Kant & Hume, Comparative Study
Two of the modern world’s most followed and known, yet opposing philosophers. Immanuel Kant and David Hume both assert that all knowledge comes from experience, yet disagree on whether or not experience determines all knowledge, disagree on the causality of the universe as organized or unorganized, and disagree on God’s existence (or non-existence) within the world. Despite these vast differences, however, both philosophies have managed to co-exist in the modern world.
Kant proclaims that all knowledge comes from experience, and that people are intelligent and rational enough to synthesize previous experiences into predictions (or fore-knowledge) of the future. On the other hand, Hume proclaims that all knowledge comes from experience and that just because something has occurred in the past does not mean that it will occur in the future. In regard to causality of the universe, Kant puts forth the notion that the universe was created in a way so that the nature of all things lays uniform and perfect despite the passing of time.
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Hume, however, puts forth the notion that the universe was created in a way so that all things change over time. In Kant’s eyes God’s existence or non-existence could never be proven or disproven, and because of this doubt God therefore exists. For Hume, the idea of God can exist, but the being most know as God cannot because the idea of god is specific and unique to every individual and therefore there cannot be one God for all—rather everyone has a unique and personal God.
Kant and Hume pit each other down in philosophical battle after philosophical only to realize that they never agree on compromises to their ideas, and stay forever at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Kant and Hume both asserted that all knowledge comes from experience. Kant states that there “can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience” (Pure). By this Kant asserts that all knowledge initiates from experience.
However, Kant goes further by also stating that “we have no knowledge antecedent to experience” (Pure), which means that in order to understand something, one has to have experienced the happening/ occurrence at one point in time. Hume states that “causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience” (Enquiry). By this Hume asserts that all knowledge and any knowledge must come from experience and nothing else. Hume also states that real existence can come only from “either from the causes which produced it, or the effects hich will arise from it” (Enquiry), which means that experience provides not only knowledge but the justification for existence that experiences define the essence/ being of an individual. Kant and Hume agree that all knowledge stems from experiences attained in the material world. By asserting that to have knowledge of something one has to experience that thing only once Kant sparks the disagreement between himself and Hume on whether or not the future can be known based on past experiences.
Kant theorizes that although “knowledge begins with experience” it does not mean that all which follows “arises out of experience” (Pure). By this Kant states that experiences are building blocks the house of knowledge but not the house itself. Kant claims that people can know what happens in the future because reason allows for them to extend their experiences beyond what has happened to events that have not occurred yet. Kant justifies this by saying that people’s “conclusions from experience” stand enough to justify that the future will resemble the past (Pure).
Hume theorizes that past experience “can be allowed to give direct and certain information” but only in relation to the “precise objects ” to which past experience refers, and that “precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance” (Enquiry). Hume clearly states that the only pure knowledge people can have is knowledge of the past, which means that there can be no real knowledge of the future because it has not been experienced yet.
Furthermore, Hume articulates that it is impossible to show that the “ultimate cause of any natural operation” can be found in “any single effect in the universe” (Enquiry). In this statement Hume tries to elucidate his point that just because something has existed before does not mean that it will exist again in the same form, that there is no “ultimate cause” but rather many causes that go into the producing of different effects.
To capstone his point Hume says that one cannot have a golden rule that what “happens sometimes… happens always… with regard to some objects” for all things in existence because there is no ”logic” or “process of argument” that “secures one“ into this assumption (Enquiry). Hume explains that it stands impossible to predict the future because the future has not yet been experienced and therefore has no security of knowledge. For Kant, by a rational extension of logic, it can be determined that what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future are one in the same— yet or Hume, knowledge can come nly from experience because If the future cannot be experienced then people have no bounds to determine what will happen in it. These suppositions then lead to the question of causality of the universe, to which Kant puts forth the notion that the universe was created in a way so that the nature of all things lays uniform and perfect— despite the passing of time— whereas Hume puts forth the notion that the universe was created in a way so that all things change over time.
Kant presents that “nature is a being acting according to purpose” and creates a “natural purpose” that everything in the universe must adhere to (Judgment), which supports the notion that the universe was created in a way so that the nature of all things lays uniform and perfect because everything has its natural place in the universe and therefore maintains a natural purpose and a static order. Kant additionally expounds that “causality involves that of laws” and that these laws create a cause that has a specific effect that “must be produced” (Fundamentals).
Due to this “law” that Kant references he insinuates that, despite time passing, what has happened will have to happen again based on the consistency of the laws of nature. To counter this, Hume presents his reasoning that “effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it” (Enquiry), which supports the notion that things change and no consistency stays in the universe because there is never a direct link between a cause, and the effect which results from it. Additionally, Hume goes on to dictate that effects fail to “be discovered in the cause” and that they “must be entirely arbitrary” (Enquiry).
By this, Hume means that if an effect could be paired up with any old cause, that it would be completely random and therefore have no value in appraising cause and effect. By both these sentiments Hume conveys that a cause and effect have no solidified connection unless they are proven to be tied together, which leads to the assumption that the world shifts and changes over time because if the universe were static then everything would be the same and a golden rule for causality would exist but for Hume, it doesn’t.
Kant and Hume stand at odds on whether the universe stays organized or frays at the ends because of their assertions that the universe was created perfectly, and in opposition the assertion that the universe was created imperfectly. After determining the organization of the universe, one question remains for the philosophers: who or what, if anything, created the universe?
To this Kant responds that God is unknowable and that this thought doesn’t disprove his existence or perfection while Hume responds everyone has their own unique God, and therefore one perfect and whole God cannot exist. Kant expounds that the “unavoidable problems set by pure reason itself are God, freedom, and immortality” and that for knowledge of God there is no “capacity or incapacity of reason for so great an undertaking” (Pure).
Here Kant proclaims that because of reason’s inability to appraise the idea of God, that it is an unknowable topic and that everything stated about it can be marked as true because it cannot be disproven. Hume expounds that he “believe[s] [God] to be existent” and that Hume’s idea of “conception of the existence” dictates that the idea of God “lies not in the parts” or composition of the idea but in the “the manner in which we conceive it” (Treatise).
Hume makes the point that he has his own idea of God, that his idea is unique to himself and the way in which he develops his idea. Hume also states that “God is existent” but only in the form in which “as he is represented to us” (Treatise). This statement definitively encompasses the idea that not everyone cannot know the same God because people can only conceive their notion of God from what they have experienced, and each person’s experience stays unique and separate.
For Kant God exists by the pure reason that God can never be proven non-existent whereas for Hume, the idea of God can exist, but the being God that most people think of cannot because the idea of god is specific and unique to every individual. Kant and Hume pit each other down in philosophical battle after philosophical only to realize that they never agree on compromises to their ideas, and stay forever at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, which in a twisted way allows them to co-exist in the modern world.
On philosophy itself, Kant states that one “cannot say how far the inferences from perception may extend”, which means that for as much as people can imagine, something can be real and by extension this means that there is security in being able to make up the reality that one wants (Pure). In adversion Hume states that philosophy may “prove useful” by “destroying implicit faith and security” and allowing only one answer to be proven correct and logical through skepticism (Enquiry).
Kant and Hume can have no recourse from the dilemma that they face because at every turn Kant states that anything imaginable is possible and that skepticism, Hume’s philosophy, can never be reconciled with the idea that everything could be possible because they intrinsically contradict each other. Kant and Hume: two men divided by differing philosophies on the source of knowledge, the causality of the universe, and the definite existence of God who battled over answers to these question of life throughout their careers.
While Kant asserted that by rational extension experience could unlock the key to all knowledge Hume countered that only experience could grant knowledge, and that anything beyond that bent the rules of the world and made all knowledge inconsequential. While Kant asserted that the universe was created in a perfect natural order that would exist forever Hume countered that the universe was created in an imperfect, unorganized fashion that would be ever changing.
While Kant asserted that the existence of God could never be disproven and therefore had to exist Hume countered that it is inadequate to say that God has to exist as a result of doubt because every conception of God from every individual is different and people must therefore err on the side of skepticism and accept that God cannot exist as everyone wishes him to. While Kant and Hume tried to reconcile their differences on philosophy they never came to an agreement, and therefore co-existed in the denial that the others thoughts could possible hold any truth.
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