The Problem of David Hume and Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy

by Heather Schuldt

(An excerpt from Schuldt’s summaries of Chapters 7 & 10 in “Defending Your Faith” by R.C. Sproul)

Reliability of Sense Perception

When taking a look at the Reliability of Sense Perception (Chapter 7), we must admit that it is possible to be deceived by our senses and that our senses are limited. Nevertheless, our senses absolutely do help us understand true propositions. We can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell in order to declare a truthful statement. One lesson from Hume’s work is to understand that if we see wet grass, it is fine to say, “I do not know (perhaps right now) what caused the grass to get wet – because my senses did not see what happened,” but it is not okay to say, “nothing caused the grass to get wet.” Another lesson is to admit that our sense perceptions can be somewhat limited if we only see the effect. In addition, and even more importantly, we can be certain that an effect must have been caused by something other than itself – even though we did not see the event take place. For example, since the universe had a beginning, we can be certain that something other than the universe must have caused it to begin. Furthermore, we can rightly understand that God did not create Himself nor was He caused by something else.  

Real Wet Grass

Even though we cannot use our senses to see some invisible forces with our human eyesight such as gravity or microlevel organisms, we can be certain that unseen forces are in operation. Then how do human beings move? What is causing us to move? Paul gives us some insight. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). For example, while a person’s arm is the cause of waving his hand hello, God’s providence is the cause who makes it possible for us to wave. Hume focused on saying we cannot rely on our senses, which ultimately leads to the problem of skepticism. Hume’s teaching spun philosophy into an absurd tailspin of unreliable senses which in turn made science unreliable as well as theism. Then along came Immanuel Kant (AD 1724-1804), noticing the problem of total skepticism in Hume’s skeptical perspective of science. Kant attempted to revive causal relationships by noticing that all knowledge would be unattainable if causal relationships were reduced to Hume’s skepticism. However, Kant made skepticism even worse (see Chapter 10). 

Real Hands Waving Hello

Chapter 10:

Beautiful Reality Contrasts With 

Kant’s Skeptical Problem of an Unknown World

Several lines of reasoning for the existence of God surfaced in antiquity and still thrive today: the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument (Chapter 17).  The ontological argument was referred to by Saint Anselm (1093-1109), stating that God must exist because “no greater being can be conceived.” The traditional cosmological argument says that the world is an effect, and the necessary first cause was caused by an eternal God. The teleological argument states that many different kinds of designs in the world were designed by an intelligent designer called God. The moral law states that moral laws come from a moral lawgiver called God. 

Five hundred years after Aquinas, the existence of God was seldom disputed until Immanuel Kant began to separate grace from nature in his colossal work, the “Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781. In Kant’s philosophy, we can never know the world as it really is because he said all our knowledge comes from a combination of experience and reason working together, but that kind of knowledge is filtered through our own limited understanding. Kant thought our knowledge is purely mental and only subjective. In his attempt to separate an appearance of cause and effect, he ended up distorting reality. A cause only seems to us as the cause, Kant says, because the real cause is unknowable, hiding in an unknown world. For example, if a person sinks an eight ball into a pocket, suggested Kant, it only appears as if the person caused the ball to sink into the pocket. Kant suggested that we cannot know if the person was really the cause who sunk the ball into the pocket. Kant wanted to replace reality with subjective appearance, and he wanted to replace an imaginary unknown with reality. In Kant’s way of seeing the world, he called the “world as it really is” a noumenal world. He referred to the “world as it appears” as a phenomenal world. Kant thought we can only know an illusionary phenomenal world. I will add that this exaltation to doubting paved the way for Richard Dawkins’ absurd atheistic delusional perspectives. 

A Real Pool Table

According to Kant, the skepticism of Hume left everyone doubting sense perception and science altogether. Kant challenged Hume by saying our sense perception can give us reliable information, but it only gives us information as it appears to us in this phenomenal world. Kant attempted to bring credit back to science by saying the phenomenal world can be known to us by any of our five senses. He went on to say that scientific (empirical) observations in the phenomenal world cannot give any information about a real noumenal world.

Kantian philosophy leads into the worst denial of all, saying we cannot know anything about the existence of God. It is helpful to use shorter propositions when describing what Kant did. He turned reality upside down. His skepticism is denial at its worst. Kantian philosophy places faith into the category of fideism. In Kant’s mind, we cannot know the “real” noumenal world. Kant used an illustration of comparing a dollar bill in his mind to a dollar bill in his pocket. One bill is there and one is imaginary. Misusing this analogy, he pointed out that if one thinks that God exists, it does not mean that God really exists. However, we would need to ask Kant in jest, “Then according to your philosophy, your real dollar bill in your pocket isn’t really real. The dollar bill in your pocket is only a phenomenon.” Kant’s philosophy is a mixture of self-refutation and skepticism. It is a mixture of contradictions and flat out denial. Kant replaced the real world with subjective appearance. He began to deny reality and realism. He left reality as an illusion. He replaced reality with that which is unknown. He threw away truth. This leads us to the next five chapters. We will examine four possible explanations for reality: 1.) An illusion (Chapter 11) such as a Kantian phenomenon world. 2.) Self-created a.k.a. chance (Chapter 12). 3.) Self-existent (Chapter 13). 4.) Divinely created (Chapters 14 and 15). 

A Real Dollar Bill (Not An Imaginary Illusional Phenomenon)

Published by @hmschuldt

Heather Marie Schuldt is the author of a young adult science fiction mystery, "Cindy Sailor and the Hunt for Owen" (2021). She also has a workbook for writers called "Writers 750 Emerald Workbook." She co-authored an award winning fantasy novella, "Gryffon Master," with five authors in 2015. She published six Giant Tales anthologies with over fifty authors in 2013 and 2014. She began studying apologetics in 2016, served as the president of student government, and graduated with a master's degree in 2019. She is the founder of the Writers 750 Program which began in 2012. She is a certified therapist in rational living therapy and loves to help people get better. She is happily married with three grown children and enjoys riding her bicycle.

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