David Hume and Future Occurrences

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In An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume demonstrates how there is no way to rationally make any claims about future occurrences. According to Hume knowledge of matters of fact come from previous experience. From building on this rationale, Hume goes on to prove how, as humans we can only make inferences on what will happen in the future, based on our experiences of the past. But he points out that we are incorrect to believe that we are justified in using our experience of the past as a means of evidence of what will happen in the future. Since we have only experience of the past, we can only offer propositions of the future. Hume classifies human into two categories; “Relations of Ideas,” and “Matters of Fact.” (240) “Relations of ideas” are either intuitively or demonstratively certain, such as in Mathematics (240). It can be affirmed that 2 + 2 equals 4, according to Hume’s “relations of ideas.” “Matters of fact” on the other hand are not ascertained in the same manner as “Relations of Ideas.” The ideas that are directly caused by impressions are called "matters of fact". With “matters of fact,” there is no certainty in establishing evidence of truth since every contradiction is possible. Hume uses the example of the sun rising in the future to demonstrate how as humans, we are unjustified in making predictions of the future based on past occurrences. As humans, we tend to use the principle of induction to predict what will occur in the future. Out of habit, we assume that sun will rise every day, like it has done in the past, but we have no basis of actual truth to make this justification. By claiming that the sun will rise tomorrow according to Hume is not false, nor is it true. Hume illustrates that “the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because it can never imply a contradiction and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness as if ever so conformable to reality” (240). Just because the sun has risen in the past does not serve as evidence for the future. Thus, according to Hume, we are only accurate in saying that there is a fifty- percent chance that the sun will rise tomorrow. Hume felt that all reasoning concerning matter of fact seemed to be founded on the relation between cause and effect.

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