Berkeley's Pitfall

What is "perfect"? The work carries connotations of something having reached the zenith of development. At first glance, this idea suggests an immutability to perfection since a change is something perfect means it is no longer wholly so; it is less than perfect. For this reason Berkeley argues for the permanence of the state of God's mind, the possessing of "transcendent and unlimited perfections" being necessary in a spirit to which omnipresence, providence, omniscience, and infinite power is attributed. All of this, however, contradicts the most important ability associated with God: the ability to create. Clearly one cannot create without change. Can something change and remain perfect?

Again, what is meant by the work "perfect"? According to medieval philosophy the strawberry is the perfect fruit. The underlying rationale in this judgment is that strawberries are flawless and pure. That is, they do not a carry an inedible, fruitless (sic) pit of any sort. On this basis, strawberries are a natural choice for the title. Is there a perfect cherry? Can there be one which is faultless in terms of taste, color, texture, et al? If such a standard of excellence exists, it is because a judgment of values has been made. The perfect cherry to eat, then, has a certain firmness to it, a pleasing odor, an agreeable taste, and an attractive color. It might even form sans pit. One must realize, though, that this perfect cherry retains its status only as long as it is judged by the set of values that deemed it complete in the first place. The ultimate purpose of a cherry is not to satiate one's appetite, but to form another cherry tree. A pitless cherry will not suffice. These considerations indicate that the concept of perfection is based more on value systems than on any tangible, absolute ideal extrinsic of human minds.

If perfection relies on the sense of esteem, then it is mutable. From moment to moment one finds the suitability of objects may change; a spoon is more compatible to the act of eating soup than of digging a basement. This example assumes that a premium is placed on effectiveness. If a higher worth is placed on inanity, then the perfect eating utensil may well be a spade.

Berkeley, however, does not like this idea. For him, perfection cannot be placed in so compromising a position. To make perfection changeable seems to make humans less responsible to God; people need only redefine perfection to justify their deeds.

Philonous: And are not you too of opinion,
that God knew all things from eternity?
Hylas: I am.

This, and the idea that an omniscient, all powerful being should ever need to change its mind about anything (i.e., that God would find it necessary to revise himself) together serve to undermine Berkeley's efforts toward proving the existence and rationality of an infallible god upon whom all humanity depends.

So to preserve the integrity of God's power, Berkeley sacrifices the mutability of this being. He still insists upon creation, but in terms of one relative to the perceptions of finite spirits- not a real creation per se. Yet, he also affirms the belief that God's will is active. This implies that it may change even if His ideas cannot. An embarrassing spectacle takes shape then with the asking of a simple question. Could God change His ideas if he wanted to? The answer inferred by Berkeley is negative; God is perfect and immutable. The consequences of this, though, appear to be an even greater imperfection than the one Berkeley takes pains to suppress.