For Rationalism & Empiricism
Correlated with the Reading
Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
I've written these questions to help you focus on important issues in the reading. I may also use them in discussion, and you may find them helpful in thinking about paper topics. I've tried to keep each set of questions small enough so that you will actually consult them as you read.
Occasionally I will use a term in a question which did not appear in that day's reading but which I expect to have introduced in class by the time we get to that day's reading.
To make life easier, the syllabus has links to each day's questions.
Descartes, Discourse, Sections 1-2
- Why does Descartes think it so important to find a method?
- Are the four rules the method he is looking for?
- Is the project of universal doubt the method he is looking for? Or is it merely a method for finding the method?
- Why does he decide to begin with universal doubt?
- In what sense does he doubt everything? He does not empty his mind. Nor does he acquire the new belief that all his old beliefs were positively false. So exactly what is his new attitude toward his old beliefs?
- Does he leave anything undoubted?
- How does he know beforehand that he will (or can) resume believing after the project of universal doubt?
- What are clarity and distinctness, exactly?
- Do they constitute self-evidence?
- Are they the same as, or different from, the "light of nature"?
- Why is Descartes so humble about the general applicability of his method and results?
Descartes, Discourse, Sections 3-4
- How provisional is his provisional morality? Is it merely hypothetical and makeshift? Or does he think it true?
- Insofar as his doubts are justified, and not merely willed, how does he justify them? In particular, how does he justify doubting his senses and reason?
- The claim, "I think, therefore I am" is often called the cogito, after its Latin original: cogito, ergo sum.
- Is the cogito truly indubitable?
- What theory of the self does Descartes derive from the cogito?
- How does he derive the mind/body distinction from the cogito?
- How does he derive criteria of truth (namely, clarity and distinctness) from the cogito?
- Does Descartes that know he exists only because his existence is clear and distinct? How about you?
- Does he know that he exists only when he is thinking? How about you?
- How precisely can you restate his various arguments for God's existence?
- What is the role of clarity and distinctness in proving God's existence?
- What is the role of God in validating clarity and distinctness as criteria of truth?
- How does Descartes explain human error and sin?
- In what sense are all ideas true? In what sense can they be false?
- How does he acquit God of responsibility for human error and sin?
Descartes, Discourse, Sections 5-6
- What is Descartes' argument for the immortality of the soul?
- Does it follow from the cogito or is it independent?
- How are the mind and body related to each other? If they are radically distinct, how do they collaborate? How are sensations in the body passed to the mind?
- What reasons does Descartes offer for mind/body dualism? Have his reasons lost their force in light of contemporary science?
- What kinds of knowledge require experience and experimentation? What kinds do not?
- Why is he hinting at results that he is keeping secret? Why is he publishing what he is publishing?
Descartes, Meditations: Dedication, Preface, Synopsis, Section 1
- Why is Descartes appealing to the Catholic hierarchy for its approval?
- Is this a concession to its authority? Is it from political prudence? Is it a cynical attempt to give him an edge with those of his readers who believe in the authority of the Church?
- When he says that it's true that we know that God exists from scripture, and that we can believe scripture because it comes from God, is he saying that some circular arguments are valid and acceptable?
- If so, what does his acceptance of this circular argument show about the relative roles of faith and reason in truth-seeking?
- When he says that circular arguments should not be put in the hands of the unconvinced (for they will scoff), what does that show about his intended audience for the Meditations? What does it show about his view of the reasoning used in the Meditations?
- He hints in several ways that the Meditations (in Latin) will contain dangerous ideas that he couldn't have disclosed in the Discourse (in French). Do you see any examples in today's reading? (Keep looking for examples throughout the book.)
- How does Descartes find grounds to doubt ordinary beliefs such as that he is sitting in his study?
- How does he find grounds to doubt mathematics?
- Why, in the midst of his project of universal doubt, does Descartes find it so difficult to remember his doubts?
- Does the demon hypothesis add anything to the project of universal doubt in the Meditations that Descartes didn't have in the Discourse?
Descartes, Meditations, Section 2
- Is Descartes saying (1) that he is only a thinking being, or (2) that he only knows himself to be a thinking being? Both?
- Does he exist when he is not thinking?
- Why does he conclude that his essence lies in his thinking rather than, say, perceiving or walking?
- What is the role of clarity and distinctness in the cogito?
- Does the cogito answer the demon argument?
- What is Descartes' argument that wax has a non-sensible essence which remains unchanged while the sensible properties of the wax change?
- What are the roles of the senses and the understanding in producing knowledge?
- How strong are his various arguments that other truths (e.g. about God, mind/body dualism) follow from the first truth (the cogito)?
- What have you seen in the Meditations so far that you didn't see in the Discourse on Method which might explain why Descartes wrote the second book?
Descartes, Meditations, Section 3
- How does Descartes argue that there is an external world independent of us?
- He rejects one argument for the externality of the world: that my sense impressions are involuntary. What's wrong with this argument?
- What argument eventually persuades him?
- What makes true judgments true? (This is not a question about the criteria, but about the nature, of truth.) Must they accurately depict what exists in the external world?
- Why does he reject the possibility that he is the source of all his ideas?
- Why do the criteria of clarity and distinctness depend on the existence and nature of God?
- Why is the idea of God the maximally clear and distinct idea?
- How many arguments for the existence of God are in this meditation? Can you disentangle and restate them?
- In the second meditation, how does he distinguish properties which belong to the wax from properties which seem to belong to it but really do not? In the third meditation how does he do this for corporeal objects in general?
- Why does Descartes need both thinking and extended substance? Why can't he pick one (either one) and explain everything through it?
- Why is the non-thinking kind of substance extended?
Descartes, Meditations, Section 4
- Why does he say, after the cogito, that we know God better than we know ourselves?
- What is the distinction between will and understanding?
- Does it adequately explain how we can understand an idea without believing it?
- In what sense is error nothing real but merely privation?
- Do error and sin have the same explanation?
- How does he know that will is the only source of error?
- How does Descartes make God the ultimate source of human ideas and yet not responsible for human error?
- If human intellect is finite and imperfect, does this finitude and imperfection reside in understanding or will or both?
- In what sense are we imperfect when considered in ourselves, but perfect when considered as parts of the harmonious system of creation?
- How does Descartes move from the knowledge of God to knowledge of other things?
Descartes, Meditations, Section 5
- How seriously are we to take his suggestion that learning new truths is like remembering what one has previously known?
- What does he mean when he says that truth is the same as being?
- If the idea of God is innate, how does Descartes explain atheism?
- Why are existence and essence separable for all things except for God? Why are they separable, for example, for us? Why are they inseparable for God?
- How do his discussions of memory and dream qualify his claim that clarity and distinctness are criteria of truth?
Descartes, Meditations, Section 6
- What is the distinction between imagination and conception? Why is it important?
- Does imagination belong to the body or the mind?
- Does Descartes now accept the argument from receptivity (involuntariness of sensation) to the conclusion that there is an external world? If so, what has changed since he rejected this argument in the third meditation?
- What does he mean when he says that nature is nothing else than God himself?
- What implications does he see in this proposition for the empirical investigation of nature?
- He says that mind and body are fused or blended into something like a single whole. What considerations lead him to this conclusion? How does he reconcile it with his mind/body distinction?
- If the mind is unified, what becomes of the apparently separate 'faculties' of the mind? Can we dispense with the 'faculty' view of mind and say that there is one mind that wills, perceives, understands, and so on?
- What is the relation of the mind to the brain?
- How does he reconcile his claims that the senses often deceive us when we are ill, that God creates illness, and that God is not a deceiver?
- How does he show that our senses, while fallible, are nevertheless generally reliable?
- How does he finally answer the dream argument for doubt? How can we tell that we are not dreaming (when we are not dreaming)?
Spinoza, Emendation of the Intellect, pp. 233-250
- What is the connection between the initial discussion of happiness or blessedness and the subsequent discussion of epistemology?
- Why is intuitive knowledge superior to other kinds of knowledge?
- How does he answer the skeptics?
- What is the point of the iron hammer analogy?
- How seriously should we take the hints here that he affirms the Socratic theory of recollection?
- Descartes also hinted (in the fifth Meditation) that he affirmed it. In retrospect, did he really affirm it?
- What is the connection between the theory of recollection and 'rationalism'?
- Why does he say that to know something is to know that we know it?
- What does he mean when he says that truth is certainty? Or when he says that truth is its own criterion?
- When we do philosophy methodically, is our first idea the idea of God? Or simply any true idea?
- Why does he emphasize the importance of the order of our ideas?
- Does he mean the same thing by clarity and distinctness that Descartes meant?
- How does he define possibility, impossibility, and necessity?
- Is his view that error is privation the same as Descartes'?
- Why are all simple ideas true?
Spinoza, Emendation of the Intellect, pp. 250-262
- Why does the distinction between true and false ideas depend not on their external objects but on the intrinsic nature of the ideas themselves?
- Why does he say that the mind naturally forms true ideas?
- What is his objection to general ideas, abstractions, and universals?
- What is the connection between his critique of abstraction and his pantheism (the view that God is the world, not distinct from it)?
- How literally should we take his assertions of pantheism?
- In what sense are our minds fragments of a bigger mind, and how would that explain error?
- How many separate sources of error does Spinoza identify? Can you disentangle them?
- What is the distinction between self-existent and derived things? How does knowledge of one differ from knowledge of the other?
- What is a good definition for Spinoza? How does it differ from what we are used to finding in a dictionary?
- Why can't mutable things be or be conceived without eternal things?
Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, through Prop. 17
- Are the definitions at the beginning of the Ethics the kind described toward the end of the "Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect"?
- We know how Spinoza would reply to a reader who dissented from his propositions; he'd refer the reader back to the axioms and definitions. But how would he reply to a reader who dissented from his axioms and definitions?
- What are the distinctions among substance, attributes, and modes?
- What does it mean for God or substance to have an infinite number of attributes?
- Does Spinoza have both an ontological argument and a cosmological argument for God's existence?
- In what sense is God's existence proved and in what sense is it merely assumed?
- Do you see how pantheism follows (ultimately) from his definition of substance?
- In what sense is God a cause?
- Why is there only one substance, hence only one God?
- How does Spinoza's one substance differ from what Descartes called extended substance?
- Why does Spinoza conclude that all possibilities are actual?
- In what sense is God free and in what sense not?
- Why do you think Spinoza was often regarded as an atheist?
- In general do you find his proofs to be rigorous?
Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, through Prop. 36
- In what sense are things caused by other things in an infinite regress, and in what sense are they caused by God? Can these two claims be reconciled?
- In what sense is God the 'first cause' of all things if they don't have a first cause but are caused by other things in an infinite regress? Can these two claims be reconciled?
- What is his distinction between active and passive nature, or between natura naturans and natura naturata?
- Why does he conclude that contingency and free will do not exist and that the illusion of their existence is due to human ignorance?
- Why does the intelligibility of the universe depend on God's lack of free will?
Spinoza, Ethics, Appendix to Part I; Part II, preface, definitions, axioms, postulates, propositions, and notes only, through Prop. 17 [proofs, corollaries, lemmas recommended]
- How does Spinoza acquit God of responsibility for evil and suffering?
- Why does Spinoza reject the physico-theological argument for God's existence (also known as the argument from design)?
- In what sense, and on what evidence, do all things have mind?
- In what sense is the mind the idea of the body?
- In what sense are ideas caused by other ideas in an infinite regress, in what sense by God, in what sense by brain states, and in what sense by their ideata under the attribute of extension?
- What role does Spinoza recognize for knowledge that arises from experience?
Spinoza, Ethics, through end of Part II
- What does he mean by the adequacy of ideas? Is this the same as their truth?
- Why do we necessarily lack adequate ideas of ordinary things?
- Why do we have an adequate idea of God?
- How does he explain error such that God is not responsible for it?
- Why is the idea of the mind united to the mind as the mind is united to the body?
- Why does the mind know itself only through the modifications of the body?
- Why does he think his doctrine leads to ethically good actions?
- How are ideas more like actions than pictures?
- What are his objections to the faculty theory of mind?
Locke, Essay, pp. 43-48, 104-109, 117-123, 126-132, 134-141
- Why should we start philosophy by understanding understanding?
- Why should we believe that the mind is like blank white paper on which experience writes all the ideas we will ever have?
- How does Locke know that there are no sources of ideas other than sensation and reflection?
- What is the distinction between simple and complex ideas?
- What is the distinction between ideas and qualities?
- What is the distinction between primary and secondary qualities?
- What evidence persuades him that qualities come in these two kinds?
- How does Locke know that the qualities he thinks are primary are actually primary and that the qualities he thinks are secondary are actually secondary?
- If green is a secondary quality which belongs to the mind and not to objects, then how does Locke explain why I see green when I look at grass? What role does the grass play? What else plays a role?
- What point is Locke making with the example of fire which produces the sensations both of warmth and pain?
- What point is he making with the example a cold hand and a warm hand stuck in the same pail of water?
- Why does Locke believe that we know even ourselves and our own minds only through experience?
- Why does Locke occasionally use the reader's introspective verification as a criterion?
- If Descartes and Spinoza are 'rationalists' and Locke is an 'empiricist', then are you ready to define these terms yet?
Locke, Essay, pp. 143-146, 149-150, 155-159, 162-167, 180-181, 288, 295-302, 305-306, 307-308, 311-312, 316-317
- Why does Locke answer Molineux's problem (about the blind person whose sight is restored) the way he does? Is his answer the one forced by "empiricism"? Would you answer it differently?
- How can mental activity (as opposed to perceptual passivity) be reconciled with the tabula rasa theory of mind?
- What few mental acts does Locke use to explain the entirety of mental activity?
- Where do memories go when we are not conscious of them? What brings them back to consciousness?
- Why do we find certain simple ideas occurring together again and again? Can this be traced to the mind or the object or both?
- Why do we have no idea of substance?
- Why does Locke posit substance even though he has no idea of it?
- How does Locke distinguish corporeal and spiritual substance?
Locke, Essay, pp. 331-343, 525-527, 530-534, 536-538
- What is Locke's distinction between "man" and "person"? (Hint: it's not that men are male.)
- What is the basis of the continuing identity of the body over time, despite its changes? What is the basis of the identity of consciousness over time, despite its changes?
- Which one of these does he call personal identity?
- How can he have a theory of personal identity if neither the body nor consciousness remains unchanged over time?
- What is the relation, if any, between intelligence and consciousness?
- What is the self?
- Why is personal identity a "forensic" concept?
- What theory of personal identity should we use for purposes of imputation?
- When is it fair, and when unfair, to imprison the body of a person for the crimes of its previous selves?
- What is Locke's argument against reincarnation?
- In what sense are you the same person depicted in in the baby pictures taken by your parents? What does Locke say?
Locke, Essay, pp. 618-625, 630-639, 688-696
- Is Locke affirming the coherence theory of truth in these sections?
- What are intuitive and demonstrative knowledge? Where does their certainty come from?
- What considerations limit empiricists in working out a theory of (attainable) certainty?
- Locke offers several answers to skeptics in these sections. How many can you find?
- What is Locke's argument for God's existence?
- How empirical is it?
- Is it empirical to use "intuitive" and "demonstrative" knowledge in the proof, or must he limit himself to "sensitive" knowledge?
- Why does Locke object to the ontological argument for God's existence?
- What evidence suggests that our senses, though fallible, are generally reliable?
- How much of Locke's argument here was used earlier by Descartes?
- Why does Locke reject the possibility that mind can arise from dead matter?
- What pains does Locke take to make his theory of revelation compatible with empiricism?
- What are the relative boundaries of faith and reason?
Leibniz, Discourse, Sections 1-12
- How does Leibniz explain the evil, suffering, and imperfection of the world without blaming God for them?
- Why does Leibniz say that God does good because it is good rather than (as Spinoza held) that what God does is good because God does it?
- Why should we have different attitudes toward God's creation past than toward God's creation future?
- Why does God create the world which is simplest in its hypotheses and richest in phenomena?
- Why would any possible universe be orderly?
- What is an individual substance? How is it different from an attribute? an accident?
- Why are all truths about an individual substance contained in its concept (or haecceity)?
- Why does each individual substance reflect the entire universe in its own way?
- Why can no two individual substances differ only numerically?
- What does Leibniz mean by "substantial form"?
- Why must all bodies possess "something related to souls"? Why can't they be made of dead, merely extended substance, as Descartes held?
Leibniz, Discourse, Sections 13-25
- Leibniz's theory of predication and substance (or his theory of haecceities) has led to a kind of determinism. How does he reconcile this theory with contingency and freedom?
- How can the same event be free and necessary? or contingent and necessary?
- What kind of necessity is compatible with freedom and contingency, what kind of necessity is not?
- What is the distinction between necessary and contingent truths?
- What argument forces Leibniz to deny causation and interaction among substances?
- How does he explain perception without appeal to causation?
- What is "expression" such that substances can express each other while not causally affecting each other?
- How does he reconcile his acceptance of efficient and final causes with his denial of causation?
- According to Leibniz, what is true and what is false in the usual formulations of the ontological argument?
Leibniz, Discourse, Sections 26-37
- In what ways has Leibniz revised or 'demythologized' the theory of recollection as expounded by Socrates?
- How does the theory of recollection follow from the theory of haecceities?
- Is Leibniz a pure rationalist? Does he make any concessions to empiricism?
- What does it mean to say that our souls have no windows?
- Why did God choose to make the haecceity of Judas (or any other sinner)?
- In what sense is evil merely privation?
- What does it mean to say that God determines our will without necessitating it?
- If in given circumstances, we do a certain act, in what sense was that act necessary and in what sense were we free to do otherwise? How can these two senses be reconciled?
- We don't know what our haecceity is determined to do in the next moment. In what sense are we unfree but ignorant of our pre-determined future and in what sense are we genuinely free to choose different paths? How can these two senses be reconciled?
- What is Leibniz's argument for the immortality of the soul?
- How does Leibniz explain the agreement of my ideas with (1) their ideata, (2) my body's sensations, and (3) your ideas?
- Why does Leibniz posit unregistered or unconscious perceptions?
- How does Leibniz explain personal identity? How much of his account does he owe to Locke?
- How can the best of all possible worlds be less than fully perfect?
Leibniz, Monadology, Sections 1-30
- Why must monads be infinitesimal?
- Why must they be eternal?
- Why must they be windowless?
- Why must each differ from all the others?
- Why must they have differentiated internal states (perceptions)? How can their simplicity be reconciled with this inner multiplicity?
- What is the distinction between perception and apperception?
- What evidence persuades Leibniz that there must be unregistered (or unconscious) perceptions?
- How does he use this conclusion against Descartes?
- Why can't perception be explained by mechanism?
- What kinds of mentality do monads, animals, and humans have? What mental powers do the higher creatures have that the lower ones do not?
- What is the role of memory in personal identity? How much of Leibniz's position here does he owe to Locke?
- What is the role of reason in personal identity?
Leibniz, Monadology, Sections 31-60
- What is the distinction between necessary and contingent truths (or between truths of reasoning and truths of fact)?
- How does the principle of sufficient reason apply to each kind of truth?
- In what form does Leibniz affirm the cosmological argument for God's existence?
- In what form the ontological argument?
- Is God a monad?
- In what sense do the activity and passivity of monads accomodate each other?
- How do monads exert "ideal influence" over each other?
- How does the mutual accomodation of monads explain their expresison of one another?
- How does the mutual expression of monads explain their harmony?
- What criteria make this the best of all possible worlds?
Leibniz, Monadology, Sections 61-90
- What is an organism? How does it differ from a mechanism?
- How does his explanation of life differ from the contemporary biological explanation? Is life a consequence of the complex relations of unliving particles?
- Why is he repeating the macrocosm/microcosm theory here? How does it follow from the rest of the theory?
- What is the "dominant entelechy" of a body?
- What problem motivates Leibniz's introduction of pre-established harmony?
- How do efficient and final causes work in harmony without actually interacting?
- Is Leibniz here re-introducing causation?
- What is the distinction between spirit and soul?
- What is the city of God?
- How do sins carry their own punishment, and virtues their own reward?
- Apart from the introduction of monads, what are the important ways in which the Monadology differs from the Discourse? How did Leibniz's views change on freedom and determinism? Causation and harmony? Mind and body? Theodicy? Nature of true knowledge? What happened to the theory of haecceities?
Berkeley, First Dialogue
- What is the distinction between immediate and mediate perception?
- What are sensible objects?
- What are qualities?
- Why do we perceive only qualities, rather than qualitied substance?
- How does Philonous use the heat-pain continuum (from Locke) to argue that heat is no more in fire than pain is?
- Philonous offers several arguments against the claim (from Descartes and Locke, among others) that extension is a primary quality. Can you disentangle and restate them?
- How does Philonous argue that all so-called primary qualities actually have the status of secondary qualities?
- How can Philonous admit the involuntariness or receptivity of sensation and still deny what Descartes and Locke inferred from it, namely, the independence and external reality of the world?
- How does Philonous use the problematic character of dreams to his advantage in the argument?
- How does Philonous explain depth-perception and perspective without appeal to an external spatial world?
- Has Philonous argued that substance is never perceived or that it does not exist? Both?
- When these dialogues were first published, Samuel Johnson's sidekick and biographer, John Boswell, asked Johson what he thought of them. Johnson kicked a nearby tree stump and declared, "Thus do I refute Mr. Berkeley!" How strong is this "refutation"? How would Berkeley or Philonous reply?
- Can you begin to see how Philonous' immaterialism can be considered the non-skeptical, common-sense position, as he claims?
Berkeley, Second Dialogue
- In what sense is the brain "only in the mind" rather than vice versa? Why?
- What is the role in the overall argument of Philonous' poetic, multi-page appreciation of creation?
- Why is Philonous so sure that sensible objects continue to exist when he is not immediately sensing them? (Why are you so sure?)
- Why does Philonous think his argument for God's existence is stronger than the design argument?
- God is not sensed. Why, then, does Philonous not deny God on the same grounds that he denies substance?
- In what sense for Philonous are my ideas my own and in what sense are they God's?
- We can always hypothesize matter to explain sensation and sensible objects. But why is this hypothesis never necessary and always unintelligible?
- How does Philonous avoid solipsism?
Berkeley, Third Dialogue
- In what ways does materialism imply skepticism?
- Why is self-knowledge not privileged (as Descartes thought it was), and subject to the same contraints as knowledge of sensible objects?
- Why do we have no idea of God or self?
- How can Philonous explain the strength of his argument for God's existence if he lacks the idea of God?
- How does Philonous acquit God of responsibility for human evil?
- Does the same explanation apply to human error?
- What is the relation of the mind to the body? What is the body?
- Does Philonous use a causal theory of the operation of the sense organs? If so, what interacts causally with the sense organs if not matter? If not, how do the sense organs work?
- How does Philonous answer the argument that matter must exist since it exerts the gravitational force?
- What reason would Philonous have for using a microscope?
- Why does Philonous deny the identity of objects over time or as perceived by different senses?
- In light of this denial, how does he explain the agreement of different people looking in the same direction at the same time?
- How does Philonous reconcile his immaterialism with the Book of Genesis?
- In the end, are you persuaded that Philonous' view (apart from its truth) is the "vulgar" or common sense position?
Hume, Treatise, Preface plus pp. 1-25, 66-68
- What is Hume's critique of previous philosophy? What does it lead you to expect from his philosophy?
- In what ways do all philosophy and science depend on a prior "science of man"?
- What distinguishes impressions from ideas?
- Do all ideas have their origin in impressions?
- How do we distinguish perceptions from memories of perceptions? Why don't we continually confuse one with the other?
- What is "vivacity"? What can lend vivacity to an idea?
- What explains the fact that some simple ideas are often found clustered together in the same complex ideas?
- What is the association of ideas?
- What is Hume's theory of substance?
- Can you supply the missing shade of blue from your imagination, as he claims? If so, is this an exception to his empiricism? Either way, why does Hume bring it up?
Hume, Treatise, pp. 69-94
- Is Hume's distinction between intuition and demonstration the same as Locke's? Is it the same as Berkeley's distinction between immediate and mediate perception?
- Why is the relation of causation not perceived by intuition?
- Why does Hume take both a "direct survey" and an "indirect survey" in his approach to the idea of causation?
- Which elements in the idea of causation can be traced back to sense impressions and which cannot?
- What is the "necessary connection" between cause and effect? Is it the same as the "constant conjunction" of cause and effect? If not, how do they differ?
- Why does Hume focus on the psychological origin of the idea of causation more than on its metaphysical validity?
- Why can we not (rationally) infer the idea of the effect from the idea of its cause?
- What is the uniformity of nature?
- What is its connection with causation?
- Why is the support for the principle of the uniformity of nature circular?
- In the end, is Hume merely denying the rationality of belief in causation, or is he denying causation itself?
- Is he merely denying the rationality of belief in the uniformity of nature, or is he denying the uniformity itself?
- Is belief due to vivacity? To habit? Both?
Hume, Treatise, pp. 94-123
- How does Hume explain our ability to understand ideas which we do not believe?
- When does understanding carry assent with it and when does it not?
- What explains the mental transition from one idea to another?
- When do such mental transitions carry vivacity with them and when do they not?
- Hume has already said that vivacity can explain belief. Is he here saying that belief can also explain vivacity?
- By what mechanism do we summarize our past experience so that we can learn from it, and use it, in the present? (His example is to take steps to avoid drowning when near water.)
- How does Hume use his habit-vivacity theory of belief to explain the nature of education?
- How would Hume assess the likelihood that his position (if true) would persuade his readers?
Hume, Treatise, pp. [124-30], 130-55
- How does Hume explain our experience of exceptions to general causal beliefs? What effect do they have on the causal beliefs they violate?
- What is "probability"?
- What are the individual "chances" that make up a probability?
- How does he use his vivacity theory of belief to explain our belief in probabilities?
- What is the relation between probability and the uniformity of nature?
- Between probability and causation?
- Why do proof and probability differ only in degree, not in kind? Degree of what?
- What is the distinction between philosophical and unphilosophical probability?
- How does Hume explain why we do (and should) believe in historical facts, like the existence of Julius Caesar, which we do not directly experience?
Hume, Treatise, pp. 155-87
- In what sense do we lack the ideas of necessary connection, power, efficacy, and God, and in what sense do we possess these ideas?
- If all necessity is of one kind, what kind is it? How would you characterize it?
- Why is it obvious to Hume that non-human animals have reason?
- What is the result of a rational argument against reason? Does it leave reason standing or not? Why?
- Why is complete skepticism (with regard to reason) justified?
- Why is complete skepticism (with regard to reason) unattainable?
- What is "nature" such that it overrides our skepticism, even our justified skepticism?
Hume, Treatise, pp. 187-218
- What is the "double existence" of objects? Does Hume affirm or deny it?
- Do we have good reasons to believe that objects exist continuously (when we are not perceiving them) and independently of us? To what extent do our senses and reason support this belief?
- Is this belief necessary to render our experience coherent?
- What is the "vulgar" view on the continuity and independence of objects? What is the false philosophical view? What is the true philosophical view?
- Why do we ascribe a continuing identity to objects? Why don't we experience this identity?
- Why do the so-called primary qualities reduce to the so-called secondary qualities? How much of Hume's argument does he owe to Berkeley?
- Why is Hume grateful to "nature" for overriding his carefully argued philosophical conclusions?
Hume, Treatise, pp. [219-51], 251-63, 263-74
- Why do we lack an idea of the self?
- What mistake would Hume say that Descartes made in the cogito?
- How does Hume explain the apparent unity of thought and experience that many other philosophers call the self? Is there a real unity there that he refuses to call a self? Or is there no real unity there at all?
- How does Hume explain our (false) belief in personal identity?
- Why do Hume's conclusions make him so melancholy?
- In what sense does Hume stand by his conclusions despite their skepticism, his melancholy, and the countervailing forces of his nature that lead him to contrary, unwarranted beliefs?
- In what sense does he not stand by his conclusions?
- In what sense is he despondent, and in what sense grateful, that his "nature" overrides his skepticism?
- He asks how far we ought to yield to illusion. What is his answer?
- He confesses his contentment to become a happy, natural fool. What does he mean by this? What led him to this extremity?
- What is his view of the beliefs of the non-philosophical public?
- Why does Hume practice philosophy if it leads to so much melancholy and despair?
- What is he retracting on the last page of Book One?
- To many, Hume's position is stronger than those of Locke and Berkeley by the standard of strict adherence to the empiricist program. But why should this be our standard?
- Has Locke, Berkeley, or Hume given a persuasive argument for holding to this standard, or for holding that all knowledge arises from experience?
- Is it possible that some knowledge arises from experience and that some doesn't? Is this a more attractive possibility in light of Hume's results?
- Is Hume's extremity of melancholy and skepticism the reductio ad absurdum of empiricism? That is, if this is what empiricism becomes when we take it seriously, then is that a good reason to rethink the merits of empiricism? Or should we accept it and "sit down contented"?
- Can empiricism survive self-application? If it holds that all knowledge arises from experience, then is that very principle something we can know through experience?
This file is an electronic hand-out for the course, Rationalism & Empiricism.
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
email@example.com. Copyright © 1998-2002, Peter Suber.