The Language of the Author of Nature

  • Paul J. Olscamp
Part of the Archives Internationales D’histoire Des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 33)


A central feature of Berkeley’s philosophy is his use of a certain metaphor, which he developed highly, and which he came in the end to accept as a literal truth. This metaphor is his characterization of the natural world as a language through which God speaks to man, instructing him in ways of caring for himself, enabling him to predict the future, or some of it, and teaching him how he ought to act. Berkeley was neither the first nor the last to use this metaphor (it is common in the works of the Deists for example) but so far as I know, no one else developed it to such a degree, and no one used it for such important purposes within a philosophical system. If I am correct, this metaphor, which is really a complete theory, is the keystone to George Berkeley’s ontology, epistemology, and moral philosophy. In this chapter, I intend to do three things: 1. To show why Berkeley thought that nature was a language, and to demonstrate that the metaphor not only occurs constantly throughout his writings, but also that it undergoes a progressive development in them; 2. To show that he finally came to accept the metaphor as a literal truth, and 3. to demonstrate the importance of the language theory for the understanding of the foundations of his entire philosophy, including his moral thinking.


Natural Language Natural World Natural Kind Artificial Language General Word 
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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1969

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  • Paul J. Olscamp

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