Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hume's Empiricism: More lecture notes

David Hume
Ruthless Empiricist
I. Hume’s Empiricism
There are, in essence two types of empiricism. You can be an empiricist about where we get our ideas, saying that they all come from experience. Or, you can say that all judgments, or a significant range of judgments, have to be justified by an appeal to experience. Hume was both.
II. Hume and Human Nature
Hume maintained that if you could understand human nature, we could resolve all the difficult questions in philosophy.
Isaac Newton’s huge success in physics led many people to hope that a similar success could be found in all areas of knowledge.
Hume starts off in his writings hoping to do in human subjects what Newton did in physics. But the effect of his work is to raise severe doubts about the rational foundation of many beliefs we all take for granted.
III. Hume’s Concept Empiricism
Hume maintains that the content of our minds, which he calls perceptions, can be divided into two categories:
1) impressions, which are sensations or the original contents of our psychological states.
2) The less forceful, remembered copies of our immediate experiences are called ideas.
B. Hume maintained that all ideas come from impressions. The previous empiricist Locke thought that the idea of God was given to us by God. Hume denied this. Even the idea of something like a “golden mountain” is derived from our impression of gold and our impression of a mountain.
IV. The Association of Ideas
Our minds associate ideas by means of three kinds of relationships.
1) Resemblance. One idea is similar to one another.
2) Contiguity. The perception of one thing is found near the perception of another thing
3) Cause and effect. One thing is known by experience to cause another.
V. Two Kinds of Reasoning, or Hume’s Fork
Relations of ideas include mathematics, are true by virtue of the meaning of the terms, and to deny them is to assert a contradiction. However these do not tell us what the world is like, only how our ideas are put together.
Matters of fact are based on experience, there is no contradiction in asserting that they are false. They do not enjoy certainty but can be known only with varying degrees of probability.
VI. Two Statements by Hume
DH: 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. By bringing ideas into so clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality.[1]
VR: In other words, if you have an idea that isn’t traceable to an impression, it’s a good bet that it’s bogus.

VII. The other statement by Hume
DH: When we run over our 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.
VR: Slash and burn philosophy!
VIII. Substance: The Key to Reality, or an empty idea?
Clearly the latter for Hume. We find the sensible properties of objects when we look at our experience, but we don’t find substances.
Calls into question the existence of an independently existing external world. This common-sense belief cannot really be supported by experience.
IX. So you think you exist
According to Hume when we introspect we find thoughts, feelings, pains, pleasures, etc, but not ourselves. He might have appreciated this bit of humor: “I am out looking for myself. Should I come back, tell me to wait.”
What we call the self is just a bundle of different perceptions. The idea of a unified self that has all of these experiences is not an idea that can be supported by experience. Hume would have been one of the one’s criticizing Descartes for saying that just because there are thoughts, there is a thing that does the thinking.
X. Cause and Effect
What do we experience that leads us to conclude that one event produce another event?
1) Spatial contiguity. We see two things in physical contact with one another.
2) Temporal succession. The cause precedes the effect in time.
3) Constant conjunction. The contiguity and succession isn’t accidental, there are regularities in experience suggesting that these event-types are conjoined on a regular basis.
B. But do we experience a necessary connection between cause and effect? Hume says no. We don’t actually perceive one event producing another. What we experience is one event being connected to another in such a way that it becomes natural for us to believe that the one event produced another.


Anonymous said...

I once had a student who I met with for a while about Christianity that insisted there was not a dualistic universe only an empirical one. (like Hume) He then went on to tell me that no one needs Jesus and that he was Jesus or I could be. He also told me of his experience of time travel; he left a room he was in, walked through a door and saw himself through another door. This fellow also did many drugs. This fellow also eventually jumped into the Willamette with his laptop...he lived. The whole "experience" confirmed my small allegiance to Hume which was that this gentleman made a great "impression" upon me. But I still don't know how much of it was real.

Anonymous said...

what does an "appeal to experience mean" as opposed to the experience itself?