Presentation on theme: "Archetypes of Wisdom Douglas J. Soccio Chapter 10 The Skeptic: David Hume."— Presentation transcript:
Archetypes of Wisdom Douglas J. Soccio Chapter 10 The Skeptic: David Hume
Learning Objectives What is skeptic? What is empiricism? What is the “epistemological turn”? What is the correspondence theory of truth? How do primary qualities differ from secondary qualities? What is idealism (immaterialism)? What is “epistemological dualism”? What is the difference between impressions and ideas? What is the “empirical criterion of meaning”? What is the bundle theory of the self? What is inductive reasoning? On completion of this chapter, you should be able to answer the following questions:
Modern Skepticism A skeptic is a person who demands clear, observable, indubitable evidence before accepting any knowledge claim as true. Skepticism (from the Greek skeptesthai, meaning “to consider or examine”) refers to both a school of philosophy and a general attitude. Modern skepticism is primarily involved with epistemological issues. The study of the theory of knowledge, epistemology, is the branch of philosophy concerned with the origins, quality, nature, and reliability of knowledge.
Modern Empiricism Attempts to answer fundamental epistemological questions gave rise to the two major orientations of modern philosophy: rationalism (Ch. 9) and empiricism (from the Greek root empeiria, meaning “experience”). Empiricists believe that all ideas can be traced back to sense data, and that reason is unable to provide knowledge of reality (as rationalists claim); such knowledge can only be derived from experience. Because its three founding philosophers were all British, it has come to be called British empiricism.
John Locke The earliest of the three British empiricists, John Locke (1632-1704), was disturbed by the confusion surrounding seventeenth-century philosophy and theology. Educated as a physician, Locke was aware of the great changes and progress being generated by science. He also realized that you cannot “wait until you have reached mathematical certainty about the correct treatment” before helping a patient. You have observe and act based on what you perceive. In the winter of 1670, Locke had a series of philosophical discussions which convinced him that what was necessary first was to make clear the process of forming ideas and gaining knowledge.
Experience is the Origin of All Ideas Twenty years later, in 1690, Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In this work, he attempted to explain why philosophical discussions often lead to misunderstandings and confusion. This essay established the groundwork for empiricism as it is generally understood today. According to Locke, all ideas originate in sensation and reflection. Specifically, we can think about things only after we have experienced them. In other words, all ideas originate from sense data.
Copy Theory Locke insisted that all ideas are copies of the things that caused the basic sensations on which they rest. This position is known as the “copy theory.” It is also referred to as “representation theory,” or “correspondence theory of truth” (i.e., an idea is true if what it refers to – corresponds to – actually exists).
Locke’s Rejection of Innate Ideas Unlike Descartes, Locke rejected the theory of innate – or a priori – ideas. He even accused the rationalists of labeling their pet ideas “innate” in order to convince others to accept them secondhand, without question. Locke suggested that the mind is better compared to an empty pantry, waiting to be stocked by experience. He most famously described the mind at birth as a completely blank tablet, or clean slate – tabula rasa, to use the Latin equivalent.
Locke’s Dualism Although Locke rejected Descartes’ theory of innate ideas, he did agree with Descartes that “something substantial” underlies and holds together the sensible qualities of experience. According to Locke, the substance that holds “extended things” together is matter. The same thing happens with respect to a “thinking substance,” or mind. Thus, Locke affirms the existence of two substances: matter and mind.
Qualities Material objects have primary qualities (shape, size, location, etc.) which are independent of a perceiver and thus, are objective. Secondary qualities (color, sound, taste, texture) depend on a perceiver and so, are subjective. So, Locke’s dualism is between “the object as it is” and “the object as we know it,” between the knower and the known.
Locke’s Egocentric Predicament Epistemological dualism is the view that knowing contains two distinct aspects: knower and known. The predicament: If all knowledge comes in the form of my own ideas, how can I verify the existence of anything external to them? Locke’s epistemological dualism leads to his falling into the egocentric predicament.
George Berkeley George Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Anglican Bishop who posed one of the most quoted and least understood questions in the history of ideas: Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it ? Berkeley’s answer is “no,” and it is based on a clear sense of the predicament Locke’s empiricism generated. If all we can be sure of is what we actually experience, then only our experiences, our ideas, and mental states are certain.
Immaterialism Berkeley extended Locke’s empiricism to claim that the material world does not exist. This makes Berkeley an idealist, or immaterialist. The very idea of matter existing without mental properties is self-contradictory for an empiricist.
To Be Is To Be Perceived What Berkeley means is that it is absurd to posit an independent, external reality, for if it exists, we cannot have anything to do with it. If we experience things only as ideas, we cannot talk of anything but them. This leads Berkeley to his famous saying: “Esse est percipi” (To be is to be perceived). As for the falling tree, in Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713), Berkeley points out that there is no difference between sound as perceived by us and sound as it is in itself. We may define sound in terms of what is perceived – sensations, atmospheric disturbances, decibels, waves, etc. – but in all cases sound remains something that is perceived.
David Hume, The Scottish Skeptic The Scottish Skeptic, David Hume (1711-1776), stands out in the history of ideas for the fearless consistency of his reasoning. Born in Edinburgh, and raised under a strict Presbyterian regimen, he enrolled in the University of Edinburgh when he was twelve years old. After three years, he dropped out without a degree, planning to devote himself to philosophy and literature. A short time later, Hume admitted he had lost the faith of his childhood, writing that once he read Locke and other philosophers, he never again “entertained any belief in religion.”
The Skeptical Masterpiece In 1737, after studying with the Jesuits in France (at Descartes’ old college in La Flèche), Hume returned to England, hoping to publish the first two books of his powerful and disturbing Treatise of Human Nature. After objections from the publisher, a censored version was published anonymously, with compelling arguments against supernatural reality and personal immortality. The uncensored version reduces reason to the “slave of the passions” and alters the conventional picture of the nature of science by denying cause and effect as they are generally understood. This version understandably sparked a great deal of controversy – which is arguably why it was not published until after Hume’s death.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion In 1751, Hume wrote the most devastating, direct, and irreverent of his works, the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. In his Dialogues, Hume mounts an unrelenting attack on the argument from design and other attempts to demonstrate the existence of, or understand the nature of, God. Hume did not deny the existence of God – a position known as atheism; rather, he adopted the agnostic view that we do not know enough to assert or deny the existence of God.
Hume’s Skeptical Empiricism Hume found most metaphysical speculation irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. He thought such “abstract speculation” was useful only to individuals with some theological motive, who, “being unable to defend their views on fair grounds, raise these entangling brambles to cover and protect their weaknesses.” Hume’s empirical criterion of meaning holds that all meaningful ideas can be traced to sense experience (impressions). Beliefs that cannot be reduced to sense experience are technically not “ideas” at al, but meaningless utterances.
The Self Applying his empirical criterion of meaning, Hume argues that we do not have any idea of the self as it is commonly understood. That is, we have no impression of the self “itself.” If we have no impression of the self, what are we? According to Hume, if there is no underlying, constant “thing” to unite our sensory perceptions, then the “self” is nothing more than a bundle of such perceptions. While Hume’s bundle theory of the self is difficult for most of us to accept, it is also very hard to refute.
Identity and Continuity What is true of the self, is also true of other “things.” According to Hume, identity is not a property of things, but a mental act. Our minds confer identity on things; we do not perceive it. Like the “self,” a “thing” is merely a habitual way of discussing certain perceptions. In the same way, Hume says that we “feign” or fabricate continuity. I assume that because my face looks “the same” this morning as yesterday morning, it has existed continuously all night and at other times when I had no perception of it. But his point is that we have no direct impression of cause and effect, the link between perceptions that would make our assumptions about identity and continuity certain.
The Limits of Reason If the mind creates the ideas of causality and necessity, then “reason alone” can never be our guide. Instead, Hume had another theory: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Hume’s claim means that there are limits to reason which we have not acknowledged before. These limits have consequences for science, theology and ethics.
The Limits of Science Scientific reasoning rests on a pattern of inductive reasoning, which results in generalized rules or principles. Induction is a matter of reasoning from the particular to the general, from “some” to “all.” Scientists assume that inductive inferences are reliable because they identify causal patterns. Before Hume, cause and effect were defined in terms of a necessary connection. After Hume, the best we can do is take for granted that the future will resemble the past, so there is no way to prove the certainty of our predictions.
The Limits of Theology Given his radical view of cause and effect, it is not surprising that Hume rejected all efforts to use causality to prove the existence of God. The cosmological argument and the argument from motion were meaningless for him. The ontological argument was meaningless as well, because the very qualities ascribed to God – perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, and so forth – do not correspond to specific impressions. They are empty noises.
The Limits of Ethics Hume insisted that morality is grounded in sentiment, not reason. But he did not deny that reason has a role to play in making moral judgments. That role, however, is secondary to sentiment, or the passions. Hume makes a crucial distinction between facts and values. Reason can tell us the facts – what is the case. But only sentiment (feelings, emotions) can tell us what ought to be the case. In all cases of moral judgment, virtues are traits that we find agreeable (there can even be facts about such things. But moral virtue is always a matter of liking or approval, while moral vice is a matter of disliking or disapproval. Reason can only help us get what we want.
Discussion Questions Take a moment to reconsider the Argument from Design (Ch. 8) and Hume’s critique of the Argument from Design. In light of modern-day horrors (such as chemical warfare, environmental disasters, AIDS, crack babies, crime rates, world hunger, and homelessness), could there exist a perfect designer? Do you think such examples refute the notion of design? Of intelligent design?
Chapter Review: Key Concepts and Thinkers Skeptic Epistemology Empiricism Correspondence Theory of Truth A priori Innate ideas Tabula Rasa Primary qualities Secondary qualities Epistemological dualism Egocentric predicament Idealist/immaterialist Esse est percipi Empirical criterion of meaning Bundle theory of the self Inductive reasoning David Hume (1711-1776) John Locke (1623-1704) George Berkeley (1685-1753)