The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Berkeley, George (1685–1753)

  • S. Rashid
Reference work entry


George Berkeley was an Anglican clergymen of Anglo-Irish origins who rose to be Bishop of Cloyne. He is known today principally as the philosopher of immaterialism. It is possible to look upon the economic works of George Berkeley in two different ways. First, one may consider him solely as an economic thinker and evaluate the nature and content of the ideas espoused in Berkeley’s principal economic pamphlet, The Querist (1735–7), some of whose ideas are foreshadowed in the Essay towards preventing the Ruin of Great Britain (1721) and in Alciphron (1732). Secondly, one may look upon the Querist as part of the programme of economic development espoused by a number of prominent Anglo-Irishmen, a substantial number of whom were Anglican clergymen and of whom Berkeley himself was one. Viewed primarily as an economist, the two most prominent features of Berkeley’s thought are his emphasis upon industry as the true source of wealth and upon the stimulation of wants as the most effective way of eliciting increased industry (Queries 1, 4, 19–21 and passim). This balanced view, partially anticipated by John Law, synthesised both the typical Mercantilist emphasis upon work as well as the stress put upon demand by such economists as Bernard Mandeville. Berkeley goes on to emphasize that economic growth would be most stimulated if the Irish would develop a taste for Irish goods (144–6). However, since such a result could not be depended upon, Berkeley was prepared to have the state intervene in order to limit the influence of fashion upon consumer tastes (13–16). Berkeley was aware that everyone may not respond to his call for increased industry and he was even willing to force such people to work (380–87). In the first edition of the Querist, Berkeley emphasized the role of the monetary system as an important catalyst for economic growth and urged the need for a National Bank in Ireland. Due to a lack of popular interest, this section was largely omitted in subsequent editions. Most of the above ideas are very much a staple of British Mercantilist writing. Berkeley does however break new ground with his philosophical analysis of the sources of wealth and by his disdain for gold and silver per se; ‘Whether there ever was, is, or will be, an industrious nation poor, or an idle rich?’ (Query 1), ‘Whether there be any virtue in gold or silver, other than as they set people at work, or create industry?’ (Query 30), as well as by his emphasis upon the welfare of the common man as the true end of economic policy; ‘Whether a people can be called poor, where the common sort are well fed, clothed and lodged’ (Query 2).

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  1. Ardley, G. 1968. Berkeley’s renovation of philosophy. The Hague: M. Nijhoff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Rashid
    • 1
  1. 1.