The Privilege Class of Solipsism --

Philosophical art review by Johnes Ruta:
"The Bermuda Group (Dean George Berkeley and His Entourage)"
an 18th century painting by John Smibert
Oils on canvas, (begun 1728, completed 1739) 176.5 x 236.2 cm (69 1/2 x 93 in )
by John Smibert, American, born Scotland, 1688 - 1751

Painting on display in the Yale Art Gallery exhibition "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness"
thru December 31, 2011, and now in the Permanent Collection.

In 1729, Dean George Berkeley set out from London to found a college in Bermuda "for the better supplying of churches in our foreign plantations and for converting the savage Americans to Christianity." Berkeley's friend John Wainwright commissioned a portrait of the members of the expedition from John Smibert, a minor Scottish painter whom Berkeley had invited to teach art in the new college. The painting was begun in London, and was completed after the group arrived in Newport to wait additional funding for their college. Although Wainwright did not accompany Berkeley to the New World, Smibert places him prominently in the foreground. Dean Berkeley stands at the right next to his infant son Henry, his wife Anne, and her companion Miss Handcock. The two wigged gentlemen are John James and Richard Dalton, administrators for the new college. At the far left, looking out at the viewer, stands the artist himself. When the Bermuda college scheme failed, Smibert, the first academy-trained painter to work in the American colonies, established a studio in Boston, where he became the city's most sought-after portraitist, enjoying a lofty professional reputation. The Bermuda Group would remain his most ambitious work. As the most sophisticated group portrait painted in the colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century, it was a source of inspiration to numerous artists during the succeeding eighty years. |
The True Dynamics of Solipsism
essay by Johnes Ruta,

This is a strangely fascinating painting, as George Berkeley is an important figure in the history of 18th century philosophy.  A careful study of the figures in this painting reveals many curious clues to the sensibility of a pivotal movement in intellectual history.  Here we see Dean George Berkeley with his family, his sponsor, and teaching administrators as two wigged gentlemen.  In 1729,  twenty years after the publication of his theory of Immaterialism, this group left England, ostensibly to open a college on the island of Bermuda, for the purpose of training ministers especially for the churches of the southern colonies of North America. They first traveled to American and landed at Newport, where Berkeley bought a plantation while he waited for the promised funding for his school to arrive. Bishop George Berkeley, consecrated in 1724, was a modern figure in the philosophical movement called “Empiricism,” a system that in the Western world originated with Epicurus in ancient Athens, who maintained that the senses, rather than reason, were the only sources of knowledge.  This principle was perpetuated by Berkeley's philosophical predecessors Thales, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, and Leibniz. In terms of the categories of idealism and materialism, the concept of  “Immaterialism” argued by Berkeley has been variously misunderstood and quite often mocked as absurd, ego-centric, and irrational.  But where it borders solipsism, and has generated seemingly conflicting interpretations, it needs deeper understanding, and deeper analysis.

Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist, the epistemo-logical position that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure. To better understand Berkeley’s Immaterialism, we should compare it to the principles of solipsism, which are divided into defined into three levels: 1. Egotism, that is, the isolation or self-perceived supremacy of the individual personality;  2. Metaphysical, encompassing the questions of philosophy regarding individual perspective and relationships; and  3. Epistemological, in the study historical development of the field of knowledge, in this case of the juxtaposition of matter and perception. 
The principle of materialism can be traced back in the West to the beginnings of thought about nature and the composition of the world: Around 585 BCE, the astronomer Thales argued that matter is derived from water and is always in a state of flux. Around 80 years later, Heraclitus compared the sensation of the passage of time to the flow of a river. Heraclitus also postulated that Fire was the basic matter of the universe, also that all things are in a state of flux from am opposite perspective, thus in a  process of  “Becoming”.  Parmenides, born 510 BCE, opens the door from physics  into  “metaphysics” – whether “being” is objective or cosmic: In the sentence structure of his allegorical story-telling in On Nature, and later in The Way of Truth, and The Way of Seeing, he constructs and uses new linguistic conjunctions of subject, verb, and predicate objects to both establish and equivocate objects which exist  thus illustrating them as the focal points of experiential reality. This technique thereby raises the dialectical question of an existential nature of “Being,” that is, human experience considered in a cosmological context.

In modern Western philosophy, the epistemological doctrine had been begun as a core tenet of Descartes—that what is in the mind is known more reliably than what is known through the senses.  Descartes, trying to establish the continuity of personal identity, and as a remedy to an inevitable skepticism of everything, proposed that the continuity of the “self” derives from thought. This would soon enable the extreme view that the orientation of the senses is the sole reality of the world. John Locke in his Understanding of Human Experience came to the conclusion that we are not born with any innate knowledge, even such as the presence of God, and that human identity is “the gift of experience”— that the sum of these is what defines the personality.  The first prominent modern Western idealist in the metaphysical sense was George Berkeley  who argued that there is no deep distinction between mental states, such as feeling pain, and the ideas about so-called "external" things, that appear to us through the senses. There is no real  distinction, in this view, between certain sensations of heat and light that we experience, which lead us to believe in the external existence of a fire, and the fire itself. Those sensations are all there is to fire. Berkeley expressed this with the Latin formula esse est percipi: "to be is to be perceived."

In response to Locke, Berkeley put forth in his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) an important challenge to empiricism in which things only exist either as a result of their being perceived, or by virtue of the fact that they are an entity doing the perceiving. (For Berkeley, God fills in for humans by doing the perceiving whenever humans are not around to do it). In his text Alciphron, Berkeley maintained that any order humans may see in nature is the language or handwriting of God.To trace the theoretical history of Berkeley’s logic, this form of perspective is carried to its logical extreme in his view of the world which defines a subjective reality for each person, in which there is no other material dimension than the pure imports of each person’s own perceptions. It is as though when one walks from one room to another, the physical reality is only that in which one is present from moment to moment, and forms as one arrives, and is dissipated and disintegrated from the space from where one has moved away.  Berkeley's “Immaterialism” is defined as a subjective idealism in which is a purely subjective uni-verse.  The disconnect favored is between the senses and any acknowledgement of an independent material  reality, and that there can be no distinction between primary and secondary qualities of objects, because objects themselves cannot exist unless perceived by the senses. Berkeley would go on to reject both Newton's system of Fluxions, which Leibniz also developed as The Calculus, and Leibniz' mathematical theory of Infinitesimals, as based on introspective measurement of particulate existence,  which  would  acknowledge motion in an external material reality.

Berkeley's philosophy was mocked and rejected in his own time by many, even by the lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson, who while walking in the woods, demonstrated his view of Berkeley's error by the act of kicking a stone, "I refute Berkeley thus !"
The interpretations of Berkeley's philosophy range from it being seen as a denial of any external reality, to a more comprehensive view that now appears an as advanced  theory of the functions of brain synapses in cognitive science -- that all perceptions form cohesive patterns in the mind reflecting  real external realities.

In this nearly mural size painting nearly 8 feet wide by 6 feet in height, John Smibert has captured a revealing situation: the essence of solipsism that Berkeley’s ideology encapsules is evident in the expression of each figure:  George Berkeley himself gazes off into the heavens, looking diagonally upward across the foreground of the painting.  His mind is set on the functionality of the Church of England as a tool to promote the greater solipsism of the Crown of England: his college has been designed with the purpose to train Presbyterian ministers who will be disseminated to the colonies where they will work to keep the indentured servants, slaves, and Native American “savages” from rebelling against the ceaseless exploitation of their plantation masters, under the threat of eternal punishment.  Berkeley’s right hand rests upon the authority of the Book, perhaps either a law book, or one of his own published philosophical treatises. His left hand is folded in a properly posed, yet unconsciously sinister hidden manner around his back. Berkeley’s friend and sponsor John Wainwright sits at the left looking with adoration at Berkeley, his hands inscribing George’s pronouncements.  Berkeley’s wife Ann and infant son Henry gaze out at the viewer, as does the figure at the far left attributed to be Smibert himself, all seeming to appeal to the empathy of the viewer. Ann’s companion Miss Handcock looks to Ann at her left, while she quietly points with her left hand to the wigged person of John James standing at her right, as though he were her paramour. Meanwhile Richard Dalton stands behind her left side with his hand poised on the back of her chair, in the proximity to her bare shoulder, while gazing with an expectant, almost inviting look at John James, whose own eyes fixedly press down ambiguously, or flickeringly, both in the same direction as the writing in Wainwright’s large book, and upon the glowing skin of Miss Handcock’s open, elegant décolletage.  So here we have a topographical map manifesting the essence of Berkeley’s theory of “Immaterialism,” which had been published in 1709. Each figure exists within the epitome of their own subjective reality. …

This is a weird painting, in which Smibert, we know not whether wittingly or unwittingly, has nailed the impertinent political reality of Berkeley’s “Immaterialism,” in which each character on the surface appears to be part of a cooperative group mission, but in deeper, more subtle personal reality manifests their own self-seeking interests. . In political terms, I would describe Berkeley’s principle as “Reality Chauvinism,” and it can only be related in practice as the anticipation, 150 years ahead of its time, in the expression of “Social Darwinism” of the late 1800s. Smibert was hired to teach art at the College, and accompanied Berkeley, his family and entourage, but without Wainwright. They sailed instead to the American colonies, where they finally landed at Newport.  There Berkeley bought a small plantation, while awaiting the government funds to arrive that had been allocated to start his Bermuda College.

Were we to compare the land forms of Bermuda itself to the background landscape of the painting, we would detect an exaggeration of the rocky coast, and inaccuracy of the type of trees depicted.  Smibert soon left Newport and went on to Boston where he lived and worked the rest of his life. As a portraitist in the colonies, his artistic vision became the prominent trend-setter for American portraitists of the rest on the 18th century.  Berkeley went back to England in 1732. Some of Smibert's other multiple portraits such as "Sir Francis Grant and His Family" 1718,  "The Continence of Scipio" 1726;   "Daniel, Peter, and Andrew Oliver" 1732;  as shown on Richard H. Saunders on-line book on Smibert here.

do  give some interesting clues to the interpersonal dynamics found in “The Bermuda Group” more difficult to analyze.  
However, Berkeley’s stated purpose to create the Bermuda College, in order to supply the churches of the New World with ministers, no doubt trained in Berkeley’s perspective, would be agents first to perpetuate and ensure the rule of the King of England, that is, the imperial singularity of the monarch in the order of the “divine right of kings.” More to the point, Berkeley’s mindset was built to preserve the social order as the perceived and correct order of the universe : God maintains the imperial "observership" of all actions in the world, and hands down the protectorship of the moral order to the king, then the nobles, then the wealthy plantation owners.  In this century in the New world, as in the Old, rights are the dominion of "Real Politic", specifically the class of land-ownership.  The social order must be maintained against potential and feared uprisings of those “savage [native] Americans,” and the indentured servant and the slave classes who worked those plantations of the southern American colonies…!   This was not the Humanism of John Locke, who advocated the principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number." For those workers no “subjective reality” would be permitted in any society or in any plantation church community before the American Revolution, and for the slaves, not until the Emancipation Proclamation.  Subjective Idealism was surely only a domain of the privileged classes, and is still being fought for in the 21st century – witness the Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street movements.  
Ironically, in terms of any persistence of Berkeley’s reality, when he left England and came to Newport, it appears that his arrangements of reality for the disposition of funds to found his college on Bermuda, then faded in the real world of English politics. Reality check.

Posted by AzothGallery at 1/24/2012 11:49 PM | Add Comment
1/2/2012 12:40 AM
Claudine Burns-Smith wrote:
It's amazing how different interpretations of the same painting can be given, and they are not mutually exclusive. Seeing this painting sent you on a historical philosophical interpretation but here is another one, more psychological:

Dean B. and his family form one group. He is lost in his lofty philosophical and religious ideals and does not know what is going on around him. She is down to earth, busy with real life taking care of a child, and not afraid of honestly looking us in the eye. She looks very centered and confident in who she is. Let the others worry about the spiritual world.

Sitting on the left is Wainwright, the fan, taking down every word the great man utters. But he is just a symbolic presence required as an audience for Berkeley.

The two wigged gentlemen and the other woman are interesting characters. The one on the right has his arm possessively resting on the back of the woman's chair, suggesting he might be the husband. The woman is looking at B.'s wife, probably confiding in her, but is pointing at the other guy. What is so special about him? He is looking down at what you might think is the notebook held by Wainwright but could it be he is actually examining the woman's bosom that she is displaying in his direction so prominently. Is he her lover? Do we have a triangle here?

The last character, actually a self-portrait of the artist, is looking angrily straight at us, seeming to tell us we have no business seeing this scene. We are voyeurs witnessing the secret drama of two dysfunctional families.

Of course there is also the artist's interpretation analyzing colors and composition.

Anybody can make up stories about paintings and I had fun doing this one. I am glad you liked it.
Happy New Year!

1/8/2012 12:53 PM
Magdalena Mraz wrote:
Hi Johnes,
All the best in the coming year! It certainly started with the great promise of your interesting essay on painting by John Smibert. I believe that your observations of the personalities in his painting and their "enlightened self-interest" is keen and correct (how many times have I heard this fundamentally contradictory phrase defended in my upper east side Unitarian church?) It reminds me of frequently quoted Thomas Jefferson and his peculiar mixture of idealism and pragmatism; perhaps a term "Immaterialism" would fit his philosophy as well as Berkeley's.

To me, the most interesting portraits in this painting are those facing the viewer directly. Intelligent and maternal gaze (with a hint of irony) of Dean's wife seems to belong to a female who represents a good grounding force for her rotund yet "immaterial" husband. The child she is holding suggests a possibility of a fresh start and perhaps an amusement of a future generation viewing the pompous setting.The most captivating, however, is the very direct, piercing glance of an artist himself, reminiscent of an insertion of Diego Velazquez into his painting of the Spanish royal family ('"The Maids of Honor", I think). He appears to see himself at once as a witness, social critic and a detached, somewhat elevated observer. Although in the background and almost added to the picture, he is the one holding the true power, not prominently placed Berkeley. So I believe Smibert managed to mock all the other males in the painting, sharing the ground with the mother and the child instead. Thus he gave himself the best spot and got paid for it too. How is that for an enlightened self-interest, if not entirely "immaterial" philosophically in this case. But at least he is the most unpretentious person in the group. Never under-estimate the power an artist! I am happy (and envious) you are beginning to practice the power of your art of writing again, but it helps to increase my own writing urges too.

4/20/2012 6:53 AM
Nick Grossmann wrote:
a thought

Hey bratha!! Hey dude...I've been obsessing about god or higher power..Anyway people never understand that it always today i pondered and came up with an argument that it always existed and it involves the number zero..i don't know if someone lese has made this up but tell me how you feel about this...

First there was nothing and the mathematical equation for nothing is zero...Zero is just a ghost...Zero is the seed...Now the seed grows into a flower...The seed which is the ghost or just a spirit had a thought and it manifested it into the physical...So then the creation process began as the flower pollinated and created more seeds which spawned into more and more flowers..0 + 1 = 1 spirit + th...ought = creation...So zero could be the most powerful number...Weather you believe in a higher power or not it makes you think that if nothing is the number zero then that could argue if there is a higher power that it always existed ... That zero...the ghost... A spirit manifested its thought to create into a physical manifestation and that spirit was a seed and created the flower of life so you can say zero is the highest and most powerful number...

4/27/2012 6:48 PM
Johnes Ruta wrote:
Hey, Nick, thank you for your brilliant understanding of the question of Being vs. Nothing! -- Your concept and theory of the ZERO are crucial in this understanding. There are many facets in our relationship to "Reality" as the activity of our presence in Time and Space. ZERO IS the both place-holder of the quantitative universe, AND the bubble of the Void of the cosmos, AND the SEED of the flower of Consciousness. Einstein used the term "World-Line" to describe the ascending path of consciousness over a period or a sequence of moments, translated as points of measured Time over days, years, or centuries. These moments are each a bit of experiential essence. They are also the path of Evolution -- the unfolding of the Flower... To reconcile the principle of Becoming and the principle of Being, I would say that we must allow ourselves the perception of the intense moment-by-moment awareness of the technicolor cosmic energies that surround us -- that Consciousness is "Being," and Being is Consciousness. "Time" is the motion of Fluid energy. Growth and Evolution are the "Becoming."
Valeriu Boborelu wrote:

Nicholae Grigorescu Academy of Art,
Bucharest, Romania

Johnes Ruta, a complex writer and art critic and reader of Western Philosophy, presents an interesting and challenging essay which reflects social-spiritual tendencies in human society from Berkeley’s century until our times.

The idea of writing this essay was inspired by John Smibert’s 1729 painting of “The Bermuda Group,” displayed in the Yale Art Gallery exhibition “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The artist Smibert depicts in a traditional and documentary style a major figure of Eighteenth century philosophy, the David George Berkeley and his entourage – family, sponsor, and teaching administrators. Ruta gives a subtle, aesthetic description of the painting, compositional disposition of personages – dominated by the tall stature of Berkeley. The figures are related to the whole atmosphere of art work, but in the same time each of them seems to have their own mind-inside preoccupation – similar to Berkeley’s concept of Immaterialism that Ruta relates to solipsism.

Berkeley and his group descended from London in 1729 with the main goal to create on the island of Bermuda a college “for better supplying of churches in our foreign plantations” and to convert the people to Christianity.

Inspired by the philosophical ideas of Berkeley, Ruta develops a multi-layered social-spiritual web which represents a dynamic, dramatic relation between Idealism and Materialism, the continuing search of the human mind to define the truth, the reality, and the field of knowledge. He considers Berkeley a preeminent figure in the philosophical movement called Empiricism. This system originated with thinkers like Epicurus (senses: valid source of knowledge), Thales, Aristotle, Descartes (mind perception is superior to the senses), John Locke (experience if essential), or Leibniz.

Ruta shows that “in terms of categories of Idealism and Materialism, the concept of Immaterialism – argued by Berkeley has been variously misunderstood.” and also, when the idea of Immaterialism “became close to solipsism (only one’s own mind is sure to exist), there have been generated conflicting interpretations…” The principles of solipsism can be summarized as: 1. Egotism (isolation of the self), 2. Metaphysical (individual perspective), and 3. Epistemological (history of the field of knowledge.)

Ruta emphasizes that Berkeley, as this “preeminent Western Idealist in the metaphysical sense” sustains that deep distinction between mental states and external things, and, Ruta continues, “Berkeley expressed this with the Latin formula “Esse est percepi” (To be is to be perceived.) , and thereby concludes that “Berkeley’s concept of Immaterialism is carried to its logical extreme “with this view of the world which defines a subjective reality from each person” (a purely subjective uni-verse.)

The philosophical Berkeley sees the whole universe as a manifestation of a supreme deity, the God and “any order humans may see in nature is the landscape of the handwriting of God…”

In the Eighteenth century, the sophisticated term of “Immaterialism” (and solipsism) would be applied only to the privileged classes, superior beings, and the land-owners (“to preserve the social order as the perceived and correct order of the universe.”

In the conclusion of his essay, Ruta says “Subjective Idealism,” as proposed by Berkeley, was surely only a domain of the privileged classes and is still being fought for in the 21st century. There are indeed many problems of our contemporary world: social movements discontent with governments, the struggle of people to find truth, the correct relations between the members of society. Inspired by Ruta’s essay, I would like to present some additional ideas, concepts from some philosophical thinking, religious teachings, and some spiritual thinkers and writers.

* Buddhist School – Vaibhasika

-- Direct Perception and inference are valid conditions.

-- Existence of: * sense perception

* mental direct perception

* yogic direct perception

-- existence of Ultimate and Relative Truths.

* Buddhist School – Sautrantikas

-- existence of Ultimate and Relative Truths.

-- Ultimate Truth: a phenomenon that is able to perform a function.

-- things that exist momentarily.

-- physical sense powers are not valid cognition.

-- mental perception is valid cognition.

-- existence of direct perception: sense, mental, yogic, self-consciousness.

* Buddhist school of Mind only (Cittamatras)

-- the basis of all phenomena is the mind.

-- the appearance of all external objects is similar to dreams; external objects do not exist and they only exist in the mind.

* Buddhist Mahayana school

-- all phenomena are in a continuum of change, and flux movement.

-- all phenomena are depending arising: depend on causes and on conditions.

-- Theory of Emptiness: lack of inherent existence.

-- Selflessness * of beings

* of objects

-- all phenomena are impermanent , except 3 categories: * emptiness

* space

* analytical and non-analytical

-- the existence of the mind of clear light : the most subtle mind, the Buddha nature

-- Bodhicitta : the love, compassion for all beings

-- the Great Beings – Bodhissatvas – take the vows of Bodhicitta – to help all other beings to become liberated from Samsara abd obtain supreme state of Enlightenment.

-- Buddha Sakyamuhti : never think “I, mine, me.”

* Sri Ramana Maharishi -- the essential question: Who am I ?

-- the nature of self : contrary to perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality

but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness.

* Self = God

-- the self is ever present

-- the silent self is god

* Sri Chinmoy

-- “Man and God are eternally one.”

* Pard Mahansa Yogananda “The Divine Romance”

-- “Christ is right here, he can be seen if you look within your forehead at the point between the eyebrows, the center of Christ-consciousness, the seat of the single or spiritual eye.”

* Caroline Cory “The visible and invisible worlds of God.”

-- the Creator Source is without beginning and end.

-- the Creator Source is not one being or one person. It is layered multi-dimensional existence.

-- we are one minute particle of the Creator Source.


Creator Source



Creator Consciousness

| |
| |

Divine Creator Creator Energy

(Father) (Mother)

| |


O Massive Body of Light-consciousness
particles “Split-off”

__________________________ |_______________________
| | |
Divine and Celestial Solar and Planetary Intelligent
Beings Systems Evolutionary Being

* Gabriel of Sedona “The Cosmic Family”

-- our planet is going through important changes : we are passing now from 3rd to 4th dimension.

-- subtle, superior beings are involved in helping our planet.

-- some of these great beings take the human re-personalization in order to help direct our planet.

-- Deo-Atomic = atomic structures in alignment with God and Paradise absolute and are connected to cosmic vibration patterns.

-- Deo-Atomic Cells aligned with Paradise absolute and are cells of future Light Body.

-- the fourth epochal revelation was fulfilled when the Creator Son of our local universe,

Christ-Michael bestowed himself as a human mortal, Jesus of Nazareth to portray the nature of his Paradise Father.

* Urantia – the cosmic name of our planet.

-- Urantia is Planet 606 in the system of Satania, in the constellation of Norlatiadek, in the universe Nebadon, in the super-universe of Orvonton.

-- Michael (Christ) of Nebadon chose among all the planets in his universe for his Seventh Bestowal, as a human mortal, in which he revealed the loving nature of the Universal Father.

-- Urantia is sometimes called “The World of the Cross” because it is the only planet in the 700,000 local universes where a creator son was put to death by his own creatures.

* KRISHNANANDA (“2012 End or beginning.”)

-- “There are ‘Light Beings,’ Astral Masters and a Divine Plan waiting to help us and gift to us higher living facilities and comforts. We have to get ready to receive them. We can qualify by just going back to our original state : the state of love, peace, and truth. Positivise, remove all violence, corruption and aggression.

-- We have to meditate and channel Light a lot to transform. It is actually possible for the transition into the Light Age to be peaceful; and painless.

* Quantum Theory

-- All our thoughts, emotions, and activities are recorded on a subtle level (“Crystal Cave”).

When we are passing away the recordings from the “Crystal Cave” are transferring to the matrix of the Earth (the subtle energetic grid) for the benefit of Humanity.

January 2012, Valeriu Boborelu

Posted by AzothGallery at 1/22/2012 5:47 PM | Add Comment