“I have found that such an object has always been attended with such an effect, and I foresee, that other objects, which are, in appearance, similar, will be attended with similar effects”. This foretells that with knowledge, our society may be able to associate a certain aspect/detail with an object, but that does not necessarily mean it will always happen. Therefore, Hume, who starts out as an empiricist, has arrived at the conclusion where an individual may not have knowledge at all, of skeptic doubt.
This is explored through the three epistemology questions, the process he did take, and what the reader thinks on the matter. According to Hume, with his process of thought with empiricism, thinks knowledge is possible. He believed that all information about the world comes through experience. The contents of consciousness are what he calls perceptions. […] include our original experiences [impressions] […] sense data […] “internal” world composed of the contents of our psychological experiences […] also include what he calls ideas, or the contents of our memories and imagination.
With this approach to whether knowledge is possible, it is clear that he thinks knowledge is possible through experience; through real experiences, sense data, psychological experiences and ideas. It states that one does not have innate ideas with us such as our senses or emotions, that an individual must experience these actions first in order to recognize what they must be. If one does not experience such actions, they are what he calls ideas, “the copies of them [impressions]” (The Search for Knowledge 69). He also states that, “We can deny any matter of fact without falling into a logical contradiction.
The fact that we feel confident about certain facts of the world is merely the result of our expectations, which are based on past experience” (The Search for Knowledge 70). This theory is called Hume’s Fork, where it is between the relation of an idea and a matter of a fact. This says that society may be sure about our surroundings, but they are not certain. Ideas do not tell us anything about the world, but only our thoughts of what they may be, and matters of facts are knowledge per say, but are not always certain as well. Basically, it shows that one cannot be certain of the world around us, as it may change.
With the question of the role of reason within the possibility of knowledge, he believes that, “We can learn nothing about what lies outside the subjective contents found within our experiences. ” (The Search for Knowledge 71), therefore reason cannot be established as the primary source of knowledge. He clarifies his reasoning with the principle of induction and the uniformity of nature. The principle of induction is basically assuming that, for example, since the sun has risen yesterday, it shall rise today and rise tomorrow. Society makes the connection that when an event occurs more than once; one will believe that it shall again happen.
The uniformity of nature is where the belief of the laws of nature will continue to commence, therefore it should be still commencing in days to come. Another way he delivers this statement is through the theory of being constantly conjoined. He states that, “Causes and effects are distinct events” (The Search for Knowledge 73). It can be said that when do an action, there is an equal consequence that follows. If you take the example of where you light up a candle with a match, and then touch the flame, you experience a burning sensation where you have touched said flame.
If one repeats this process, one comes to the conclusion that since this has happened in the past, it will most likely be the same or similar in the future. With the third epistemology question of whether reality is represented as it really is, he declares that, “The only certainty we can have concerns the relationships of our ideas. But since these judgments concern only the realm of ideas, they do not tell us about the external world” (The Search for Knowledge 78). As a result, one can determine that reality cannot be represented as it really is due to the fact that one cannot gain any knowledge from the outside world from our ideas.
Ergo, in the world, a person may experience objects such as desks, but this person is uncertain if they are connected to an external world. Hume raises that, “Impressions are always data that are internal […] hence; we have no data about what is external” (The Search for Knowledge 75). It clarifies his reasoning that society believes that they live in an external world, or that there may be one, but one does not have sufficient explanation as to why this is true. As well, an individual must also question the fact of the self. Hume affirms that, “If all we can know are sensory impressions or our
internal psychological states, then we can never experience the self” (The Search for Knowledge 76). With this in mind, people are certain that they cannot experience a self because it is not a true experience such as a color, which can be experienced. There is no foundation for experiencing the self, as all one has are beliefs, assumptions and ideas, which are never certain. In a few words, Hume is specifying that as a person, one cannot step outside our bodies to see ourselves; that a person can only believe that there is a self.
Going back to where knowledge is possible, in the beginning, Hume does believe knowledge is possible with perceptions and impressions. With his thought process, the reader can determine that he has progressed from the thought process of empiricism to skeptic doubt and skepticism, questioning if society has knowledge at all. He believes that in the start, society has knowledge through what he calls perceptions; which consists of the senses, the memory and the psychological states. Overall, society must have experiences if it has developed these sources of knowledge.
This in turn concludes that an individual can have knowledge through experience. Since Hume believes that this is the only knowledge an individual can have, he comes to the realization where, “If all we know are the contents of experience, how can we know anything about what lies outside our experience? ” (The Search for Knowledge 70-71). This expresses that one cannot have knowledge, since the foundation he has set is only for our internal thoughts. From this, he describes his thought process of skeptic doubt through causal relations and knowledge of the outside world and self.
This clarifies that a person can believe something will always happen but is never certain (causal), and stating that they cannot step outside the world they have created to see what will happen outside of such (external world and self). The reader must have an assessment on the matter of Hume’s empiricism and his process towards skeptic doubt. Dealing with Hume’s empiricism, I believe that his thought process is very vague and has various doubts of its own. The idea of perceptions cannot be knowledge to begin with, because it is what we have and think, but does not necessarily mean other people in society think this same way as well.
Therefore, he has already led himself into skepticism, because he cannot explain thoroughly why this is knowledge. What he explains as experience, which is where we obtain this knowledge, is unsatisfactory because the experience he says is mostly reasoning such as sense data and psychological states. For that reason, his thought process in the beginning can also be confused with rationalism, since most of what he verbalizes is knowledge that can only be discovered through reasoning and not experience.
Looking at his progression towards skepticism, he believes that we cannot have knowledge because all that we have is our internal world to base our beliefs on. It is shown that through the principle of induction and the uniformity of nature, we will have the reoccurring thought that, “The future will be like the past” (The Search for Knowledge 71). With this basic in mind, we are automatically assuming every event that happens in our lives will happen or not happen again, because of past experiences.
With this amount of information, it is not sufficient enough to say that we always be certain it will again happen. It all comes back to the fact that since we only have our world to experience, and since there is no way to step outside and look at the external world or the self, we are never certain of anything. Hence, we have no knowledge at all because knowledge is classified as true, justified belief and our ideas and thoughts are not. This is a strong case, and therefore, I believe with his knowledge towards skepticism, but I do not necessarily believe in skepticism.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Hume has answered the three epistemological questions with very strong points; first as an empiricist, who then leads to a skeptic. Overall, the opinion of the reader is satisfied, because even though Hume has a very doubtful thought process of empiricism with the idea of perceptions and ideas, he then breaks down his theory with the fact that this so-called knowledge is the only source of knowledge an individual can possibly have, therefore it is not knowledge. Knowledge is worth nothing unless you can practice it.