Where does philosophy come from? Does it come out of human experience, an extension of ordinary human abilities to respond and reflect? Is an Enquiry or a Metaphysics a personal statement: Here is how I, a man, lived or tried to live, in my time, in my place, in my social milieu, in my part of the world? Is philosophy then indistinguishable from expressive essay writing, autobiography, or story telling? If so it seems that philosophy can make little claim to truth. If Kant and Hume write out of their own experience in the eighteenth century, it may have little relevance in the present. If they write about their experience as men of a certain class, it may have little relevance for women or working people. Their world is not our world. We are unlikely to be enchanted by countesses in Parisian salons or devastated by sexual scandal in Königsberg.
It is precisely the disavowal of contingency and dependence that informs many philosophers'sense of their discipline's identity and importance. The human agreeableness that is the basis for Hume's ethics should stand on its own, regardless of the charm of Hume the man. Reason provides the logical foundation for Kant's duty ethics, not one man's soured romantic ideals. Otherwise it seems that ethics is reduced to autobiography of antiquarian or literary interest only. The modern period begins with a sense of the dangers of such relativism. In Europe, with religious certainty gone, with the authority of the universal Catholic Church and the divine right of kings compromised, with even the heavens in doubt given new cosmologies, it could seem that nothing is real but a man's private and personal sensations and ideas. But if this is all, what happens to knowledge? Adrift in a bewildering flux of sensation, bombarded by inconsistent claims from unreliable authorities, nothing is certain.
His dramatic portrayal of this primal modern predicament makes Descartes