1. Explain Hume’s empiricist criterion of knowledge.
2. Explain how Hume uses this empiricist criterion of meaning to critique cause and effect.
Hume’s Empiricist Criterion of Knowledge (Kenny, pp. 256-257)
Ideas are copies of impressions. (256)
Ideas and sense impressions are not the same.
Sense impressions come first.
There’s “no idea without antecedent impression.” (257)
Experience supports this. A blind man has no idea of color.
Those who are not blind have an idea of color because they have had sense impressions of color.
This applies only to simple ideas. We can mentally construct complex ideas (e.g., of the New Jerusalem) out of simple ideas.
Complex ideas can be analyzed into their component parts, which are ultimately single sense impressions.
For Hume knowledge is based on sense impressions, or sense-perception.
Sense impressions are more “vivid,” more “lively,” more “forceful than ideas.
The sense impression of “red” is more vivid than the idea of “red.”
For Hume ideas are epistemologically inferior to impressions.
Here Hume goes against the Platonic tradition. For Plato ideas are more vivid than sense impressions.
For Plato “ideas” are the proper object of study. “Ideas come first, for Plato.
Hume reverses this. Singular sense perceptions come first.
This is how Hume attacks metaphysics. (257)
If an idea does not come from a simple, single sense impression, then it is meaningless.
Hume uses this reasoning to criticize the relation of cause and effect.
On Cause & Effect (Kenny, pp. 260-263)
Western philosophers and scientists traditionally believed that to know something fully one must know the cause upon which it necessarily depends. Hume argues that such knowledge is impossible.
Remember that, for Hume, knowledge is grounded in single sense impressions.
“Redness” can be an inherent quality of objects (like “This apple is red”) but “causation” cannot be any particular inherent quality of objects. (260)
Every effect must have a cause. But this does not mean that every event is an effect.
What do our senses tell us? We see are “relationships between objects.”
We see that causes and effects must be contiguous (next) to each other.
We see that causes must be prior to their effects.
But Hume denied that there must be a necessary connection between cause and effect.
This is because I can think of an effect without thinking of a cause of it. If there was a necessary connection between cause and effect I would not be able to think of an effect without thinking of its cause, just as I cannot think of a triangle without thinking of it as having three sides, necessarily.
NOTE: I cannot think of a triangle that does not have 3 sides. ‘3-sidedness’ is necessarily connected with the idea of a ‘triangle.’
But I can think of an effect without a cause.
I can think of the pizza on the table without thinking of what caused it to come into being.
Therefore there is no necessary connection between cause and effect.
“There is no absurdity in conceiving something coming into existence, or undergoing a change, without any cause at all.”
There is therefore no absurdity in conceiving of an event occurring without a cause of some particular kind.
“As all distinct ideas are separate from each other, and as the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, it will be easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment, and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause or productive principle.” (260)
“Hume’s answer is that the observation of the resemblance produces a new impression in the mind.” (261)
Once we have observed a number of instances of B following A, we feel a determination of the mind to pass from A to B.
“It is here that we find the origin of the idea of necessary connection. Necessity is ‘nothing but an internal impression of the mind, or a determination to carry our thoughts from one object to another.’”
Customary conjunction produces an impression in our mind that, when we see the cause, we expect the effect. This is where the idea of “necessary connection” is derived.
In Hume we have three new “principles of great importance.”
1. Cause and effect must be distinct existences, each conceivable without the other.
2. The causal relation is to be analyzed in terms of contiguity, precedence, and constant conjunction.
b. Prior to (in time)
c. Always together
3. It is not a necessary truth that every beginning of existence has a cause.
a. Because I can think of effects without also thinking of their causes.
Kenny writes: “To this day the agenda for the discussion of the causal relationship is the one set by Hume.” (262)
The causal relationship between any two objects is based on experience.
What does experience tell us? Only that the cause is prior in time and contiguous with its effect.
Experience DOES NOT establish a necessary connection between cause and effect. Because we can imagine the effect without also thinking of the cause.
We think there is something in the cause that produces the effect. This is a mistake.
Our past experiences have habituated us to think that way.
We have seen in the past that B often follows A and never occurs without it, our mind associates B with A such that the presence of one determines the mind to think of the other.