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Humes Problem, Continued


I left off with Humes problem at the problem of induction. Hume had argued to the point where it became logically impossible to argue for any truth beyond what have experienced. This meant that the use of induction, where general statements are induced from past experience and general practice in accumulating knowledge independent of the senses became impossible.

It is best here to unpack some of the arguments that are going on or else we risk casting out the baby with the bathwater in making some knowledge impossible. Hume's logic ran as follows;

1)We have knowledge of things we have directly experienced,
2)We assume that nature will always remain consistent,
3)Unless some causal force intervenes, that past truth will be true in future.

e.g. The sun rose this morning,
Unless the earth stops rotating, I know it will rise tomorrow.

We assume in our daily lives that a relationship exist between an action we term "cause" and a following action we term "effect". In daily use a cause has an effect. There is some sense that the effect belongs to the action of the cause and is in some way bound up with it. The idea that a cause has some tangible relation with its effect and that the two are not seperate entities entirely, would be accepted by most of us.

Hume's difficulty is that our reasoning on cause and effect is flawed. There is nothing in reason to allow us to assume that there is a tangible relation between cause and effect. An extension of this reasoning is that there is no means to infer that a billiard ball moving toward another ball will move the other ball. What we lose is the idea of necessity. That there is an effect which is knowable in an action before it is taken, even if we cannot know what such an effect is, we can know it will happen. The idea of necessity is the major casualty of Humes argument against the
rationality of causality.

The problem lies in the fact that casuality cannot be considered to be something we can know independent of experience. For Hume we cannot support the existence of Causality a priori i.e. reason for the existence of cause/effect relations using logic only. For Hume the only place where something is necessary, i.e. must logically occur, is in cases of a priori (abstract) reasoning like mathematics and logic. He argues that no existence of causal necessity can be proven in the world. It is simply belief.

a=b and
c=a then
b=a necessarily.

There can be no other way and we can know the latter proposition only from the prior two. This is a priori logic we can know independent of experience, and b=a is necessary. This situation cannot occur in respect of cause and effect. Hume aruges that such abstract reasoning cannot support the existence of necessity or cause and effect.

Hume sums it up nicely

In short, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. So it can’t be discovered in the cause,and the first invention or conception of it a priori must be wholly arbitrary. Furthermore, even after it has been suggested, the linking of it with the cause must still appear as arbitrary, because
plenty of other possible effects must seem just as consistent and natural from reason’s point of view. So there isn’t the slightest hope of reaching any conclusions about causes and effects without the help of experience.

Basically, cause and effect do not exist. There is two seperate events whose relation is spontaneous. The existence of causality or a necessary relationship between the two takes place in our imagination where we believe that a connection exists between the two event but in fact none can be substantiated or supported through reason.

Hume again;

"When we reason a priori, considering some object or cause merely as it appears to the mind and independently of any observation of its behaviour, it could never prompt us to think of any other item, such as its effect. Much less could it show us the unbreakable connection between them. It would take a very clever person to discover by reasoning that heat makes crystals and cold makes ice without having had experience of the effects of heat and cold!"
"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

That from the cause we cannot know its effect, at least a-priori is taken as proof that there exists no tangible realtionship between the two events.

This is Humes major sceptical argument. From such a position, the fate of metaphysics and examinations of the human condition which take place above and beyond experience are no longer substantiated since the main technique by which metaphysics takes place is now ull and void.

For Hume things which have tangibility exist. Since necessity is intangible it cannot be said to exist. What occurs is conjunctions of events from which our imagination creates a relationship that doesnt exist.

It is a tough argument for while inferences often hold in to the future, the logic is not infallible. Causal inferences accepting necessity as the medium between cause and effect cannot be sustained through logical reasoning.

This argument provoked serious response from Kant who rethought the entire metaphysical enterprise in some deep-ranging and complex work. The difficulty in trying to argue against Hume is trying to prove that casual necessity is a condition which we can know and reson for a priori, with no requirement for experience but which yield information about the world that it not contained in its core idea.

Similar to saying that in the equation: 1+2 = 3
the idea of 1 and 2 is not the same as the idea of three, i.e. that the idea of three is not located in the premise "1+2", so that operating maths, which can be done without experience can give new information.

Whether causal necessity can be proven to fit into such a category is essential for any project of metaphysics, especially those examining universal morality and other universal concepts (i.e. human nature).

The scepticism about necessity and its role in our thought is one of Humes major contributions to the philsophical discipline. He asked questions, the answers to which had been dogma for 2,000 years. He awoke a realisation that a philsophical system required an adequete foundation to continue and challenged us all to prove that the foundation for out thought is rational and not simply and exercise of the imagination. While im sure none of you will head out this afternoon deeply sceptical about causality, Humes argument should make us consider why it is we use casuality and whether it exists in any rationally tangible sense.

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