Sometimes it is hard to be sure what conclusion to draw from a Humean analysis, and he is easy to misrepresent. This is partly because one argument he is engaged in may raise a number of related issues that he has dealt with elsewhere, and some of his points seem contradictory. My wish is to consider some of the possible readings of David Hume’s critique of causation, as it appears in Section VII of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “On Necessary Connexion”, and their relation to the propositions of Section II, “Of the Origin of Ideas”, and Section X, “On Miracles”. I will offer criticisms and alternatives to Hume’s account(s) and conclude by picking which interpretation of Section VII best works for Hume, given certain arguments elsewhere in the Enquiry.
The following is a summary of the aspects of the problem of induction as presented in the Enquiry which concern my discussion.
Our assurance that certain sets of conditions are sufficient to produce certain effects is based on past experience that like has been conjoined with like. The belief in necessary connection entails (Hume will conclude that it amounts to) a belief that events similar to those experienced in the past will be accompanied by similar conjuncts. Such a belief may only be arrived at inductively, and induction does not discover necessity.1
This argument is against the supposed necessity of connection. “Necessity” here may refer to logical necessity, or it may not distinguish between this and physical necessity. To be physically necessary is to be sufficiently caused, but contingent upon the conditions of the event and the properties of all objects involved. Physical...
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... but one about reason, that it is not this, but habit, which forms the basis of our beliefs. While it may be the case that denying an empirical fact may not result in a contradiction, Hume seems to be suggesting that it would still be irrational to do so. That abstracting from events to laws is a rational, though inductive, act seems hard to deny. Thus, at best, Hume can only show that it is experience which first provides the matter for reason.
Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1977)
1 David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1977), p.46
4 I think both Descartes and Kant had perfectly good a priori demonstrations of the existence of the self, which is all one needs to reach the concept of existence.
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