starting to get into Hume

How have I gone so long without reading Hume? I do admit that I’ve not finished the assigned readings for the final exam, yet I am nearly equal with what is to be prepared for tomorrow’s lecture. I am becoming increasingly aware of my lack of knowledge with terminology and structure of arguments. Hume, and the audience or academics he directs his criticism to (rationalists?) at times seem to argue arguments with arguments.

At any rate, here is a small question taken out of yesterday’s reading.

“I have found that such a object has always been attended with such and effect, and I foresee that other objects which are similar in appearance will be attended with similar effects. I shall allow, if you please, that the one proposition may justly be inferred from the other; I know in fact that it always is inferred. But if you insist that the inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire you to produce that reasoning. The connection between these propositions is not intuitive. There is required a medium which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it is drawn by reasoning and argument.” Page 503, Section IV, Part 2, right col.

Okay, a couple of questions.

Is Hume’s Negative Argument similar to the “Null Hypothesis”? It doesn’t seem like it could be, since a null hypothesis would “prove” that the original hypothesis was incorrect. Doesn’t Hume write, “The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible”? (page 500) The purpose of a null hypothesis is to test the validity of a working hypothesis. Is Hume’s negative argument then alike in this regard?

Or…

Is Hume using relation of ideas, not a matter of fact, in creating a negative argument? Relation of Ideas, such as geometry and algebra, are true or not true. Reasoning would be in this would it not? Yet though reasoning gets a bad rap from Hume in that it tells us nothing of the external world of Nature (a circle never existed in Nature), couldn’t improper reasoning be viewed as the Spinoza’s(?) example of when a person uses algebra incorrectly and is then showed by someone the error of their ways, and how that person does not persist is incorrect usage of algebra? I am not sure that I fully grasp the elusive point that is just out of reach of my awareness here.

Hume writes, “I know in fact that it is always inferred”. This seems to fit my growing idea of a Humean idea, that it is experience-based and that matters of fact are those derived from experience. Yet he does write “always”. How can he write that something is always inferred in the minds of men when he writes earlier that it is no less false to suppose the sun will not rise in the morning?

Another question,

Hume writes, “The connection between these propositions is not intuitive. There is required a medium which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it is drawn by reasoning and argument.”

1) I have found that such an object has always been attended with such and effect, and
2) I foresee that other objects which are similar in appearance will be attended with similar effects.

What does Hume mean by “medium” in this passage? A middle agent that has qualities of both, or a medium in the means of connection between the separate things themselves (something like extension as far as I can conjure in oddity). Is this an attack on rationalists?

I take that Hume is saying that on the one hand we can, and do, infer from experience a “matter of fact” that eating a particular bread will give us a certain nutrition for the body. On the other hand Hume is saying that we cannot directly infer that because we’ve made this causal connection concerning one bread we can add it to other types of bread, unless there is some link between the two. Am I correct in thinking that a rationalist might say that “reason” gives us the tools to apply such properties on groups, families, and species of things (a systematic ordering of the world around us by our great and wonderful reason), and that Hume argues that this reason is hoo-hah, that it is “relations of ideas” and not “matters of fact”.

So to Hume, going into a bakery we would not know that any other bread that we have not tried will give us nourishment. It seems a bit much to postulate this “not knowing” of things and the bread approach is odd to me. Yet I will recount for a moment the topic of fire.

We all know what fire is from experience. We know what it feels and looks like and all seem reasonably sure that we know how to handle it. While attending a firefighting course in Texas I learned that my impressions of fire were not entirely correct. What is more is that was shown an example of a fire that is colorless and produces no smoke. When a train of chemicals derailed and firefighters attacked the fire, they came upon this colorless, smokeless fire. It wasn’t until nighttime that the fire could actually be seen by the pale, ghost-like flames it emitted. Yet it burned all the same. That is why with the fireman’s definition of fire there are only three components, heat, fuel, and flame. Color is not included.

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