PHIL 2160 Lecture Notes - Lecture 22: Ascendant, Causal Inference, Pyrrhonism
SchoolUniversity of Guelph
Course CodePHIL 2160
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Lecture – Hume
Problem of induction – custom and habit, belief, problem of the criterion (what are we going to
measure our claims about the world by?)
Hume is an irrationalist about all beliefs we have about the world – he offers us an irrationalist
account of causal inference
A priori demonstrative (math and logic; abstract ideas), and a posteriori reasoning (matters of fact),
which are distinct
Pg 543: no object ever discovers either the causes which produced it or the effects which rise from it.
Nor can reason unassisted by experience ever draw any real inference concerning matters of fact.
We shift to a different kind of reasoning when we discuss matters of fact
When you eat bread, you think there is a connection between bread and nourishment
For Locke, a yellow lemon is an object with powers in it to produce yellow qualities in me
The assumption in the bread example is that there are qualities in the bread – we are making
problematic assumptions, according to Hume. If we saw bread for the very first time, we could look
at it and study it but we would not conclude that bread provides nourishment. Only way you can
reach this conclusion is if you eat the bread or if you identify something similar to the bread that
Our causal relations between things can only arise from repeated sequences of experience
When you see things repeated over and over, your imagination creates connections between them –
imagination forms a necessary connection
From causes which appear similar, we expect similar events. This is the sum of all our experimental
We form a belief about connections against our will – we are forced to believe this, especially when
we have habitual experience of that sequence of events
We call events causal when we perceive them sequentially over and over again – with sufficient
repetition, we are compelled to believe certain connections are necessary
Our beliefs about the world are based on past experience, and expectations we form about the future
Beliefs, for Hume, are involuntary, and are basically impulsive feelings
Hume is trying to psychologically account for belief – he is a natural philosopher
Causal experiences are a matter of imagination, past experiences, and a belief that the future will be
like the past
Problem of the criterion: what’s the difference between assuming that bread provides nourishment
and assuming that we will be happy every time Venus is ascendant (astrology)?
It would be justified to say that I will be hungrier after eating a whole loaf of bread even though a
whole loaf has made me full every other night. But, due to my past experiences, I wouldn’t really
believe that that loaf of bread will make me hungrier
oIt’s all going to boil down to instinct for Hume
o“nothing can be more serviceable than to be once thoroughly convinced of the force of the
Pyrrhonian doubt and of the possibility that anything but the strong power of natural instinct
could free us from it” (599)
Proper subjects of science and inquiry?
oDemonstrative sciences: quantity and number
oMatters of fact: experience and empirical facts; qualities; causes and effects
What can humans know?
oImmediate sensation is true – it is undeniable and known immediately
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