Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Margaret Atherton

Committee Members

Margaret Atherton, Miren Boehm, William Bristow


Agency, Berkeley, Finite Spirits, God, Idealism, Volition


Throughout his unpublished and published works alike, George Berkeley repeatedly exclaims that finite spirits have the power to move our bodies by acts of volition. However, given the nature of the way in which Berkeley carves the division between objective and subjective experience, his remarks concerning our agency over our bodies in the real world appear inconsistent. In an attempt to exculpate Berkeley from inconsistency, Sukjae Lee and George Pitcher offer up an occasionalist interpretation of Berkeley. Their account situates finite spirits with agency that extends to producing acts of will which either serve as occasions for God to then actively assist in producing the corresponding ideas of bodily motions in our minds, or in actually producing ideas of imagination. The project of this paper is to show that Berkeley bars himself from holding a coherent account of non-divine causation in the real world, contra Lee and Pitcher. Towards this end, I critically examine the aforementioned commentators’ occasionalist approach to elucidate Berkeley’s ontological and theological commitments — along with the way in which we ought to interpret statements about the agency of finite spirits — to ultimately derive a set of necessary conditions that must obtain in any attempt to reconcile Berkeley’s seemingly inconsistent claims. I argue that these necessary conditions are jointly irreconcilable.

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