Comparing Knowledge in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning

Comparing Knowledge in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning

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Comparing Knowledge in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,


Rationalists would claim that knowledge comes from reason or ideas, while empiricists would answer that knowledge is derived from the senses or impressions. The difference between these two philosophical schools of thought, with respect to the distinction between ideas and impressions, can be examined in order to determine how these schools determine the source of knowledge. The distinguishing factor that determines the perspective on the foundation of knowledge is the concept of the divine.

Descartes is a prime example of a rationalist. Descartes begins his Meditations on First Philosophy by doubting his senses in the first meditation. “From time to time I [Descartes] have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once”(Descartes: 12). In the second meditation, Descartes begins to rebuild the world he broke down in the first meditation by establishing cogito ergo sum with the aid of natural light. It is with this intuition that the cogito is established, from the cogito, intellect, from the intellect, knowledge; thus knowledge has been defined in this world that Descartes is constructing from scratch. Descartes uses the fact that he is a thinking thing to establish the existence of other things in the world with the cosmological and ontological arguments, as well as a meditation on truth and falsity. “So now I seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true” (Descartes: 24). Descartes only utilizes his perceptions to establish ideas of the things t...


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...traced back to original impressions.

The source of knowledge is not a topic that is universally agreed upon. To rationalists, who usually have a sense of the divine, innate ideas give them cause to base knowledge in reason, being derived from ideas. To empiricists, who do not hold innate ideas to be valid, knowledge is unearthed through the senses, derived from observations. The presence of a concept of the divine is the deciding factor of whether knowledge originates from the senses or the ideas.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Hackett Publishing Company: Indianapolis. 1985.

Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by John Cottingham. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 1996.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 2nd edition. Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis. 1993.

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