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Reasoning Within Animals Essay

1312 words - 6 pages

Rene Descartes and David Hume lived in two completely different time periods, yet they shared interest in some of the same philosophical categories. Could animals reason? How did humans expand their knowledge compared to animals? Questions like these were answered both by Descartes and Hume even though they had two opposing views. Descartes was the first to address the questions about animal instincts, and later on Hume set out to refute some of his ideas.
Rene Descartes views humans and animals on completely separate levels. He claims that animals do not possess intelligence and only act through their nature. While humans can perform a multitude of tasks by reasoning, animals can only ...view middle of the document...

Instead of saying that humans have intelligence and animals do not, Hume compares the two through experience. He says that humans and animals are similar in the fact that they both learn from life experiences, hence why the old are always wiser than the young. Humans and animals are not guided by reason, instead, they are guided by past experience and the knowledge that they gain from those experiences.
Hume uses several examples to support his idea of experience. He states that horses who are familiar with their field will know how high they can leap. Greyhounds will let the younger dogs do the running while they go and meet the hare. According to Hume, the average person, and even philosophers learn in the same way as animals. There are certain skills that are instilled in us by nature, but everything we learn on out is through observation and past experiences.
Descartes view on animals stems directly from his thoughts about reason. He believes that all men are born with the same degree of reason, not including accidental properties. Even though all people are born with the same amount of reason, or good sense, everyone goes on their own path and chooses different ways to apply and develop their good sense. Descartes believes that he has taken a fortunate path that has allowed him to maximize his potential reasoning in his short life span. These paths people take do not apply to animals as all animals rely on their natural instincts and do not take separate paths. There is no gaining of knowledge or creation of ideas.
Hume sees reason in a different light than Descartes. He believes that humans and animals are both instilled by nature reason, humans just have more of it. While animals have enough reason to learn from their past experiences and become wiser, humans possess enough to conduct deep thoughts and create new ideas not in line with our immediate needs. This theory by Hume suggests that animals and humans are similar to each other and have similar natures. Humans are just more advanced than any other species of animal.
Descartes believes that the human senses are not to be trusted. They are easily tricked and there is no solid proof what your senses are experiencing is even real. This supports his idea that animals only know what their instincts have given them. If what the senses tells us is in fact false, animals have nothing other than their natural instincts to rely upon. They do not have the mental capacity to reason and according to Descartes the only way to gain knowledge is through reasoning. Animals only have the instincts given to them and cannot reason so their senses do not allow them to gain any knowledge.
David Hume suggests that our knowledge is limited to the data...

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