Must We See to Believe?

by Bill Pratt

Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, is famous for the following statement: ”Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

There have always been people like Thomas who demand that they directly experience something before they believe it exists.  During the Enlightenment in Europe, the philosophical theory of empiricism came to embody this principle for the modern world.

According to Garrett DeWeese, “the Enlightenment doctrine of empiricism holds that all knowledge of the world is empirical,” or all knowledge comes from our sensory experience.  The philosopher David Hume took this notion so far that he denied that we could know that our selves exist.

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DeWeese continues:

Today the spectacular successes of the natural sciences have enshrined empirical investigation as by far the best – and for most people, the only – way to know.  But what about things we can’t sense?  Is nonempirical knowledge possible?  The question is crucial, for a great many important things can’t be known through our senses – things such as whether we have a soul and whether God exists.

If empiricism is true, then our knowledge becomes incredibly limited, and, in fact, the Romantics and German idealists that came after Hume and Kant were repelled by empiricism and rejected it as far too limiting of human knowledge…

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