Materialism vs Idealism History tells us very little of Titus Lucretius Carus, but one can see from reading his work that he has a strong dislike towards religious superstition, which he claims is the root of human fear and in turn the cause of impious acts. Although he does not deny the existence of a god, his work is aimed at proving that the world is not guided or controlled by a divinity. Lucretius asserts that matter exists in the form of atoms, which move around the universe in an empty space. This empty space, or vacuity, allows for the movement of the atoms and without it everything would be one mass. He explains that matter and vacuity can not occupy the same space, “..where there is empty space, there matter is not..”, and these two things make up the entire universe.
These invisible particles come together to form material objects, you and I are made of the same atoms as a chair or a tree. When the tree dies or the chair is thrown into a fire the atoms do not burn up or die, but are dispersed back into the vacuity. The atoms alone are without mind or secondary qualities, but they can combine to form living and thinking objects, along with sound, color, taste, etc.. Atoms form life, consciousness, and the soul, and when our body dies there is nothing left of the latter except for its parts, which randomly become parts of other forms. Matter is never ending reality, only changing in its form.
In the philosophical system developed by Irish philosopher George Berkeley, Idealism, Berkeley states that physical objects, matter, do not exist independent of the mind. The pencil that I am writing this essay with would not exist if I were not perceiving it with my senses, but in the dialogue between Hylus and Philonous Berkeley attempts to show things can and do exist apart from the human mind and our perception, but only because there is a mind in which all ideas are perceived or a deity that creates perception in the human mind, either way its God. He says that the external world can not be understood by thought, but “sensible things”, objects that we perceive, can be reduced to ideas in the mind. These ideas, or “objects before the mind”, possess primary qualities, the main structure, and secondary qualities, what we derive from our senses, which are inseparable. I’m confused about this, if I’m thinking about a star in a different galaxy, which makes the star an “object” before my mind, then where are the secondary qualities? Over all, idealism appears to be the antithesis of materialism in its approach to discovering the nature of the universe. Kant would say that both views are based on speculation and can not be proven, but I prefer Lucretius’ views over Berkeleys’ simply because he tries to keep a deity out of the picture.
He claims that the gods are not concerned with the affairs of mortals, where as it seems that Berkeley uses god as an answer when he is unable to explain something. Although, Lucretius says that nature is responsible for the arrangement and combination of atoms. Wouldn’t this suggest that nature is similar to a divinity? or is nature, which is only matter and space, the wall that separates the gods from mortals. Motivated by an animosity towards theological belief, Lucretius seems to take a much more scientific approach. One can not completely dismiss Berkeleys’ views for, as Montague would say, there is obviously more going on than meets the eye.