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    This assignment consists a short essay question, and a short response question. The main intent of these questions is to ensure that you have a sound grasp of the fundamentals of the material presented in this unit. To that end, there is a 3 to 4 page (1000 words) limit for the short essay question. I’m not so concerned with whether you agree with a particular author or not. The quality of your answer is based on your exposition of the competing positions, your comparative analysis of those positions and, lastly, your argument in support of the position you defend.

    As with all the assignments in this course, the short essay question is not designed to be a “research” question. There is no requirement to get material from external sources such as other authors, or reference websites, who have summarized, or criticized, the authors you are dealing with. In effect, including such material defeats your purpose in completing your essay because you are essentially telling me what some other person thought about the material you should be explaining and assessing. If you make reference to sources external to the course readings it will be detrimental to your mark. In some cases, I may ask you to re-work and submit your assignment. The point of your essay is to formulate the course material and develop your critical response. You can do this by working with the course material and developing your own ideas about the issue. The essay is simply your opportunity to set that out in paper.

    So, the material you need to successfully complete this assignment can be found in the online course materials available through the UMLearn course site. There may also be some reading material that is part of the hard copy course readings package. You can find this information on the course materials section of our course UMLearn website.

    QUESTIONS: (The total possible mark for this assignment is 100 marks.)

    1. Short Essay Question:(90 marks) In the Meditations, Descartes makes a clean sweep of his beliefs and begins again. Explain Descartes’ critical application of his method of doubt and the way he builds knowledge on a new foundation. Can Descartes’ rationalist account of knowledge of external objects withstand the criticisms of Locke’s empiricism? In the end, which epistemological account is more plausible, Descartes’ rationalism or Locke’s empiricist account? Provide an argument in support of your conclusion.
    2. Short Response Question:(10 marks) You should try to limit yourself to two or three paragraphs for this question.

    Review the course reading by David Hume on the problem of induction. Explain why the problem of induction is especially problematic for empiricist accounts of knowledge.



Subject Essay Writing Pages 5 Style APA


The Problem of Knowledge

Considering different philosophical accounts on the issue of knowledge, one cannot help but start interrogating what is (and has been) known to constitute truth. Indeed, the accounts that have been put forth become quite interesting if, for instance, one would apply them in the context of a court process where the verdict made follows a series of processes for establishing the truth based on available evidence. A suspect whose fingerprints match those found at the scene of crime or whose face matches that in a video footage from the crime scene finds himself in hot soup. It is not uncommon to encounter situations where there is unquestionable incriminating evidence, so much so that the suspect cannot get off the hook. However, following different epistemological lines of reasoning reveals that perhaps there is nothing like absolute truth and what is known to constitute the truth can be challenged. In other words, truth is a relative concept in that what is true to one person may not necessarily be true to another. These and other arguments are encountered in philosophy where thinkers like Descartes, Locke, and Hume among others dominate. This paper examines some of these accounts.

  1. Short Essay

Descartes versus Locke

In the Meditations, Descartes makes a clean sweep of his beliefs and begins again. For him, a crucial first step towards the establishment of truth is to first doubt everything that has been hitherto known to be the truth. In his method of doubt, Descartes first suspends or discards all prior knowledge, so that the same is built anew through fresh reasoning. He argues that it is possible that even the most obvious presentations encountered in astronomy, physics, geometry, medicine, and other branches of science could be fallacious and as such false. A starting point for establishing truth is to cast doubt on (and treat with suspicion) the validity of all known or alleged truth so that everything can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Interestingly, the thinker incorporates an aspect of the existence of an all-powerful Deity, or God who, is said to be loving and cannot allow his people to be deceived. However, in the same vein, the possibility of the existence of an evil genius who has led mankind into deception remains, and this only serves to make Descartes method of doubt more credible.

An imperative aspect of Descartes’ presentation is deductive reasoning where truth is established in a series of steps before the ultimate or final/overall truth is established. Suppose in a contemporary setting there is a man riding a bicycle. As per Descartes’ presentation, the first step in trying to establish if this is true (much as there may be a man actually riding a bicycle) is to assume that it is not true. While it may not seem sensible to dispute this ‘assumed’ truth, Descartes would argue that in as much there is indeed a man riding a bicycle, this could be an illusion created in the mind of the observer(s). It could also be a dream. It is also possible that the observer is being deceived by the devil who has never had any good intention for mankind. Establishing the truth becomes problematic when this array of possibilities is taken into consideration. Merit is found in shifting attention to the mind that is considered to be the foundation of knowledge. Here, one has to prove his or her own existence, for even that is a matter that Descartes does not spare in his method of casting doubt on all already known truth (and possessed knowledge). In order to prove that one really exists, it is imperative to prove that God (the creator of all beings) exists. Arguably, the existence of God seems to be the pillar upon which all knowledge (therefore) truth can be pegged. If and when that is done, the possibility of everything being a dream or an illusion is ruled out, hence truth established. Besides, establishing that indeed God exists rules out the possibility of everything being a deception perpetrated by an evil genius since God is loving and cannot allow his people to be deceived.

In sensitizing Descartes’ rationalist account and Locke’s empiricist account, it is important to find out if Descartes can withstand Locke’s criticism. On external objects, Descartes argues that when people have clear ideas and adequate comprehension of objects, it implies that they are adequately aware of such objects. This awareness is the impetus of comprehension and possession of innate ideas regarding objects. Additionally, these innate ideas can only exist if and only if people possess adequate knowledge regarding these objects. A person needs to understand the nature of an object for him or her to have clear innate ideas about that object. It also goes without saying that that way, it becomes easier to differentiate a certain object from others, even those that may appear similar to it. Locke has his take on this subject: the ideas that people have on physical objects is dependent on and limited to what is known about those objects, that is what is in the mind. Clearly, Locke’s position is not any different from Descartes’, hence the conclusion that Descartes’ rationalist account can withstand Locke’s criticism. More precisely, this inference follows from the fact that their views on external/physical objects are congruent with each other.

On the strengths of the presentations of these two thinkers, Descartes’ account appears more plausible. Whereas Descartes goes deeper in explaining his take on the problem of knowledge, Locke merely bases his argument on inductive reasoning. It is in this reasoning process that Locke arguably loses out because he relies on experience (to which he claims all knowledge can be traced). Following Locke’s argument, one wonders what happens when entirely new knowledge is encountered because in such an instance experience becomes irrelevant.

  1. Short Response

Upon reviewing David Hume’s presentation on the problem of induction, it emerges that this (problem) is especially problematic for empiricist accounts of knowledge.  Empiricists base their accounts on the repetitive nature of phenomena where they assert there is a root cause for everything in nature. For this reason, it is assumed that past events can be used as the basis for predicting future events simply by understanding the cause(s) of such events. Importantly, Hume emphasizes the appeal to experience when applying the principle of induction to draw inferences. As such, he would fault empiricist accounts of knowledge on certain phenomena especially where there is no appeal to experience as empiricists claim experience is the foundation of all knowledge.

Indeed, in instances where there is no appeal to experience, the problem of induction becomes especially problematic for empiricist accounts of knowledge. This is because, as per Hume’s argument, there would be no logical warrant of phenomena turning out the same way all the time, more so in instances where there is no appeal to experience.


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