Wednesday, November 09, 2011

David Hume (1711-1776):  Regarding Cause and Effect.

"According to the precedent doctrine, there are no objects which by the mere survey, without consulting experience, we can determine to be the causes of any other; and no objects, which we can certainly determine in the same manner not to be the causes. Any thing may produce any thing. Creation, annihilation, motion, reason, volition; all these may arise from one another, or from any other object we can imagine. Nor will this appear strange, if we compare two principles explained above, THAT THE CONSTANT CONJUNCTION OF OBJECTS DETERMINES THEIR CAUSATION, AND [Part I. Sect. 5.] THAT, PROPERTY SPEAKING, NO OBJECTS ARE CONTRARY TO EACH OTHER BUT EXISTENCE AND NON-EXISTENCE." - A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part III, Section XV

In other words, correlation can be observed, but causation is a myth - or at least causation is something that Hume believes that human understanding is not capable of discerning.  I have already listened to Hume lecture for several hours, so I must recall back to an earlier comment:

"Ideas produce the images of themselves in new ideas; but as the first ideas are supposed to be derived from impressions, it still remains true, that all our simple ideas proceed either mediately or immediately, from their correspondent impressions." - Book I, Part I, Section VII

Here Hume seems to be saying that there is a strict order of cause and effect where impressions give rise to ideas that give rise to other ideas.  Based on the fact that those who are born blind never have an impression or idea of color, he also argues that no idea can come into being without there being a corresponding impression.  Hume does allow for some possibility of ideas not caused by impressions, but then gives us this:

"I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can; and this may serve as a proof, that the simple ideas are not always derived from the correspondent impressions; though the instance is so particular and singular, that it is scarce worth our observing, and does not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim."

It seems we are reaching a point where Hume asserts that Cause and Effect are concepts easily demonstrated for the science of human opinions, but not for mechanics.  We can go further and say that Hume claims that human's are subjected to the laws of Cause and Effect, but otherwise nature is not.  Another note is that Hume is quite adept at discerning cause and effect regarding human opinions in other subtle ways:

"Custom has two original effects upon the mind, in bestowing a facility in the performance of any action or the conception of any object; and afterwards a tendency or inclination towards it; and from these we may account for all its other effects, however extraordinary." - Book II, Part III, Section V.

Given the amount of ink spilled on like topics, it is tempting to say that Hume's philosophy is an effect where the cause is a desire to employ political rhetoric as a substitute for the scientific method.  Political rhetoric is full of ad hominems such as "my policy proposals are correct because my opponent is a womanizer".  Thus, the various ad hominems of political rhetoric are categorized, dissected and presented in a long winded manner as if they are the only means whereby humans form their opinions.

Book I Part III Section XV does outline a few criteria for determining Cause from Effect, but they are such as to be no more than what the simplest of humans will deduce, while providing us no guidance for anything of moderate or greater difficulty.  In this manner I feel that Francis Bacon writing 120 years earlier was by far the superior scientific philosopher.

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