Pleasures and pains play an important role for Berkeley, not just in motivating action, but also by providing knowledge of the physical world in which we act. This chapter considers the parallels that Berkeley draws between sensible quality perceptions and pleasures/pains. Importantly, Berkeley holds that we can have intuitive or demonstrative knowledge of the existence and nature of the physical world on the basis of our sensory perceptions. His parallel analysis of pleasures and pains thus surprisingly implies that these, too, can provide us with intuitive or demonstrative knowledge of the physical world. Taking pleasures and pains to have an epistemic and cognitive function allows us to reread certain Berkeleyan texts in ways that are illuminating. This includes texts on the laws of nature, which enable us to regulate actions precisely because knowledge of the natural laws involves generalizing over regularities of sensory perceptions, which include pleasures/pains.

Berkeley, Demonstrative knowledge, Intuitive knowledge, Natural laws, Primary qualities, Secondary qualities, Sensible qualities, Sensory perception
Department of Philosophy

Frankel, M. (2018). Pleasures, pains, and sensible qualities in Berkeley’s philosophy. In Pleasure: A History (pp. 146–166). doi:10.1093/oso/9780190225100.003.0008