Empiricists and rationalists have proposed opposing theories of the acquisition of knowledge, which appear unable to coexist. Each theory holds its own strengths but does not demonstrate a strong argument in itself to the questions, “Is knowledge truly possible?” and “How is true knowledge obtained?”. Immanual Kant successfully merged the two philosophies and provided a convincing argument with his theory of empirical relativism, or what some may call constructivism. His theory bridges the gap between rationalism and empiricism and proves that empiricists and rationalists each present a piece of the full puzzle. In order to truly understand Kant’s epistemology, one must first review and understand both empiricism and rationalism on an impartial basis.
Empiricists claim that genuine knowledge comes from experience: a posteriori knowledge. It can be difficult to argue against this point. When asked to explain even the most simple of objects, such as an apple, each description proposed is one that is associated with a previous experience. One might describe an apple to be red, round, hard and sweet. Each of these characteristics are descriptions of prior experiences. If a child who had never tasted anything sweet was asked to describe the flavor of an apple, the child wound be unable to. Without experiencing what ‘sweet’ is, it is not possible to understand it. This is true for any characteristic. If a child were to ask the meaning of the word round, an adequate description would require a explanation of something the child is familiar with in order to understand the relation. For example, “a ball is round”.
Hume draws upon the idea of building knowledge from experiences and introduces the concept of causality. This concept uses the products from experiences to infer what will happen the next time the same event transpires. This initiates the principle of induction, which is the assumption that the future will be like the past. An example of this would be every time smoke is seen, one will inevitably look for the fire that is causing the smoke. This is because based on previous experiences, it is known to be true that fire causes smoke.
One notable problem with pure empiricism is that it does rely upon reasoning. If the concept of causality is true, there must be some form of reasoning to be able to relate one action to a reaction. Hume’s principle of induction assumes that one experience will be similar to a previous experience under similar circumstances. It takes a measure of reasoning to assume that the previous experience of dropping a glass would result in the same consequence when dropping a vase. To account for this, Hume believes that reason draws connections between concepts in the mind, but it cannot form connections between those ideas in the external world (Lawhead, 2010). Hume divided reasoning into 2 categories: namely, relations of ideas and matters of fact. “This dichotomy between...