Esse is percipi  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Esse is percipi" is a famous dictum by the Irish philosopher George Berkeley, central to subjective idealism.

In Principles #3, Berkeley wrote, using a combination of Latin and English, esse is percipi (to be is to be perceived), most often if slightly inaccurately attributed to Berkeley as the pure Latin phrase esse est percipi. The phrase appears associated with him in authoritative philosophical sources, e.g., "Berkeley holds that there are no such mind-independent things, that, in the famous phrase, esse est percipi (aut percipere) – to be is to be perceived (or to perceive)."

Hence, human knowledge is reduced to two elements: that of spirits and of ideas (Principles #86). In contrast to ideas, a spirit cannot be perceived. A person's spirit, which perceives ideas, is to be comprehended intuitively by inward feeling or reflection (Principles #89). For Berkeley, we have no direct 'idea' of spirits, albeit we have good reason to believe in the existence of other spirits, for their existence explains the purposeful regularities we find in experience. ("It is plain that we cannot know the existence of other spirits otherwise than by their operations, or the ideas by them excited in us", Dialogues #145). This is the solution that Berkeley offers to the problem of other minds. Finally, the order and purposefulness of the whole of our experience of the world and especially of nature overwhelms us into believing in the existence of an extremely powerful and intelligent spirit that causes that order. According to Berkeley, reflection on the attributes of that external spirit leads us to identify it with God. Thus a material thing such as an apple consists of a collection of ideas (shape, color, taste, physical properties, etc.) which are caused in the spirits of humans by the spirit of God.

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