I’ve been reading Hume’s Enquiry and am struck by how much I didn’t understand it before–and how little it is still understood. Several commentators have noted that Hume does not deny the existence of necessary connection, merely noting that our only knowledge of causation arises from experience of constant conjunction; but it is striking how much he assumes that causation resides in the single instance and that power is objectively real. His point about causation applies only to the epistemology of causation not its metaphysics. He thinks that necessary connection is real but that we can’t detect it in the individual events: he believes in objective causal necessity but he thinks that our human understanding is too limited to grasp it directly–so we fall back on constant conjunction. The cement exists in objects but we can’t sense it or form an adequate idea of it.

7 responses to “Hume”

  1. Ken says:

    I take you to be advocating the “skeptical realist” (or “New Hume”) interpretation of Hume, which is similar to your own thesis of cognitive closure about the consciousness-brain connection. This was the main point of Galen Strawson’s Secret Connexion. This article offers some reasons to think that the skeptical realist interpretation is questionable:

    • Colin McGinn says:

      Yes, but when I reviewed Galen Strawson’s book long ago I didn’t appreciate how far-reaching Hume’s position is, particularly with regard to the non-rational instinctual nature of causal belief. I have just written a paper about whether there is an analogue to Hume’s view of causation in the theory of meaning. Kripke suggests there is but he assumes the old view of Hume; I want to know whether we can take a view of meaning analogous to the new (correct) Hume.

  2. Rick Padua says:

    Cats, gravitational physics and the non-rational instinctual nature of causal belief. There might, of course, be at least one fallacy (as well as conceivable observer-expectancy bias) embedded in the researchers’ analysis. If so rooting stuff like that out is arguably one task you need philosophers walking the beat for.

    “When reviewing the tapes of the experiments, the researchers concluded that cats spent significantly more time looking at the weird scenarios than the ones that made sense. If you accept that prolonged cat stares indicate violated feline expectations, then it is evidence, the scientists say, that cats inferred the existence of a ball using a physical cause-and-effect rule.”

  3. Raino Malnes says:

    What about mental causation? In The Structure of Reality, you say: “I just do know what pain is, and seeing red, and feeling angry, and thinking it’s about to rain. I have intimate knowledge of such things, in the sense that I know what they are like intrinsically. … They are … transparently present [to my cognition]” (p. 148). It seems that Hume hints at such intimate knowledge when he writes things like this: “No man is absolutely indifferent to the happiness and misery of others. The first has a natural tendency to give pleasure; the second, pain”. How far does the intimate knowledge extend? Are we intimately familiar with causal connections in the mind? In Intentionality, Searle says that “the peculiarity of Intentional causation is that we directly experience the relationship [of making something happen] in many cases where we make something happen or something else makes something happen to us. When, for example, I raise my arm, part of the content of the experience is what makes my arm go up, and when I see a flower, part of the experience is that that this experience is caused by the fact that there is a flower there. In such cases, we directly experience the causal relation, the relation of one thing making something else happen” (p. 123). Do you agree?

    • Colin McGinn says:

      Hume has a discussion of mental causation in the Enquiry: he thinks it is as unknown there as in the physical world. That is, our idea of it derives from instinct and habit and not from direct knowledge of the necessary connexion that exists in objects both mental and physical. But he also thinks that we know qualities of consciousness intimately and directly, as we know sensible qualities.

  4. Nadji says:

    Why not be an “old Humean” ? Why not adopt ”Mysterianism”, minus causal determinism ? If I am an old Humean, then I have to deny the view that there are necessary connections between distinct entities or qualities in the world. That makes sense : if physical properties themselves are intrinsic ones, then, they are not relational ones. So, they are not causal, neither functional nor dispositional specifications of matter. It follows that there exist properties beyond the grasp of our theoretical physics as it is only grounded on the physical framework. The “old Humean” thus is committed to ”quidditism” (”properties are intrinsic and qualitative ones”) and “humility” (”our knowledge is limited and superficial”) . This view could be tagged as ”mysterianism” as well.

    The commitment to both quidditism and humility seems to be the correct Humean philosophy of knowledge according to Lewis. Of course, this view is not causaly deterministic, as maybe (new) Hume (or new Humeans) would have liked to draw it. But according to Lewis, this is not a real problem, and this is consistent with his ”many worlds” theory: there are worlds where causal and nomological relations are not the same as those in our world. According to Lewis, there is a qualitative difference between possible worlds that implies that worlds have to be counted as different although they are indiscernible for a (human) physician . A gap between metaphysics — postulating primitive qualities — and epistemology thus arises. That could be called the non-deterministic view of mysterianism (including ”humean supervenience”).

    Maybe you are in favour of the deterministic view of mysterianism because you think there is a deep ontological unity of nature below its apparent diversity (Long post, sorry…)

    • Colin McGinn says:

      There are many possible views here; mine is that necessary connection is real but invisible–just as Hume said. That is, I am a mysterian about causal necessitation.

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