Humes Old and New: Cartesian Fellow-Traveller, or Revolutionary?
General Philosophy Dr Peter Millican, Hertford College Lecture 3: Induction Humes Fork Enquiry IV starts with a vital distinction between types of proposition: 2 Relations of ideas can be known a priori (i.e.
without dependence on experience) by inspecting ideas; hence their falsehood is inconceivable and they are necessarily true. e.g. Pythagoras Theorem. (E 4.1) 3 5 = 30. (E 4.1) All bachelors are unmarried. The modern term is analytic (as understood e.g. by Ayer): true in virtue of its meaning. Matters of Fact Matters of fact cant be known a priori, and their truth / falsity are equally conceivable: e.g. The sun will rise tomorrow. (E 4.2)
The sun will not rise tomorrow. (E 4.2) This pen will fall when released in air. The modern term is synthetic: a proposition whose truth is determined by the facts of experience (Ayer, LTL 1971, p. 105). So how can I discover a matter of fact which I neither perceive directly, nor remember? 3 Suppose we see a yellow billiard ball moving towards a red one and colliding with it. We expect the red one to move but why?
Because we suppose a causal connexion between the two events. But in that case How do we learn about causes and effects? 4 A Thought Experiment Imagine Adam, newly created by God, trying to envisage the effect of the collision: how could he possibly make any prediction at all in advance of experience?
5 The Need for Extrapolation All inference to matters of fact beyond what we perceive or remember seems to be based on causation, and all our knowledge of causal relations comes from experience. Such learning from experience takes for granted that observed phenomena provide a guide to unobserved phenomena. We thus extrapolate from past to future on the assumption that they resemble. But do we have a rational basis for doing so?
6 Four Kinds of Evidence It is common for Philosophers to distinguish the Kinds of Evidence into intuitive, demonstrative, sensible, and moral. (Letter from a Gentleman, 1745, p. 22) By intuition, Hume means immediate selfevidence: the way we know that something is identical with itself, or that 2 is greater than 1. Sensible evidence means from the senses. Demonstrative and moral reasoning are now commonly called deduction and induction 7
Locke on Reasoning In demonstrative reasoning, each link in the inferential chain is intuitively certain. reasoning concerning relations of ideas [Hume] In probable reasoning, some links in the inferential chain are merely probable. moral reasoning, reasoning concerning matter of fact [Hume]: factual inference for short For Locke, both types of reasoning involve rational perception of the links (IV xvii 2).
8 Hume on Inferring Uniformity What ground can we give for extrapolating from observed to unobserved? Self-evident intuition? No. Demonstrative reasoning? No: neither of these, because its clear that extrapolation could fail, so it cant be a matter of pure logic. Sensory knowledge? No: what we perceive of objects gives us no insight into the basis of their powers, hence no reason to extrapolate. Factual inference? No: that would be circular.
9 Review: The Part (i) Argument All factual [moral, probable] inference is founded on causation Because causation is the only relation that enables us to infer from one thing to another. All knowledge of causal relations is founded on experience A priori, we can know nothing of causation. Hence all factual inference is founded on
experience. 10 The Pivot All factual inference is founded on experience. All inference from experience is founded on a principle of uniformity or similarity. Because it requires that we extrapolate from our experience, on the basis that what we have not yet experienced will be similar. Hence all factual inference is founded on
this Uniformity Principle. 11 The Part (ii) Argument But neither intuition, nor sensation, nor demonstration can ground such a principle. And factual inference as we have seen itself depends on the Uniformity Principle, so any attempt to establish the Principle by factual inference will be arguing in a circle. It follows that there is no rational basis for the supposition of Uniformity, and hence no rational basis for factual inference.
12 The Basis of Factual Reason Our reason is fundamentally based on a brute assumption of uniformity, rather than any insight into the nature of things. Hence human reason differs from animal reason only in degree. Lockes supposed perception of probable connexions is wishful thinking. No causal interactions are really intelligible: we discover what causes what not by pure thought, but by observation of uniformities.
13 Does This Imply Irrationalism? Does Hume deny that inductive inference is founded on any sort of rational insight into why nature should be uniform? YES! Does Hume think that all inferences about matter of fact are equally hopeless, so that theres no rational ground for preferring one to another? NO!
14 The Problem of Demarcation Religious belief is founded on whimsies and prejudices of the imagination. Science is founded on the instinctive, nonrational belief in uniformity. So what right has Hume to prefer science over superstition? His answer is to favour reasoning consistently with this irresistible instinctive belief, which is so utterly essential to human life and thought. 15
Implications for Science Systematisation rather than Intelligibility the utmost effort of human reason is, to r educe the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes But as to the causes of these general causes, we in vain attempt their discovery. (E 4.12) Instrumentalism Newtons instrumentalist attitude to gravitation thus provides a model of good science. 16
The Gap in Humes Argument Hume takes for granted that all probable arguments must be based on experience. So it might be possible to escape his argument if induction could be justified using a priori probabilistic considerations. Though most philosophers are sceptical, interesting attempts have been made by: Bruno De Finetti (1937), D.C. Williams (1947), David Stove (1986), Sir Roy Harrod (1956), Simon Blackburn (1973), J. L. Mackie (1979) 17
Other Attempts to Answer Hume Analytic Justification of Induction Induction is rational by definition: it is partly constitutive of our concept of rationality. Inductive Justification of Induction Induction is justified by its past success. Pragmatic Justification of Induction We are pragmatically (rather than epistemically) justified in relying on induction, because it will work if any method of prediction will. 18
Hume versus Strawson P. F. Strawson (Univ and Magdalen) famously advocated the Analytic Justification. However its not clear that it really engages with Humes problem. Hume himself would agree that we call induction rational, and even that were right (in a sense) to do so. His sceptical result doesnt concern this use of words: it questions our epistemic justification for inductive extrapolation. 19 The Inductive Justification
Max Black (1958) argued that induction can be justified inductively without vicious circularity, by distinguishing between an inductive rule and an inductive premise. But Humes question concerns the rational well-foundedness of taking the observed as evidence for the unobserved. A rule or premise can confer this rational grounding only if it is itself rationally grounded. So any circularity here is indeed vicious. 20 The Pragmatic Justification
Hans Reichenbach (1949) argued that if there is any general rule, deterministic or statistical, to be found e.g. that 61% of As are Bs then induction will find it, and is better than any alternative method. But this argument just takes for granted that we are looking for an inductively consistent rule: one that stays the same over time. Besides, Humes pragmatic justification is stronger: we cant help reasoning inductively! 21 Mellor on Warranted Induction
Mellor takes an externalist approach: induction is warranted if the world is such as to make inductive predictions probably true (e.g. because the world does in fact behave consistently over time), even if we are unable to know that this is the case. For the externalist, a belief can be justified by how things are, even if the believer is unaware of what justifies his or her belief. Well consider externalism in Knowledge. 22 Goodmans New Riddle of Induction
Call something grue if it is first examined before noon on 1st April next year and is green, or first examined later and is blue. (Bleen is the other way round.) Suppose all emeralds examined so far are green. Then we have two rival theories, both supported by all the available evidence: (a) All emeralds are green. (straight theory) (b) All emeralds are grue. (bent theory) How can we justify preferring (a) over (b)? 23
Grue seems artificial because its defined in terms of green and blue. But green can be defined in terms of grue and bleen! The easiest answer is to say that Goodmans bent predicates dont latch on to real properties, and inductive support depends on real similarities between things, not on purely syntactic relationships between sentences (unlike formal deductive validity). To back this up, consider a how miner on 1st April could know the colour of an emerald that he digs up: to tell whether its grue or bleen, hed have to know the time.
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