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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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