Rene Descartes and David Hume have comparable and contrasting views on the origin and the nature of ideas and how the human mind is able to figure out new concepts yet it cannot comprehend itself. The truth, as brought out by the two philosophers involves the senses. What constitutes truth is what differentiates their views. However, Hume’s arguments seem more convincing that Descartes’ who appears more abstract.
René Descartes is regarded as the father of modern philosophy. Descartes, with his understanding, tries to prove how our senses form a basis for beliefs and truth.
Descartes doubts his beliefs by claiming that his senses once deceived him. His tactic is to falsify any belief that has the slightest of doubt. He does this by using the principles of methodic doubt. The strategy is to defeat skepticism on its own ground. One should begin by doubting the truth about everything. This covers evidence of senses, overstated cultural presuppositions and fundamental reasoning process. Therefore, one should doubt everything that he or she believes (Soccio 17). According to Hume one should not doubt everything that he believes just because the senses once deceived him after all impressions and ideas that form the truth are also from the senses.
Descartes notes that the acknowledgment of senses with respect to judgment about a thing may be misguided by perceptual illusion. The things which are seen and heard are not what they are at a glance. It is therefore not prudent to trust what one perceives. He puts this forward by using an example of the stick he saw in water as being bent. In reality it was straight but not bent. This is coupled with his doubts of whether he is dreaming, mad or has been deceived by an evil demon.
To him, the demon is powerful, clever and deceitful. It has devoted itself to deceit that there is an external world with people which according to Descartes is nonexistent. The demon may change the world at any moment so as to render a belief false (Broughton 74). On the other hand, Hume states that to form inappropriate shapes and appearances, imagination is restrained within the limits of reality and nature. To him, this is not the only basis for judging the truth. The truth has many faces. Truth should be judged from reality or what is existent in real world.
Rene talks of the human mind and nature, which is better known than the body. The mediator tries to clarify, ‘‘`I’ that can not only think, understand and will but can also imagine and sense. How then, can one know of the ‘I’ if the senses cannot be trusted?’’ (Broughton 63). The imagination can also come up with the things that are not real. It becomes even difficult because it is a thinking thing yet it cannot identify what the thinking thing is.
One only has access to the world of ideas that include the contents of the mind, that is, perceptions, images, concepts, intensions, decisions, and beliefs. These ideas are separate and external to the mind. These ideas can either make up accurate or false representations. Hume is of the same view. An idea is a mental perception that arises by thinking rather than understanding. For example, one is capable of perceiving the taste of pineapple juice without tasting it. One can form an idea of a thing without its presence.
He uses wax to describe himself. Though wax can change color, texture or shape, it still remains as wax. Therefore he exists because he is a thinking thing. To Descartes, truth is not just formed by use of senses, belief or judgment. It includes evidence and representation. Hume brings out evidence as a basis of truth using impressions.
David Hume brings out notions of truth in three different ways. He uses impressions to mean those perceptions that are livelier, that is, love, hate, desire, will, what one sees, hears, or feels (Pitson 16). An impression cannot occur when something is not there. Ideas are therefore copies of our impressions. Thus anything that comes in mind is as a result of impressions. Human beings are capable of forming ideas of what they have never experienced before (Penelhum 103).
Descartes and Hume agree on the fact that the truth is an existing concept. Their point of divergence however comes out when they contrastingly describe how truth comes about and the form it takes Descartes maintains that all things must first be doubted then logically singled out by the mind.
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Hume brings out clearly what should constitute truth; the truth is formed by the existence of knowledge and evidence guided by impressions. Truth should be what is brought out from reality. Everything should not be doubted including the obvious. Thus this is how truth should be judged and not how Descartes proposes.