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Free EssaysPhilosophy CategoryDescartes' and Hume's Description of IdeasBuy an essay
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Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650) is a prominent French philosopher, mathematician and scientist, the founder of Rationalism. Descartes defined the leading role of reason in knowledge and provided the doctrine of the three levels of being, i.e. the substance, its attributes and modes. According to the Descartes’ studies, the modes depend on the attributes for their being, while the attributes do not depend on the modes. The attributes depend on the substances for their being, while the substances do not depend on the attributes. Descartes is the author of the dualism theory which tried to reconcile the materialist and idealist perspectives in philosophy. He created the theory of the scientific method and the theory of “innate ideas”.

While opposing the spirit to the material nature, Descartes finds the thinking as the essence of the spiritual substance, i.e. its main attribute. Descartes famous thesis is: “I think, therefore I am” (Latin: “Cogito ergo sum”). According to Descartes, the soul is the substance, the essence of which consists of thinking. The soul can be created by the supernatural power, i.e. God. The mind and will are the modes of thinking. The main function of the mind is the search for knowledge, which goes through the ideas, i.e. the immediate objects of thought. Descartes distinguishes three types of ideas:

1) adventitious ideas, i.e. the ideas which are caused externally,

2) factitious ideas, i.e. the ideas which are created by the imagination;

3) innate ideas, i.e. the ideas which are implanted into the mind by God at the time of person’s birth (Pessin).

Descartes considers the innate ideas as the main intuitions of the mind upon which rational knowledge is based.

As for David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, representative of empiricism and agnosticism, the ideas are the figurative representations of sensory images and memory.

Hume uses the term “idea” in his explanations of our thoughts and feelings. According to Hume, all of our thoughts and feelings are perceptions. Perceptions consist from ideas and impressions. Impressions include sensations, passions, and emotions, i.e. everything people feel. Thinking and reasoning is done with ideas. According to Hume's terminology system, ideas are the faint images of the impressions observed while thinking and reasoning. All simple ideas are derived from the simple impressions which they correspond with.

Although people invert and unite ideas in the imagination in order to form the complex ideas of things we have never experienced before, Hume is sure that the creative powers can be extended no further than “the materials afforded to us by the senses and experience.” Complex ideas are developed from simple ideas, which are faint copies of the simple impressions from which they originate and to which they correspond and resemble. Hume provides this “general proposition” as his “first principle…in the science of human nature” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

According to Hume, the limit of knowledge lies between the ideas in which we can trace their initial formation through the experience and those ideas which make it impossible. If the idea can be traced back to a point where it is formed, the idea is considered as acceptable and possible. If the idea can not be traced back to the moment of its formation, this idea is groundless and unacceptable. The prime example of such ideas is the time and material and spiritual substance.

The abovementioned implies that David Hume, similarly to Descartes who tried to investigate the possibility of human knowledge and methods by which it occurs, also defines the basic principles of human knowledge and methods of its acquisition.

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