Atomism and the "laws" of the association of ideas
Hume's nominalism and the empiricist "deconstruction" of substance, self, and identity
The external world
Causality and Inductive Inference (empiricism as leading the bankruptcy of the Baconian/Cartesian dream of a certain natural science)
The empiricist attack on rationalistic ethics
(In contrast with Hobbes, however, Hume's empiricist ethics involve) a critique of egoism - nor do they land in ethical relativism
Difficulties, alternatives, and the character of Humean skepticism
Schematic summary: "Modernity" and the Crisis of Legitimation
Four Introductory Themes:
1. Modern theme - Epistemology; limits of reason:
Following Locke/Berkeley's "critical turn," he asserts "... the only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects." (298 Kant)
Empirical criterion of meaning (modern concur with language, second to epistemology)
Restates Locke's theory of ideas: abandons the Lockean distinction between ideas of sensation and ideas of reflection (resting on a metaphysical assumption - ?)
Basic distinction between impressions//ideas (Well-known sentence: "the most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.")
Further: "... all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones." (300)
3. "Atomism" - 300
This (still Locke-like) understanding then leads to the empirical. Jones identifies the resulting empirical criterion of meaning as the claim that "a term has meaning (that is, names an idea only if there is an impression or combination of impressions of which it is a copy."
4. Criterion of Meaning:
"When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion." (p. 301)
If we start with difference, connection becomes a problem. While Hume is careful not to covertly assume that impressions come from are caused by an external world - he did, following the predominate model of the time, assume a psychological atomism: "Like Locke, Hume simply took for granted that every item in consciousness - every impression and every idea - is a distinct, separate, isolated unit." This assumption - dominated psychology for more than a century. It led to the further assumption that the main business of psychology was to find the laws by which the supposedly separate "atoms" of experience become "associated."
Atomism and the "Laws" of the association of ideas
So how do atomistic ideas fall into regular order? - Laws (just as "laws of nature" define the behaviour of atoms)
"Laws" of the association of ideas
c) cause and effect
These laws explain the emergence of complex ideas (e.g. "triangle", "justice", "government", or "conquest") from an original acquaintance w/simple objects
Hume's Nominalism and the empiricist "deconstruction" of substance, self, identity
"Nominalism was the inevitable result of
(1) this criterion of meaning and
(2) the psychological doctrine that impressions are 'particular in their nature and at the same time finite in their number.' On this basis there could obviously be no 'real' universals, and Hume's argument for nominalism could, in effect, be a challenge: Show me a universal; I will believe it when you point it out to me. But you never show me more than
(1) a term,
(2) a number of particulars, or
(3) a habit."
As Jones goes on to say,
A philosophy that proposes to get on without universals is something of a novelty. There had been nominalists in the Middle Ages, but they had been able to rely on God's omnipotent will. Hobbes, too, had been a nominalist, but he had been less interested in epistemological questions than in political ones. Locke and Berkeley, who had been interested in epistemological questions, had inconsistently allowed themselves all sorts of universals, as well as spiritual activities and causes." Hume was so thorough in developing the implications of his empirical and nominalistic starting point - that much of what traditional philosophy had held to be true and important turned out to be not merely false but nonsensical.
[See my Notes on Realism, Nominalism, and Conceptualism; and nominalism in Hobbes, including the association between nominalism and relativism in Hobbes, and the parallel association between nominalism and anti-rationalism in Hobbes]
Use as examples here: a) Drury University; b) time
Beginning with substance. Unlike Berkeley, Hume did not try to exempt spiritual substance from his argument
the idea of substance
(1) cannot be derived from impressions of sensation - would then have colour, taste, sound
(2) impressions of reflexion resolve themselves into our passions and emotions; none of which can possibly represent a substance," We have therefore no idea of substance, distinct from that of a collection of particular qualities, nor have we any other meaning when we either talk or reason concerning it." (304)
self - see pp. 304f.; concluding with
... I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other w/an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement . . . . The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity."
(hence" identity crisis")
Analysis of identity - 305 ff. concluding with
"The identity, which we ascribe to the mind of man, is only a fictitious one, and of a like kind with that which we ascribe to vegetables and animal bodies. It cannot, therefore, have a different origin, but must proceed from a like operation of the imagination upon like objects."
"The whole of this doctrine leads us to a conclusion, which is of great importance in the present affair, viz. that all the nice and subtle questions concerning personal identity can never possibly be decided, and are to be regarded rather as grammatical than as philosophical difficulties."
Comments * cf. Descartes' assumption of identity, self, etc. -
the "idealism" of personal identity as source of "judgment of identity" in the world. With loss of identity as a reality - ?
** cf. Wittgenstein, the "linguistic turn" - as part of a modern tradition
The external world
Hume did not deny, or even doubt, that there is a world outside man and his experience. He was merely concerned to show that neither he nor anyone else can produce any evidence to justify this belief: The arguments by which philosophers have sought to prove that an external world exists are all invalid. Hume's case against the philosophers consists merely in pressing home the consequences of the representative theory of perception. "the mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connection with objects. The supposition of such a connexion . . . is, therefore without any foundation in reasoning."
Again, Hume neatly foreshadows here the Kantian claim regarding knowledge. The problem of the relation between phenomena and the underlying things in themselves is foreshadowed here in terms of a supposition of a connection between perceptions and objects.
Issues in a Berkeley-like account of the external world: "That our senses offer not their impressions as the images of something distinct, or independent, and external, is evident; because they convey to us nothing but a single perception, and never give us the least intimation of any thing beyond . . . ."
Rather, as w/ the notion of identity, imagination works to produce a notion of an external world: see pp. 312ff.
Identical objects as independent - and thus - Jones' summary:
If Hume's analysis is correct, there are no grounds for our belief in the existence of material objects and an external world. Or rather, the grounds are not logical; they are psychological. They lie in an empirically verifiable property of our imagination, namely, its tendency to bridge, or fill, any intervals between constant and coherent data.
We create our world by way of imagination.
a) the Cartesian heritage: we remain cut off from an external world, the result of the analytical, inward turn
b) problem: how "empirically verifiable" is imagination?
In any case, leads to - as Jones points out - a clear tension between reason and nature: the grounds for our belief in the existence of material objects and an external world are psychological - not logical. "They lie in an empirically verifiable property of our imagination, namely, its tendency to bridge, or fill, any interval between constant and coherent data." (p. 313f.)
Causality and Inductive Inference
-- Jones points out that natural science depends upon a belief in the uniformity of nature - as the further basis for acceptance of induction.
Before Hume, the usual answer to the question - what justifies our belief in the uniformity of nature - was in terms of causal necessity. "every event that occurs has some cause that necessarily produces it." Because the new science assumed this - and seemed successful in its prediction of events, this success seemed to confirm the assumption (illustrate as an example of fallacy of affirming the consequent).
But as Hume saw, "There are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics, more obscure and uncertain, than those of power, force, energy or necessary connexion, of which it is every moment necessary for us to treat in all our disquisitions." (315)
First of all, "when we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality; which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other . . . . There is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, anything which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion." (p. 315)
(Notice - attack on Locke's account of origin of idea of cause (p.250) - theme of reason's self- criticism)
Thus, the whole experiential origin of the supposedly profound idea that there is a necessary connection between cause and effect amounts to no more than (1) a repeated sequence of impressions and (2) the expectation that on its next occurrence, the first impression of the sequence will again be followed by the second. There is no reason in the nature of things why any event should not be followed by any other event whatever. It just happens that some events follow other events consistently and that, when they have done so often enough, we expect them to continue to do so. This is all there is to causality. Like our idea of identity, our idea of necessary connection is derived from something in us, not in the object; like the idea of identity, it is grounded in the human imagination, not in the rationality of the universe. (319)
As a consequence of destroying these fundamental, metaphysical assumptions of Newtonian/Cartesian science - as w/Berkeley, the claims of science to establishing a body of knowledge about a reality - now, the claims of science to establish a demonstratively certain knowledge about the world - are bankrupt.
Quite simply, induction rests on the inexplicable assumption that the future will resemble the past. While we make this assumption - there is no demonstration for it, nor can it be certain. What can be certain is deductive reasoning: but, as Hume points out, these do not concern fact and existence. (Circularity of any argument for this view)
In short, the Baconian-Cartesian dream of an absolutely certain science - i.e., a deductive science - of nature, has proven - in light of the empiricist criterion itself - to be impossible.
"If Hume was correct, the sciences are limited to historical statements. They can only report past observations." ect., p. 321
In particular, Hume reestablishes the distinction blurred by Descartes: Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic as knowledge of the relations of ideas can be certain: but they have no immediate relation to matter of fact.
(problem of relation w/Mathematics/reality re-emerges)
(Jones section on mathematics works to reiterate this point, i.e., that Hume was "fundamentally antagonistic to claims of rationalist philosophers that a prior insights into the nature of reality can be derived from mathematics." (325)
Fairly clearly, Hume will reject all forms of the ontological proof, for in his view all demonstrative knowledge is knowledge of the consequences of names. Likewise rejects all forms of the causal proof (Descartes/Berkeley) least as much reality as its effects were, for Hume, meaningless noises. Try to locate in experience any impressions that correspond to 'must' and 'reality' in this sentence." And, more generally, causality itself has crumbled:
"If belief in a real connection among these concrete data of experience is unjustified, metaphysicians are even less justified in affirming a 'secret cause' outside, or beyond, the data. "our ideas reach no farther than our experience. We have no experience of divine attributes and operations: I need not conclude my syllogism. You can draw the inference yourself." (326)
Notice how the prudential-rhetorical dimension is still required, cf. quote. p 330.
The argument from design - i.e., from the order, regularity of the world:
a) causality as regularity of sequence can only mean classes of events: it is hence not possible to talk about the cause of a singular event, i.e., the creation of the universe as a whole.
b) proof from design is an argument by analogy - always weak. Indeed, instead of argument resting on analogy of machine, - a vitalistic, non-rationalistic analogy would be more fitting.
c) Simply because some parts of the universe hold a means-end structure does not indicate that that structure was designed
d) even if intelligence is the source of nature - this says nothing about moral qualities. Denial of analogy - p. 329
Additional argument - see p. 330: essentially, that inference re. cause and effect must be homogenous, between species of objects. But the argument from design rests on an analogy, heterogeneous cause/effect relationship
Notice how far the power of reason has come - Hume's criticism of religion: When religion departs from a philosophical contemplation of the possibility that something like a mind is at work in the universe - when it passes over into action - it descends at once into either superstition or enthusiasm, both of which history shows to have had a most deleterious effect on human life.
Machiavellian understanding of religion: It is characteristic of Hume's position ... that the only intelligible defense of the "religious hypothesis" is its utility, its possible impact on morals. (His characters) merely differed about whether this impact has been preponderately good or ill. 336
Attack on rationalistic ethics (Locke/Descartes)
a) reason judges either of matter of fact or of relations
b) over against discursive reason (of the sort that operates in mathematics) morality apparently for Hume involves mere feeling) see pp. 337f.
c) Moral goodness//natural beauty - but the latter is not a matter of rational judgment
d) - see p. 338
e) the ultimate ends of human actions are not accounted for by reason, "but recommend themselves entirely to the sentiments and affections of mankind, without any dependance on the intellectual faculties
"Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." - there is such a thing as moral judgment, but it consists in reason's operation on sensibilities of pleasure and pain.
In place of a normative ethics - an empirical ethics: For him, 'being desired' or 'being approved' was just another fact about a thing, like 'being hot.' According to him, neither can be deduced from the thing's nature. In both cases, the only possible basis for inference is experience. It simply turns out to be a fact that friction is associated w/heat, that such-and-such objects are associated w/desire or approval.
Accordingly, the question is simply
"What do men mean by such terms as 'thought,' 'virtue,' 'mortal'? The principles for which he was searching were not metaphysical, religious, or moral ultimates; they were empirically verifiable relationships, such as the relationship between certain attitudes (e.g. 'approving) and certain types of behavior. if it can be shown that all the activities that are approved fall into certain classes, moral approbation will have been explained in exactly the same way as heat is explained, by ascertaining the phenomena w/ which it is regularly conjoined. In a word, Hume ruled out a metaphysics of morals just as he ruled out a metaphysics of nature. (339) (Hume does in ethics what Machiavelli, et.al. as did for politics in early modernity)
Hume's analysis, Jones points out, is clearly one-sided to begin w/ - and it would appear that only such a pre-selection of which virtues are to be examined would allow for the neat result - that what men call moral goodness, virtue, and merit is what is useful or agreeable either to the man who has the quality or to others.
Humes arguments against egoism:
a) contradicts apparently obvious facts - dispositions such as benevolence, generosity, love, friendship, compassion, gratitude. While it would be nice to have simple, monistic accounts rather than admit a plurality of irreducible motives, Hume warns against the use of occam's razor in this context: "the love of simplicity ... has been the source of much false reasoning in philosophy."
b) relatedly, to hold that self-interest is always the real motivation is to commit ourselves to an overly complex theory - one that forces us to introduce hypothetical, metaphysical reasoning in odd cases e.g. the rich man mourning the death of a poor friend, apparent benevolence of animals not usually thought capable of careful reasoning
c) self-interest is not the only motive - for satisfying self- interest requires others as well, e.g. vanity, ambition, etc. - see p. 344
PreKantian point : While moral judgments are bound up w/ feeling and hence, in this sense are subjective, Hume does not hold that they are purely individual and arbitrary. Men do not judge exclusively about their own individual feelings, for, according to Hume, the feeling of benevolence, though it varies in strength from man to man, is universal. Hence disagreement over moral appraisals can be overcome." (345)
Difficulties, possible alternatives, and the character of Humean skepticism
Difficulties w/ Hume's skepticism - Definitions of subjective/objective.
a) objects are constructed by feigning unity, identity, continuity - whatever does this must itself have some unity, identity, continuity - hence more to the self than simply a flickering succession of loose and separate ideas
b) paradox as well in attack on causality [(constant successions) causes "lively anticipations?"/raises old problem of "metasystem"]: "the argument that purports to prove that inductive inference cannot be rationally justified rests - covertly, to be sure - on inductive inferences about human nature and the working of the mind. Hume's critique of science cannot apply to the science of psychology, though there are no logical grounds for exempting this science from the general critique."
Jones suggests three alternatives:
1. Kant - the Lockian premises are mistaken;
2. refuge in an extrarational authority - revival of Catholicism, romanticism, political totalitarianisms of right, left;
3. abandonment of the quest for certainty, acceptance of provisional solutions as long as they work, readiness to discard them when changing conditions make them no longer appropriate - pragmatism/radical empiricism
Hume has established that total skepticism is impossible - we continue to live and act even though inference is not rationally justified, even though belief in an external world is not rationally justified, etc. "Nature, by an absolute and uncontrollable necessity has determined us to judge as well as to breathe and feel." "Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever."
While the skeptic does not differ from "the common man" in his instinctive beliefs, he "has accustomed himself to skeptical considerations or the uncertainty and narrow limits of reason, he will not entirely forget them when he turns his reflections on other subjects."
"He will know that absolute rational certainty is unattainable except in pure mathematics. He will not be deceived, as the vulgar are, by the pretensions of metaphysicians and theologians to a knowledge that he knows to be impossible. He will 'run over libraries,/and taking/in...hand any volume, of divinity or school metaphysics/he will/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.;" "The philosophical skeptic, in a word, reserves his skepticism for abstract reason, having made his peace w/concrete experience. He has come to see that action, not certainty - experience, not logic - is the criterion a man ought to accept."
Kantian spirit: "Skepticism, in a word, is not a resting
place; it is a propaedeutic. It has a cathartic function: It purges
the mind of delusions of grandeur; it brings men down from the
clouds and sets them firmly on their feet ... Far from inhibiting
action, it frees men from the metaphysical mazes in which they
have been wandering and enables them to contemplate w/out distress
'the whimsical condition of mankind, who must act and reason and
believe; though they are not able, by their most diligent enquiry,
to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of these operations,
or to remove the objections, which may be raised against them;"
Schematic summary: "Modernity" and the Crisis of Legitimation:
|The Limits of Reason
Where we have come from:
|as a problem?|
|Medieval syntheses of reason/faith -->
doctrine of two-fold truth
|Modern problem||destruction of both in Hume; radical sundering of reason/ fact (Descartes)|
|physics --> positivism
|paradoxes - empiricism/
|Protestant fideism -->
|(legitimation crisis)||search for alternatives: