Cause and Effect in David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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Cause and Effect in David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume states, “there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion” (Hume, 1993: 41). Hume establishes in section II that all ideas originate from impressions that employ the senses (11). Therefore, in order for there to be an idea of power or “necessary connexion,” there must be impressions of this connection present in single instances of cause and effect; if there are no such impressions, then there cannot be an idea of “necessary connexion” (52). To illustrate his statement, Hume examines four situations: bodies interacting in the world, mind causing actions of the body, mind causing ideas of ideas, and God as the source of power. I will highlight Hume’s reasons and outline his arguments to establish that there is no “connexion” between cause and effect on the basis of single instances.

Hume’s first reflection focuses on worldly bodies. Assuming that a “necessary connexion” exists between cause and effect, this effect could be determined, without prior experience, through reasoning, upon observation of the cause alone. We, however, observe the body and we observe the effect on the body or system but “the power or force, which actuates the whole machine [universe or chain of effects] is entirely concealed from us, and never discovers itself in any of the sensible qualities of body” (42). Hence, this situation demonstrates no impression of, and therefore no idea of, “necessary connexion” in “single instances of their (bodies) operation” (42).

The second reflection in...

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...out being ever able to comprehend any thing like connexion between them” (46). He expresses that this conjunction through similar experience is what allows us to relate cause and effect relatively accurately.

On the other hand, Hume entertains the situation that “it is God himself, … which we erroneously attribute to our own power and efficacy” (47). Hume argues that “there must arrise a strong suspicion … (when we arrive at) conclusions so extraordinary, and so remote from common life and experience” (48). Further, Hume illustrates that no matter how ignorant we are “of the manner in which bodies operate on each other” we are equally ignorant of the supreme mind; we should reject the more unintelligible prospect (48).

Works Cited

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 2nd edition. Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis. 1993.

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