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Descartes systematic approach to establishing an understanding of that which is rationally true inherently called on him to reject all assumed notions of what was true. This 'atheist' thought which he rejected would be characterized by its unfounded but universally accepted nature. By casting doubt and applying testing methods to assumed facts, Descartes sought to provide a living framework entirely governed by empiricism. Such a doctrine inclined Descartes to conclude that man could not accept himself to be capable of distinguishing between his experiences as he dreams and those which he has while awake. Descartes' assessment is derived from his own framework for the resolution of knowledge and, within the parameters that he had designed, is a functionally acceptable one. Indeed, he establishes meaningful similarities between our experiences in both realms.
Indeed, Descartes' view on dreams stems from his umbrella system of epistemology, which is instructed by the pursuit of Knowledge. The seventeenth century philosopher applied the capital emphasis to the word Knowledge in order to demonstrate the canonization of the concept which it implied. His order of rationality would be guided by an atheist principle to accept as godly only that for which he could remove any trace of doubt. In this way, he was not dissimilar from Hume. However, as he reflected on his experiences while asleep and dreaming, he found that it would be inconsistent with this approach to the universe to accept his status when under the perceptive circumstance of being awake as necessarily being that. Instead, he recognized that "as long as it is not unthinkable that waking-quality experiences should be reproduced in a dream, then . . . we're unable to meet the burden of proof requisite for Knowledge -- there are never any [unshakably] sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep" (Med. 1, at 7:19)." (Newman, 3.1) Descartes establishes what he sees as a reason to doubt that he can assume himself to be awake simply because he perceives himself to be so. This inherently establishes the coefficient prospect that human experience is precipitated by delusion and is thus incapable of Knowing of the existence of God. Descartes' intention for investigating the complex debate over the nature of dreams is given its greatest ideological import in suggesting the possibility of such an illusory negotiation of the world.
Descartes seems to view human experience as it is understood as subject to existential debate. Hume did not view it this way, instead suggesting that humanity possessed great comprehensive ability and yet lacked the ability to prove the existence of God. Quite to the point, Hume asserts that "weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit." (Hume, Sec. X)
This is the most compelling of statements in Hume's work and denotes that the absence of invulnerable evidence to contrast the claims of the divine is not tantamount to the presence of proof that a miracle has occurred. As Hume states here above, the greater majority of us are given over to experiences and perceptions which do not involve miraculous occurrences or supernatural observances. Therefore, acceptance of the existence of these things is adopted from the statements and the declaimed observations of a select minority of individuals in human history. These individuals have provided us with the scriptures that speak to the existence of miracles, wonders and a higher being responsible for these events. But to Hume, these documents comprise a weak claim to 'knowledge' and instead may only be understood as belief.
In the induction of knowledge, Hume contends persuasively, we are better served by trusting our own senses. Descartes, by contrast, argues that not even these senses can be trusted. Still, both thinkers seem to agree that a belief in the supernatural, or in a God specifically, lack rational or epistemological basis.
Hume, D. (1910). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Harvard Classics, 37: P.F. Collier & Son.…[continue]
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