Term Paper: Reality and Knowledge Epistemology

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[. . .] The material cause is the physical matter, such as the wood of a chair. The formal cause is the pattern or structure (the formal cause of a chair is "chair-shape). The efficient cause is the means by which something comes into existence (the carpenter is a chair's efficient cause). The final cause is the purpose or function (sitting is the final cause of a chair) (Hooker).

While Aristotle's understanding of empirical evidence as the basis of reality has been profoundly influential, it is not without its criticisms and refinements. David Hume, born 1711, argued that our standard understanding of causality is fundamentally flawed, as our knowledge of the relationship between cause and effect is based on habits of thinking, rather than on the true forces exerted by the external world. Hume notes that humans regularly observe events that occur together, and thus develop the habit of expecting the effect when we first observe the cause. However, to Hume this is fundamentally flawed, as there is most often no real understanding of the reason that leads the cause to he effect. As such, Hume argues that most of our supposed knowledge of the world is simply based on flawed habits (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, David Hume).

In An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, Hume argued that causation does not really exist. He argues that humans have no real or rational justification for many of our beliefs that go beyond our immediate and personal observations. Here, Hume is skeptical about the inductive reasoning used by Aristotle as a basis for understanding the world. Effectively, Hume argues that inductive reasoning offers no support for the conclusions that we make about the world, and thus inductive reasoning is a greatly flawed means to knowledge, argues Hume. Similarly, Hume argues that we know little about the reality of the self, or of the external world. As such, he notes that skepticism is the only real and defensible view of the world about us.

George Berkeley (born 1685) was a contemporary of Hume, who argued that the mind was the true basis of all reality. While Aristotle argued that reality was based on the senses, empiricism, and inductive reasoning, Berkeley took Hume's criticism of these to the extreme, essentially arguing that "matter does not exist" (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, George Berkeley).

To Berkeley, all normal objects are simply ideas, which are inherently mental in nature. Important in his work is the idea of 'esse is percipi' (to be is to be perceived). He argued that ordinary objects are simply collections of ideas that are fundamentally dependent upon the mind. For Berkeley, there are only finite mental substances (like objects) and infinite mental objects (like God). Science becomes simply an understanding of ideas by the mind (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, George Berkeley).

Personally, I find Berkeley's view of reality as based solely upon the mind is extreme and somewhat tenuous. It is difficult to reject what is known by the senses, even though it can be argued that the senses can easily be fooled. However, Hume's understanding of the limitations causality and human understanding seems to have real merit. While it seems difficult to conceive of reality and knowledge as based solely upon mind and ideas (like Plato and Berkeley assert), it is also important to acknowledge the limitations of the senses that are so important in Aristotle's view of reality.

In conclusion, an analysis of the works of Plato, Hume, Aristotle and Berkeley reveals that we cannot totally rely on our five senses to gain knowledge of the external world.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle: KNOWLEDGE OF PRINCIPLES AND CAUSES. From Metaphysics

980a-982a, translated by W.D. Ross. 25 May 2004. http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/aristotle_wisdom.asp

Hooker, Richard. Greek Philosophy: Aristotle. 25 May 2004. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/GREECE/ARIST.htm

Hume, David. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Bartleby.com, Harvard Classics, Vol. 37, Part 3. 25 May 2004. http://www.bartleby.com/37/3/

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. David Hume (1711-1776), Life and Writings. 25 May 2004. http://www.iep.utm.edu/h/humelife.htm

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. George Berkeley (1685-1753). 25 May 2004. http://www.iep.utm.edu/b/berkeley.htm

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Plato. 25 May 2004. http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/plato.htm [END OF PREVIEW]

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