Does Hume contradict himself in The Enquiry, Section IV, Part II

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Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 02:10 pm
I'm writing an essay on Hume's causation and trying to discover a topic (I'm writing at Masters level so I need some sort of originality or something interesting).
What I'm struggling to reconcile is the following, Hume gives this example in The Enquiry, Sect. IV, P. II:

"When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. "

This is an example of singular causal inference, is it not, and yet Hume reduces causation to mere constant conjunction with a necessary connection.

How can he reconcile the two?

Any thoughts would be appreciated, I've spent all day trying to work it out.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 04:09 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118562 wrote:
I'm writing an essay on Hume's causation and trying to discover a topic (I'm writing at Masters level so I need some sort of originality or something interesting).
What I'm struggling to reconcile is the following, Hume gives this example in The Enquiry, Sect. IV, P. II:

"When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. "

This is an example of singular causal inference, is it not, and yet Hume reduces causation to mere constant conjunction with a necessary connection.

How can he reconcile the two?

Any thoughts would be appreciated, I've spent all day trying to work it out.


Could you say where Hume says anything about necessary connection in the passage you gave?
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 04:36 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118637 wrote:
Could you say where Hume says anything about necessary connection in the passage you gave?


I may not have been explicit enough, I mean he says this as a general rule not that he implies it in the given quote:

"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" (Enquiry, S. VII, P. II)

What I was hoping to make sense of is how he could so casually put forward that example of the child, whilst holding this general view.
I had considered that there may be some sort of difference between how Hume treats the justification for causal inference in that example and how he does on the whole (that necessary connexion is only discovered through the constant conjunction of two objects or events) but I couldn't come up with one, on both accounts to me he deems them unjustified. Presumably his two definitions of causation imply in this case of the child being burned; that they would presume that iff they were to put their hand in the fire again the same consequence would follow. But of course if this is true then that child has enacted both definitions not through custom and habit.
UNLESS Hume is arguing that they would have no conception of causation unless they had previously discovered a causal relation between two objects via constant conjunction and somehow custom and habit had been enacted in this single instance (I can't see how). But then his entire thesis that one cannot discover that feeling of necessary connexion on a single instance is either blown out of the water or severely weakened.
Sorry for the long paragraph by the way.
I would appreciate any thoughts, this is giving me a headache.
 
Emil
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 04:51 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Yes, you are right that the child is not very justified in his belief. But the reason that the child infers like that is that the penalty of being wrong that it was not the fire that hurt him is so high (it will hurt him if he tries again), but the penalty of him being wrong that it does hurt him when it does not is not very high (a bit of freedom removal; don't go near fires). Basically when the stakes are high we reduce the amount of justification needed before we believe.

There is a theory about justification being relative to such contexts, it is called contextualism. SEP has a good article on it (though I haven't read it.)
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 05:02 pm
@Emil,
Emil;118655 wrote:
Yes, you are right that the child is not very justified in his belief. But the reason that the child infers like that is that the penalty of being wrong that it was not the fire that hurt him is so high (it will hurt him if he tries again), but the penalty of him being wrong that it does hurt him when it does not is not very high (a bit of freedom removal; don't go near fires). Basically when the stakes are high we reduce the amount of justification needed before we believe.

There is a theory about justification being relative to such contexts, it is called contextualism. SEP has a good article on it (though I haven't read it.)


But Hume doesn't seem to allow for any exceptional cases, or do you think he does?
Alternatively the only other conceivable approach is to interpret Hume as giving a psychological descriptivist argument. That we do in those circumstances obtain the necessary connexion without relying on the constant conjunction. He does say after all that some people perceive the constant conjunction without consequently receiving the idea of a necessary connexion. So he's not so much trying to give a general rule but to critique the feasibility of a general rule. But if that is so then why does he have a section on the positive phase, he certainly seems to argue that the regularity theory is more comprehensive than the singular theory.
 
Emil
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 05:31 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118659 wrote:
But Hume doesn't seem to allow for any exceptional cases, or do you think he does?
Alternatively the only other conceivable approach is to interpret Hume as giving a psychological descriptivist argument. That we do in those circumstances obtain the necessary connexion without relying on the constant conjunction. He does say after all that some people perceive the constant conjunction without consequently receiving the idea of a necessary connexion. So he's not so much trying to give a general rule but to critique the feasibility of a general rule. But if that is so then why does he have a section on the positive phase, he certainly seems to argue that the regularity theory is more comprehensive than the singular theory.


I don't know. I'm not a Hume expert and I'm not particularly interested in the interpretation game that some 'philosophers' like. But the user Pyrrho is an expert on Hume. I let him know of this thread. He can probably give you some good advice. Smile
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 05:53 pm
@Emil,
Emil;118663 wrote:
I don't know. I'm not a Hume expert and I'm not particularly interested in the interpretation game that some 'philosophers' like. But the user Pyrrho is an expert on Hume. I let him know of this thread. He can probably give you some good advice. Smile


Thank You Emil. I'll PM Pyrrho.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 06:00 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118650 wrote:
I may not have been explicit enough, I mean he says this as a general rule not that he implies it in the given quote:

"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" (Enquiry, S. VII, P. II)

What I was hoping to make sense of is how he could so casually put forward that example of the child, whilst holding this general view.
I had considered that there may be some sort of difference between how Hume treats the justification for causal inference in that example and how he does on the whole (that necessary connexion is only discovered through the constant conjunction of two objects or events) but I couldn't come up with one, on both accounts to me he deems them unjustified. Presumably his two definitions of causation imply in this case of the child being burned; that they would presume that iff they were to put their hand in the fire again the same consequence would follow. But of course if this is true then that child has enacted both definitions not through custom and habit.
UNLESS Hume is arguing that they would have no conception of causation unless they had previously discovered a causal relation between two objects via constant conjunction and somehow custom and habit had been enacted in this single instance (I can't see how). But then his entire thesis that one cannot discover that feeling of necessary connexion on a single instance is either blown out of the water or severely weakened.
Sorry for the long paragraph by the way.
I would appreciate any thoughts, this is giving me a headache.


I don't think I understand what you are getting at. Hume, of course, repudiates an notion of the causal connection being a necessary connection. So where is he assuming necessary connection in the case of the child? I guess I am entirely missing your point.
 
Emil
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 06:12 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118668 wrote:
I don't think I understand what you are getting at. Hume, of course, repudiates an notion of the causal connection being a necessary connection. So where is he assuming necessary connection in the case of the child? I guess I am entirely missing your point.


I think what he is getting at is this:

Hume says that:
[INDENT]1. One cannot justifiably from a single instance of two being being together draw a conclusion about the one causing the one.
2. In Hume's own example of the child, the child does draw a such conclusion after a single instance of putting a finger in the fire and it hurting.
[/INDENT]
This is inconsistent. Since the latter is a counter-example to the first.
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 06:14 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118668 wrote:
I don't think I understand what you are getting at. Hume, of course, repudiates an notion of the causal connection being a necessary connection. So where is he assuming necessary connection in the case of the child? I guess I am entirely missing your point.


Well the child assumes a similar effect of pain from a similar cause of fire, and Hume says that causation is only perceived when there is the idea of a necessary connexion between two distinct events/objects. Whether or not he repudiates a necessary connexion between the objects themselves is neither here nor there but he talks about the 'idea' of a necessary connexion appearing in the mind. This is what differentiates between the feeling of causal connection and just correlation for the perceiver.

---------- Post added 01-09-2010 at 12:17 AM ----------

My other point was something I had read somewhere about how Hume might resort to defending the regularity thesis by saying if the person in the example had not previously experienced that idea of a necessary connexion via the constant conjunction of two things then they wouldn't have any feeling of causal connection and thus wouldn't make the judgement to avoid fire in the future. But I felt this was a weak argument.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 06:20 pm
@Emil,
Emil;118671 wrote:
I think what he is getting at is this:

Hume says that:[INDENT]1. One cannot justifiably from a single instance of two being being together draw a conclusion about the one causing the one.
2. In Hume's own example of the child, the child does draw a such conclusion after a single instance of putting a finger in the fire and it hurting.
[/INDENT]This is inconsistent. Since the latter is a counter-example to the first.


But even if that is so, is the child assuming necessary connection? But is it so, anyway. Maybe the child is starting to believe a causal connection exists, or in Hume's thought, the child is beginning to develop a habit (or disposition) to associate touching the candle with the feeling of pain. But there is no reason to believe that he has formed a settled habit. He is only at a starting stage. So it is not a counterexample.
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 07:03 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118676 wrote:
But even if that is so, is the child assuming necessary connection? But is it so, anyway. Maybe the child is starting to believe a causal connection exists, or in Hume's thought, the child is beginning to develop a habit (or disposition) to associate touching the candle with the feeling of pain. But there is no reason to believe that he has formed a settled habit. He is only at a starting stage. So it is not a counterexample.


I see nothing to suggest that the child is anything but assuming a causal connection by Hume's definition.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 07:09 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118688 wrote:
I see nothing to suggest that the child is anything but assuming a causal connection by Hume's definition.


Yes, he is beginning to form a disposition to expect pain when touching the candle. But it is not yet anything like a settled disposition. I could not be with only one association occurring. And nothing like the idea of necessary connection could have formed. The formation of any disposition could easily be extinguished by any cases negative instances.
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 07:14 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118689 wrote:
Yes, he is beginning to form a disposition to expect pain when touching the candle. But it is not yet anything like a settled disposition. I could not be with only one association occurring. And nothing like the idea of necessary connection could have formed. The formation of any disposition could easily be extinguished by any cases negative instances.


But isn't that the same with any assumed causal inferences including those formed by constant conjunction, indeed that's part of Hume's critique of induction. How is that different to his definition of causation?
Hume says that without that idea of necessary connexion then two events in relations of contiguity and succession are no more than correlatively connected, and the child in question clearly assumes a causal connexion.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 07:17 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118691 wrote:
But isn't that the same with any assumed causal inferences including those formed by constant conjunction, indeed that's part of Hume's critique of induction. How is that different to his definition of causation?


It isn't. But I think I am just missing your point. What exactly do you consider his definition of causation? Isn't it just constant conjunction? And the rest is in the head.
 
JP2U
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 07:49 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;118692 wrote:
It isn't. But I think I am just missing your point. What exactly do you consider his definition of causation? Isn't it just constant conjunction? And the rest is in the head.


Your talk about (non)necessity is beside the point.

Nameless is saying that Hume maintains that our idea of causality arises solely through induction/regularity and that the child is making an induction on a single instance so that there's virtually no inductive base.

This plausibly implies that the child must have gotten their idea that fire is painful in some other way than mere association/regularity/induction. Perhaps it was by a racial/genetic memory, or a hardwired instinct, or any similar sort of pre-existing disposition or instilled bias to associate bright light with pain.

This whole debate is a more general version of that which happened in the opposing views about language-learning between Quine and Chomsky, behavioral/associational vs. innatist, and it can be resolved in the same way as that was (or should have been). The debate is also paralleled more loosely in Plantinga's views (and those of his obectors) on the (ir)rationality of evolutionarily-instilled perception and reasoning patterns.

I don't think that Hume is actually contradicting himself because I don't recall him ever saying anything to the effect that we can't give different weight to different regularities. I think that his recognition of the fact that we DO give different experiences different weights is indicated by his having picked a painful experience of a highly unusual stimulus as his example: flame must be fascinating to children since its brightness and ephemerality makes it so different from other things. Such a thing is precisely the sort of thing that might take only a single correlation for us to, rightly or wrongly, conclude a causal relation regarding. This is exactly what we should expect from an evolutionarily-instilled reasoning/inductive mechanism such as our brains largely are.

Looked at another way, you could say that the child DID have more than one experience as their inductive base. It wasn't just "flame + pain", it was "brightness + ephemerality + smoke + translucence + .... + pain + nothing NOT like that has caused me pain". This would turn a weak inductive base into a strong one or, put another way, would turn an act of induction into an act of abduction (inference to the best explanation). I don't have time to go into the relationship between these two modes of inference but Hume could have seen abduction as a special case of induction or seen them both as special cases of a more general sort of inference. In fact I'd tend to think that he did just that and that that's the right way to look at things.

Even if we don't accept the "brightness + ephemerality + ...." point made above then it still doesn't mean that Hume has contradicted himself. If we give different weights to different experiences it only means that Hume hasn't told the whole story in the sense that he hasn't explicitly spelled out every detail of why and how we give different weight to different experiences. I don't think that it's reasonable to expect him to have done that or even to have tried to do that.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Sat 9 Jan, 2010 12:09 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118562 wrote:
I'm writing an essay on Hume's causation and trying to discover a topic (I'm writing at Masters level so I need some sort of originality or something interesting).
What I'm struggling to reconcile is the following, Hume gives this example in The Enquiry, Sect. IV, P. II:

"When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. "

This is an example of singular causal inference, is it not, and yet Hume reduces causation to mere constant conjunction with a necessary connection.

How can he reconcile the two?

Any thoughts would be appreciated, I've spent all day trying to work it out.


The child expects a cause and effect, but that does not mean that there is such a thing really. The human mind is such that it connects things together psychologically, and this psychological connection need not have any external reality corresponding to it, as, for example, someone may associate the number 13 with bad luck. Getting back to the flame, the same sort of thing occurs with many other animals; you can find the same thing with a dog or any of many other animals. This is all clear from the rest of the paragraph you quote; here it is in its entirety:

Quote:
It is certain that the most ignorant and stupid peasants-nay infants, nay even brute beasts-improve by experience, and learn the qualities of natural objects, by observing the effects which result from them. When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. If you assert, therefore, that the understanding of the child is led into this conclusion by any process of argument or ratiocination, I may justly require you to produce that argument; nor have you any pretence to refuse so equitable a demand. You cannot say that the argument is abstruse, and may possibly escape your enquiry; since you confess that it is obvious to the capacity of a mere infant. If you hesitate, therefore, a moment, or if, after reflection, you produce any intricate or profound argument, you, in a manner, give up the question, and confess that it is not reasoning which engages us to suppose the past resembling the future, and to expect similar effects from causes which are, to appearance, similar. This is the proposition which I intended to enforce in the present section. If I be right, I pretend not to have made any mighty discovery. And if I be wrong, I must acknowledge myself to be indeed a very backward scholar; since I cannot now discover an argument which, it seems, was perfectly familiar to me long before I was out of my cradle.


It is not from some argument or reasoning that this process takes place; it is instinct.

---------- Post added 01-09-2010 at 01:15 PM ----------

Nameless_23232;118650 wrote:
I may not have been explicit enough, I mean he says this as a general rule not that he implies it in the given quote:

"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" (Enquiry, S. VII, P. II)

What I was hoping to make sense of is how he could so casually put forward that example of the child, whilst holding this general view.
I had considered that there may be some sort of difference between how Hume treats the justification for causal inference in that example and how he does on the whole (that necessary connexion is only discovered through the constant conjunction of two objects or events) but I couldn't come up with one, on both accounts to me he deems them unjustified. Presumably his two definitions of causation imply in this case of the child being burned; that they would presume that iff they were to put their hand in the fire again the same consequence would follow. But of course if this is true then that child has enacted both definitions not through custom and habit.
UNLESS Hume is arguing that they would have no conception of causation unless they had previously discovered a causal relation between two objects via constant conjunction and somehow custom and habit had been enacted in this single instance (I can't see how). But then his entire thesis that one cannot discover that feeling of necessary connexion on a single instance is either blown out of the water or severely weakened.
Sorry for the long paragraph by the way.
I would appreciate any thoughts, this is giving me a headache.


You are misreading Hume. He is not saying that we never imagine a connection from one instance; he is saying that we can never establish a necessary connection, not even in a single instance. Or to say the same thing differently, there is not even one case in which a necessary connection can be demonstrated.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 9 Jan, 2010 12:21 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;118835 wrote:
The child expects a cause and effect, but that does not mean that there is such a thing really. The human mind is such that it connects things together psychologically, and this psychological connection need not have any external reality corresponding to it, as, for example, someone may associate the number 13 with bad luck. Getting back to the flame, the same sort of thing occurs with many other animals; you can find the same thing with a dog or any of many other animals. This is all clear from the rest of the paragraph you quote; here it is in its entirety:



It is not from some argument or reasoning that this process takes place; it is instinct.



The child, after one experience of touching the candle and feeling pain may begin to expect the sequence, but that need not be a settled expectation, although the pain may be so vivid that it may succeed in imprinting itself in the child. If it were another kind of sequence, much less vivid, it might not. But, of course, as I wrote earlier, the expectation takes place in the child's head. Of course. A mind is required for an expectation. So the expectation is not real. Which is to say, it is a mental thing.
 
Nameless 23232
 
Reply Sat 9 Jan, 2010 12:25 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;118835 wrote:
The child expects a cause and effect, but that does not mean that there is such a thing really. The human mind is such that it connects things together psychologically, and this psychological connection need not have any external reality corresponding to it, as, for example, someone may associate the number 13 with bad luck. Getting back to the flame, the same sort of thing occurs with many other animals; you can find the same thing with a dog or any of many other animals. This is all clear from the rest of the paragraph you quote; here it is in its entirety:



It is not from some argument or reasoning that this process takes place; it is instinct.

---------- Post added 01-09-2010 at 01:15 PM ----------



You are misreading Hume. He is not saying that we never imagine a connection from one instance; he is saying that we can never establish a necessary connection, not even in a single instance. Or to say the same thing differently, there is not even one case in which a necessary connection can be demonstrated.


Well what I interpret him as saying is that we can never ever establish a necessary connection between objects, but, that if we have an idea of a necessary connection (that is the internal impression) then it is because we have experienced a regular correlation of two objects or events; the constant conjunction. So, how can he then put forward this example without being forced to either evaluate on or drop his emphasis on regularity?
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Sat 9 Jan, 2010 12:38 pm
@Nameless 23232,
Nameless_23232;118839 wrote:
Well what I interpret him as saying is that we can never ever establish a necessary connection between objects, but, that if we have an idea of a necessary connection (that is the internal impression) then it is because we have experienced a regular correlation of two objects or events; the constant conjunction. So, how can he then put forward this example without being forced to either evaluate on or drop his emphasis on regularity?


That is the normal way, but that does not preclude the possibility of it also occasionally occurring after one instance. You see, people are looking for ways to connect things together, and they often regard it as important to do this as quickly as possible. In the case of the flame, given what it feels like to burn oneself, it is better to err on the side of caution than to do too many experiments to see if there is a regular conjunction of events.

Now, if you can find a quote in Hume in which he states that no one ever connects two events in his or her mind from one instance, then I will agree that he is wrong. But only wrong in saying that, not in his general theory. And I doubt that he ever said any such thing, though, of course, a careless expression here or there would hardly be shocking.

Edited to add:

It may also be worth mentioning that when a child sticks its finger into a flame, that is not usually the first time it has touched something, and so when a child touches a flame, it can use a "higher level induction" to form the conclusion that there will be a constant conjunction of events from touching the flame, as it has observed a constant conjunction of events with touching other things. For example, perhaps every time it touches its blanket, it feels soft, and every time it touches the bars of its crib, they feel hard, etc., etc., etc. So when the child touches the flame, the "natural" thought is that this, too, will follow the pattern of having the same conjunction of events every time it is touched in a like manner.
 
 

 
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