Further on Empiricism’s contribution to human understanding if we approach the subject as an honest learner we immediately appreciate the fact (at least I did) that nearly all the classical authors that wrote about the subject approached it from a explorer/discoverer perspective. At times I felt as if I am on a voyage of self exploration boarding the ship of common sense. You would expect any good philosophy to pass the test of logic as a rule and metaphysics is no exception.
So what is that empiricism invites us to think about and what are those examples that the classical authors encourage us to think about? Let’s share a few examples below.
Hume says how do you know that bread satisfies hunger and water quenches thirst. He further go on saying that you find this by trying it for the first time. First time when a human being came across water he wouldn’t be knowing that although it looks transparent and beautiful and satisfies my thirst but also has a dangerous ability to suffocate and drown me if I get immersed in it. It was only by experimentation alone that the first person was able to appreciate these qualities of water and every human being undergoes the similar process when they come across new things throughout their life time. No degree or amount of rationalism can compensate or replace experimentation (empiricism).
Hume however asks us to ask ourselves some further questions too. He says that how do you find that bread and milk is a good source of nourishment for a human being but not for a lion. Again the answer is that by experiment not by some logical discussion.
How do you know that the bread that satisfied my hunger this time would essentially do the same in future? Hume answers that it is not essentially certain and no one can claim with finality that it would essentially happen but we gradually get accustomed to the practice.
Custom is a concept that Hume introduces to separate it from rationalisation and reasoning or a true empirical understanding. Hume says that after our birth the world and things in the world present themselves to us in a certain way and we get familiarized with them. in other words what he is saying is that we are born in a framework and we get accustomed to that framework that covers our natural ignorance and we stop questioning it. For example whatever we observe is heavily based on causes and effects. The thunder brings light, the water brings wetness and fire brings warmth. All of them are joined together in our experience based on our previous observations and our functions of memory however on close observation we would appreciate that every effect is distinct event from its cause. Hume says that utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity and to resolve the many particular effects to few general causes, by means of reasoning from analogy, experience and observation. But in an attempt to find the cause of these general causes we shall never be able to satisfy ourselves by any particular explication of them. The ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry. Elasticity, gravity, cohesion of parts, communication of motion by impulse, these are probably the ultimate causes and principles that we shall ever discover in nature.
We get used to customs and usually stop questioning those things and phenomena that we come across around us. However whenever we start our journey to find the basics of relationship between cause and effect, we need to be led by experience and experience alone in that discovery. Laws of Euclid appear good on paper, laws of triangles and circles remain constant on abstract reasoning and rationalisations, likewise the other rules of mathematics too; but in order to observe and implement these laws we again need the very tool that is called “Experience”.
Reference: David Hume (AECHU)