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David Hume

Knowledge is gained only through experience, and experiences only exist in the mind as individual units of thought. This theory of knowledge belonged to David Hume, a Scottish philosopher. Hume was born on April 26, 1711, as his familys second son. His father died when he was an infant and left his mother to care for him, his older brother, and his sister. David Hume passed through ordinary classes with great success, and found an early love for literature. He lived on his familys estate, Ninewells, near Edinburgh.

Throughout his life, literature consumed his thoughts, and his life is little more than his works. By the age of 40, David Hume had been employed twice and had failed at the family careers, business and law. Occasionally, he served on diplomatic missions in France and other countries. Humes major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, was not well understood when first published, and received much criticism. The first two volumes were published in 1739, and the third in 1740. Immanuel Kant and other philosophers did notice his work and began respecting Hume for his reasoning.

Later, he republished the first and third volumes as An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, and An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals in 1748 and 1751 respectively. The second volume was used as Part 2 of Four Dissertations in 1757. During his lifetime Humes reputation derived from the publication of his Political Discourses (1751) and six-volume History of England (1754-1762), (Langley 415). David Hume discovered he was literary celebrity when visiting France in 1763.

He retired to Edinburgh in 1769 and lived a happy life. He passed away August 25, 1776 and left in his will that he only wanted his name and date on his gravestone, leaving it to posterity to add the rest, (Langley 415). Skepticism is the belief that people can not know the nature of things because perception reveals things not as they are, but as we experience them. In other words, knowledge is never known in truth, and humans should always question it. David Hume advanced skepticism to what he called mitigated skepticism.

Mitigated skepticism was his approach to try to rid skepticism of the thoughts of human origin, and only include questions that people may begin to understand. Humes goal was to limit philosophical questioning to things which could be comprehended. Empiricism states that knowledge is based on experience, so everything that is known is learned through experience, but nothing is ever truly known. David Hume called lively and strong experiences, perceptions, and less lively events, beliefs or thoughts.

Different words and concepts meant different things to different people due to the knowledge, or experiences they have. He believed, along with the fact that knowledge is only gained through experience, that a persons experiences are nothing more than the contents of his or her own consciousness. The knowledge of anything comes from the way it is perceived through the five senses. Hume began to distinguish between feelings and thoughts. Feelings are only impressions made upon the body, and thoughts arrive from impressions; for nothing can be thought that has not been experienced.

The meaning of ideas is more important than their truth. Belief results from ideas and assumptions, which are recollected from previous knowledge. Humes analysis of causal relation is that everything that happens beyond what is available to memory rests on assumption. Let us examine two cases: I see lightning and hear thunder; I see a rabbit and then a fox. The question is why I am right in concluding that lightning causes thunder but wrong in believing that rabbits cause foxes.

Experience, in both instances, reveals an A that is followed by B, and repeated experiences show that A is always followed by B. While the constant conjunction of A and B might eliminate the rabbit-fox hypothesis, it is of no help in explaining causality because there are all sorts of objects, such as tables and chairs, which are similarly conjoined but not supposed to be causally related. Thus experience reveals only that constant conjunction and priority are sufficient but not necessary conditions for establishing a causal connection. (Langley 417) David Hume was a great philosopher.

He was well known for his works and respected by the people of his time. His philosophical reasonings were written down to explain the unknown, to the people who know nothing but what they have experienced. Today philosophers read his material and highly regard his theory of knowledge. Empiricists and skeptics are still improving upon his thoughts. According to David Hume, there is no truth, but humans must continue to seek it by constantly improving upon one another. His theories can be used by ordinary people to improve upon themselves and their culture.

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StudyBoss » David Hume

David Hume

David Hume, a Scottish philosopher and historian who lived from 1711-76, carried the empiricism of John Locke and George Berkeley to the logical extreme of radical skepticism. Although his family wanted him to become a lawyer, he felt an “insurmountable resistance to everything but philosophy and learning”. Mr. Hume attended Edinburgh University where he studied but did not graduate, and in 1734 he moved to a French town called La Fleche to pursue philosophy. He later returned to Britain and began his literary career. As Hume built up his reputation, he gained more and more political power.

He discarded the possibility of certain knowledge, finding in the mind nothing but a series of sensations, and held that cause-and-effect in the natural world derives solely from the conjunction of two impressions. Hume’s skepticism is also evident in his writings on religion, in which he rejected any rational or natural theology. Besides his chief work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), he wrote Political Discourses (1752), The Natural History of Religion (1755), and a History of England (1754-62) that was, despite errors of fact, the standard work for many years. Nothing seems more unbounded than a man’s thought,” quoted Hume.

Hume took genuinely hypothetical elements from Locke and Berkeley but, rejected some lingering metaphysics form their thought, and gave empiricism its clearest and most rigorous formulation. (Stumpf) Hume wanted to build a science of a man, to study human nature by using the methods of physical science. But, with conflicting opinions offered on all subjects how can we know the true nature of things? Hume believed that all knowledge came from experience. He also believed that a person’s experience’s existed only in the person’s mind.

Although our body is confined to one planet, our mind can roam instantly into the most distant regions of the universe. Hume believed that there was a world outside of human conscience, but he did not think this could be proved. The contents of the mind can all be reduced to materials given us by the senses and experience, and those materials Hume calls perceptions. Hume grouped perceptions of the mind into one of two categories: impressions and ideas. (Stumpf) Impressions and ideas make up the total content of the mind.

Ideas are memories of sensations claimed Hume, but impressions are the cause of the sensation. In other words, an impression is part of a temporary feeling, but an idea is the permanent impact of this feeling. Hume believed that ideas were just dull imitations of impressions. Besides merely distinguishing between impressions there can be no ideas. For if an idea is simply a copy of an impression, it follows that for every idea there must be a prior impression. Hume’s most original and influential ideas deal with the problem of causality. Neither Locke nor Berkeley ….. hallenged the basic principle of causality.

For Hume, the very idea of causality is suspect, and he approaches the problem by asking the question, “what is the origin of the idea of causality? ” Since ideas are copies of impressions, Hume asks what gives us the idea of causality. (Feiser) His answer is that there is no impressions corresponding to this idea. How then does the idea of causality arise in the mind? It must be, Hume said, that their idea of causality arises in the mind when we experience certain relations between objects.

This idea states that for all effects there is a cause. Hume said that even though the cause preceded the effect, there is no proof that the cause is responsible for the effect’s occurrence. Did you follow along? Hume also thrived on ones self. Hume denied that we have any idea of self. This may seem paradoxical, that I should say that I do not have an idea of myself, but Hume again tests what is meant by a self by asking “from what impression could this idea derive from”; do you see a trend forming?

Hume compares the mind to “a kind of theatre where several perceptions successively make their appearance,” but adds that “we have not the most distant notion of the place where these scenes are represented. ” What led Hume to deny the existence of a continuous self that in some way retains its identity through time was his thorough denial of the existence of any form of substance. While Locke retained the idea of substance as something, which has color or shape, and other qualities and Berkeley denied the existence of substance underlying qualities but retained the idea of spiritual substances.

Hume denied that substance in any form exists or has any coherent meaning. If what is meant, by the self, is some form of substance then no suck substance can be derived from our impressions of sensation. With Hume’s assumption that ” our ideas reach no further than our experience,” would lead him to raise skeptical questions about the existence of God. Most attempts to demonstrate the existence of God rely upon some version of causality. Sometimes experimental models are built with no present knowledge of what the finished model will be like. Is the universe a trial model or the final design?

By this line of probing Hume tried to emphasize that the order of the universe is simply an empirical fact and that we can not infer from it the existence of God. This does not make Hume an atheist; he is simply testing out idea of god the way he had tested our ideas of the self and substance by his rigorous principle of empiricism that I spoke about earlier. In ending I quote Hume in saying “to whatever length any one may push his speculative principles of skepticism, he must act and live and converse like other men it is impossible for him to persevere in total skepticism, or make it appear in his conduct for a few hours. David Hume

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