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Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

The two philosophies to human understanding are ethics and metaphysics. Ethics is the easier type of philosophy and are concerned with virtue and vice. Ethics look at human actions, are more likely to use common sense and ethics are less prone to errors. Ethics is more of the physical form of the human understanding while metaphysics on the other hand is abstract philosophy. It is concerned with how humans think and is a lot harder to understand compared to ethics.  Because metaphysics is a bit complicated, it is more prone to error than ethics. Despite the high likelihood of error, metaphysics is ideal because it improves minds, helps a person understand who they are and leads to the development of new ideas through a critical analysis of experiences that occur in everyday living.

Hume wants to be able to do metaphysics better than in the past. This is because he believes that in the past, metaphysics has been carried out in an undisciplined manner. He believes that for one to be able to do metaphysics well, one needs to be disciplined and follow the guiding rule to try and understand the thoughts of human beings.Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

The difference between impressions and ideas is determined through the force or vivacity of the experience. Impressions are more forceful in nature than Ideas. Impressions come first because they are about things that happen to us directly while ideas are more about reflections on the impressions. Impressions are born by the daily life experiences of a human being. As an example, the impression we receive from the experience of being involved in an accident is more forceful at the time of the accident. At the event of an accident the impression is physical pain. After the accident, the ideas one has about the accidents are also painful but less forceful. Ideas and impressions have the relation that ideas are copies of preceding impressions through a reflection of the experience. Hume derives the following rule from the shared relationship which is; all ideas gain meaning because they are copied from some preceding impressions. For every idea, one should ask what impression created the idea. If no impression exists, this only means that such an idea is empty and without meaning.

Relations of ideas and matters of fact are the two categories of knowledge. Relations of ideas (ROI) can be ascertained through demonstration. They are visible in disciplines such as math and geometry. When one uses ROI, they only use their thinking as ROI cannot be referenced to the ideal world. If an opposite occurs to ROI, then it is a false because it contradicts ROI which is always true. ROI involves what can be deducted or logically thought and what has been proven to be true in the past. Matters of fact on the other hand draw inspiration from the real world because they are learned through experience. The opposite of a matter of fact does not mean it is a contradiction. The opposite in this case does also not mean that it is false. More importantly, the opposite of any matter of fact is very possible because experiences differ. As an example, two people can have the same experience but learn different things from that one experience. It does not mean that one learnt a falsehood. They just learned different matters of facts. Matters of fact involve what is physically possible, the truth developed after an experience and inductive reasoning. It is only through matters of fact that we get our knowledge on how the world works because they rely on experiences.Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

Hume’s riddle of induction is a question on how we reason about matters of fact in the absence of our sense or memory. The answer to this question is that we can reason matters of fact through the relation of cause and effect.  We should be concerned by the riddle because it determines if it is logical to rely on matters of fact. So far, people have learned to rely on matters of fact because it is custom for us to believe in it. We found people relying on matters of fact and our children also adopt this way of thinking because that is what we taught them and how they found things. People often do not dare to look past lessons of the past. We are slaves to circular thinking and believe that because scenarios are similar, the results are going to be just the same. This is the way that our minds have been trained to work. The riddle of induction has a skeptical solution because often times, we have no reason to defend our reasoning beyond the fact that we believe that it is custom. Something has always been thought a particular way and it must be right because that is how it has always been. Our minds are trained to think that the future will look like the past even when nothing has happened to influence this kind of reasoning. The worst thing about the skeptical solution is that we don’t know of any other way to justify our reliance on experience.

Evaluating Hume’s Philosophy-Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

I believe that Hume’s view of human understanding is right. From the beginning, Hume classifies human understanding into ethics and metaphysics. The way he defines both types of understanding opens us to the fact that this is truly how we are as humans. We are both physical and abstract beings. We can touch our bodies and feel things with our bodies but then there is also the abstract part of our life like our thoughts. Ethics help us to make fewer mistakes because every action we take as human beings we do because we feel it is the right thing to do. We are expected to be virtuous in the actions we take against others because it is the ethical way to perform an action and should think about the effects that our actions will have on others. Understanding ethics means that we can be able to live with each other because otherwise, we would result in a lot of consequences. Hume’s belief in metaphysics being the hardest part of human understanding is also true because it is hard to crack the mind of a human being. We can’t control what the other person is thinking and why they are thinking this way because we have no access to fixing what is in their minds. As we try to understand what other people’s thoughts are, we are more likely to make mistakes in the process as most times we will fall short of understanding their thoughts. Only the thinker understands what informs their thinking.

Just like Hume, I believe that Metaphysics is helpful to an individual in improving themselves but not others. Metaphysics can help me to improve on the understanding of a particular subject as I get the opportunity to rethink my thoughts and try to get the clear picture. Through metaphysics, I can also develop new ideas because they come from the thought process and many times I have gotten the ‘light bulb’ moment only as a result of processing ideas in my head over and over. Through the process of metaphysics a mind gets sharper because it is used to think up new ideas every single time.

When Hume explains impressions and ideas I tended to disagree a bit. I always thought that we have ideas out of the blue. However, after careful deliberation, I realized that Hume was right. What we think of as ideas are only the reflections of things that have already happened to us and thus the reason why ideas are meaningful. I believe that this is the only reason we applaud someone with a good idea. It is because we think about our past experiences and with the information learned at that time we reflect on how the new idea will be of help to us. Hume’s relation of ideas and impressions is true.Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

I was totally convinced by the Riddle of Induction. Cause and effect are not priori but can be described as posteriori because they are explained by experience. The belief that the future will resemble the past is true in human understanding because having gone through the past we tend to internalize what we felt and what we experienced. As a result, when we find ourselves in similar circumstances we believe beyond doubt that the past is here yet again. This is especially true for negative experiences. If you were to ask why I have certain fears, I wouldn’t have any other explanation other than that I did not like what happened in the past. My fears are only explained by the experience of the past. If Hume were to meet me, he would explain that my ideas about my fears are meaningful because there were various impressions in the past. My fear of snakes would however not be meaningful to Hume because I have never had an experience with a snake and my ideas about snakes are not informed by experience. There is however, the explanation of custom. I fear snakes because I was born into the fear of snakes. I found people fearing them and now believe they are dangerous despite not interacting with them. For this fear, I cannot explain it any other way but as custom.

Hume’s solution is that the human mind is designed to settle for custom. He believes that even a thinker that previously had only impressions will settle for the custom way of thinking he finds. However, this solution is skeptical. Skepticism is being content with what you know about a particular topic and not going in the search of additional knowledge. The solution is skeptical because there is no explanation beyond the set custom. Our minds are weak in that they are mostly programmed to settle for custom. I believe that by Hume himself admitting that custom solution is skeptical means that there is more that a human being can do to go beyond custom but we are too lazy to do it. If someone set themselves on a path to break custom, then we might find new solutions to what we believe in or how we reason.Hume’s Philosophy of Human Understanding

I believe that Hume put in a lot of work into metaphysics more than the ordinary human being would. His insights are helpful in opening up our minds to how the human mind is designed to think and his work is clearly an important work of philosophy as it answers great questions of the human understanding. From now on, I believe that I can be a better thinker by striving for better ideas from my past impressions. Experience is truly the best teacher for young people fumbling their way through life.