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Essay on Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume

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David Hume wrote Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding in 1748, right in the middle of the Enlightenment and on the eve of the Industrial and Scientific Revolution. So it only makes sense that some of the ideas and comparisons used are slightly outdated, but science, if anything, helps his argument regarding causality. Hume is ultimately concerned with the origins of causality, how we are able to gain knowledge from causality, and if we can even call the knowledge derived from causality real knowledge. This is essentially the problem of induction, and is a central pillar of Hume's overall philosophy. There are some significant objections to Hume's ideas concerning causality, but they do not hold much clout and are no match for his arguments. Once one looks into Hume's definition of cause and the problem of induction, it should become immediately clear that his arguments still have solid ground, even 250 years later.
Hume starts out by asserting that “All reasons concerning matters of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect” (p. 337). Thus, he states that none of this knowledge can come from a priori knowledge, or pure reason alone. So, Hume believes that “causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience” (p. 338). The example he uses is that of a billiard ball moving across a table. I know from my past experiences that the billiard ball moving in a straight line will cause another ball to move in the opposite direction when they strike each other. I can imagine a million other possible ways that the ball would have moved, but underneath it all I understand the concept of motion, which I would have no other way of understanding it unless I have experienced it before. If I was ignorant of ...


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... ideas of causality. What does affect Hume's ideas of cause and effect is the problem of induction, in which there seems to be no way of getting around it. Hume possibly stumbled upon a real limitation of human knowledge; the fact that an inductive proof requires further induction to justify it makes the whole way in which we acquire knowledge circular and very sketchy. Hume does not offer a solution to this problem, but one can come up with a pragmatic solution. If we did not believe any inference made via induction, our knowledge of the world would be very (omit) lacking, and it would be almost impossible to know anything at all. Thus it would be rational to trust in inductive inferences and the fact that the future will resemble the past, because if we do not then we are subject to widespread skepticism, which would severely (sp) affect our pursuit of knowledge.



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