On May 1, 1999, David Hume, 51, was teetering on the brink of self-destruction. Hume, a father of two, was in the midst of a mid-life crisis and in desperate need of “grounding.” Late that night, following the Late Late Show, Hume scanned the tube in search of something, anything really. Sandwiched between a blind date show and the History Channel, Hume chanced upon an infomercial for Rene Descartes’ new self-help book series, “Method for Dummies.”
Entranced by the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” of the studio audience, Hume began to realize this was not just another Ron Popeil rotisserie; it appeared to be the answer to all of his problems. Promising absolute truth, god-like knowledge, and a true understanding of reality, Hume knew it was a bargain for only 3 payments of $39.95! When Descartes decided to throw in a free instructional video and drop the last payment, Hume was sold.
Three weeks later, Hume received the first book in the mail titled “Unlearn What You Have Learned.” Receiving a book each of the next 15 weeks, Hume obsessively read and practiced the word of Descartes, leaving his job and family behind. However, Hume realized something was amiss as he finished the last book in the series. Hume found that he did not have God-like knowledge, nor did he uncover the most basic truths in the world. In fact, Hume conceptualized his very own theory of knowledge based on the antithesis of Descartes’ method. Nonetheless, Hume was angry. Not only was his life now in complete disarray, but he wanted his money back. In an effort to expose the lies and deceit of Descartes’ text, not to mention to get his life back together, Hume sought justice on national television with the hard-nosed Judge Judy. The transcript of the trial, Hume vs. Descartes is as follows:
ANNOUNCER: You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Judith Sheindlin. The people are real; the cases are real; the rulings are final. This is her courtroom. This is Judge Judy.
BAILIFF: All parties on Hume vs. Descartes, step forward.
ANNOUNCER: David Hume, home-owner, is suing Rene Descartes, author of the best-selling book series “Method for Dummies,” for monetary losses and emotional suffering incurred when he followed the book’s practices.
BAILIFF: Your honor, this is case #457 in the matter of Hume vs. Descartes. Parties have been sworn in, Judge. [To audience] You may be seated.
JUDGE JUDY: I’ve read the case file. Mr. Hume, it says here that you are suing Mr. Descartes in the amount of $24,079.90. Explain this figure.
HUME: Well, your honor, as you know, the books cost me 2 payments of $39.95 each. Including the cost of shipping for each book in the series and compensation for the loss of my job, I estimated the total to be $24,079.90.
JUDGE JUDY: Sir, do you have the receipts for the books?
HUME: Yes. [Hume hands the Bailiff the receipts who passes them to the Judge]
JUDGE JUDY: (While looking at the receipts) Mr. Hume, I understand that you purchased Mr. Descartes’ books after seeing them advertised on an infomercial in the wee hours of the night. Is that correct?
HUME: Yes, your honor.
JUDGE JUDY: Tell me, what is a man of your age doing up at two in the morning watching television?
HUME: Your honor, at the time of my purchase of the books, I was having trouble falling asleep. At night, I would lay awake and wonder, “Why am I here, and what can I trust?” Then I saw the ad for Descartes’ book series, and I was immediately sold. His “method” promised me the ability to see the world as God sees it, to understand everything in its true light. Little did I know that it was a far-fetched dream…
JUDGE JUDY: Stop, stop, stop! Mr. Descartes, is it true that your infomercial promised what Mr. Hume claimed?
DESCARTES: Yes, and more, your honor. My books demonstrate how anyone can find the most basic truths upon which they should base their entire life. Furthermore, in my books, I reveal the true nature of reality and our relationship to the world, as God would see it. My books can be purchased for only two easy payments of $39.95!
JUDGE JUDY: Shhhhhhhhh! I’m listening to one person at a time! Continue to explain your “method,” Mr. Descartes.
DESCARTES: Your honor, my entire method rests upon the notion that every human is equally endowed with “reason” in both quantity and kind.
JUDGE JUDY: Then why don’t we all think alike?
DESCARTES: Let me quote my text: “The diversity of our opinions does not arise from the fact that some people are more reasonable than others, but solely from the fact that we lead our thoughts along different paths and do not take the same things into consideration.” In other words, we think differently because we all use our “reason” differently. It is my intention, therefore, to show people a method of reason that will lead them to unquestionable truths.
JUDGE JUDY: And exactly how does your method work?
DESCARTES: I have devised four simple rules. Number one: Do not make any careless assumptions. Number two: Examine all things to their most basic concepts. Number three: Organize your thoughts from the simplest to the most complex. And number four: Proceed carefully and slowly in your thoughts. Using these four rules, a foundation of basic truths can be constructed from which truths that are more complex can be deduced. It’s all in my books, which if you buy them within the next 15 minutes, I’ll throw in a free instruction video hosted by yours truly!
JUDGE JUDY: Not interested, sir! Now, I’m a smart lady, but I fail to see how your method enables one to see the world as God would. Please explain this to me.
DESCARTES: Ah, I apologize, your honor. Let me once again quote my work: “I experience that there is in me a certain faculty of judgment, which, like everything else that is in me, I undoubtedly received from God.” You see, our “reason” has been given to us by God, and when utilized properly, we never make a mistake. Thus, with a proper method such as mine, you can perceive things as they truly are, just like God. However, because we are finite beings, our knowledge is also finite, thereby limiting our mental range to a particular time and place.
HUME: Idiotic Neenkinpoopery!
JUDGE JUDY: Mr. Hume, this is my house! I own the air you breathe. You will not speak unless spoken to. Do you hear me? Mr. Descartes, tell me what “truths” you have found using your method.
DESCARTES: [Uncomfortably] I “know for certain that nothing is certain.” [Pause] However, even that is uncertain, so there may be something that is true… but I have yet to find it. [Hume laughs obnoxiously]
JUDGE JUDY: Be quiet Mr. Hume! It says here that you left your wife, your kids, and your job… all because of this book! Why?
HUME: [Immediately becomes teary-eyed, and fails to answer]
JUDGE JUDY: You will answer when I ask you a question, Mr. Hume. Why did you leave your family and your job?
HUME: [Sniffling] Your honor, I was just following the method prescribed by the book. According to Descartes, absolute truths are not found in the external world for we cannot trust our senses. Instead, real truth is found with pure reason, devoid of all social and worldly influences. So, desperate as I was, I left my job and my family to seek the power of inner truth. I secluded myself from all of humanity in a small hut several miles from my home. There, I sat and meditated days on end, searching for these “truths” Descartes so adamantly championed. Days, weeks, and months passed, yet I still had not found one absolute truth. Descartes’ books are a farce. I have now come to realize that it is impossible to objectively discern absolute truths. Descartes’ books are irresponsibly written and harmful to humanity. I demand to be compensated for my loss of work and for the books!
JUDGE JUDY: Alright, shut up! If Descartes is wrong, please enlighten me with your understanding of truth, Mr. Hume.
HUME: Your honor, I have come to the conclusion that a universal “Truth” does not exist. All knowledge is filtered through our senses. Even our most basic beliefs are just mere “impressions” formed by a web of social, political and sensory constructs. “According to my system, all reasonings are nothing but the effects of custom” or experience. Because it is “evidently impossible to fix any precise bounds to our authority, where we consult not experience,” “we shou’d in vain hope to attain an idea of force by consulting our own minds.”
JUDGE JUDY: Please speak English!
HUME: In other words, your honor, absolute truth is a corrupt ideology. There are no innate truths and our minds do not work independent from the world. Experience is the ruler of our ideas, of our perceptions, and of our reason. We function in no other way. Furthermore, we are at the mercy of our perceptual abilities. For example, just as a blind man cannot know if the color scarlet resembles the sound of a trumpet, we cannot know if all that we perceive is all of reality. There may, in fact, be many “unknown” qualities of objects that we are unable to “see.” Hence, logical claims that may be true in our minds, in fact, have no bearing on reality. This is how I see the world now, Descartes be damned!
JUDGE JUDY: That's it! I've heard enough. [Bangs gavel] I'm ready to rule.
BAILIFF: The Judge is ready to rule!
ANNOUNCER: Judge Judy has made her decision. Stay tuned.
ANNOUNCER: Judge Judy is ready to announce her decision.
JUDGE JUDY: Mr. Descartes, your ideas are intriguing, your marketing is savvy, but your reality is downright twisted. To think that you could convince me that your “method” actually works is unbelievable. Mr. Descartes, I am smarter than you on my worst day than you are on your best day. As for you Mr. Hume, you make me sick. Not only did you give in to this marketing scam, but you also left your family and your job. You’re a poor father, a weak individual, and quite frankly I don’t like you. Nonetheless, I believe your ideas are closer to reality. Therefore, I hereby demand that Mr. Descartes reimburse the plaintiff the full cost of the books including shipping and handling charges. However, Mr. Hume, your loss of work was your own stupidity; you shall not be awarded any additional compensation. Case dismissed. [Bangs gavel]
[Outside of the courtroom, both the defendant and plaintiff speak to the reporter]
REPORTER: Mr. Descartes, what is your reaction to the verdict?
DESCARTES: Judge Judy tries to be fair, but she ultimately fails. If she used my method, her judgment would be flawless, and I would not have to reimburse Mr. Hume for the books. [Staring into the camera] Judge Judy, and everyone else in this world, would benefit greatly from my book series, which can be purchased for only two easy payments of…
REPORTER: [Interrupting] Ok, Mr. Descartes, you can go now… Mr. Hume, what are you going to do now?
HUME: I plan to rid the world of any notion of universal truth, relatively speaking of course. Mr. Descartes will not sell another book if I have my way! [Turns to the camera, and gets on his knees] Sarah, please take me back! I promise I won’t leave the family ever again! [Whimpers]
REPORTER: Well, there you have it. A bogus epistemology and a broken family. Justice is served.