In George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man, David Berman amasses considerable circumstantial evidence to the effect that Berkeley’s movement away from Locke’s theory of language may have been touched off by an in-person encounter with Archbishop William King and Provost Peter Browne (later Bishop of Cork and Ross) at a meeting of the Dublin Philosophical Society, November 19, 1707, where Berkeley read a brief paper entitle ‘Of Infinities’ (included in Luce and Jessop, volume 4; see Berman 11-20). I think Berman’s overall picture is quite likely correct. In fact, in a paper called “Berkeley’s Lockean Religious Epistemology” which I am currently revising for Journal of the History of Ideas, I provide further evidence that some of Berkeley’s work can be seen as a direct response to Browne. However, I have just acquired a piece of information that partially undermines one piece of Berman’s case. This is Berman’s appeal to the controversy surrounding Berkeley’s ordination.
Berkeley was ordained in early 1710 by St. George Ashe, Bishop of Clogher and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College (Berman 17). (In case you are wondering, this guy is not a canonical saint; his first name was actually ‘St. George.’ This may have been a political statement on the part of his parents: he was an Irish Protestant, and St. George is the patron saint of England.) Now, Berman notes that the ordination was performed in King’s jurisdiction and without King’s permission, and King actually ordered Berkeley to be prosecuted. Berkeley escaped prosecution by writing a letter of apology to King. Berman notes that A. A. Luce had previously claimed that Berkeley was simply caught in the middle of a power struggle. However, Berman supports the claim that King had personal animosity toward Berkeley by a letter of King to Ashe, dated March 27, 1710. In this letter, King alleges that Berkeley intentionally scheduled the ordination when King was out of town.
Other evidence, however, supports Luce’s interpretation. In his biography of Browne (Peter Browne: Provost, Bishop, Metaphysician (1974)), Arthur Robert Winnett documents a protracted jurisdiction dispute between Trinity College and the archdiocese of Dublin. Winnett notes that in the 1690s “It was usual … for the resident members and Fellows of Trinity College to avoid receiving holy orders from the archbishop of Dublin” (p. 4). Browne was heavily involved in this controversy on the side of the College: Browne was rector of St. Mary’s parish in Dublin from 1698 to 1699, and he entered and left this position without knowledge or consent of the Archdiocese. King became archbishop in 1703 and actually alleged that Browne’s resignation was invalid (and therefore that all subsequent appointments to the rectory were likewise invalid), since Browne tendered his resignation to the wrong office. The dispute was finally resolved by Parliament in 1717 (p. 5). All of this information seems to me strongly to favor Luce’s interpretation over Berman’s. Furthermore, it suggests that in intentionally avoiding being ordained by King Berkeley was siding with the College and therefore with Peter Browne, its provost, contrary to Berman’s portrayal of Browne and King on the same side against Berkeley.
(cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)