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Hume and Descartes on The Theory of Ideas
David Hume and Rene Descartes are philosophers with opposing views about
the origination of ideas. Descartes believed there were three types of ideas
which are, innate, adventitious and those from imagination. He stated since he
exists and his idea of what a perfect being is, such as God, then God exists.
Hume, on the other had, believed ideas came only from one thing, impressions.
Both theories have their strengths and weaknesses but I like Hume’s theory
better than Descartes.
Descartes believed imagination could not help humans. Descartes’
definition of ideas was, only things which exist in the mind and represent other
things are called ideas. His argument was the nature of the ideas which make up
the mind could gain an idea about God, but instead, humans could think about God
by other means. A major strength of Descartes was his idea of objective reality,
which is one’s perception of reality. If something accurately represents
something, then it is objective reality, according to him. I believe this is a
strength of his because of his convincing argument, “If the objective reality
of any one of my ideas is found to be so great that I am certain that the same
reality was not in me?therefore I myself cannot be the cause of the idea, then
it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that something
else, which is the cause of this idea, also exists” (75). Descartes weakness is
his idea of innate ideas. It is not necessarily correct to say people have a
mind the minute they are born, instead they have gained it after being living
for some time. Descartes position on innate ideas is open to criticism; innate
ideas should be predicted not thought of. There is no certainty that the nature
in which the idea is explained should be innate. If Descartes theory of
innateness has no temporary connections between the ideas, then there is nothing
innate about his innate ideas.
Hume believed that ideas came from impressions. He stated that every
simple idea has a simple impression and vice versa. He divided impressions into
two groups, sensation, which comes about from causes unknown to us and
reflection which comes about from our ideas. He said any impressions are
followed by an idea which resembles the impression and only varies in force and
vivacity. Whereas Descartes did not believe in imagination, Hume did. This is
a weakness of his because one cannot logically prove something from imagination.
One cannot logically have an idea of a cause from their imagination; they can
just picture their ideas. Hume did not believe in Descartes concept of innate
ideas. He states that ideas are gained through our senses and to prove ideas
are not innate, one must realize that they have already had experience of these
ideas. Hume’s strength is his belief that all ideas came from impressions.
Even stronger is the impression of reflection. People who feel the effects of
an idea thought of, do not see something happen.
Descartes and Hume disagreed on the topics of innateness and imagination
that is why neither one is right. Even though Hume’s imagination idea is bad,
the rest of his belief is convincing. Therefore, I believe Hume’s theory of
ideas is better than Descartes’ argument because he says ideas are based from
impression and I can relate to this. Whenever I think of something I form ideas
of this object based on first impressions. I was not born with ideas because I
had nothing to base them on when I was born. Therefore, Hume’s theory of ideas
is easier to accept and comprehend.
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