David Hume, was an Englishman born in the 17th century who was known as an established writer, politician and philosopher. He was described as the “Second Socrates” (Hume, ix) due to his radical belief and philosophical views. In his twenties, Hume wrote one of his first works A Treatise of Human Nature. He described his views on human functionality, how humans act according to habit instead of reason and their beliefs, whether they be godly or not stem from pure imagination with no evidence. His unrevised manuscript was almost of an attack of some sorts on Descartes, seeing that it argued every fundamental Descartes stood for.
Book one denied that humans possess any form of rationality and that the functions of an individual are a habitual result of the past. Book two goes further to explain that humans are driven by passion and mere artistry of the mind and that there is no reasoning behind their beliefs or actions. These ideas that Humes had resulted in his book being rejected by the public and other philosophers and renowned writers of the time. Humes work argued and went against all religious teachings and beliefs built at the time.
In an Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Humes argues that knowledge is obtained from experiences in the past. He demonstrates that humans perform the way they do, due to habit rather than reason. Hume states that our belief of the universe stems from our imagination rather than from logic, this all falls in his category of skepticism. He goes on to further explain human rationale; as individuals we infer what will happen in the future based off of our pasts. Hume finds this rational comparatively false, arguing that it wouldn’t make sense to conclude the future based off of one’s past experiences, it’s more justified if we were to use the past as a proposition to what the future holds, rather than having an affirmative belief.
In Part I, Hume divides humans into two categories; relations of ideas and matters of fact. Relations of ideas are described as concepts that can be executed and proven to be positive, he uses arithmetics as an example. “Three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe.” (Hume, 28). Matter of Fact is known as ideas that are created based off of a reaction, humans are known to make predictions based on previous occurrences, and again this is due to habit.
In the Inquiry, Hume discusses how there is a fifty-fifty chance that the sun might rise in the future, yet this doesn’t prevent humans from creating unjustified predictions. “The sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood.” (Hume, 29). Hume goes on to say that the belief in matter of fact stems from other reasoning, “All reasoning concerning matter of fact seems to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone, we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses.” (Hume, 29). Causal claims is the concept that Hume uses to describe his theory, that x is a result of y; if I don’t study for my test, I will fail.
Hume also demonstrates that just because the cause anticipates the effect, there is no evidence that x is a definite result of y. Hume goes on to further discuss how cause and effect reasoning is the result of prior experience. “A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would conclude that there had once been men in that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature.” (Hume, 29). The idea that the watch was left by a man who had once been on that island is all part of our distinct experience.
Another idea Hume breaks down is human experiences, he places them in two categories; impressions and ideas. Impressions are sought to be perceptions whereas ideas stem from the imagination. Elements that are authentic and information gained through prior experience doesn’t confirm an object’s ability to function the way it does or how it will function in the future. An example of ideas is the unicorn, the use of two existing ideas; a horse and a horn create a new idea; like a unicorn, again a belief derived from the imagination.
David Hume claimed that humans did not know as much as they thought they did. This belief is derived from his idea of skepticism. Humes states that object we haven’t observed or obtained information from aren’t accurate. Objects or ideas that are factual provide a legitimate proof. Relations of ideas are accurate, for example the sky is blue, an apple is a fruit, etc. Humes mere operation of thought was based on these understandings.
Humes category of relations of ideas and matters of fact idea still makes sense in the modern world. The matter of facts being apples are red or objects when dropped, will fall, are true, but not in every situation or outcome. Not every apple is going to be red and it’s not necessary that every object will fall. This might be the case now, but there’s no evidence that these situations are absolute. Relations of ideas on the other hand, are absolute in every sense. For example a^(2) + b^(2) = c^(2), or that all triangles have three sides.
David Hume’s views at the time argued the religious bases in the 17th century. He supported beliefs by having an abundance of established facts. Hume found humans basing their beliefs of the outer world, such as a god, and religious doctrines, all on their perception of what happened in the past and prior experiences. Whether these experiences held a miracle or a strong faith. Hume’s ideas deemed to be too advanced to the philosophical age, he was living in. He was able to question the human mind and it’s way of thinking. Hume always asked the question as to why men took certain initiatives and why emotions was involved. His skepticism was rooted from the lack of evidence provided for many of the philosophical ideas announced during his time. Hume was able to challenge ideas and ask to look at things from a different perspective, to hopefully form an understanding and appreciation.