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Philosophy of Knowledge Essay

David Hume’s “The Origin of Our Ideas and Skepticism about Causal Reasoning” states his beliefs about knowledge and his idea that we can only have relative certainty of truth. Skeptics concur that there is not enough evidence to predict the future or prove truth. In “An Argument Against Skepticism,” John Hospers argues that we can have absolute certainty because there is enough evidence from the past and from our own experiences to prove an argument to be true. Although both Hume and Hospers make strong arguments, Hospers’ philosophical beliefs on different levels of knowledge and evidence are more convincing than Hume’s concepts on knowledge and truth.

Hume’s argument is based on the idea that we can only be certain of analytical truths, such as mathematics; synthetic truths, or “matters of fact” are only and can only be probable, not truth. He believes that induction cannot be rationally justified because the premises support but do not guarantee the conclusion to the argument. Hume states that through experience, people assume that the future will represent the past, and that similar things will be coupled with similar qualities.

Skeptics, like Hume, believe it is not an absolute truth that the sun will rise every day; it is merely supposed that history will repeat itself. If there is any suspicion that nature will change, experience becomes useless in predicting the future. Hume questions why we should accept the uniformity of nature, and anyone who argues this point is said to be “begging the question.” He comes to the conclusion that there is no real evidence to prove that inductive arguments are true or false, and accepting them is just routine but can’t be justified.

Hospers believes that because there are different amounts of evidence needed to find certain truths, there are different levels of knowledge. In daily life, we use the weak sense of know, and therefore we do not need absolute proof. Why should people be so skeptical of propositions that are not relevant to everyday life? Hospers also poses an argument to Hume’s idea that synthetic truths are probable and can never be actual truths. Hospers believes that an argument that has a probable conclusion can become a certainty, or truth, if evidence permits it. He argues that these “matters of fact” are probable until time and evidence make them certainties.

Because we use the “weak sense of know” in our everyday lives, why wouldn’t we accept the uniformity of nature, and the idea that the past outlines the future? The sun will rise everyday in my lifetime, because it always has, and there’s no logical reason that it would cease to do so. If, as far as we know, nature’s past has always shown a vision of nature’s future, there is no reason to be skeptical about it.

Hume’s point that induction cannot be justified makes sense but is arguable. If the premises support but do not guarantee the conclusion to the argument, it can still be easily justified with little evidence. Hospers’ view on the amount of evidence needed to prove that something will happen in the future, is much more reasonable and realistic in everyday life.


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