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Clavis universalis

by Arthur Collier



By this edition of Collier's "Clavis Universalis" it is hoped to call attention to a book otherwise inaccessible, which, though curiously parallel to Berkeley's contemporary works, has undoubted independent value; and which anticipates Kant's first two antinomies. The whole history of philosophy perhaps presents no more striking example of undeserved neglect, and no more curious coincidence of thought than the eighteenth century in England. By entirely different modes of approach and unknown to each other, Berkeley and Collier reached the same conclusion, — that matter, as conceived by traditional philosophy, is nonexistent.

This edition of the "Clavis Universalis" is an exact and verified copy of the essay as it appears in Dr. Parr's "Metaphysical Tracts of the Eighteenth Century," a book now out of print. The Introduction and Notes are modified extracts from a Master's thesis accepted by the faculty of Wellesley College. They aim to show the direct dependence of Collier upon Des Cartes, Malebranche, and Norris, as well as the parallelism of Collier and Berkeley.

The thanks of the editor are due to Professor Mary Whiton Calkins who suggested and directed the work; to Dr. Benjamin Rand, of Harvard University, who has given counsel at several points; and to Mr. James Van Allen Shields who consulted the British Museum copy of Taylor's translation of Malebranche's "Recherche de la Verite."


In the early eighteenth century, metaphysical speculation turned from the material world toward the inner life of man. Des Cartes and Malebranche in France, and Locke in England, had stripped the external world of its warmth and light and color and had left to it little save the character of extension. The completely idealistic theory of matter was formulated at nearly the same time, and in apparent independence, by George Berkeley and by Arthur Collier. And yet Berkeley alone commonly has credit for the metaphysical discovery, while Collier's little volume of scarce a hundred pages remained practically unnoticed for more than fifty years.

The book seems to have attracted little or no attention even at the time of its publication. Had not Dr. Reid chanced upon it in the library at Glasgow, it might never have been known. Reid appreciated the value of the book, and in his "Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man," published in 1785, gives it brief notice. After a discussion of Norris's "Essay toward the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World," he says that he ought not to omit mention of "an author of far inferior name, Arthur Collier. . . . His arguments are the same in substance with Berkeley's; and he appears," Reid adds, "to understand the whole strength of his cause. Though he is not deficient in metaphysical acuteness, his style is disagreeable, being full of conceits, of new-coined words, scholastic terms, and perplexed sentences." Reid ends by saying, "I have taken the liberty to give this short account of Collier's book, because I believe it is rare and little known. I have only seen one copy of it, which is in the University library of Glasgow." * This notice attracted Dugald Stuart to the work, and in his "Dissertation: Exhibiting the Progress of Metaphysical, Ethical, and Political Philosophy" he compares Collier with Norris. "Another very acute metaphysician," he says, "has met with still greater injustice. His name is not to be found in any of our Biographical Dictionaries. In point of date, his publication is some years posterior to that of Norris, and therefore it does not possess the same claims to originality; but it is far superior to it in logical closeness and precision, and is not obscured to the same degree with the mystical theology which Norris (after the example of Malebranche) connected with the scheme of Idealism. Indeed, when compared with the writings of Berkeley himself, it yields to them less in force of argument, than in composition and variety of illustration." 2

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