Descartes And Hume: A Look At Skepticism And Finding Stability

905 words - 4 pages

René Descartes was a skeptic, and thus he believed that in order for something to be considered a true piece of knowledge, that “knowledge must have a certain stability,” (Cottingham 21). In his work, Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes concludes that in order to achieve this stability, he must start at the foundations for all of his opinions and find the basis of doubt in each of them. David Hume, however, holds a different position on skepticism in his work An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, for he criticizes Descartes’ claim because “‘it is impossible,’” (qtd. in Cottingham 35). Both philosophers show distinct reasoning in what skepticism is and how it is useful in finding stability.
Descartes begins the excerpt by stating that because many things he learned in his childhood turned out to be false, he felt it was necessary “to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last,” (22). Such a tedious task would require an immense amount of time; although in comparing his beliefs to a building, Descartes intends to start at the beginning or at the “foundations” of his beliefs so that when he finds doubt in the support, every belief that is based on the foundation will be disregarded. He begins this doubt with the senses, for he believes that every opinion he has is derived from the senses, and that because the senses “deceive us,” they are not reliable sources of information (22). Like a “madman,” Descartes must therefore doubt the existence of everything he sees, and he further moves into questioning the difference between real life and dreams. According to Descartes, the images placed before us in dreams may be so realistic that perhaps we find trouble in making a distinction whether they exist or are simply images within our imagination. This then leads him to question the existence of God, and then whether he himself truly exists as well. Descartes concludes his claim in stating, “So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind,” (25). Therefore, in spite of everything he is skeptical of, Descartes manages to believe that his true existence is not something worthy of doubt.
David Hume’s approach to skepticism is very different from Descartes’ ideas, mainly because he believes that it is not good to become skeptical of everything. Hume feels that there are two different types of skepticism: the type the Descartes follows, known as the “antecedent” skepticism that involves doubting everything, and moderate skepticism, which Hume feels is the more reasonable form (Hume 36). Hume feels that antecedent skepticism is pointless, and...

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