Washington & Lee University

Phil 102
Problems of Philosophy

Prof. Gregory
Fall 2005

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Reading Questions for

Hume’s Enquiry, 12

David Hume
1711-1776

Due Date: Mon, Oct 21

  1. What does Hume think of Cartesian doubt? In what sense is it antecedent to inquiry? Is it attainable and worthwhile? Why/Why not? Is there some form of it which is valuable?
  2. While discussing skepticism which arises consequent to inquiry, Hume points out that although natural instinct leads us always to assume an independent external world, reason shows that the mind has knowledge only of perceptions and cannot gain any knowledge of external objects. Does Hume think that reason, having raised this skeptical conclusion, can lead us back to knowledge of the external world? Will an appeal to God help according to Hume? How does this relate to Descartes?

How does Hume reject even primary qualities as being dependent on the mind? What are we left with when we acknowledge the mind-dependence of secondary and primary qualities?

  1. In Part II of this section, Hume addresses extreme forms of skepticism directed not against the senses, but against reason itself. First he discusses (though not in much detail, for he assumes they are familiar to his reader) paradoxes of space and time, next he discusses skepticism regarding reasoning about matters of fact. What is Hume’s attitude toward the most extreme (Pyrrhonian) skepticism? What effect does it have? What effect would it have if we were all to accept it? Does he think we could all accept it? What is the value, if any, that Hume sees in this sort of skepticism?
  2. In Part III, Hume describes two forms of mitigated skepticism which may be seen to result from consideration of Pyrrhonism. What are these two forms of skepticism and what is their value?
  3. Hume then concludes that pure reasoning can give us knowledge only of quantity and number, and that reasoning based on experience can only give us limited knowledge of cause and effect (in his limited sense of cause and effect). What do you think Descartes or Plato or Socrates would think of Hume’s views on knowledge and skepticism?
  4. Remember to include one or two questions you had while reading. Include your thoughts on possible answers.