David Hume is known as one of the empiricists that argue that there are no innate ideas, and that all knowledge comes from experience. Hume’s focus on causation opened the discussion on how we can learn about cause and effect through our experiences. Hume begins the discussion by concluding that the reason humans perceive cause and effect is because of a habit that associates seeing two types of events in constant conjunction. 

Hume determines that we can not gain a lot of knowledge from our experiences regarding causation. If we take two events, A and B, we can say that A causes B when they happen at the same time. If we have event A, we can also find event B, and because of consistency, we can argue that these events will continue to perpetuate. This is how Hume continues his discussion of causation to the Problem of Induction and that we can not just use inductive reasoning to make inferences about the world around us. 

The Problem of Induction, according to Hume, asks the question of “how much information can be ignored from the unobserved basis of inductive inferences?” Hume begins his skeptic argument on the Problem of Induction by providing a problem that will rule out the possibility of a conclusion drawn from inductive inference regarding cause and effect. He presents two types of arguments about induction, the ‘demonstrative’ view and the ‘probable’ opinion, but neither of these arguments ends up working out. Demonstrative arguments produce the wrong conclusion, while probable arguments end up circular. 

Hume realizes the problems we have when asking questions about causation does not help explain how we can conclude without experiencing past events. One could argue that Hume’s argument of causation and the skeptic solution that he presents when discussing the Problem of Induction, gives ample reasoning for how consistency and experience can provide a better example for cause and effect.

Hume’s argument continues when he discusses the relation between ideas and impressions. Hume states that “ultimately all our ideas could be traced back to the ‘impressions’ of sense experience,” which means that every idea we conceive comes from an experience (impression) that we have had prior[1]. Hume then takes this concept and applies it back to causation by stating that because of the consistency we experience, our impression of that experience is what creates an idea, because ideas are made up of our impressions, this is also known as Hume’s Copy Principle[2]. 

Now, Hume takes this concept of our natural inductive reasoning and asks whether our experiences serve as good evidence for the world around us, or in other words, “can we rationally justify our actual practice of coming to believe unobserved things about the world?[3]” Hume turns to the concept he names, ‘Matter of Fact’. If something were to be deemed ‘true’ then it would be called a Matter of Fact, which is based on the knowledge that such contingent truths can only derive from our experiences. The principle of the uniformity of nature can’t be something we can conceive as being true because we can only use inductive logic/reasoning to provide evidence for our reality. Hume then states that this concept is ‘flagrantly circular’. It is again said by Hume, that there is no solution to the justification of inductive reasoning because it is too circular.

Hume’s next question was if there was a solution to be found for causation, and how could he ask the questions reliably enough to find the answer. Humans, by nature, can not stop using inductive reasoning because we are irrational. However, a human that was considered to be rational, would most likely not form any beliefs using induction, therefore we would never have to make generalizations about the future based on past events; such a being can not exist, though, because there would be too many complications surrounding this. Predictability is something those irrational human beings rely on to survive, “so nature, through the operation of custom and habit, has determined that we (irrational beings) draw from inductive inferences[4]”. 

We can not predict the causes of things and or predict the outcomes of the future, but we can use the customs and habits that our minds have learned from our experiences. This idea introduces Hume’s final solution to this dilemma, known as the ‘skeptical solution’. This solution is explained as the following: humans will always draw from inferences, which is not a bad thing, because it is necessary. Hume claims that habit takes precedence over reason, and it becomes this ‘skeptic’ solution because it is “compatible with saying that we don’t have any reason for drawing these inferences[5]”. 

The skepticism is considered this way because we become skeptical about our reasons for determining causal inferences. Hume concludes his argument that we can not conceive a connection between cause and effect because there is no other impression from which our idea can be traced. The only thing that can be stated for sure is that there is a necessary connection that appeals to causation being nothing more than this certainty.

Hume’s entire argument surrounding the notions of cause and effect, inductive reasoning, and the skeptical solution all pave the way for how empiricist philosophers began to look at why certain events happen. Hume gave a probable answer to the question of what causes an event to occur by simply proving how we have to rely on induction as our primary source of rationale because we can not define a necessary connection when two events are happening one after the other.

Bibliography

  1. “David Hume.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/epistemology/David-Hume.
  2. Morris, William Edward, and Charlotte R. Brown. “David Hume.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 17 Apr. 2019, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume/.
  3. Henderson, Leah. “The Problem of Induction.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
  4. Stanford University, 21 Mar. 2018,
  5. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/#HumeProb.
  6. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/hume-cau/.
  7. Hume’s Problem of Induction,
  8. http://beisecker.faculty.unlv.edu//Courses/Phi-101/Induction.htm.
  9. “University Libraries.” Electronic Resources – Login, https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.library.unt.edu/stable/188242?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
  10. Green, Michael J. “Hume’s Skeptical Solution.” Hume’s Skeptical Solution, http://carneades.pomona.edu/2007-ID1/nts-1011.shtml

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