Descartes, Hume and Skepticism Essay

735 Words Jul 12th, 2006 3 Pages
Descartes, Hume and Skepticism
Descartes is responsible for the skepticism that has been labeled Cartesian doubt. Hume critiques this skepticism in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. After his discussion of Cartesian doubt, he offers a different type of skepticism that he considers as being more effective philosophically. Is Hume right in his characterization of Cartesian doubt and is the skepticism he offers better?
Descartes introduced the idea of universal doubt to philosophy. If there is even a slight case for doubting something, then it should be doubted. His skepticism was used to find a basis for knowledge and his aim was to establish truths. He relayed this universal doubt to all human understanding. Not only does it
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Cartesian doubt does not allow us to advance. We would be in a constant state of doubting. How would one lay a foundation of truths if it is possible to doubt all? "No reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction upon any subject" (Hume Section XII part 1).
Hume does give some credit to this method of skepticism. It can be useful in philosophy when used reasonably. A degree of doubt should escort every person who reasons. This doubt gets rid of prejudices in judgments and helps rid closed-mindedness brought about by education. It allows philosophy to be brought down to basic principles and gives a foundation to slowly build upon. This slow progress allows a review of thoughts and establishes sure steps to truths.
Hume's skepticism is limiting but not as limiting as Cartesian doubt. Hume calls this mitigated skepticism. "Another species of mitigated skepticism which may be of advantage to man-kind… is the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding" (Section XII part. 3). We should direct our focus and studies to experiences of everyday life and to common occurrences. Extraordinary or remote ideas and thoughts should be left to the imaginations of people of the arts. By looking at the natural powers of the mind one can find what should be the objects of enquiry and study.
Hume writes that are two enquiries that man…