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Descartes and Hume’s Ideologies in Contemporary Psychology Essay

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The ideology of self in philosophy is a term that is used to describe various essential characteristics that combine together to form a unique personality different from other individuals.

The concept of self is described as central to human development and is responsible for two very important functions i.e. self which is regarded as the point from which the conscious thoughts emanate and also the point from which purposeful thought are processed (Myers 2004. As such the concept of self in a person is best exhibited through observation of other people’s actions, behaviors and characters which are determined by the brain also from where they originate.

Indeed this is the concept from which the science of psychology is based which is best exemplified by the theory of behaviorism: The purpose of this paper is to analyze the concepts of self ideology as advanced by Descartes and Hume’s and their relevance in context of modern psychology. To achieve this we need to set a benchmark from which to test the relevance of these two theories which will be the applications of these ideologies in modern day psychology.

Descartes Self Ideology

The self ideology concept advanced by Descartes has its roots from four themes that summarizes his contributions to the branch of psychology; human development, model of the mind, method of inquiry and self and society (Newman 1997). It is on human development theme which was an attempt of establishing with certainty the evidence of knowledge that we first encounter the concept of “Cogito, ergo sum” (Newman 1997).

In order to establish and separate reality from belief Descartes applied a form of a test referred as “Radical Doubt” that required a person to doubt anything that can be doubted (Newman 1997).

It is from these inferences that the concept of cogito was born which is certainly the only aspect that could not be doubted; “I think therefore I am” summarizes Cogito, ergo sum as envisioned by Descartes (Newman 1997). Thinking according to Descartes was found to be all activities that involve mental processes such as calculating, sensing, remembering and the process of doubt itself among others (Newman 1997).

But the Cogito concept is threatened by three other closely related observations which are described as dreams, sensory illusions and the “evil genius” that must be overcome before this knowledge can be determined to be absolute (Bramann, 2004). From this inference it is clear that Descartes claim on this basis is very compelling.

So far in the analysis of Descartes self ideology we can determine the relevance of this approach in understanding the thought process and personality types in human subjects as far as psychology is concerned. In the next theme, model of the mind Descartes describes mind as having two aspects; innate ideas and dualism of mind and body (Bramann 2004).

The dualism of mind and body referred by Descartes meant that the human thought process and the physical element are separate distinct elements that only coexist together while innate ideas are inherently found to be present in some thinking processes of the mind (Newman 1997). Some of the examples that exhibit Descartes concept of innate ideas is Cogito, belief of omnipotence God, mathematical ideas and ideas on substances.

In Descartes theory of dualism, two observations are made in this case, that the body appear to influence the thought process and vice versa which Descartes attributed to pineal gland, probably for lack of a better explanation (Newman 1997).

This would be the ideologies that some of the branches of psychology would be based on such as behaviorism and Cognitive psychology. The final theme advanced by Descartes is the Autonomous Self which holds that humans are able to think and act independently which means that they are essentially alienated from one another; this description sums up the Self and Society concept and is the final theme in the self ideology as advanced by Descartes.

Application of Descartes Self Ideology in Contemporary Psychology

The relevance of Descartes self ideology is most captured in two notable branches of contemporary psychology; behaviorism and cognitive psychology. Today the behaviorism theory is one of the most developed and reliable theories of psychology because of its methodology and approach that is evident in human behavior.

Indeed the behaviorism theory is one of the true branches that can be described to represent the science of psychology since it focuses on observation of human behavior to understand the mind which is actually the definition of psychology. Behaviorism is the branch of psychology that focuses on observation of human behavior from an objective perspective in order to gain an insight into the human personality which is an essential component of the self (Moskowitz 2001).

Advanced by Watson, the idea of this theory was to shift the focus from studying what people experienced to what they did; what he termed as behavior (Schacter 2009).

Watson refined the modern day concepts of behaviorism as an attempt to discover another approach of gaining insight into the human mind and also understand it without applying psychology theories that existed at the time that had proved ineffective. The principle behind the behaviorism theory is accurately captured in the Pavlov experiments and revolves around the two concepts of stimulus and response (Schacter 2009).

This theory is rooted from Descartes observation of the human mind which he describes to be non-spatial while the body is essentially spatial meaning it is impossible to study mind and thought processes per se. But as a way of linking the two forms of minds and body together, Descartes observes that each element appears to influence the other.

This is the idea that Watson anchored his concept of Behaviorism psychology which entails study of thought processes through observation of the body which Descartes ideology on self has determined to be a function of the mind since they coexist together in what he termed as dualism (Kreis 2000).

Today psychologist rely on making diagnosis on patients through observation of their behavior or assessment of their behaviors based on set standards that have been determined to be common in majority of the people, what could be referred as normal but what Descartes described as “own inner experiences” (Kreiss 20000.

Cognitive psychology is the “the scientific study of mental processes, including perception, thought, memory, and reasoning” which is basically a scientific attempt to understand the thought process that takes place in the mind (Schacter 2009).

This branch of psychology was advanced with the invention of the computer which has enabled scientist as well as psychologist to conceptualize the actual process that take place during specific streams of thoughts. Interestingly this branch of psychology contradicts the principles of behaviorism which asserts that mind can only be studied through observation of behavior despite the fact that they both emanate from Descartes ideology on self.

Descartes contributions to cognitive psychology are contained in his theory of innate ideas and dualism which touches on the mind which is the focus of cognitive psychology. Earlier on in an attempt to explain the concept of dualism, Descartes has attributed the pineal gland as part of the final stage of chain of reactions that linked the body with the mind.

Although this explanation was largely rudimentary and limited, Descartes set the stage for psychologists to pursue all the possible processes that take place in the mind during thought process which is the concept behind cognitive psychology. Today the advent in technology has enable detailed study of the human mind as well as how the brain initiates thought process through such techniques like brain scans which are able to depict specific regions of the brain that are involved with various functions.

Hume’s Self Ideology

The underlying concept behind David Hume self ideology is the belief that all knowledge that are gained through the mind is entirely as a result of experience (Bastick, 2005). What Hume means by this assertion is that two critical aspects are required in observation of objects by a person that involve perception, which is attained by the senses and previous experience which the brain uses to complete the complex pieces of the object.

The implication is that all thought processes as well as observed objects can be traced back to their specific elements that the brain relied upon in order to construct them. This raises fundamental difficulties when the same concept is applied to thought process which is found to be very different from object perception.

Because perception, ideas and feelings are abstract forms that cannot be broken further for purposes of their simplification Hume advances the concept of self to explain this. The idea of self according to Hume is described as “bundle or collection of different perceptions” (Bastick 2005). To understand what Hume meant by “bundle of perception” we need to look at how Hume describes the mind to process an image of an object as we have described above.

In the same way Hume determines that self is observed in similar way but in this case no reconstruction can be retraced since the elements of self and perceptions are inherently different from each other (Murphy 2005). In fact what Hume claims is that humans do not exist but are products of combination of various perceptions that are observable by the self which is itself stripped of all form of perceptions.

The major difference between Hume’s ideology on self and Descartes ideology are in the areas of belief and causation & effect. According to Hume all mind processes including beliefs are shaped by previous experiences; you will remember that Descartes asserts belief to innate ideas which he describes as ideas that are natural which a person is probably born with.

The concept of mind as described by Descartes was another point of contention that Hume sought to discredit through the application of modus ponens and modus tollens logics which appeared to fault the premises that Descartes advanced in his self ideology.

Application of Hume Self Ideology in contemporary Psychology

This observation that Hume described concerning the mind provided the first groundwork for empiricism which is the branch of science that is concerned with the study of how the mind learns through experience (Murphy 2005.). It is from this early principles of empiricism that Hume had advanced theories that would later also contribute to the modern day behaviorism psychology. These concepts as advanced by Descartes and Hume were able to be applied in behavioral psychology they were not fundamentally different.

However Hume contribution to the behaviorism emphasized experience as the only function of knowledge in mind. It is probably this concept that provided the foundation of B.F Skinner experiments on behaviorism theory that relied on the concept of “reinforcement” as a crucial element in the equation of human behavior science in psychology (Buckle 2007).

This element in the context of behaviorism theory states that “the consequences of a behavior determine whether it will be more or less likely to occur again” (Schacter 2009). It was a conclusion that was arrived after years of many experiments on animal behaviors that was also found to be true to humans which formed his foundation for his work titled “The Behavior of Organisms” (Schacter 2009).

Today this behaviorism theory is one of the most developed and reliable theories of psychology because of its methodology and approach that is evident in human behavior as well as in animals. The relevant of behaviorism theory with empiricism principles as advanced by Hume is that it provides evidence of the role of experience in learning and indeed confirms that brain largely learns through experience as well.


In conclusion it is clear that Descartes contribution to modern psychology was more influential than Hume’s ideology on self since it is only applied in behaviorism psychology. The fact that Descartes ideologies on self can be traced to two of the major branches of contemporary psychology is evidence enough that his contributions were more relevant to modern day psychology.


Bastick. B. 2005. Introducing ‘Applicable Knowledge’ as a Challenge to the Attainment of Absolute Knowledge in context of A Treatise of Human Nature, Sophia Journal of Philosophy 8(1):,pp 39–52.

Bramann, J. 2004. . Web.

Buckle, J. 2007. History of Cognitive Theory. Web.

Gordon, B. & Moskowitz, K. 2001. Cognitive social psychology: the Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition. California: Sage Publishers.

Kreis, S. 2000. Age of Ideologies: general Introduction. Web.

Myers, D. 2004. Psychology. 7th ed. Michigan: Hope College.

Murphy, G. 2005. Empiricism: The influence of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and David Hume. Web.

Moskowitz. G. 2001. Descartes, the Project of Pure Enquiry. New York: Penguin.

Newman, L. 1997. . Web.

Schacter, G.2009. Psychology: The Evolution of a Science. Washington, DC: Worth Publishers.

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