For this research paper, I will be comparing the different ways that philosophers Rene Descartes and David Hume viewed the process of human knowledge. These two philosophers have written theories to describe their ideas. Rene Descartes explains his understanding of rationalism through his “Meditations on First Philosophy”. David Hume focused more on human senses and how they help our way of thinking in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”. Which include a point of view through empiricism. Throughout this paper, I will compare their views on how human obtain knowledge based on their work. How their epistemologies clash together because of their two concepts of rationalism and empiricism.
For my first philosopher, I will be talking about Rene Descartes, a French philosopher who had a rationalist mindset. To get a taste into what his mindset, the term rationalism must be understood. As a rationalist, Rene Descartes thought that reason is more important than experience when it comes to knowledge. That logic was the main guide for achieving knowledge. In his work, The reliance on reason is the best and only guide for belief and action. In “Meditations on First Philosophy”, Descartes describes three lessons: how our senses do not always tell the truth if we think about our existence that is a fact that we actually do exist, and that there are three levels of truth in this world. Based on the article you can tell that Descartes follows such thoughts like Plato. In the way, that physical sensations do not matter in the thought process of rationalism. By looking at my first acknowledgment of how Descartes thinks that our sense does not always tell the truth. Implies the idea that physical senses do not matter; that senses such as touch, smell, and sight. Can deceive us because they are physical senses and do not completely determine knowledge. Another way that Descartes explains the rationalist in him, is by his thought of the “thinker” which exists outside the body. Hence his famous quote “I think therefore I am” which can be applied into one the lessons from “Meditations on First Philosophy”. Which is the idea of how humans think about their existence and questions if they are real. Which Descartes backs up with the fact that your thoughts about existence proves that you actually exist.
For my second philosopher, I will be talking about David Hume, a Scottish philosopher who had an empiricist mindset. To get an understanding of Hume’s mindset, we have to understand what empiricism is. In David Hume’s “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” we see that he thinks about the acquisition of knowledge. David Hume explains his viewpoints on ideas and impressions. His views on ideas are that they can be mental concepts such as beliefs, memories, or even thoughts. For Impressions, he tries to tie our knowledge with our emotions or anything that stimulates our brain. As we see the two viewpoints interact with each other throughout “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” by the fact that common knowledge is learned through experience. He explains that we cannot make a conclusion or a theory about anything that relates to the future without referencing the past. That is why according to Hume, we cannot make predictions from any past experiences that will resemble the future without thinking about the past.
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Comparing both philosophers and their way of thinking is easy. Based on their way of thinking you can separate them. Rene Descartes was a rationalist and David Hume was an empiricist. The differences really come down to certain senses. Rene Descartes thought that thinking was the true way to achieve knowledge. That our physical senses can fool us when it comes to learning. For example, when someone is stranded in the desert and start to hallucinate. That is a perfect example of how our senses can deceive us of thoughts or images that are not there. While David Hume relied on past experiences and observations to determine to learn. Such as knowing the moon will rise since we can see it physically rising every night.
For my contemporary academic discussion I will be using the academic journal “Environmental Ethics”. The issue presented in this journal is the moral considerability of ecosystems. The author of this academic journal is Harley Cahen, who is associated with the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University. In the beginning of the article Against the Moral Considerability of Ecosystems Cahen relies on her framework of being a environmentalist. The debate in this article is listed as “If natural areas had no value at all for human beings, would we still have a duty to preserve them?” (Cahen 1988, 195). If we frame the debate on both the frameworks that are demonstrated in Rene Descartes and David Hume’s work. By examining what morality has to do with the environment, we can argue with Descartes rationalism and Hume’s empiricism can be applied. With Descartes rationalism we see how human beings can ask the question if how or why is it important to preserve the environment. Rationalism gives people the opportunity to think about it from a moral point of view. We can think on multiple aspects for preservation, such as recycling, planting trees, or even solar energy. With Hume’s empiricism we see how our human senses allow us to actually look at the physical changes of the environment. For example, global warming we can see from the past years how the ice caps are melting. And we can further make a conclusion about the future based on past observations on how the ice caps are melting.
Throughout this paper I compared and contrasted both Rene Descartes and David Hume. Their respected work in “Meditations on First Philosophy” and “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”. Show the mindset and ideology of a rationalist and a empiricist.