In his recent post, Alan Fox mentions Samuel Johnson in defense of the existence of external reality. He is referring, of course, to Johnson’s famous criticism of Berkeley’s idealism as described by Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satsified his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”
Johnson’s “refutation” has always struck me as weak and based on a misunderstanding of idealism. Did Johnson think that if idealism were true, his foot would pass through the stone unimpeded?
While I accept (provisionally) the existence of the external world, I also think that an idealism in which sight is illusory is surely capable of manifesting an illusory sense of solidity as well. Kicking the stone proved nothing.
Thus I refute Johnson, though I’m sure I’m not the first to do so.