POL 2108 A - Modern Political Thought I - Guy Côté - 18 Mar. 06
David Hume (1711-1776)
• If he was asked if a tree made noise and nobody was around to hear it, his answer would be
- we can’t be certain it made noise if nobody saw it
- we can only say it made a noise based our our previous experience with falling objects,
based on the cause-effect idea
• He’s a skeptic and empiricist, if not the founding father
- First political thinker to place reason in a secondary role in the way we should think
• His main philosophy is based on how to acquire knowledge
- knowledge can never be truly known, is never 100% certain
- for Hume, knowledge can only be known from experience, not reason/science. Science
can only explain our experiences, not give us knowledge.
• According to Hume, people do not have access to objects, but only their perceptions of said
- appearance, texture, feeling, etc.
- This conclusion is thus based on our experience/perceptions, not reason, differentiating
him from other philosophers
• To him, all our knowledge is based on cause-effect. Without causation, we cannot go beyond
our senses. Our observed causes are thus based on experienced constants. If we observe an
event that is similar to one already observed, that’s when we can expect an assumption about
the event. Observation gives us experience.
• Hume is an atheist.
- does not believe there’s 1 cause for everything, i.e. God did everything. There are
many causes for a single event, and no single explanation for many things.
- B/c impossible to experience or observe God
• There are 2 kinds of perception:
1) impressions : exactly what it sounds like, a quick understanding of something, based
on previous experiences. All ideas derive from impressions. Knowledge cannot be acquired
outside our imaginations, impressions, experience.
- This is completely the opposite of traditional thought on reason.
2) imagination / ideas
• Morality is a distinction