Knocking his sconce

How did Aristotle come to his a priori, intuitive conviction that material bodies actually exist? "How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure." Stephen here is fictively allying Aristotle with the 18th century man of letters Samuel Johnson, who had no patience for Bishop Berkeley's "ingenious sophistry" (in the words of James Boswell) "to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal." Asked to refute Berkeley's position, Johnson did so physically rather than argumentatively.

JH 2014

Oil portrait of Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1771, displayed in the Tate Gallery in London. Source: Wikimedia Commons.