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"Knowledge and Reality" -- spring '07: Why is Descartes' solution called a "straight solution" and why is Hume's solution called a "skeptical solution"? What is the difference? Which do you prefer?

The main difference between a straight solution and a skeptical solution is the amount of evidence one has to have in their solution. With a skeptical solution one does not have to be completely sure of what they’re proving. On the other hand, with a straight solution, one must be 100% certain of what they have proved.

Renee Descartes’ solution is referred to as a straight solution. Descartes talks about a certain piece of wax. He says that the piece of wax has a certain color, shape, hardness, taste, scent and even sound. Now, when this piece of wax is melted all these sensual aspects change. Descartes brings the question to the table of if all these things change about the piece of wax, is it still the same piece of wax? He answers that yes, it is the same piece of wax. There is a certain “essence”, for lack of a better word, to the wax and that essence does not change even when the physical aspects of the wax change. We come to the conclusion that identity is not only through our senses, but that we grasp it with our minds. This is a straight solution because that which is in our minds, according to Descartes, is 100% true. No one can disprove what we have in our minds.

In Descartes’ “Fifth Meditation” he gives us another straight solution when proving the existence of God. Descartes proves God’s existence in four steps. His first step is “I think, therefore I am.” Because he is able to think obviously he exists. The second step is that his ideas exist since he is thinking them right now. The third step is that his idea of God exists and that his idea of God is that He is a perfect being. The fourth step is that God must exist because it would not be possible for a flawed person to imagine something so perfect. There is a fifth step that adds to Descartes belief of God. The fifth step states that God is good because He made us in such a way that our senses are mostly reliable. Again, this is a straight solution because it cannot be disproven. Our mind is not truly visible to anyone else, so to us, whatever is in our minds is 100% truth.

Hume’s solution is a skeptical solution. He writes that we are able to know certain aspects of the future based on things that have happened in the past. For example, if one gets burnt by a fire each time they put their hand in a fire, then one can assume that every time they put their hand in a fire after that, their hand is going to get burnt. These beliefs are not justified by knowledge or truth though. These beliefs are based on habit. Hume says that these beliefs are useful and that truth is a useful habit. Although it seems logical to think that every time you put your hand in a fire you’ll get burnt it can’t be proven as 100% true because it wouldn’t be possible to test out this theory on every single fire, especially fires that may happen in the future.

I would have to say that although, in general, skeptical solutions are easier to swallow; I can’t help but love Descartes’ straight solutions. I prefer to believe in things that are completely proved, which may seem like a contradiction since I believe in God. But Descartes solution really spoke to me. I can totally see how he came to the solution he did even if to most it seems a bit unusual. God does not need to be believed by everyone to make Him really exist. Belief in God is a very personal thing and happens in ones mind. No one can disprove another person’s belief in God.
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