David Hume On Empiricism

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Hume On Empiricism

The ultimate question that Hume seems to be seeking an answer to is that of why is that we believe what we believe. For most of us the answer is grounded in our own personal experiences and can in no way be justified by a common or worldly assumption. Our pasts, according to Hume, are reliant on some truths which we have justified according to reason, but in being a skeptic reason is hardly a solution for anything concerning our past, present or future. Our reasoning according to causality is slightly inhibited in that Hume suggests that it is not that we are not able to know anything about future events based on past experiences, but rather that we are just not rationally justified in believing those things that we do. We can most certainly make inferences based on causal reasoning, but these inferences have no proofs.

Insofar as empiricism questions all that we experience a posteriori there is no other outcome but skepticism. We must doubt all the senses as they can fool us and often times they do. Nonetheless there can be no doubt to the notion that there is some power that draws us to be skeptics or that leads us to be rational. We are both at the same time, and this, I believe, is what creates the natural balance of the universe and our lives. There is some form of harmonic coexistence within us that allows for such uncertainties to be present in our lives, but at the same time that allows us to have undeniable, justifiable [and sometimes unjustifiable] truths to which we hold onto for the explanation of things such as our very own existence. Everything we think we know is upheld only by what Descartes has taught us, the cogito. Individualistically, we have reason and we believe what we choose to believe.

On the basis of philosophy and the claims of science to know, only philosophy, in its yearning for certainty, has tried to suggest that there is such a thing as a law of cause and effect. Science rests content in making predictions based on experience without claiming any kind of certainty or privileged reasoning to back these predictions up. Hume might then also defend his own philosophy, saying that he proceeds according to a similar method. So, in the terms of causal relation, we are left with uncertainty unless we rely on these laws that describe cause and effect. And what of these laws then? How can we be...

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...f those “sensations” each and every time.

At the end of his Enquiry, Hume leaves us with the tools of relations of ideas and matters of fact, but these however can not explain the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the nature of matter and other such questions. To these, Hume denies that rationalism could ever posit an answer because that answer would be founded in nothing more than reason. If we are left then in a state of immobility where we can only trust or base our knowledge on that which is empirical, how are we to wake up in the morning without feeling are lost? The extreme form of consequent skepticism concludes unhappily that none of our judgments are rationally justified. The only sensible thing to do in that case would be to suspend all judgment and to stop acting altogether. Skepticism is useful in that it places limitations on our reason and makes us doubt what we might otherwise take for granted, but it is ultimately unlivable. I can doubt all I please in the comfort of my study, but in order to get by in the world I must as least assume that there is an external world and that my judgments and actions in that world make some sort of difference.
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