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Throughout the course of this class, we have encountered multiple philosophers that have shared their ideas on the human knowledge. The two texts that we will be focusing on are “Meditations on First Philosophy” by Rene Descartes and “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” by David Hume in both texts, each philosopher share similar skeptical arguments, but to different degrees.
To start off, Descartes’ skeptical argument is the unreliability of the human senses since they deceive us. In the past, his senses have deceived him and this makes him decide to not believe in one single thing due to the fact that all of his beliefs have come from or through his senses. This is also called the “Cartesian doubt.” Furthermore, Descartes brings up the idea of a devil demon, that is not God, which job is to deceive him into false beliefs. If Descartes doesn’t believe a single thing, he can be sure that the devil demon is not taking advantage of his knowledge. Moving forward, Descartes becomes aware that either he’s deceiving himself or someone else is deceiving him and comes to the conclusion that he is a thinking thing, therefore he exists no matter how he is being deceived. After coming to this conclusion, he then continues on to saying that the things he can be sure of are clear and distinct. Also, he mentions the principle of sufficient reason that simply means the basic fact about the meaning of cause and effect in which it’s clear that in every effect, the cause must exist and to a much deeper substance.
Descartes explains that human error is possible in his argument regarding the scope of the will (infinite) being wider than that of the intellect (finite) in Meditation 4. This leads to the new dilemma: If God is not a deceiver how humans can even make mistakes at all. God is the most perfect being which makes it impossible for Him to be deceiving humans. This exact reason is why God is incapable of giving human beings the ability to make mistakes. He believes God made Descartes unable to make any error which causes him to wonder where does the ability to make mistakes comes from. Descartes says that it is due to a difference between the understanding and the will. Then he says that the intellect only allows us to perceive ideas, not to make judgments on them which causes this not be the source of error. And, that will is perfect and immeasurable which causes it not be the source of error. Descartes says that his own understanding was created by God which causes it not to be the source of error either. Descartes’ solution to his skepticism problem comes to an end when he concludes that God is not to be blamed for human error. It is not God’s fault that human beings decide to judge things that are beyond the reach of their understanding. Humans should get into the habit of avoiding error by being cautious with their judgments and only focusing on judging cases that are certain.
Similarly, Hume shares a similar a skeptical argument to Descartes. The only difference is that Hume argues that human knowledge is more limited. The contradiction test where the argument with more evidence to support it wins, plays a big role in Hume’s theory. Hume doesn’t start doubting everything like Descartes due to his belief that it will be pointless rather Hume presents his idea of the “fork” in Section IV where he expresses that all objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds which are Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact. It is a distinction about propositions. Some propositions state or purport to state relations of ideas, while other propositions state or purport to state matters of fact. Hume is arguing that all propositions will somehow fall into one of those two kinds of groups. The reader encounters what exactly is the difference between these two; Hume believes relations of ideas are known a priori and are analytic in nature and matters of fact are known a posteriori and are synthetic in nature. Hume’s argument in Section IV is that all knowledge of matters of fact depends on cause and effect. Causal relationships are not knowable a priori. According to Hume, they are only known via direct experiences which are images in one’s mind.Therefore, all matters of fact are known via experience.
Additionally, Hume distinguishes between two kinds of skepticism. These two are antecedent and consequent skepticism, both of which come in an extreme and a moderate form as stated in part one of section XII. When comparing Descartes and Hume’s, Descartes is well-known for his antecedent skepticism which was designed to keep him from affirming anything which might be wrong. Even if one could bring one’s self to such a state of doubt, this method does not support Hume since he identifies the extreme form of skepticism with Antecedent skepticism is moderate, enjoining us to free ourselves from prejudice before beginning an investigation. On the other hand, consequent skepticism finds our mental faculties to be unsound in practice. In Section XII part three, Hume brings up a different version of skepticism “mitigated scepticism or academical philosophy”. It has as its opponent dogmatism, the unjustified assertion of judgments that go beyond matters of fact and relations of ideas. Mitigated skepticism reveals the emptiness of their metaphysical inquiries. Hume says that philosophy should maintain itself to methodical description of common life. By the end, Hume says that “Matters of Fact” cannot be demonstrated unlike “Relations of Ideas” that can reveal reason and demonstration.
In light of this evaluation, the conclusion humans should reach about the scope and limits of human knowledge is that humans should stick to things they have enough evidence to support. Hume’s clear that human knowledge is very limited while Descartes thinks it’s not that limited. Before reading Descartes and Hume, my doubtful self was curious about certain things and the human knowledge was part of it. These philosophers challenge my personal analysis by making me bring my doubts to an end realizing that there isn’t anything that will pull humans closer to the logic behind human knowledge. Hume and Descartes dedicated their lives trying to figure out how limited human knowledge is, and they both came to a very similar conclusion. It is clear that if someone like me decides to go on the same journey, the conclusion will most likely come out to be the same as them. Their conclusions serve as a source help by making people understand that it’s better to stick to what humans already have enough evidence of. And, that just like God, humans have unlimited and perfect will which is why humans should not try to go further. Lastly, to realize that one’s intellect understanding is limited and imperfect whereas God’s is perfect and unlimited.
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