Empiricism is something that can be backed up by recognition of the five senses; this is more effective than rationalism because a person can use observation to determine the answer of something, rather than just using logical reasoning that may or may not be true. I will be contrasting David Hume and Rene Descarte. The third philosopher I will be looking at is William Edward Morris, author of the journal entitled “Meaning(fullness) Without Metaphysics: Another Look at Hume’s “Meaning Empiricism.”
I will first discuss the topic of empiricism via David Hume. Hume’s ideas contribute to the concept that if people could learn to deal well with facts instead of being in denial, they could reach a happier, more calm life. He believed that feelings are more helpful in reaching conclusions about things, rather than only using a rational mindset. Hume thought that this rational mindset took away people’s ability to perform well in their passions. He in a time called the “Age of Reason,” which meant the more rational someone was, the more glory they held above their head.
Hume appreciated the understanding of ethics, which is how people can be and do good. He thought that morality was not about moral ideas, but instead being trained at an early age through way of discovering emotions and the good or bad about each one. He believed highly in the words and power of public intellectuals because he believed in the education of passions. Many powerful people are motivated by their feelings to be doing the things they do, rather than reason. This means that people must learn and be taught to obtain good character traits by way of an education system that taught more based on feelings, instead of reason. Something Hume says in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” is that “It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference above accurate and abstruse; and by many will be recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other.” An example of this is that it would be hard to change one’s political beliefs based on reason, and rather, using techniques such as sympathy and reassurance to appeal to people’s mindsets while trying to change their mind; he simply wanted educators to influence the development of feeling. Although he had many reasons to prefer people to use their sense of feeling over being rational, Hume was aware that not all feelings were acceptable ; equal. He knew that using feelings often causes people to think of the best or worst case scenario, where reason comes in later to help people make important decisions. Then again, hardly anything we do can truly be defined as one-hundred percent “rational.”
Hume did not think it was rational to believe in God, so he floated between agnostic and theism; he thought religious belief was not the product of reason. Religious tolerance, the act of not believing in another person’s religion but not being discriminatory against them for it, was something that Hume practiced throughout his life. He also did not believe in such thing as people having one specific self-identity; instead, he thought that people were not the definable people that reason makes us out to be, but rather many different perceptions that are constantly in flux. Despite this, Hume thought that holding onto one’s common beliefs ; motives help us make it in the world, which is a positive thing.
Now, I will discuss the topic of rationalism via Rene Descarte. Descartes was one of the few rationalist writers at a time when plenty of other writers backed up their arguments with appeals to God. Instead of using religion as a way to figure things out, he believed in using individual experiences ; reason to define people’s ideas. This lead to him spending his youth traveling in order to gain knowledge of as many experiences as he could so that he could have better reasoning.
Descartes says that, once he had finished school, he “completely altered his view on the matter of his knowledge…He had found himself embarrassed by so many doubts and errors.” This caused him to gain his perspective of a rationalist. He had this idea of dividing large problems into smaller problems which he called the “method of doubt.” Another thing that this philosopher brought to the table was a concept called the “solitary end,” which defined his belief that people can find the answers to complex problems by doing much soul searching, rather than using science; in other words, all that is needed is a rational mind and time to think. This concept to relates to another one of his, which is the phrase “cogito ergo sum.” The meaning of this is “I think, therefore I am.” The idea of “cogito ergo sum” essentially backs up Descartes’ idea that anyone’s life could simply be a dream of someone’s or their own; it raises the question of whether or not life is what we all think it is or not. In relation to this, Descartes did not trust that he actually existed in some way. This gave him the idea that observing human senses were not enough to give reason to things.
Although he favored reason over feeling, Descartes did believe strongly in passion. He created an index of the “six fundamental passions.” These passions included wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, sadness. To help people deeply understand their passions so that they could do things to their highest potential was something Descarte strived for.
William Edward Morris speaks in the article “Meaning(fullness) Without Metaphysics: Another Look at Hume’s “Meaning Empiricism” about David Hume’s perspective of empiricism and how he makes it his ideas seem more meaningful through empiricism rather than anything else. Something Morris says to support this claim is, “Hume thinks it is worse than useless to speculate about the unknown causes of our impressions of sensation because he believes that to do so takes us beyond the bounds of sense. Hume shifts the focus of inquiry away from the traditional search for “ultimate original principles” that purport to give us insight into the ultimate nature of reality in order to concentrate on a description of the “original principles” that in fact govern human nature.” This quote supports the idea that rationalism can sometimes but unhelpful because the true answer could potentially be unknown.
Predominantly, to reach the anticipation of empiricism, the senses must define the outcome one is searching for. This is more effective than using rationalism to find the answer to something because it uses real-life right-in-front-of-you information to draw a conclusion.