Descartes and Hume. Rationalism and empiricism. Two of the most iconic philosophers who are both credited with polarizing theories, both claiming they knew the answer to the origin of knowledge and the way people comprehend knowledge. Yet, despite the many differences that conflict each other’s ideologies, they’re strikingly similar as well. In this essay I will attempt to find an understanding of both rationalism and empiricism, show the ideologies of both philosophers all whilst evaluating why one is more theory is potentially more true than the other.
In his book of on First Philosophy, Descartes attempts to discover a foundation of knowledge. He is essentially looking for total certainty. By doing so this meant he doubted everything and by doing so he concludes that the only thing he is certain of is himself.
Meditation One: Descartes explores his methodology of doubt. He takes all his beliefs and subjects them all by doubt. He invokes the concept of a powerful evil spirit that could be confused in the field of sensory perception, their understanding of matter and even in the simplest case of mathematics, as in equation 2 + 3 = 5. (Clarke, 1982) Doubts can be dark, but the strength of the method, the low level of what is a reasonable doubt means that almost anything can count as a question. Therefore, whatever resistance may be something he regards as absolutely true.
Meditation Two: Descartes uses the principle of doubt that he solicited. He found that his existence is real when he thinks of himself. This view insinuates that Descartes believes whatever can think must exist, which he logically concluded that he exists. He comes to believe that he exists since there is a God that deceives him about his existence, something that can only be done if he exists.
“But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind.” (Holbo, 2003)
This leads to a theory in which he can only prove his own existence through thought but is unable to justify what exists outside of himself.
Descartes stated the mind is easier to trust compared to the human body. He exclaims any belief felt from senses could be interfered with by doubt. In conclusion he cannot be certain with existence of his own body because it perceives through senses. Descartes tries to prove that we know our body from logical reason instead of sense. (Clarke, 1982)
He displayed this through the knowledge of wax and how uses the mind rather than sense. The wax tastes like honey with an aroma that smells like flowers. It has it’s own distinctive qualities that give it a unique shape and size. He put the wax near a fire, ultimately melting the wax and changing its distinctive qualities. It no longer tastes like honey nor smells like flowers. It melts into a liquid that is too hard to touch. All the senses originally displayed from the pre-melted wax had changed drastically. Despite all the difference, it’s still same piece of wax remains. After removing everything that does not belong to the wax, it’s a completely new form. The original piece of wax is remains as wax, but if you compare the two pieces of wax, they share no similarities. This proved that you can’t depict the meaning of the truth about physical objects. The wax is capable of complete transformation; demonstrating imagination does not impede vision.
Descartes then stated that even bodies are not properly perceived by sense or imagination, but are perceived accurately through logic. Through the ability to reason and understand in which provides the knowledge and let the mind know the way an object exists.
Different to Descartes’ theory of skepticism, Hume uses the ideology of cause and effect. He speaks a person’s impressions and ideas, and why we believe what we do.
Hume breaks down the definitions of the causes and traits that define the cause. Fusion is the ideology that things hang together, or being the result of others. There are varieties of causes leading to all purposes, if they can be uncovered. As Hume said, “Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other”. (Hume, 1748)
The object/target can be connected and you must see the connection to comprehend it. The cause of the action isn’t dependent on the known characteristics of objects, but rather connected and the thought of ideas. Hume denies the definition of the idea that something is productive of another, for the cause and creation/production are synonymous, and therefore allows the use of the other definition is circular. He wondered why it is of emphasis that each life has a commencement that must also have a cause. Hume also questioned why the distinct causes must have an effect so special and why there is a conclusion drawn to each other. The statement that everything has an inception also has a reason for being is not demonstrated by any quantification, degrees of any quality, or conflict, and continuity; consequently, is unable to be questioned using common knowledge. Following Hume’s logic, all that there is a beginning, and a cause. This topic is controversial, because it’s foundation, being reasons in areas where it can be depicted that the notion of reason is a necessity. So, the question derives as evidence of cause and effect in correlation with the conclusion in which stems from the beginning.
The ideology of cause and effect can differ over a truthful impression in the mind or the thoughts in the mind. We first must demonstrate the case before it could dictate the effects on them. There are two ways of doing it, directly or our senses. For example, “A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island would conclude that there had once been men in that island”. (Hume, 1711) Regardless of the source of the impression, the imagination and perception of the senses is the base of reasoning that correlates the relation of cause and effect.
The idea of necessity is found in-between cause and effect, so that the focus is on their behalf. All ideas are created impressions and the necessary connection of cause and effect relationship is the thought to do with each other. However, you do need a sense of physical objects. “All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning”. (Cahn, 2002) The idea of the connection comes from existing knowledge. That knowledge doesn’t change anything in the objects, or make them relate to each other, it only affects the mind. “Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses”. (Hume, 1748)
After thoroughly explaining Descartes’ and Hume’s beliefs, its clear Descartes is a rationalist that claims that our most basic truths come from our capacity to reason and logically think instead of using our experience of the world. Such knowledge includes math, geometry, intuition, and even God. Descartes doesn’t completely discredit what experience provides; only that experience cannot impart a basis of knowledge for science. Empiricist, Hume claims that the origin of knowledge derives from experience. He rejects the idea of substance and god because they do not stem from our experiences in the world.
Despite the aforementioned differences, there are shared similarities between the two. Both philosophers acknowledged that the self was integral to the origin on the knowledge. The self was the start to philosophical reflection. Although Hume did not share the belief in the existence of the self compared to Descartes, he understood humanities with it; “our propension to confound identity with relation is so great, that we are apt to imagine something unknown and mysterious connecting the parts (126)” This exemplifies that Hume is conscious of the wants and desires of humans with their mind and soul.
Logically speaking, Hume’s theory makes the most sense due to the knowledge learned from cause and effect. I understand the relationship between the beginning to its adjacent cause and it applies to everyday life in society. Unlike Hume, Descartes suggests the origin of knowledge is logical and through self-doubt. Yet, he is unable to provide proof of the existence of god despite playing a substantial role in his theory. Hume on the other hand can only confirm what has already happened, being that is the most truthful and logical approach.
In conclusion, both Descartes and Hume, Hume lived in a revolutionary period and turbulent history. That is, the revolutionary impact of modern science has brought about significant changes in the thinking of scientists, philosophers and men. Many of René Descartes and David Hume’s ideas are still used as bases of modern thought today.