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David Humes Thoughts On Empiricism Essay

One of the most notable figures in the history of western philosophy was Scottish philosopher David Hume. Hume was widely known for his views on Empiricism. Empiricism has been pondered since the beginnings of philosophy by many famous figures, from Aristotle to John Locke. (Wikipedia) Empiricism claims that human knowledge is founded on observation and use of the five senses. Hume published a literary work titled Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. This had a profound impact on empiricist philosophy. (Heter)

In section 2 of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, titled Of the Origin of Ideas, Hume makes distinctions about impressions and ideas. Simply stating how a memory obtained from the central nervous system can never reach the level of raw, vividness that the original impression had made. An example of this concept can be something along the lines of experiencing free fall. We have all experienced free fall at some point in our lives. Simply recalling that moment can never fully allow us to grasp the gut wrenching excitement of pure gravity.

An interesting thought brought forward in section 2 is The Copy Principle. Hume states “But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and real life experience…”(Enquiry, Section II) In layman’s terms, imagination of the human mind might be perceived as limitless.

However, in reality, it is really a combination of sensory information and real life experiences. To this end, Hume believes that there are no truly original ideas. Everything we can conceive is a “copy” or modification of material afforded to us by our surroundings. Examples of this can be found all around us. Such as the design of a plane matching the shape of a bird or Velcro behaving as burdock burrs. (Bloomberg) An interesting point Hume brings to our attention is the Blind Man Argument. Hume claims that a person born blind has no notions of what color is.

If you grant that individual the ability to see, you present him with a new channel for ideas. Without this inlet, he would have no idea what color is. Therefore, color must come from the senses. (Enquiry, Section II) One might object to Hume’s copy principle by stating that original ideas are created quite frequently. A perfect example of this is the telephone. There was no object in the known universe that was able to transmit encoded sound waves through electrical wire over vast distances to a receiver before the telephone.

This invention came into existence through pure innovation. The blind man argument presents an error. Just because a blind man cannot make an association between the word red and the color red doesn’t mean that they have never seen it before. Perhaps the man has seen the color red countless times in his dreams. However, without having another individual identify the same color and help him form the association between the word and the color, the blind man will never know what “red” means.

Countering my objection to The Copy Principle, all the natural resources we are afforded on earth can be combined, transformed or restructured to create something else. Basically, everything we have created can be broken down to the raw materials found within our environment. This makes it impossible to create something truly new. The telephone is simply a combination of oil, copper, aluminum, silicone, ect. In defense of The Blind Man Argument, people born without the ability to see, claim they see “nothing”. They might understand how the color spectrum works but they will never be able to sense what the actual color looks like.

For one to know the answer to this debate, he or she have the ability to see and be blind at the same time. Hume certainly brings up some interesting concepts. For this reason, scholars have been studying his ideas for centuries. Empiricism and rationalism are in constant disagreement. Both philosophical notions are extremely hard to disprove. Works Cited Hennighausen, Amelia, and Eric Roston. “14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry: Nature as R&D Lab. ” Bloomberg. com. Bloomberg, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.

Heter, T. Storm. “Empiricism. ” First Philosophy: A Handbook for Beginning Philosophers. N. p. : n. p. , n. d. 15-21. Print. Hume, David. “Section II: Of the Origin of Ideas. ” An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. N. p. : n. p. , 1784. N. pag. Print. Wikipedia contributors. “David Hume. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Sep. 2013. Wikipedia contributors. “Empiricism. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Sep. 2013. Web. 21 Sep. 2013.


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