procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

David Hume could out-consume

6. Locke, Hume and empiricism: In what ways do these thinkers differ from Descartes?

It seems the empiricists, most especially in Locke and Hume, were the new sceptics. They sought to question knowledge, truth, work out on what basis we know things. Locke questioned in particular how we connect with objects in the real world – and decided that we didn’t! Rather, we have ideas in our heads of objects, and it is in the world of ideas that there is interaction, rather than physically coming into contact with another physicality. However these ideas we contract from experience (a posteriori), and only after seeing something can we have an understanding of that object and others like it. It is as if we are blank slates, who accumulate forms as we go, and build on these more simple ideas to understand more complex ideas.

However, Hume’s thinking in light of Locke about how we gain knowledge led him to question the idea of causality – concluding that we believe the idea of cause and effect, but only from habit, not from any abstract reasoning. In the famous billiard-ball analogy, we may expect a certain result from one striking another, but there is nothing inherent in one billiard ball that should mean its interacting with another ball should have the expected result.

From a small amount of reading, it seems as if the empiricists are leaning towards an atheistic, or at least deist, world-view, whereas the rationalists (in Descartes) saw God as the glue that held everything together. When Descartes asks why a thought leads to an action, he cannot see this as anything but secondary to the will of God who first thought and acted, and from whom all thoughts and actions stem. The empiricists however, although publicly agreeing (Locke more than Hume) that the idea of God ‘makes sense’, see God as having no part in the process – the mind wills and the arm moves. Why does it happen? Because we’ve seen it happen before.

This idea of a general movement towards atheism (or deism) is further shown in Hume’s discounting of miracles – his experience tells him that the normal way of things is for miracles to not happen. If given the choice between miraculous and the empirical, he concludes, the sane man has only one choice.

this is part of a series

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:01 pm  

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