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Berkeley's and Hume's Philosophy About God

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Essay title: Berkeley's and Hume's Philosophy About God

Berkeley’s and Hume’s Philosophy about God

When people think about empiricists, they usually discuss views of great philosophers such as George Berkeley and David Hume. Empiricists believe that all knowledge comes from the senses. Rationalists, on the other hand, believe that we can gain knowledge through the inspection of innate ideas. Although Berkeley and Hume are both empiricists, they still have different opinions about the existence of God. Berkeley’s philosophy uses God as the central figure in his metaphysical system. However, Hume uses scientific observation to postulate his theories and he does not rely on God to support his arguments. I will argue that Hume’s Philosophy is stronger then Berkeley’s

George Berkeley was an empiricist, who wrote “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”. Berkeley believes that all of our knowledge comes through sensory experience and that mind-independent material objects do not exist. He says that there is no evidence proving that mind-independent material objects exist through immediate sensory experience, or through presumptions based on this sensory experience. Berkeley wants the reader to believe that everything around us, such as: chairs, tables, books, etc, are all in our minds and that these ideas do not have any absolute existence in our world. He sees himself as being the defender of common sense, but his extravagant theory seems anything but common sense. It sounds absurd to suppose that objects are nothing but collections of ideas, but his arguments are actually quite clever and refined. Berkeley begins my stating four common-sense principles which include: “1) There is the belief that we can trust our senses, 2) The qualities we perceive as existing, really do exist, 3) The things we see and feel are real, 4) All skeptical doubt about the real existence of things, is unjustified” (Goldstein). After showing that physical objects can not exist outside the mind and that everything is an idea, he begins his main idealist argument proving the existence of God.

Berkeley begins his main idealist argument by re-stating that all there is in the world, are ideas and the spirits that conceive them. He says that some of our ideas are not real, such as ideas that come from our imagination or memory. The way we can distinguish real ideas from false ideas, is that real things are more clear and vivid. Berkeley says that real ideas come to us unmeditated and because they are involuntary, we can not control them as we please. From this idea, Berkeley suggests that there must be some higher being that controls the sensation and ideas we have. He concludes by saying that this higher being must be God.

This view places God as the ultimate perceiver because an object does not exist if I perceive it; it only exists if God perceives it. Everything exists because it is being perceived and continues to be perceived in God’s mind. However, God allows us to view and experience his ideas through sensations. Although all ideas come from God, Berkeley still argues that “none of these things has a mind-independent existence out in the world” (Goldstein). The problem with Berkeley’s metaphysical system is that he relies and retreats to God only when he needs him and does not actually prove the existence of God. He merely states that since our sensations are not caused by us, they must be caused by God. This view is weak and not very persuasive because Berkeley concludes that there can be no other reasonable explanation for ideas, therefore it must have been God that put them in our minds.

David Hume was also an empiricist, who wrote “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”. Hume believed that scientific observation is the best and most credible way to approach empirical philosophy. He thought that by using a scientific method approach, he could discover principles that construct our reasoning, with the purpose of steering us away from flawed logic and lead us towards a more accurate path of reasoning. Hume feels that scientific observation should be used in empirical philosophy because he thinks that we can discover a system that will be able to test a theory and determine whether it is correct or incorrect. Hume begins his enquiry by distinguishing the differences between impressions and ideas. Impressions are clear and vivid, and ideas are created from our memory or imagination. Ideas are not lively or vivid and they derive from our impressions. Our imagination is constructed from complex ideas that break down into simple ideas and Hume gives a great example by using our idea of God. When we think of God, we usually give him the following qualities: all knowing, all powerful, almighty, etc, however, these qualities do not come innately. Hume states that we have created this idea of God by using simple ideas which have derived from simple

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