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Compare or Contrast 2 philosophy thinkers - Essay Example

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Eighteenth century philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant lived at the height of the Enlightenment and both have greatly contributed to Western philosophy. Scottish philosopher David Hume was largely an empiricist while Kant had tenets that combined reason and intuition, and…
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Differences between David Hume and Immanuel Kant Eighteenth century philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant lived at the height of the Enlightenment and both have greatly contributed to Western philosophy. Scottish philosopher David Hume was largely an empiricist while Kant had tenets that combined reason and intuition, and this is where all their differences lie.
Hume and Kant differed in their principles of epistemology. Based on Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, no knowledge is possible except that of sensation derived through two sources: impressions and ideas. These impressions, which are actual sense perceptions, and ideas, which are copies of impressions, connect with one another to form complexities that explain all things. In short, for Hume, the only things that we can possibly know are the impressions that can be perceived by our senses and the ideas that we imagine after seeing the impressions (Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding 201). On the other hand, Kant theorizes that there are three ways or categories where knowledge of the relationship between two things, or subject and predicate, can be derived. These are the analytic a priori, the synthetic a posteriori, and the controversial synthetic a priori. Kant’s analytic a priori is knowing by definition, like believing that “All single people are people who have not married.” Kant’s synthetic a posteriori is like “Most sick people are given medicine,” which is merely a belief out of habit. Lastly, Kant’s synthetic a priori is believing something like “Some dead parents are remembered by their children,” which is a belief from intuition. These beliefs do not require proof as what Hume believed (Durant 269-271).
Another difference between Hume and Kant is on their ethical principles. According to Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature and based on his epistemology, it is our feelings or sentiments that practically influence human volition and action. It is not reason but our feelings and sentiments produce our actions with the same habitual expectation that the future will result from the past. For Hume, morality is doing something because of an “enduring passion or trait of character in the agent” and without regard for any custom or reason (Cohon). On the other hand, based on Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, morality is performing the categorical imperative: “Act only according to the maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,” and to “act in such a way that [he should] treat humanity, whether in [his] own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end” (Sahakian & Sahakian 45). This means that it does not matter what the particular circumstances are, where and when they occur, and who is involved. What matters is that the imperative is performed.
One last difference between Hume and Kant is in their theodicy. For Hume, God is something impossible to prove by evidence and that nothing much can be said of Him. This is perhaps why Hume lived his whole life an agnostic. In Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, God, that is if ever He exists and that this condition is of extreme importance to his philosophy, is a God who must be beyond any form of human comprehension and therefore a God who must not necessarily adopt a human form and display human qualities (Smith). On the other hand, Kant believes that God must be a transcendental idea and therefore cannot be perceived through the human mind or senses. However, unlike Hume who required empirical evidence for God, Kant believed that “the idea of God so defined above” as something not subject to empirical tests and is “therefore meaningless” (Smith). Moreover, Kant treated God as “the highest possible unification of predicates, the sum total of all possibility,” thus somehow giving God a high position (Smith).
David Hume and Immanuel Kant may have lived in the same period in history but they both had different beliefs in their epistemology, ethics and theodicy. When it comes to epistemology, Hume believed only in empirical ideas and impressions while Kant believed that things can be known through intuition. In terms of ethics, Hume believed that emotion governed our actions while for Kant it must be duty and reason. In theodicy, Hume believed that God must be beyond comprehension unless He could be empirically proven, while for Kant, God is merely transcendental, meaningless and does not require any proof.
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Works Cited
Cohon, Rachel. “Hume’s Moral Philosophy.” 2010. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 19 Oct 2010. Durant, Will. “Kant and German Idealism.” The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers from Plato to John Dewey. New York: Washington Square Press, 1961. Print.
Hume, David. “An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” Ten Great Works of Philosophy. Ed. Robert Paul Wolff. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. Print
Sahakian, William & Sahakian Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1966. Print.
Smith, B. D. Philosophy 2013: Modern Philosophy. 2012. Crandall University website. 7 Dec 2012. Read More
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