Two Philosophers and Their Theories of Belief When reading Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy and David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, one notices that both philosophers focus a large part of their writings on the subject of human belief. Both authors have different theories on what makes a person form those beliefs that are important in life. Through an analysis of their theories, it is possible to understand the way these two philosophers lived their lives and what type of people they were.
Descartes' theory of human belief has a few rules that set the basis of his beliefs. The word that best describes his theory is skepticism. The main doctrine that makes up his belief is: "If you doubt something at all, don't believe it." In Descartes' Meditations, the author's main goal is to make the reader look at the world through analytical eyes. Descartes goes as far as refuting his trust of the senses, the body, and the sciences that have been proven to be reliable time and time again.
Through these examples, the reader gains a sense that Descartes isn't afraid to question even the simplest, most proven foundations of society. He says, "It is a mark of prudence never to place our complete trust in those who have deceived us even once." Descartes makes sure in his Meditations that he leaves no stones unturned. He believes this adds completeness to his studies, which is the most important thing to him. When he finds what he truly believes, he has reached his goal.
When David Hume analyzes what his beliefs are in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he comes to the conclusion that beliefs are ideas that are "lively." In order for a person to truly believe in something, they must first experience it in the real world. Hume uses an example of Adam not knowing that he would drown in water unless he had hands-on experience. A mere visual observation of the water wouldn't give him the knowledge that he could drown in the transparent liquid. This example is a concrete illustration of how reasoning can only be obtained through the person's experience.
Another aspect of Hume's theory of belief is based on a person's certainty of an idea. If a person is strongly attached or excited by an idea, then it can be classified as a belief. Basically Hume classifies beliefs as ideas that are important to people's heart. This section of his theory is pleasing because the reader can place such important categories as religion and love into the belief category.
Both Descartes' and Hume's theories are valuable to the philosophical community because they exhibit different viewpoints that can be considered by a reader. It is almost impossible to judge which theory is right or wrong because they are both just possibilities to ponder. If I had to pick one theory to defend, I would definitely choose Hume's theory on human belief. Hume uses clear examples to illustrate his theories and makes them extremely difficult to rebut. They also rely mainly on facts, whereas Descartes' Meditations rely mainly on opinion.
When Descartes is sitting by the fire, holding the sheet of paper he is writing his Mediations on, he decides that the hands that are holding the paper and his entire body are not really his. Such examples in Descartes' theory seem a little too extreme or even paranoid for a rational thinking person to discern.
On the other hand, Hume's theory of forming beliefs through experience and from exciting ideas makes perfectly good sense to the mind. Both theories, though completely different from each other, are interesting and deserving of these two great philosopher's attention and efforts.