was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...
Collier was born at the rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...
y of Steeple Langford
Steeple Langford is a village and civil parish in the English county of Wiltshire, six miles north west of Wilton. It has also been called Great Langford, or Langford Magna....
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...
. He entered Pembroke College
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...
, Oxford, in July 1697, but in October 1698 he and his brother William became members of Balliol
Balliol College , founded in 1263, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England but founded by a family with strong Scottish connections....
His father having died in 1697, it was arranged that the family living of Langford Magna should be given to Arthur as soon as he was old enough.
Having graduated from Oxford and been made a priest, Collier was presented to the benefice
A benefice is a reward received in exchange for services rendered and as a retainer for future services. The term is now almost obsolete.-Church of England:...
of Steeple Langford in 1704, holding it till his death in 1732.
His sermons show no traces of his bold theological speculations, and he seems to have been faithful in the discharge of his duty. Largely due to the extravagance of his wife, he was often in financial difficulties, from which at last he was obliged to free himself by selling the reversion of the Langford advowson
Advowson is the right in English law of a patron to present or appoint a nominee to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living, a process known as presentation. In effect this means the right to nominate a person to hold a church office in a parish...
to Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Corpus Christi College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom...
His philosophical opinions grew out of a diligent study of Descartes and Malebranche
Nicolas Malebranche ; was a French Oratorian and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine and Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world...
. John Norris also strongly influenced him by his An Essay towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World
(1701-1704). It is remarkable that Collier makes no reference to Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...
, and shows no sign of having any knowledge of his works. As early as 1703 he seems to have become convinced of the non-existence of an absolute external world, which would have no relation to a perceiving observer. In 1712 he wrote two essays, which are still in manuscript, one on substance and accident, and the other called Clavis Philosophica
. His chief work appeared in 1713, under the title Clavis Universalis
, or A New Inquiry after Truth, being a Demonstration of the NonExistence or Impossibility of an External World
(printed privately, Edinburgh, 1836, and reprinted in Metaphysical Tracts, 1837, edited by Sam. Parr). It was favorably mentioned by Reid, Stewart and others, was frequently referred to by the Leibnitzians, and was translated into German by Johann Christian Eschenbach the Elder in 1756, Berkeley's Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge is a 1710 work by Anglo-Irish Empiricist philosopher George Berkeley. This book largely seeks to refute the claims made by his contemporary John Locke about the nature of human perception...
and Theory of Vision
preceded it by three and four years respectively, but there is no evidence that they were known to Collier before the publication of his book.
His views are grounded on two presuppositions:
- The utter aversion of common sense to any theory of representative perception
- The difference between imagination and sense perception is only one of degree.
The former is the basis of the negative part of his argument; the latter supplies him with all the positive account he has to give, and that is meagre enough. The Clavis consists of two parts. After explaining that he will use the term external world
in the sense of absolute, self-existent, independent matter
, he attempts in the first part to prove that the visible world is not external
, by showing first, that the seeming externality of a visible object is no proof of real externality, and second, that a visible object, as such, is not external.
The image of a centaur
In Greek mythology, a centaur or hippocentaur is a member of a composite race of creatures, part human and part horse...
seems as much external to the mind as any object of sense; and since the difference between imagination and perception is only one of degree, God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....
could so act upon the mind of a person imagining a centaur, that he would perceive it as vividly as any object can be seen. Similar illustrations are used to prove the second proposition, that a visible object, as such, is not external.
The first part ends with a reply to objections based on the universal consent of men, on the assurance given by touch of the extra existence of the visible world, and on the truth and goodness of God (Descartes), which would be impugned if our senses deceived us. Collier argues naively that if universal consent means the consent of those who have considered the subject, it may be claimed, for his view. He thinks with Berkeley, that objects of sight are quite distinct from those of touch, and that the one therefore cannot give any assurance of the other; and he asks the Cartesians to consider how far God's truth and goodness are called in question by their denial of the externality of the secondary qualities.
The second part of the book is taken up with a number of metaphysical
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...
arguments to prove the impossibility of an external world. The pivot of this part is the logical principle of contradiction. From the hypothesis of an external world a series of contradictions are deduced, such as that the world is both finite and infinite, is movable and immovable, &c.; and finally, Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...
and various other philosophers are quoted, to show that the external matter they dealt with, as mere potentiality, is just nothing at all. Among other uses and consequences of his treatise, Collier thinks it furnishes an easy refutation of the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...
. If there is no external world, the distinction between substance and accidents vanishes, and these become the sole essence of material objects, so that there is no room for any change whilst they remain as before. Sir William Hamilton thinks that the logically necessary advance from the old theory of representative perception to idealism was stayed by anxiety to save this miracle of the church; and he gives Collier credit for being the first to make the discovery.
His Clavis Universalis
is interesting on account of the resemblance between its views and those of Berkeley
George Berkeley , also known as Bishop Berkeley , was an Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism"...
. Both were moved by their dissatisfaction with the theory of representative perception. Both have the feeling that it is inconsistent with the common sense of mankind, which will insist that the very object perceived is the sole reality
. They equally affirm that the so-called representative image is the sole reality
, and discard as unthinkable the unperceiving material cause
of the philosophers. Of objects of sense, they say, their esse is percipi
. But Collier never got beyond a bald assertion of the fact, while Berkeley addressed himself to an explanation of it. The thought of a distinction between direct and indirect perception never dawned upon Collier. To the question how all matter exists in dependence on percipient mind his only reply is, "Just how my reader pleases, provided it be somehow". As cause of our sensations and ground of our belief in externality, he substituted for an unintelligible material substance an equally unintelligible operation of divine power. His book exhibits no traces of a scientific development. The most that can be said about him is that he was an intelligent student of Descartes and Malebranche, and had the ability to apply the results of his reading to the facts of his experience. In philosophy he is a curiosity, and nothing more. His biographer attributes the comparative failure of the Clavis to its inferiority in point of style, but the crudeness of his thought had quite as much to do with his failure to gain a hearing. Hamilton (Discussions, p. 197) allows greater sagacity to Collier than to Berkeley, on the grounds that he did not vainly attempt to enlist man's natural belief against the hypothetical realism of the philosophers. But Collier did so as far as his light enabled him. He appealed to the popular conviction that the proper object of sense is the sole reality, although he despaired of getting men to give up their belief in its externality, and asserted that nothing but prejudice prevented them from doing so; and there is little doubt that, if it had ever occurred to him, as it did to Berkeley, to explain the genesis of the notion of externality, he would have been more hopeful of commending his theory to the popular mind.
In theology Collier was an adherent of the High Church party, though his views were by no means orthodox. In the Jacobite Mists Journal he attacked Bishop Hoadly's defence of sincere errors. His views on the problems of Arianism, and his attempt to reconcile it with orthodox theology, are contained in A Specimen of True Philosophy
(1730, reprinted in Metaphysical Tracts, 1837) and Logology, or a Treatise on the Logos in Seven Sermons on John 1. 1, 2, 3, 14
(1732, analysed in Metaph. Tracts). These may be compared with Berkeley's Sins
Literature on A. Collier
- Johnston G. A. Berkeley’s Relation to Collier // Johnston G. A. The Development of Berkeley's Philosophy. Read Books, 2007.
- download G. A. Johnston’s book in DjVu and other formats from Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...