Lecture 15 Empiricism. David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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1 Lecture 15 Empiricism David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 1

2 Agenda 1. David Hume 2. Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact 3. Cause and Effect 4. Can We Rationally Justify that the Future Will be Like the Past? 5. Skeptical Solution: Custom or Habit 2

3 David Hume Scottish philosopher and historian ( ). Empiricist. Was never able to secure a university teaching position. Wrote A Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. 3

4 Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact There are two domains of inquiry: 1. Relations of Ideas Can be proven as certain. Doesn t require attention to anything that exists in the universe. For example, mathematical truths such as 3 x 5 = 30 / Matters of Fact The contraries of matters of fact are still possible, because they aren t contradictions and can be intelligibly conceived. For example, The sun will rise tomorrow is a matter of fact. It s contrary: The sun will not rise tomorrow is not a contradiction and can be conceived. 4

5 Cause and Effect Matters of fact are based on the relation of cause and effect. I venture to assert, as true without exception, that knowledge about causes is never acquired through a priori reasoning, and always comes from our experience of finding that particular objects are constantly associated with one other (2). A priori reasoning = reasoning that is independent of experience. A posteriori reasoning = reasoning that comes from experience. 5

6 Beliefs about Cause and Effect are Based on Experience Suppose for example that I see one billiard ball moving in a straight line towards another: even if the contact between them should happen to suggest to me the idea of motion in the second ball, aren t there a hundred different events that I can conceive might follow from that cause? May not both balls remain still? May not the first bounce straight back the way it came, or bounce off in some other direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we prefer just one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? Our a priori reasonings will never reveal any basis for this preference (3). 6

7 How does Experience Justify Our Reasoning about Cause and Effect? To the question What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? the proper answer seems to be that they are based on the relation of cause and effect. When it is further asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings about cause and effect? we can answer in one word, experience. But if we persist with questions, and ask, What are inferences from experience based on? this raises a new question that may be harder still (3). Matters of Fact Cause and Effect Experience How does experience justify our inference from cause to effect? 7

8 We Infer that the Future Will be Like the Past I have found that such and such an object has always had such and such an effect. I foresee that other objects which appear similar will have similar effects. The second proposition is always inferred from the first; and if you like I ll grant that it is rightly inferred. But if you insist that the inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I challenge you to produce the reasoning (4). Experience can only ever tell us about what happened in the past. How does it justify that causes in the future will produce similar effects that we experienced in the past? 8

9 Can We Rationally Justify that the Future Will be Like the Past? There are only two sorts of reasoning: 1. Demonstrative reasoning about relations of ideas. 2. Factual reasoning about matters of fact. If experience rationally justifies that the future will be similar to the past, it must be based on one of these two sorts of reasoning. 9

10 No 1. It is not a contradiction to assume the future will not be like the past, therefore no demonstrative reasoning in involved. 2. If we try to use factual reasoning to rationally justify our inference that the future will be similar to the past, then we are begging the question! So if there are arguments to justify us in trusting past experience and making it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments can only be probable; i.e. they must be of the kind (2) that concern matters of fact and real existence, to put it in terms of the classification I have given. But probable reasoning, if I have described it accurately, can t provide us with the argument we are looking for. According to my account, all arguments about existence are based on the relation of cause and effect; our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and in drawing conclusions from experience we assume that the future will be like the past. So if we try to prove this assumption by probable arguments, i.e. arguments regarding existence, we shall obviously be going in a circle, taking for granted the very point that is in question (5). 10

11 Why Do We Always Infer that the Future Will be Like the Past? It is custom or habit. When we are inclined to behave or think in some way, not because it can be justified by reasoning or some process of the understanding but just because we have behaved or thought like that so often in the past, we always say that this inclination is the effect of custom. In using that word we don t claim to give the basic reason for the inclination. All we are doing is to point out a fundamental feature of human nature which everyone agrees is there, and which is well known by its effects. Perhaps that is as far as we can go (60). 11

12 Summary of Hume s Argument Question: Matters of fact are based on the relation of cause and effect. Are our beliefs about cause and effect rationally justified? Answer: No. 1. We experience the constant conjunction of causes and effects in the past, and INFER that causes in the future will have similar effects as they did in the past. 2. Reasoning can only be based on either relations of ideas or matters of fact. However, the inference from the past to the future cannot be based on either. I. It can t be based on relations of ideas because it is conceivable and not contradictory to think II. that the future will NOT be like the past. It can t be based on matters of fact because this would be circular and would beg the question. 3. Therefore, our beliefs about matters of fact are not rationally justified. Skeptical Solution: We believe that the future will be like the past out of custom, habit, or natural instinct and NOT reason. Nonetheless, this allows us to function in the world. 12

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