Borge's Use of Berkeley's Idealism
Jorge Luis Borges drew upon a number of philosophical and intellectual models in his writing, one of which is George Berkeley’s subjective idealism. In "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," Borges paints a picture of a perfect reality governed by Berkeley’s idea that matter only exists in perception, and in "The Circular Ruins," he presents a man who creates a boy who cannot exist independent of his perception. However, by employing Berkeley’s logic in these stories, Borges is in fact denying Berkeley’s ultimate purpose: the justification of the existence of God.
In almost all of his work, Berkeley’s fundamental goal is to logically disprove any thinking that presumes the non-existence of God (Muehlmann 231). In a nutshell, Berkeley argues that matter does not exist outside of human perception. In his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, he asserts the following:
If it be allowed that no idea nor anything like an idea can exist in an unperceiving substance, then surely it follows, that no figure or mode of extension which we can either perceive or imagine, or have any idea of, an be really inherent in matter. (Three Dialogues 139)
According to Berkeley, only qualities of matter exist, and only in the perceiving mind. For instance, fire as an object does not exist, but the sensation it produces in the mind does because the mind can perceive it. Outside of the perception of heat, fire does not exist because the mind is not present to acknowledge it (123-128).
Berkeley expands this principle further to justify the existence of God, arguing that for ideas to be perceivable, they must be perceived. Thus, anything that cannot be perceived by the mind can only exist in the mind of God (Muehlmann 231). Near the end of Principles of Human Knowledge, Berkeley declares the culmination of his theory:
Hence it is evident, that God is known as certainly and immediately as any other mind or spirit whatsoever, distinct from ourselves. We may even assert that the existence of God is far more evidently perceived than the existence of men; because the effects of Nature are infinitely more numerous and considerable, than those ascribed to human agents. (Principles 109)
Borges uses the same theory and logic in his writing, but he aims instead to pick apart this assumption of God.
The philosophy of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is described by one critic as "a kind of ultra-Berkeleyan idealism according to which the only realities are mental perceptions" (Dunham 36). On Tlön, there is no concept of space or matter and, there are no nouns in their languages, only verbs and adjectives. In effect, Borges uses subjective idealism to break down reality. Borges writes: "The nations of that planet are congenitally idealist. Their language, with its derivatives--religion, literature, and metaphysics—presupposes idealism" (Borges 23).
A system of geometry on Tlön "rejects the principle of parallelism, and...