Empiricism In David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

1644 Words7 Pages
David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding made a profound contribution to the epistemological debate between rationalists and empiricists. Hume presents persuading arguments for the empiricist position that sensory experience is the foundation of knowledge, and in doing so criticizes the rationalist belief that it is innate ideas that provide this basis. (Begby, 20 Jan.) However, he also provides reason to doubt the acceptability of empiricism by demonstrating some of its troubling implications. As an empiricist, Hume is committed to the claim that our knowledge, and our ideas, stem from our impressions of sensory experiences. (Hume 167) The trouble with this view lies in the way in which we connect these ideas in order to explain…show more content…
Hume's argument, in effect, provokes a potentially devastating question for empiricism: how reliable are our sensory experiences and, if we find them to be insufficient, to what extent can we really claim to have knowledge about the world? Despite explicating a major limitation of empiricism, Hume comes to a conclusion that saves the position from crumbling by appealing to custom as the principle that allows for humans necessarily continue using the principle of cause and effect. According to Hume, ideas, which as aforementioned are derived from the more vivid impressions we receive from our senses, can be connected to each other in one of three ways: through resemblance, contiguity in time or place, or cause and effect. Hume is concerned with the type of connection that connects ideas about matters of fact, or matters about the state of the world that cannot be demonstrated purely through reasoning. As an example of what might constitute as a matter of fact, he offers the assertion “The sun will rise tomorrow.” (170) The fundamental connection between all ideas of this sort, he claims, is the principle of cause and…show more content…
He explains that there cannot be another way for the mind to arrive at the principle of cause and effect besides experience because there is nothing in the first event, or cause, that contains the event that follows. To Hume, the two events are separate from one another and not necessarily connected by anything we can experience that would justify this induction. He points out that it is quite possible to envision, without contradiction, a great deal of other results stemming from an event even if we have already, in our minds, causally linked that event to one specific outcome. (172) So, even if we have seen Event B succeed Event A thousands of times and have concluded based on this experience that Event B always follows Event A, we can still reasonably imagine alternative scenarios where some other Event C or D is the subsequent occurrence. This is because Event B is not contained within the notion of Event A; they are two different events. Hume argues that any previous experience we have of a series of events occurring is only relevant to that single, particular incident of that sequence, and should not provide justification for the belief that the instigating event will yield the same result in the future. (174) We do not actually experience or sense a connection between Event A and Event B, it is only due

More about Empiricism In David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Open Document