Scepticism Descartes and Hume

Document Type:Essay

Subject Area:Philosophy

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They both addressed the issue of scepticism but had different opinions about it. The theory is based on the idea that human beings make judgements about various issues and things in their life. The judgments are mostly based on past experiences and contain elements of doubt; we are then prompted to make a judgment about that doubt, and since this judgment is also based on past experience it will in turn produce a new doubt. Once again, we are impelled to make a judgment about this second doubt, making the cycle to continue. Therefore, scepticism, whether approached from Descartes’ or Hume’s perspective, has no particular conclusion and is a matter of choice by an individual. The sceptical bottom line as described by David Hume is that even our best theories about both physical and mental phenomena will be plagued with contradictions. Hume also addresses the topic of scepticism in his Enquiry but treats the matter somewhat differently by rejecting the extreme scepticism and accepting a more moderate form of scepticism (Greco, 2011). He associates extreme Pyrrhonian scepticism with blanket attacks on all reasoning about the external world, abstract reasoning about space and time, or causal reasoning about matters of fact. He argues, though, that we must reject such scepticism since there is no any benefit that endures can ever result from it. Instead, Hume recommends a more moderate or academic scepticism that tones down Pyrrhonism by, first, exercising caution and modesty in our judgments, and, second, by restricting our speculations to abstract reasoning and matters of fact (Lewandowsky, Mann, Brown, & Friedman, 2016).

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A second contradiction involves a conflict between two theories of external perception, each of which our natural reasoning process leads us to. One is our natural inclination to believe that we are directly seeing objects as they really are, and the other is the more philosophical view that we only ever see mental images or copies of external objects (Lewandowsky, Mann, Brown, & Friedman, 2016). The third contradiction involves a conflict between causal reasoning and belief in the continued existence of matter. After listing these contradictions, Hume despairs over the failure of his metaphysical reasoning. However, he pacifies his despair by recognizing that nature forces him to set aside his philosophical speculations and return to the normal activities of common life (Greco, 2011). In other words, Hume is saying that moderate scepticism is necessary.

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Descartes is responsible for the scepticism that has been labelled Cartesian doubt (Wilson, 2012). Hume critiques this scepticism in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. After his discussion of Cartesian doubt, he offers a different type of scepticism that he considers as being more effective philosophically (Lewandowsky, Mann, Brown, & Friedman, 2016). The question is: is Hume right in his characterization of Cartesian doubt and is the scepticism he offers better? Descartes introduced the idea of universal doubt to philosophy. d. It allows philosophy to be brought down to basic principles and gives a foundation to slowly build upon. This slow progress allows a review of thoughts and establishes sure steps to truths. Hume's scepticism is limiting but not as limiting as Cartesian doubt (Lewandowsky, Mann, Brown, & Friedman, 2016). Hume calls this mitigated scepticism another species of mitigated scepticism which may be of advantage to man-kind is the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding (Greco, 2011).

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Rene Descartes concluded that one self was merely a continuous awareness of one’s own existence; one’s substance was one’s ability to think. On the other hand, David Hume, an empiricist refuted Descartes conclusion and claimed that the concept of self was nonsense, the idea could not be linked to any sensual experience (Descartes, 1641). Hume concluded that there was no such thing as self, i. e. self does not actually exist. Similarly, thinking that the dream state is more pleasurable would definitely be pleasurable. In conclusion, the issue of scepticism is a matter of choice by an individual based on the propositions and arguments of both Hume and Descartes. Whether refuting or supporting an idea, the propositions and arguments of Hume and Descartes can be pooled together in a way to combine and help explain human behaviour.

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Descartes argues that we cannot distinguish being awake from dreaming. But if our thoughts determine our existence, then it’s a contradiction because according to that belief, a person would either think he is awake, and therefore be awake simply because he thinks himself to be awake or be dreaming because he believes he is dreaming. d.  Dream Scepticism in Descartes’ Meditations and the Matrix. Greco, J.  The Oxford handbook of skepticism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Friedman, H. Science and the public: Debate, denial, and skepticism.  Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 4(2), 537-553. doi:10. jspp. analys/ans117.

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