David Hume

SnakA Pearl of Wisdom and Enlightenment

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David Hume

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apr 14, 2008, 9:51 pm

So, we just started David Hume in my philosophy class, and I can't decide whether I love him or I hate him. Rene Descartes irritated me. After all, what IS "clear and distinct", and what is that based on except subjectivity? So, in that area, I respect David Hume more. He's the only philosopher we've studied so far that I can find absolutely no way to quibble with or refute. And that disturbs me a little, because how can we go on living normally if everything is just delusions and disappears as soon as we stop perceiving it? I think it leads to a rather cold and detached way of living...yet, I can't deny that sense data is inaccurate and corruptible and easily deceived. What do you guys think? Is there any way to reconcile skepticism and "common sense"?

apr 23, 2008, 3:10 pm

Well, Hume preached skepticism but practiced "common sense." That tells me all I need to know.

apr 23, 2008, 9:13 pm

no one can really live as a skeptic. Hume knew that. I think he may have been on to something, though, when he placed ethics back in the hands of the poets--back where it started before this whole philosophy thing got off the ground. "reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions," says Hume, and if that's so, then all we can really do is hold up our beliefs in one hand while we build up a wall underneath them with the other. some would say this is disparaging reason...i don't think it makes it any less valuable! i just think we've got a nasty habit of devaluing emotions and anything that resembles disorder, chaos, or irrationality. (thanks a lot, Aristotle.) anyway, that's not of course to say that things like Plato's arguments for the Form of the Good or anyone else's ethics are bad or unworthy or to be ignored...just that they're not quite what they claim to be.

apr 25, 2008, 2:44 pm

As for the preeminence of the passions, I always liked Swift's answer to the Stoics: "They would have us cut off our feet when we need shoes."

apr 25, 2008, 9:29 pm

well, that's just Swift being his usual sarcastic self. it's not an accurate depiction of the Stoics. they wouldn't have you cut off your feet. you'd try as hard as you could to get shoes. but if you still couldn't, then you wouldn't let it upset you because it's out of your control.

there's just something very unsatisfying about Kant. he leaves no room for individuality or variation. if everyone followed the categorical imperative, we would all act the same way all the time.

apr 27, 2008, 9:41 pm

Dismissing Swift as simply sarcastic seems altogether uncritical. The gist of his statement is that the Stoics regard the emotional life as a hindrance, when in fact it is just as relevant -- if not more so -- than the rationality which gets so preachy in the hands of the likes of the Stoics. The rational life cannot exist to the exclusion of the irrational, and vice versa.

Don't know much about Kant. Categorical imperative just seems like a repackaging of the Golden Rule. Since you fear it would reduce everyone to like behavior, I believe there may be a bit of the "irrational" about you (please don't take this is an insult! I mean it in a positive way -- think Dionysus and Apollo =)

apr 28, 2008, 6:32 pm

hmmmm....i don't know if the Stoics necessarily regard the emotional life as a hindrance. Rather, the Stoics (and I see some similarities here to Buddhism) believe in a non-grasping life, a life free from attachment. If good things happen to you, by all means be happy. To be a Stoic is not to be an emotionless automaton. Rather, you should realize the impermanence of all things, and not be surprised and upset when those good things leave you. (Ex: your flowers wilt and you're sad. your grandma dies and you're sad. OR: your flowers wilt, and you are happy that you had them in the first place. your grandma dies, and you are happy that you had the time you did with her and happy that such a good and loving person existed in the world at all.) it's not about killing all emotions, it's about not burdening yourself with unnecessary psychological suffering. my philosophy teacher explained it this way: it's not about the first reaction, it's about the second reaction. when your grandma dies, your first reaction is to be sad, and maybe you are sad for a while. that's o.k. it's nearly impossible not to feel some sadness. but your second reaction is the one i described above, and then you move on and don't grasp at what is clearly out of your reach. when I first read Epictetus, I thought he was preaching rationality too, and actually I found him really irritating--i saw him the way you seem to. but after lots of thought and time, i've come to realize that it's not a bad way to live. mainly it's because I've been reading into Buddhism, which, I feel, completes what Stoicism lacks. Stoicism is only really about not being disturbed by negative occurrences. Buddhism is about taking strength and happiness from that practice, and it's about HOW not to be disturbed by negative occurrences, other than just reasoning through them.

apr 28, 2008, 6:48 pm

And as to Kant and the Categorical Imperative, it's not exactly the Golden Rule. if you take it as the golden rule, it leads to the famous paradox of the sadist and the masochist: the masochist says, "Hurt me!" and the sadist says, "No." the official definition of the Categorical Imperative is: act as though your action could be willed a universal law. therefore: i cannot steal because if everyone stole, then what would be the point of stealing if it would just be stolen from you anyway? i cannot will everyone to lie, because i don't want others to lie to me. (there are similarities to the golden rule, obviously, but calling it simply that would be oversimplifying.)

What I was thinking of when I said the Categorical Imperative would lead us all to like behavior was something like this. The Categorical Imperative would be against the freedom of expressing any sexual preference other than "straight," viz: if everyone were gay, short of everyone using artificial insemination to reproduce, then humanity would perish from the earth. the way I see it, that's just one of the many ways diversity makes the world colorful and exciting. and i think that the categorical imperative could destroy other such things that make humans diverse. also think of this: certain orders of Buddhist monks (and other types of monks, too, I'm sure) live off of alms, donations of food from nearby villages; that is, they beg. we cannot will that everyone do that, because then there would be no one to beg FROM. however, i don't think it would do the world good to destroy such monastic orders, because they seem to produce enlightened individuals, and the world definitely needs more of those...in fact, this is true of any profession. you can't will everyone to be teachers, or everyone to be doctors, or everyone to be secretaries, because if everyone did the same thing and had the same skill set everything would fall apart. yet, it is not immoral or wrong to do any of those jobs. so, where does that leave the categorical imperative? do you see what i'm getting at? i think there are good things that people do, and good ways of life, that cannot be willed to be universal, but are still good. and i think that in order to preserve diversity we need to accept that.

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