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Empiricism Versus Rationalism: Descartes And Hume

645 words - 3 pages

Rationalism and empiricism have always been on opposite sides of the philosophic spectrum, Rene Descartes and David Hume are the best representative of each school of thought. Descartes’ rationalism posits that deduction, reason and thus innate ideas are the only way to get to true knowledge. Empiricism on the other hand, posits that by induction, and sense perception, we may find that there are in fact no innate ideas, but that truths must be carefully observed to be true.
Unlike one of empiricism’s major tenets, Tabula Rasa, or blank slate, Descartes believed that the mind was not a blank slate, but actually came pre-loaded, if you will, with ideas, which are part of our rational nature and that our rational nature allows us to grasp . Descartes begins his journey deep within his own mind by claiming that all truths can be conceived by thinking about them. He calls his method cogito or pure reasoning. His famous words “I ...view middle of the document...

Although his arguments seem effective and valid at the surface, some empiricists, including David Hume heavily criticised his philosophy.
For empiricists like David Hume, Descartes’s innate ideas are just a laughable idea and hardly considered scientific and thus believe our minds are born without any content or a blank slate *tabula rasa.” The empty mind is ready to absorb any input provided by the five senses and reflect on those sensations. He divides these two attribute of the mind as impressions (for crude perceptions) and concepts (the reflections on those perceptions or ideas). However, all concepts are simply less resolute copies of impressions, so thus all ideas come from perception, a principle he calls the copy principle. A common counter argument against this principle is the idea of a golden mountain. How can we imagine (if that’s reflecting on perceptions) a golden mountain if we’ve never experienced on before? Hume reolves this problem by saying that those abilities are part of the mind’s ability to reflect on perceptions then compound them, transpose them, augment them or diminish them. He explains the idea of God as a result of humans augmenting our view of ourselves. He says we use these simple ideas to create complete wholes through the use of resemblance, continuity and cause and effect.
Rene Descartes and David Hume, both all stars in their respective philosophical traditions, provide the best representation of rationalism and empiricism. Descartes posited that deduction, reasoning and innate ideas were the source of true knowledge, but David Hume disagreed. He thought the idea completely anti-scientific, which put it beyond the realms of testability. In Hume’s view, actual knowledge came from induction sense perception and our ability to analyze. Hume’s empiricism seems much more prevalent in the modern age, with industrialized science and from a modern perspective, rationalism seems like a last ditch effort to stick with renaissance ideas.

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