Essay on Descartes and Hume: A Look at Skepticism and Finding Stability

Essay on Descartes and Hume: A Look at Skepticism and Finding Stability

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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 ...

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...s the level of skepticism each philosopher follows. Descartes, who is excessively skeptical, attempts to find doubt in his beliefs, in reality as opposed to dreams, in God, and ultimately, in his own existence. Hume, a moderate skeptic, instead believes that Descartes’ skepticism is illogical because in doubting the senses and everything else in the world, one will never find satisfactory truths. In conclusion, the distinction between these two philosophers is evident concerning the claims they have made.

Works Cited

Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy. 1996. Western Philosophy: An
Anthology. Ed. John Cottingham. 2nd ed. N.p.: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2008. 21-25. Print.

Hume, David. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. 1996. Western Philosophy: An
Anthology. Ed. John Cottingham. 2nd ed. N.p.: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2008. 35-39. Print.

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