Hume: Knowledge is Belief

Updated April 30, 2021

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Hume: Knowledge is Belief essay

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Hume believes that all ideas come from experience: “Vivo ergo cogito” I live therefore I think. He believes that all humans are a blank slate, or tabula rasa, on which our experiences and impressions form our ideas. Our experiences and what we believe forms our ideas and opinion like in his example of a gold mountain where our minds put together its version of a mountain and makes it gold. It can only do this because it has an idea of what a mountain is, and what gold looks like.

It is an empirical way of thinking where he puts the senses first. He believes that the mind is secondary to the senses; the opposite of Descartes who believes that the human mind comes first: “Cogito ergo sum” I think therefore I am. According to him, there is no certain knowledge of things. For example, we cannot know as an absolute certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, but there is a high probability that it will. For him, knowledge is belief, we believe what we know, we only know what we see, and what we see may change. Like right now, we believe and will continue to believe that the earth rotates around the sun until there is evidence of something different.

I agree with Hume’s view of tabula rasa, that all ideas come from experience. In my opinion, it is impossible to form an idea unless you have experienced it. For example, if you have never had a mandarin orange you cannot have an idea of what it would taste like, however, if you know what it smells like, you can have an idea of what it would taste like. “If there is a defect in the senses, there is no sensation and no corresponding idea.” To be clear, Hume distinguishes between forming an idea or belief, the gold mountain, and imagination. He says that belief is not the same as imagination, and what distinguishes the two is feeling.

A person cannot feel what they imagine. You cannot taste the mandarin orange just by imagining or having an idea of how it tastes. Also, from a sociological perspective, as English philosopher John Locke said, every child is born a blank slate on which the culture of their families and their sensory perceptions form their personality, and knowledge. What we know is influenced by everything around us which forms our respective ideas. The human knowledge is basically belief based on feeling.

Hume: Knowledge is Belief essay

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