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Essay on Max Black and Humean Skepticism

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Max Black and Humean Skepticism


In this essay I will argue that the Humean problem of induction is only truly problematic when a strange, impossible definition is given to the term “reasonable”. I will begin by explaining what it is I understand Hume’s induction problem to be, and to try to flesh out the issues relevant to my case. I will then examine Max Black’s proposed solution to the problem, and show in what ways this solution is useful and why it is ultimately unconvincing. In this latter context I will invoke the work of Wesley Salmon, and then try to solve the problem that Salmon poses.

Hume’s problem of induction is that inductive reasoning is not, in fact, reasonable. That is, we are not justified in reasoning inductively. This is because he believes that, in order to justify induction, we must use some form of the Uniformity Principle. This Uniformity Principle (henceforth noted as UP) states “[t]hat instances, of which we have had no experience, must resemble those, of which we have had experience, and that the course of nature continues always uniformly the same” (Hume 89). He also believes that “we must provide one of two types of justification for UP: (a) Show that UP is the conclusion of a deductive argument, or (b) show that UP is based on experience” (Crumley 15). He shows that it is not possible to prove this principle deductively because of problems of circularity, and that to show that it is based on experience is to be similarly circular. That is, providing evidence for something and using this as a justification for a believe is precisely what induction is all about, and so one ends up justifying induction through induction. (Crumley 14-16)

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...is only really problematic when an unpalatable and unattainable definition of “reasonable” is used. I have shown that Black provides a good start to the problem, but that his solution is ultimately unconvincing to skeptics of induction. And I’ve attempted to address the problem that Salmon brings up; that is, I’ve attempted to show that it is improper and non-valuable to try to provide reasons for induction. My conclusion, then, is that as long as being reasonable is something that is possible to be, humans are, in fact, reasonable.

Works Cited

1. Black, Max. Caveats and Critiques. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975.

2. Crumley, Jack S II. An Introduction to Epistemology. Mountain View, California: Mayfield, 1999.

3. Salmon, Wesley. “Should We Attempt to Justify Induction?” Philosophical Studies 8 (April 1957): 33-48.


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