HUME AND EMPIRICISM - The Richmond Philosophy Pages

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HUME AND
EMPIRICISM
Hume – Scottish philosopher –
1711-1776. Epistemological approach set
out in two key works:
 David
A
Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740),
 Enquiry
(1748)
concerning Human Understanding

Key issues

Hume’s view that our senses provide the raw materials of thought
and knowledge – impressions and ideas.

‘Hume’s Fork’ and the attack on Rationalism.

Humean account of causation – the central and fundamental type of
inference we employ when investigating and thinking about the
world. Constant conjunction and Humean ‘projectivism’.

The problem of induction.
EMPIRICISM – HUMEAN MOTIVATIONS
All knowledge
begins with
impressions:
the
deliverances of
the senses.
Hume’s Copy
Principle:
Our mind
makes ideas:
faint copies
of
impressions
that enable
us to think
off-line.
“All our simple
ideas in their first
appearance are
derived from simple
impressions, which
are correspondent
to them, and which
they exactly
represent”
David Hume (1711-1776)
Proof
?
Impressions
‘enter with the
most force and
violence’ or are
more
‘vivacious’ than
ideas
People lacking either a
sensory modality (e.g.
taste) or impressions
(e.g. tastes of wine)
cannot form ideas of
these things.
Find me an idea
that does not
originate in
experience.
EMPIRICISM – HUMEAN MOTIVATIONS
What about
necessary
truths? And
metaphysical
concepts of
God and cause
and self?
The books of
metaphysics
should be
“consigned to
the flames”
There are no
substantial
(interesting,
metaphysical) a
priori knowable
truths.
Relation of ideas = analytic
and necessary truth.
“All bachelors are unmarried”
Hume’s Fork:
Any truth is
either a “relation
of ideas” or “a
matter of fact”
The idea of unmarried is
analytically part of the idea of
a bachelor.
Matter of fact = synthetic and
contingent truth.
But what about important
metaphysical truths such as
“God exists”? “Every event
has a cause”?
Either they are mere truths of
definition or they are, if true,
only contingently so.
“Bernard is a bachelor”
The idea of being a bachelor
is no part of the idea of
Bernard. It’s just a fact about
Bernard that he is a bachelor.
I can conceive of an uncaused
event, so it is not necessarily
true – not even by definition –
that every event has a cause.
Hume’s Fork
Necessary
Contingent
Bachelors are
unmarried
2+2=4
??
A priori
RELATIONS OF
IDEAS
(Analytic truths)
??
A posteriori
Bob is a bachelor
The sun is at the
centre of the solar
system
MATTERS OF
FACT
(Synthetic truths)
Rationalists
say that the
concept of
cause is an
innate concept
and that we
live in a world
where nothing
happens
without a
cause.
What’s a
necessary
connexion?
How can
experience
discover this?
X causes Y =
(i) X and Y are
spatiotemporally
contiguous.
(ii) X comes before Y
(iii) There is a
necessary connexion
between cause and
effect.
HUME AND CAUSATION
The concept
of cause is
learned from
experience.
We get the idea of
a necessary
connexion from
seeing X and Y
together many
times.
Necessity is
psychological
not
metaphysical.
So, causation boils down to the expectation
that Y will follow X.
So, what does it
mean to say that
one thing causes
another?
So reason cannot
discover causal
connections.
Furthermore, there’s
no real relation of
causation out there
in the world.
Causation is a
psychological relation
between
impressions/ideas.
Suppose that a
brick is thrown at a
window and it
breaks. We say that
the thrown brick
caused the broken
window.
But does it follow
logically from the
description of the
first event – the
thrown brick – that
the second event –
the broken window
– would follow?
No!

Fill in the gaps – ‘Hume’s motivations’ and
‘Hume, causation and induction’.

Consider why Hume says what he does. Make
a note of any difficulties you think he might face

Sources - the video worksheet, Ch. 9, Reason
and Experience booklet, Grayling handout.

Bonus points if you can fill in the blanks about
Pavlov…
Bonus points – Pavlov’s Dogs

Pavlov - stimulus-response model of explanation

When dogs fed a bell was rung.

The food (alone) sufficient to make the dogs salivate (unconditioned
response).

After a while the ringing of the bell alone causes the dogs to
salivate.

The conditioning history – habit – of the dogs determines their
response to the environment.

Basis for explanation and prediction.
Further reading and Homework


On Billiard Balls – Hume Against The Mechanists – RJP
Issue 3
http://www.richmond-philosophy.net/rjp/back_issues/rjp3_hill.pdf

For Thurs – (1) make sure you’ve finished the Locke
work – Explain and describe one criticism of innate
ideas and (2) Read the Hume and Empricism handout.

For next Mon - Explain with an example why the
Humean account of causation challenges
Rationalism.
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