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Hume Materials related to the lecture of 2/10

Lecture hand-out

David Hume 1711-1776
“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

About last week:

If a tree falls in a forest when there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? George Berkeley answers that if there is really no one around, then not only is there no sound, but there is no tree, and no forest. In A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge his surprising answer receives its fullest defense.What we now call the Principles is actually only the first part of a book Berkeley once hoped would include at least two parts. Part II was supposed to be about ethics, freedom of will, and the nature of God, but Berkeley lost the manuscript while traveling in Italy, and never found the time “to do so disagreeable a thing as writing twice on the same subject” (Letter to Johnson, Works II, p. 282).

-opening of Kenneth Winkler’s “Editor’s Introduction” to the Hackett (1982) edition of the Principles

[Note: I am not endorsing Winkler’s reading of Berkeley in the first paragraph of the above quotation.  In fact, I think Berkeley would answer the “tree in the forest” question very differently from how Winkler proposes.]

And now for our feature presentation:

Hume and Two Disasters of Empiricism
1. Empiricism vs. Rationalism

2. Hume’s Conceptual Empiricism and the idea of Necessary Connection

-Impressions and Ideas (317)
-The Empiricist Principle (317)
-Two Arguments for the Principle (317-318)
-“One Contradictory Phenomenon” (318-319)
-“Banishing Jargon” (319-320)<
-“Power, Force, Energy, or Necessary Connection” (350)
-The Search for the Impression of Power, Part I: The Outward Senses (351-352)
-The Search for the Impression of Power, Part II: Berkeley’s “Pretension” (352-359)

(see also Locke, 41-42, and Berkeley, section 28, p. 161-162)

-Hume’s “Two” Definitions of Cause (362)

-Def. 1a (Constant Conjunction): “an object, followed by another, and where all objects similar to the first are followed by objects similar to the second”

-Def. 1b (Subjunctive Conditional): “an object, followed by another…where, if the first object had not been, the second had never existed”

-Def. 2 (Subjective): “an object, followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other”

-Hume’s admission: “Yet so imperfect are the ideas which we form concerning it, that it is impossible to give any just definition of cause, except what is drawn from something extraneous and foreign to it.”

3. Hume’s Doctrinal Empiricism and His Skeptical Argument of Section IV of the Enquiry (Over)

[second page of hand-out]
Hume’s Sceptical Argument of Enquiry, Sect. IV

Scope: All matters of fact that go “beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory” (p. 323.2) — we will call these “S-propositions”

Force: ??? But we’ll start with knowledge.

P: When I release this eraser, it will fall.

U: Uniformity of Nature: “The future will resemble the past” (p. 332.4): The laws and regularities of Nature, for the most part, will continue to hold in the future. Better for Hume’s purposes would be: Phenomena I haven’t observed follow (or followed or will follow) the same laws and regularities that have governed what I have observed.

The Argument:

1. If a proposition is a matter of fact, then one can know it only if one has come to know it through experience.

2. P is an S-proposition.

So, 3. I can know that P only if I have come to know it through experience. (from 1,2)

4. One can come to know an S-proposition through experience only if one already knows that U.

So, 5. I can come to know that P through experience only if I already know that U. (from 4,2)

6. U is an S-proposition.

So, 7. One can know that U only if one has come to know it through experience. (from 1,6)

So, 8. One can come to know that U through experience only if one already knows that U. (from 4,6)

9. If one can come to know that U through experience only if one already knows that U,  then one cannot come to know that U through experience.

So, 10 One cannot come to know that U through experience. (from 8,9)

So, 11 One cannot know that U. (from 7,10)

So, 12 I cannot come to know that P through experience. (from 5,11)

So, 13 I cannot know that P. (from 3,12)

Further Item for further thought:

At lecture, I encouraged you to construe the above argument as presenting you with a puzzle: Since the argument is valid (well, I think so — check it out for yourself: do any of the lines with a “So” in front of them fail to follow from the lines they’re alleged to follow “from”?), either one of the premises (the lines not preceded by a “So”) is false or the (wild) conclusion (step 13) is true.  Well, which of the premises do you think is false?  Or do you accept the conclusion?  Do you have anything to tell a skeptic about your handling of the puzzle that might help make it easier to accept your handling?  To answer these question is to start down the path toward a solution to the puzzle.  Here’s the further suggestion for further thought: compare your solution to Hume’s puzzle with Hume’s own “skeptical solution”, which he presents in section V of the Enquiry.

Hume compared with Berkeley on Materialism

Having covered Berkeley’s reactions to the two forms of materialism (naive and philosophical materialism) on 2/3, I would have liked to have had time to compare Hume’s reactions, which, it seems to me, must have been heavily influenced by Berkeley.  Since I didn’t have time to discuss it in lecture, let me very briefly say something here about the matter (!).

1. Hume on common/vulgar/naive/unreflective/natural materialism.

a.  Hume agrees with Berkeley about the content of the common belief: we take our sensations to be the physical objects, and we believe the objects to be mind-independent.

b.  He agrees with Berkeley that this belief, given the content specified in (a), cannot stand up to reflection; it is “destroyed by the slightest philosophy” (p. 420).

c.  Hume does not offer Berkeley’s account of why we come to hold this belief (see section 56 of the Principles for Berkeley’s account), but instead claims that the belief is the result of a “natural instinct”.

These aspects of Hume’s treatment of common materialism come out in several places in Part XII of the Enquiry, but, to just list one, features (a) and (c) are both shown in the following, rather compact passage:

It seems evident, that men are carried, by a natural instinct or pre-possession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or even almost before the use of reason, we always suppose an external universe, which depends not on our perception, but would exist, though we and every sensible creature were absent or annihilated….It seems also evident, that, when men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any suspicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other. (p. 419)

2. Hume on reflective/philosophical materialism.

a.  Hume seems to agree with Berkeley that this philosophical belief (that the real bodies are mind-independent resembling causes of our mind-dependent sensations), would need to be backed by some argument — we need some good reason to believe in the material objects posited by this theory.

b.  He agrees with Berkeley that there is no good reason for belief in these philosopher’s objects, though his argument(s) for this conclusion is significantly different from Berkeley’s (compare the bottom paragraph of p. 420 and the top two paragraphs of p. 421 with sections 18-20 of Berkeley’s Principles).

[Note: Hume hints that the natural belief in matter may not stand in need of argument, or at least that a lack of justifying argument is less of a problem for natural materialism than it is for philosophical materialism.  Like Berkeley, Hume’s “evidentialist” argument is aimed at philosophical materialism.  His complaint against natural materialism is not that there’s no evidence for it, but rather that it’s evident to the slightest reflection that sensations can’t exist mind-independently.]

c.  In Hume, unlike Berkeley, the philosopher’s system is seen as inevitable outcome of reflection on the problems inherent in the common view — we are “necessitated by reasoning…to embrace [this] new system” (p. 420).  So this new system is, in its own way, natural; it’s the natural outcome of reflection.  Hume writes, “These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say this house and that tree, are nothing but perceptions in the mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences, which remain uniform and independent.”  In Berkeley, by contrast, one gets the feeling that the philosopher’s system is just an arbitrary attempt to escape the problems — an attempt that some philosophers just happened to come up with.  In Hume, however, this system — perhaps more accurately called “reflective” than “philosophical” — is a natural and inevitable result of reflecting on the problems of the unreflective, instinctual belief.

d.  Still, Hume agrees with Berkeley that, in the final analysis, this reflective materialism won’t stand up to scrutiny.

3.  Hume’s solution?

Berkeley has a solution to the problem: Ditch the philosopher’s objects, keep the common man’s objects — like the common man, take the sensations to be the bodies –, but just give up the mind-independence of bodies.  For Hume, there is no solution.  Nature is too strong for us to give up mind-independence.  We could only pretend to be Berkeleyans.  The common belief in matter will force itself back on us whenever we “leave the study”.  In the study, when we reflect, we naturally tend toward a different materialism, but one which we can’t hold on to for long, and which ultimately doesn’t stand up to scrutiny anyway.  There’s no good solution.  This seems to be another display of the “whimsical condition of mankind” (p. 427).  As Hume writes, summing up our whimsical predicament:

This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more philosophical sceptics will always triumph, when they endeavor to introduce universal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge and inquiry. Do you follow the instincts and propensities of nature, may they say, in assenting to the veracity of sense? But these lead you to believe that the very perception or sensible image is the external object. Do you disclaim this principle, in order to embrace a more rational opinion, that the perceptions are only representations of something external?  You here depart from your natural propensities and more obvious sentiments; and yet are not able to satisfy your reason, which can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove, that the perceptions are connected with any external objects. (p. 421)

Note: I first studied the attacks of Berkeley and Hume on materialism in connection with a fascinating materialist response to those attacks by a contemporary of Hume, the Scottish philosopher, Thomas Reid.  The result was my first publication, “Reid’s Anti-Sensationalism and His Realism,” which was about Berkeley and Hume almost as much as it was about Reid.  That paper is now available on-line at JSTOR, at least for those who have access to JSTOR, which, I think, includes all Yalies.  So, those interested in reading about the other side of this debate (the materialist side), and also some more about Berkeley and Hume’s side, can do so by:
1. clicking here
2. clicking “Vol. 91-Vol. 100 (1982-1991)”
3. under “Vol. 98 (1989)”, clicking “Issue: 3”
4. under “Reid’s Anti-Sensationalism and His Realism”, clicking “Article”
(Or, of course, you can read it the old-fashioned way: By going to library and reading it in the 1989 (vol. 98) Philosophical Review.)

What?! No Cartoons?!

Well, I remember from when I taught at NYU, not only seeing, but actually participating in the making of, a cartoon that would have been very relevant to our discussion.  Unfortunately, I don’t have it anymore — if I ever had possession of it.  Now I can only describe it, and, of course, no description can do justice to a cartoon.  (So, you’ll have to trust me: It was great.)  It was drawn by Jesse Prinz, then an undergrad at NYU, and now an assistant professor at Washington University.  The idea was mine.  Jesse drew a great picture of Hume sitting on a chair and a “patient” lying nearby on a couch.  The title was something like Undergoing Conceptual Analysis.  And the words at the bottom of the cartoon were: “And when you see the first billiard ball roll into the second, how does that make you feel?”

Update: Jesse has now re-drawn the cartoon described above, and, through the wonders of modern technology, it’s already available by clicking here.

The Kingdoms of Experience
In the precious winds, they rot
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