Fall questions: Empiricism, Epistemology & Rationalism

Fall Term

General Instructions:
This is an open book, open notes exam. You should use the assigned readings (the Booklet and and The Big Questions) and class meeting content. Material posted on Canvas (Items used in class, sample summaries) is class content, so you may and should make use of it, just as if it were your textbook.
Put your first and last name on the paper (I don’t need your student ID number).Answers must be typed; type your paper double-space. Use normal margins and a simple, normal-size font. Use black or blue ink only. Number your answers so that it is clear what question you are answering!
You do not need to use sources other than course materials. Be accurate, be thoughtful, be specific, be clear, be organized (= take things a step at a time). What you say should show thought.

  1. Short Answer. Answer each of the questions below in a sentence or in a few sentences.
  2. (2 pts) Fill in the blank below with the correct term. Hint: The correct term names a type of statement.

The denial of a      _____fact__________________        always results in a contradiction.


  1. (2 pts) Define: A “Matter of Fact”. Use this term as David Hume or Big Questions uses it. A Matter of Fact is a truth that is supported by empirical evidence.



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  1. (2 pts) Define: Empiricism

Empiricism is knowledge that is based on experience.

  1. (2 pts) Define: Epistemology.

Epistemology is the study of human knowledge, its various forms, as well as origins.  
Hint: Use the glossary in Big Questions or the box on p.7 (Big Questions)

  1. (2 pts) Define: Rationalism

Rationalism is the form of knowledge that relies on intuition and judgment to arrive at a conclusion, independent of experience. 

  1. (2 pts) Define: Innate ideas. Hint: Use the glossary in Big Questions or Ch. 5 (Big Questions).

Innate ideas are the supposed “in born” knowledge with which humans are born, independent of acquisition of knowledge through life experiences.

  1. 7. (4 points) Question 2-f on the exercise sheet about the game of Eleusis shows you a string of cards and asks you to propose a Secret Rule that fits it
           Question 2-f is meant to show a lesson about, or a feature of, the game. What is that lesson? The lesson is on inductive reasoning
    Hint: This is often a pitfall for the players.
          b.  What other activity ( = an activity other than this game) does the worksheet compare is the game of Eleusis to?  Hint: The lesson in (2a) applies to it as well.

The activity of innovation and induction.

  1. Short Essay Do all of the essays. If an essay has parts, you must do all of the parts.
    To write your answers well, imagine that you are explaining the concepts to someone who is interested in learning about philosophy, but who has not taken this class and who has not studied the philosophers and concepts we have covered. Write so as to be understandable to such a person.
    If you quote a passage from the reading, use enough of the quote so that we can tell what it says and why quoting it was relevant. Be sure to tell what page and source (e.g., Booklet, BQ)


  1. (12 pts). For this question, answer part (a) and your choice of:  part (b) or part (c).  Your answer will probably require a few sentences for each of the parts answered.
    State the Ontological Argument.  Hint: Use Big Questions.

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The Ontological argument is a stand, or set of arguments, that pins the existence of God from the very idea of God. For instance, the argument may be made that existence is due to, or symbolized by perfection, and because perfection is present, then God is present because God is perfect.

(Essay 1, continued)

  1. b. Is there a statement in the argument in (a) that you think is an Empirical

statement (= a Matter of Fact, a Contingent statement). To answer, first say what an Empirical statement is and then tell why the statement you chose is an example.

An empirical statement is a factual assertion that derives its legitimacy from experience. Part of the argument in (a) is an empirical statement because it asserts that God is present only because He can be experienced (through the existence of perfection)

  1. c. Is there a statement in the argument in (a) that you think is a Logically Necessary statement (= a Truth of Reason, a Relation of Ideas)? To answer, first say what a Logically Necessary statement is and then tell why the statement you chose is an example of one.

            The statement in (a) that God exists because existence can be experienced is a logically necessary statement because it relates the ideas of God’s existence to the experience of perfection.


  1. (18 pts) About 1 – 2 pages.
  2. a. What does the Two Worlds Assumption assume? Hint: It has two parts.

The Two Worlds Assumption assumes that the world is composed of two parts, the real world that comprises the physical things that can be touched, that grow, change and die. The second world is the world of pure forms, comprising immaterial things and one which experiences such as art and knowledge are based on.  

            Plato as the chief proponent of the Two Worlds assumption was of the view that true experiences are based on the second world, which he called the World of Being, as opposed to the First world that he named the World of Becoming.

  1. b. Describe the obstacle to knowledge that results from the Two Worlds Assumption. Hint: To answer, say to what knowledge it is an obstacle to, and then tell why it is such an obstacle. Remember that the Big Questions discusses this.

The obstacle to knowledge that results from the two worlds assumption, especially concerning the world of pure forms, is beauty. Beauty in this instance implies various art forms that require a sense of artistic appreciation. Appreciating art, poetry and such kinds of beautiful art can sometimes hinder from acquisition of true knowledge because such art forms utilize sentimental appreciation as opposed to true knowledge. 

  1. Rene Descartes is a Foundationalist about the nature of knowing. He thought that Foundationalism would allow him to surmount (or, to get around) the obstacle just referred to in part b of this question. Explain why he thought this. Hint: First, define Foundationalism.

Foundationalism is the belief that all knowledge is based on certain indisputable truths, for instance the formulas for geometrical problems are the foundations on knowledge on geometry. Foundationalism thus surmounts the obstacle of beauty by refusing to utilize experience as the basis of knowledge, instead relying on hard, indisputable facts.

Therefore, according to Descartes, in order to obtain true knowledge that is not biased by personal preferences as would be the case in artistic appreciation (since everyone has their own unique “taste”), only through acquiring knowledge through indisputable facts can such bias be surmounted.


  1. (18 pts) About 1- 2 pages.

David Hume thinks that once you become familiar with what he calls “the strange infirmities (= limitations, weaknesses) of human understanding,” you are likely to be more skeptical about your own beliefs and a better listener to the beliefs of others. He sees this as a very desirable result.
For this essay, choose two different claims advanced by Hume in the readings assigned that directly or indirectly address such infirmities. For each claim,



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(Essay 3, continued)
a. Directly quote it, by giving either Hume’s own words from the Booklet, or Big Questions’ words. Tell what page(s) the quote comes from. Then describe in your own words what the quote is about.

  1. b. Explain why you think that becoming aware of this matter could (or would) make a person more skeptical than they were previously.

Here are some topics to which Hume spoke in the assigned readings. You are not  limited to these, but they are helpful starting points:  Impressions and ideas; ideas that combinations of other ideas; the three principles for association of ideas; Matters of Fact in contrast to Relations of Ideas; finding patterns in experience or generalizing based on it; beliefs about cause and effect.


            David Hume expresses skepticism as concerns our understanding of cause and effect (Big Questions, pg. 164). Hume challenges the belief or assertion that cause and effect are simply a matter of one event creating consequences in another event by interaction between the two entities. Using the example of two balls that hit one another, or rather a first billiard ball knocking on a second one and seeming to cause its (second ball’s) movement, Hume challenges the understanding of cause and effect by stating that what is perceived to be cause and effect is only our assumption, but not a matter of fact.

            According to Hume, there are scientific events which occur without instigation – that is, without a cause. Therefore, concerning the two billiard balls, Humes argues that the act of one ball hitting the other and the second ball moving is simply tow independent events whose link is assumed, but not supported by fact. Hume argues that the first ball may hit the second and then bounce back, or the balls may explode, which would then shatter the assumption of cause and effect previously made.

            Becoming aware of this matter would make a person more skeptical than they were previously because Hume’s argument challenges some fundamental assumptions on cause and effect. Extended to other fields of knowledge such as science, geography and even physics, the challenge of our understanding of cause and effect would be impactful to the extent of causing a rethink of some basic assumptions in those fields.

            Another claim that Hume makes concerns our experience of another world as argued by the Two Worlds assumption. Hume argues that it is impossible to ascertain the experiences of the non-physical world by experience of reason (Big Questions, pg. 164).

            According to Hume any experience that is claimed to be of the non-physical world cannot be ascertained by a feeling or experience outside that world, so that pinching oneself to know whether on is dreaming cannot aid in clarifying whether the individual is dreaming because the pinching will still be experienced in the dream world. 

            This claim by Humes would make a person more skeptical than they were previously because it challenges our belief in experiences between the real and non-real, abstract world.