns but to a Hindu it is an abomination. Perception therefore is not an accurate tool either because it is prey to distortion, to societal dictums, to control and regulation. So therefore what do I perceive, how do I perceive it, and what is real about my perception? And so we get back to square one. what is real? Berkeley was right in assuming that the tree is not there until one perceives it but he did not determine how one perceives that tree.
I look into my garden and see many trees. They are homes to the birds and insects. When I do not perceive the tree I do not perceive the birds and insects. A whole society depends on my perception. I close my eyes and that hierarchy disappears. Now if my thought processes had been tampered with I would not see a beautiful life form, but a utilitarian object that furnishes me with chairs, tables, closets etc. And our thought processes are tampered with from the moment we enter this vale of tears.
Did Dr. Johnson see a stone? Was he kicking a stone or was the stone perceived as an outlet for aggression? Did he perceive that stone as a substitute Dr. Berkeley whose ideas had irritated him and therefore was he in a sense kicking Dr. Berkeley? But the joke was on him. That rock was not there until he perceived it. He could not have kicked it until he had perceived it and so Dr. Johnson merely succeeded in scuffing his boot.