Exploring Kant through Descartes and Hume

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Reply Fri 12 May, 2006 09:40 pm
By Jake Rose

One of the greatest philosophers to develop and refine epistemology, along with other philosophical concepts, is Immanuel Kant. With careful examination, thought and concern, he developed a unique philosophy, that of transcendental philosophy, to extend both the worlds of rationalism and empiricism. By looking carefully at the former philosophers of notable importance, namely Descartes and Hume, Kant was able to a very modern philosophy that lays basis to much thought and looks upon thought today. Examination of the two mentioned philosophers will only show their importance in contribution to Kant's foundation and therefore the foundation that bonded empiricism and rationalism.

Let us look at Descartes first. Descartes is a rationalist. He believes that there is some knowledge attained other than through or by the senses. For example, the saying "I think therefore I am" is an important aspect of this concept. This is knowledge developed on thought alone. More importantly, it is heavily weighted on the knowledge of God. This is to say that the idea of God, and God itself, is outside of the realm of the senses and so therefore exists through thought alone. Descartes shows through his meditations that by using our mind and thought that we can make judgments of the world around us. He believes that there are only two substances in the metaphysical. The first is thought and the second is matter. He believes, contrary to ancient philosophy, that there is matter without form. He also holds that certain ideas, specifically that of the mind and God, are innate and independent of the senses. This is contrary to many other philosophers and their beliefs.

The problem with Descartes is that a lot of his work is heavily based on the existence of God. This is to say that it requires God to help prove the concept of certain innate ideas outside of the sensible world. It is a very easy example to use and requires little to no back up support. This is because since one can not truly deny or prove the existence of God, one can merely say that he exists because they believe he does and can twist this to put as an innate thought. If one has a faith in God, then you can not deny this faith. Descartes uses this faith to support his idea of innate ideas. It is easy to say that God exists and use that as evidence to a philosophical concept of innate ideas because this requires no other basis. The very concept of God can be compared to Gaunilo's Perfect Island theory. This theory clearly states that there is no need to find empirical evidence of God's existence and therefore completely supports the innate idea concepts. The Perfect Island theory says that "if one thinks of the most perfect island in their mind, then it must exist for no other greater island can exist." The very definition of God is that which is most perfect, and since nothing can be more perfect than God it is only proper to confirm God's existence. Though debatably flawed, the theory does show the simple strength that faith holds to Descartes' philosophy.

On the other hand there is David Hume. Hume is an empiricist. Key to point out, as its opposite is a strong support basis for Descartes, is that Hume is a non-believer in God. Right there we can understand that we are dealing on a more sensory account of the world and philosophy. We can rules out thoughts existing simple because there is no greater thought to conceive or that we have merely thought of them. He also believes in the Copy Principle. This is to say that ideas are acquired ideas. Hume states that there are two principal ways to organize beliefs. One is relations of ideas which requires logical relations between the beliefs while the other is matters of fact which is the relation of a belief with the world itself. Furthermore, he denies that these matters of fact can be known a priori, only promoting his empiricist views. Hume had a philosophy that was seen by many as being strongly based in Skepticism. We can understand this by his belief in all knowledge coming by the senses. It is because of this that we can only trust these perceptions and therefore the knowledge that derives from them.

By understanding the basics of the two philosophers before, we can get a better sense of the philosophy of Kant. Kant takes what he considers the better of the two worlds of empiricism and rationalism and develops a philosophy attended to satisfy the imbalance between the two. Let us start by looking at the very basics of the two worlds and compare a priori, knowledge before experience, and a posterior, knowledge after experience. He holds that both do exist. On one hand, that of a priori, we have such ideas of logic, math, and other basic concepts that are not developed by human mind but rather recognized and taken from the natural world. Contrary is that of a posteriori, which Kant describes as being such things as science and sensory and analytical sciences that, though done through the natural world, are developed or recorded in a human process.

Even further we can break the two in half and use a concept developed by Hume. We can look at these things as being analytic, the equivalent of Hume's relations of ideas, or synthetic, the equivalent of Hume's matters of fact. Dividing a priori, we can see Kant labels logic as analytic while math and other basic concepts are synthetic. If we are to however examine closer a posteriori through this, we find that science can only be synthetic and that there is no analytic a posteriori knowledge. So from Descartes we see that Kant has taken the logical sense of thought, the "I think therefore I am" type of reasoning to support truth from reason alone, and from Hume we see that Kant has taken the relationship of ideas between ideas and the relationship of ideas compared to the world.

Kant also takes a good look at such mindful concepts as God, freedom and immortality. This lays on the side of rationalism with Descartes. Looking at this, we can see that there is a break between appearance and reality of the world through possible experience. Kant puts these concepts into reality, but even further he breaks reality into what we can know and what we can think. These concepts are placed in the latter. This puts emphasis on the logic and reason of his philosophy, holding weight not just in what can be sensed but more importantly what can be conjured by rational thought.

Taking the side of Hume though, Kant asks importantly the development of concepts. He puts emphasis not on the what we know but also on the how we know what we know. We get a further understanding beyond Hume's. It goes past the ideas of judgment for Kant denies the practicality in doing such as it would be counterproductive to the cause. Such things belong to a priori, and therefore have an origin that is at least near conceivable to the human mind. What Kant is concerned with locating then is the development of the sensible world through a transcendental philosophy. This relies not to correct knowledge but rather extend it and further support the foundations of beliefs. It is important to note the contradiction of the phrase "everything which happens has a cause" though, for this will show that development of concepts is based more heavily not on origin but on a form of evolution. The phrase shows that the concept of cause signifies something different from "that which happens" and so creates this contradiction. Kant is thus focused on a progress of thought in philosophy.

Through this we can see the impact that Kant has brought to philosophy. He bonded the empiricist thinking with the rationalist thinking, and vice-versa. This is sometimes called the "Copernican Revolution." He puts more emphasis on the reality of things and not on the extent to which our senses can progress knowledge. He also points out that the human mind has limits to its capabilities, like any container, and therefore not everything that exists can be known or recognized by mankind. This is important in that it shows the incompletion of epistemology and philosophy, yet does not point them out necessarily as weakness or restraints, but rather as acceptable truths that can be overcome if balanced between both epistemological worlds of empiricism and rationalism. Though he lies more on Descartes' side, ruling out some of Hume's assumptions and judgments of the world, it is a blending between the two to certain degrees that truly accept knowledge for what philosophy can understandably label it and not how epistemology can divide it.

Jake Rose is an artist and an author on http://www.Writing.Com/
which is a site for Fiction Writing.

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de Silentio
Reply Sat 3 Jun, 2006 07:36 pm
@Article bot,
Your comment about Hume being a non-believer in God sparked my intrest. I am to understand that Hume was not actually a non-believer in God, he actually attended a church following dilegently. He even has a chapter in his Treatise called "The immateriality of the soul", how can he believe in the soul, and not God? In this same treatise he did make a comment about the knowledge we have of God. He said, if my memory serves me correctly, that we can not possibly posses a true knowledge of God, since we cannot sense him with one of our five senses. He did not refute the existance of God, he just refuted the knowledge that we have of God.

Hume believed that all of our knowledge came from our senses, which created impressesion, and then lead to ideas. What Hume didn't think of (again, I think) is the possiblity that we have more senses than the five physical senses we posses. Who is to say that we don't have another sense linked to God that can create impressions, and therefore ideas, in our memory.
Reply Thu 29 Jun, 2006 12:00 pm
@Article bot,
Science is limited by our senses. That's the only verification we have of or use.

It's my opinion that we are linked to God because we are the mind thought creation of God. I don't believe Hume was correct in saying that our 5 senses control our ideas or thoughts. I feel the idea comes first. However, mankind and science alike rely on only those senses we know about.

Understanding that we are all the creation of one God in the form of light and energy waves, would mean that there is a definite link between God and Mankind. God made man in his own image from what I understand of the teachings in the Bible.

It's an interesting thought.
de Silentio
Reply Fri 30 Jun, 2006 01:26 pm
@Article bot,
"I feel the idea comes first"

What do you mean by this? Do you mean that an Idea exists before a paticular human being (such as myself)? Or that Ideas existed before human existance? Or something different altogether?

Are you hinting toward the Plato's world of the forms?
Reply Fri 30 Jun, 2006 10:26 pm
@de Silentio,
What I mean is that life is merely the registration, in matter, of states of motion of the thinking mind.

Breaking it down as the idea, or thinking motion that created matter to begin with. Matter being both organic and inorganic all having life and of one universe. Right down to the atoms of elements and compounds of elements.

We're all a form of energy that comes from thought. Therefore the idea or thought is present before the physical being which man thinks is apart from matter.

Does this make any sense? I'll be happy to get into it more but it's a little on the scientific side of things. I feel science plays a big role when it comes to understanding energy, electricity, and balance.
de Silentio
Reply Sat 1 Jul, 2006 12:03 pm
@Article bot,
I both understand and am confused at the same time. I will tackle your seperate paragraphs individually.

When you talk of "life [merely being] the registration, in matter, of states of motion of the thinking mind" are you talking about the human mind as a material thing creating copies of what the senses percieve, using purely material means (nurons and nural connectors)?

When you say that it was a thinking motion that created matter are you talking about an Aristitilian Prime Mover (This includes all Gods)? If so, I feel you are making a grave mistake in attributing human characteristic to a God like figure. Personifying something that is above the human means to understand is a difficult road to go down. This is where Hume comes in and says since we have no direct knowledge of God, we cannot really know what God is (and therefore what his characteristics are). If this is not your viewpoint, please clarify it for me.

Again, here I can use the argument of trying to personify the Prime Mover, in assume that it thought. If I take the assumption that you are right, and it was actually what we call thought that created matter, I still have an issue with your next sentance. It would infact follow that thought (but not necessarily 'Ideas'(see below)) was present before the physical being. However, then you go to say "which man thinks is apart from matter". I have an issue with this because physicallity and matter are one in the same. Now, if you were describing a cartesian duality where the mind is seperate from the physical being (matter), I would understand what you are talking about. Again, if I have misinterpreated anything please clarify me so I can in turn rectify my mistakes (at least I will try to rectify my mistakes.)

Now on to another thought (pun intented) which I had while typing this repsonse. You seem to bunch together thought and idea. Pertaining to humans you would assume that these always go together, but I still think that they would be seperated. Thought is what invokes ideas to be created. In animals, especially the most basic ones, I think attributing ideas to them is a far stretch. Now, the question arises do these animals have thoughts, and if so, what do these thoughts produce if they do not produce ideas? I think these thoughts produce direct action, instead of prducing multiple ideas that can be either followed or disregarded.

Now on to God (I have to argue from the Christian God because that is the only God I have extended knowledge of). I think it beyond the christian God to have ideas. Kierkegaard once said that "God does not think, he creates" (I think this is a direct quote, if not it is close to what he said) Why would God think, when every action that he does is the right action. Knowing everything that can be known would yeild perfect results every time. The human mind has to weigh options individually, because of the limitations that it has. God does not have these limitations (It would seem since he is all knowing). I don't think God can forgot, and being all powerful, I think he would have all of his knowledge readily available when he needs it, in the instant (and the instant is all time for him). If this got confusing, I am sorry. It is hard to articulate these thoughts I have about God. It is much easier in conversation then in writing.
Reply Wed 5 Jul, 2006 08:14 pm
@de Silentio,
In order to understand the effect, it's important to understand the cause of all effect. I'm not trying to separate mind and matter as two different substances. I don't believe that life is a property apart from matter. I feel there is but one source which can be found in every organic and inorganic matter which is light. Elements of matter aren't varying is substance but states of motion and it's these states of motion that man calls "elements of matter".

As far as the Prime Mover, no, I'm not referring to any Aristotelian theory. What I'm referring to is humans being created through one universal source that is often referred to as God. It's written in the Bible that mankind was created in the image of God. There is but one God and that's where people seem to misunderstand. Keep in mind, I'm not pushing the Bible here. There is but one source for all creation.

Thought and idea. Aren't these one in the same when considering that thinking is an action followed by a reaction of that action? Back to the negative and positive theory that for every negative there is and opposing positive not only balances nature and the universe but can also be found in the thought process by way of opposing pulsations. Concentration and decentration in sequence is energy of mind and these opposing pulsations give dimension and form to which we call life.

You made the comment about a Christian God and that's where the trouble begins. (not attacking you, just making a comment on Gods based on your comment) This is why wars are created and mankind is out of balance. Mankind has created religions with a plethora of different Gods. ...Worshipping God is fine as long as you are worshipping this God or that God or My God. There is but only one God. Until people understand that mankind comes from One universal source, we will continue to fight and argue about who's God is the right God and what religion is the right religion. Religion itself has divided people and has been the source of most all the wars throughout history. We're all out here in one universe worshipping different Gods without understanding that there can only be One. I also come from a Christian background (FYI). I'd love to discuss more on Christianity also. Smile

When talking about God and thinking when God thinks he creates. This is a creating world, not a created one. God is in all things and of all things. It's been said in the Bible that God is Light and the one substance in all organic and inorganic matter is light. It's been said the God is omnipotent and all knowing and all powerful and all those other things that the Bible talks about. We, are the mind thought creation of one God, aren't we? Understanding Christianity and the Bible, I understand that we were created in the image of God. God only creates good and knows no evil. God is love and light and immortal and everywhere and in everything.

LOL... it's very difficult to limit the conversation in writing without including the source. It's also hard to describe in writing as you said... However it's good that we do try.

At some point, I'd like to discuss God in more depth and the understanding of God and what God is. That would be in another thread...

I look forward to discussing more with you. Thank you for your post and insight.
de Silentio
Reply Thu 6 Jul, 2006 08:23 pm
@Article bot,
So much to talk about.

To break down the discussion into parts, I will only ask one question and make one statement this time. And when we are finished discussing that, I will start a new thread, because your points about God deserve discussion (I also love to talk about God)

What do you mean by we are all light? I do not understand this statement. I am to understand that light is made up of photons and waves, of which composotion I am unsure. How is, for example, an atom of carbon (the building block of life) light? If you are refering to energy, please clarify how all energy is light.

Also, when I mentioned the prime mover I was just talking about a creator, this includes God. I think at least one of Aquinas' five proofs for God reference back to Aristotle's Prime Mover, Aquanis calls him the Unmoved Mover, but it is the same thing. God is the Prime Mover. Prime Mover is more of a position than an entity (although an entity has to fill the position).

Does this forum offer Instant Message? That might be more adequte for a discussion.

I look forward to your response, also. Thank you for your posts and insight.
Reply Thu 6 Jul, 2006 08:44 pm
@Article bot,
Ok, I want to offer a response however I think we should do this in the proper forum and I feel that would be the Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics. Let's start with a single discussion on the science (light) and then another in Metaphysics. This way would be best.

... And yes, you can private message but no instant messaging. That is something that can be added. Our plans are to add much to this site but have some other projects underway at the moment and just wanted to get this up for some casual discussion. We will have live chat also. This is the Link to a discussion on LIGHT.
ms anthropist
Reply Wed 12 Jul, 2006 10:13 am
@Article bot,
Sorry, i didn't read the entire threat, but i got to the bit were some-one attempted to attribute Hume of religious believes. Hume is the father of scepticism, he demolished religion. He launched the first rational attack against god in modern philosophy. HUme, mass? you gotta be kidding!
Kant, that is another story, Kant tried to use Hume's scepticism and turn it in such a way as to validate god as that which scapes our understanding, so that can neither be proven or misproven.
de Silentio
Reply Tue 25 Jul, 2006 06:49 pm
@Article bot,
Thank you for correcting me ms_anthropist. I must have been mixing in Kants values (like you said) with Hume, I don't know what I was thinking.

Although, I did read the first book in his Treatise, and thought that the few references to God implied what I had typed above, that he belived there was a God but we can't have knowledge of God

It has been a couple of years since I studied Hume, and almost everything I said can be attributed to Kant.

And about Hume attending Church. I swear I read that somewhere, but again, it must have been Kant.

However, almost every website I looked at (including the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) questioned rather Hume was truely an atheist or not. Like Kierkegaard (which I know is a different story) it is possible that we don't know his true thoughts through all of his writing.

Again, Thank You.
Reply Mon 9 Oct, 2006 08:24 pm
@Article bot,
Rumour: What someone else tells you is true.
Knowledge: Believing it.
Fact: Proving it.

I didn't know Hume attended any church though...that's interesting.
de Silentio
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 05:49 am
@Article bot,
He didn't, that was a mistake on my part. All I could find to back up that thought was a website that said Hume attended church as an adolesent, but who knows if that is true.

I think I was transposing some of Kants life onto Hume.

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