Tag Archive: Hume

An inference which wants to be explained

Our senses inform us of the colour, weight, and consistence of bread; but neither sense nor reason can ever inform us of those qualities which fit it for the nourishment and support of a human body. Sight or feeling conveys an idea of the actual motion of bodies; but as to that wonderful force or power, which would carry on a moving body for ever in a con­tinued change of place, and which bodies never lose but by communicating it to others; of this we cannot form the most distant conception. But notwithstanding this ignorance of natural powers and principles, we always presume, when we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and expect that effects, similar to those which we have experienced, will follow from them. If a body of like colour and consistence with that bread, which we have formerly eat, be presented to us, we make no scruple of repeating the experiment, and foresee, with certainty, like nourishment and support. Now this is a process of the mind or thought, of which I would willingly know the foundation. It is allowed on all hands that there is no known connection between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; and consequently, that the mind is not led to form such a conclusion concerning their constant and regular conjunction, by any­thing which it knows of their nature. As to past Experience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information of those precise objects only, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance: but why this experience should be exten­ded to future times, and to other objects, which for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar; this is the main question on which I would insist. The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body of such sensible qual­ities was, at that time, endued with such secret powers; but does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at an­other time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems nowise necessary. At least, it must be acknowledged that there is here a consequence drawn by the mind, that there is a certain step taken; a process of thought, and an inference, which wants to be explained. [19-20]

Science: It works, bitches

Question: The question is about the nature of scientific evidence. You both said, and I think most people here would agree with you, that we’re justified in holding a belief if there is evidence for it or there are logical argumentes we can find that support it. But it seems like this in itself is a belief, which would require some form of evidence. If so, I’m won­dering what you think would count as evidence in favour of that and, if not, how do we justify choosing that heuristic without appealing to the same standard that we are trying to justify?

Dawkins: How do we justify, as it were, that science would give us the truth? It works. Planes fly, cares drive, computers compute.

Law: It’s an inductive argument.

Dawkins: If you base medicine on science, you cure people; if you base the design of planes on science, they fly; if you base the design of rockets on science, they reach the moon. It works … bitches. [1:10:30]

Kant’s improvement on Hume

Thus Kant’s reply to Hume came near to being right; for the distinction between an a priori valid expectation and one which is both genetically and logically prior to observation, but not a priori valid, is really somewhat subtle. But Kant proved too much. In trying to show how knowledge is possible, he proposed a theory which had the unavoidable consequence that our quest for knowledge must necessarily succeed, which is clearly mistaken. When Kant said, ‘Our intellect does not draw its laws from nature but imposes its laws upon nature’, he was right. But in thinking that these laws are necessarily true, or that we necessarily succeed in imposing them upon nature, he was wrong. Nature very often resists quite successfully, forcing us to discard our laws as refuted; but if we live we may try again. [63]

On the is–ought canard

Certainly you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can’t derive a factual theory from an is either. That is not what science does. The growth of knowledge does not consist of finding ways to justify one’s beliefs. It consists of finding good explanations. And, although factual evidence and moral maxims are logically independent, factual and moral explanations are not. Thus factual knowledge can be useful in criticizing moral explanations. [120]