Re: Hume

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 15 2003 - 10:53:35 EST

For those interested, in my last post I forgot to include a good recent
survey of the question of causation called Causation and Explanation (2002)
by Stathis Psillos of the University of Athens.  Psillos reads Hume to
disavow the view that causation is mind-dependent and concludes that "the
substantive metaphysical assumption that Humeans need to take on board is
that the world has an objective structure" (293).

He also has a defense of scientific realism called Scientific Realism: How
Science Tracks Truth (1999).


----- Original Message -----
From: "Howard Engelskirchen" <howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM>
Sent: Friday, November 14, 2003 7:17 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Hume

> The idea that Hume's position on causation has never been satisfactorily
> challenged leaves out of account the last 30 or 40 years of the philosophy
> of science.  About midcentury realist challenges to logical empiricism
> to take hold for the good and substantial reason that the propositions on
> offer, including Hume's approach to causation, didn't correspond to what
> scientists actually do.  Nancy Cartwright, for example, in "The Reality of
> Causes in a World of Instrumental Laws," argues that although philosophers
> have believed in laws and denied causes, explanatory practice in physics
> just the opposite -- we argue from effect to cause against a background of
> our best available knowledge to find concrete causal processes.  The
> inference is not to the best explanation but to the most probable cause.
> Bhaskar's powerful critique of Hume in A Realist Theory of Science (1975)
> was mentioned in a previous post.  Bhaskar argues that the Humean concept
> cause can't make sense of experimental activity -- the sequences of events
> Hume's account presupposes are mostly produced in the closed system of a
> laboratory, and the Humean can't give an account of what explanations hold
> outside the experimental laboratory where such regularities rarely occur.

> Moreover, reflection on experiment shows that it is not about sequences of
> events at all.  Those are produced by the activity of the experimenter --
> the experimenter puts litmus paper in acid and turns the paper red -- but
> the experimenter doesn't produce the causal process that caused the
> transformation.  In other words in the Humean account causal processes are
> confused with and collapsed into the sequences of events that permit us to
> identify them.
> Harre and Madden in Causal Powers (1975) also provide an important
> of Hume. They show that Hume's argument depends on conflating logical
> necessity -- something true in all possible worlds -- with natural
> necessity -- a relation that holds between a generative structure and its
> effects that can only be discovered a posteriori.  The fact that it is
> logically possible for nature to change its course and for a stick of
> dynamite to turn into a stone doesn't say anything to the point about
> whether, given dynamite of the proper composition and structure, a stick
> dynamite will explode when detonated.  It is self contradictory to say
> the nature of dynamite is such that it both does and does not explain its
> power to explode.
> There's methodological significance here, as Harre and Madden emphasize by
> recounting the story of Moliere's imaginary invalid:  opium puts people to
> sleep because it has a "virtus dormitiva."  Put a Humean on the case:
> "Following Hume's account of the empirical meaning of a causal statement,
> the man who wanted to know more about the action of powerful particulars,
> say soporifics, could proceed only by collecting more cases of similar
> phenomena until he had enough to convince himself of the lawfulness of the
> statement of concomitance -- for example, had formed the psychological
> of expecting drowsiness to follow ingestion of opium."
> It's been done in social science.
> On the other hand, given a robust realist account of causation a scientist
> "will not collect further statistics but begin[] an exhaustive chemical
> anlaysis of the potent entity, trying to find out what sort of stuff it
> i.e. what its nature is.  Then he tries to follow it through the body
> ingestion and tries to ascertain how it acts upon the central nervous
> system, the higher centers, and so on.  He undertakes quite a different
> of investigation from the strict Humean.  He does what scientists actually
> do." (Causal Powers 91).
> In other words, looking for a "virtus dormitiva" is better science, and,
> the way, which approach did Marx follow?
> Richard Boyd is another contemporary philosopher of science who provides a
> sustained and satisfying critique of Hume based on the practices of
> "There is indeed considerable evidence that almost all the significant
> features of the methodology of recent science rest ultimately upon
> of unobservable causal powers and mechanisms (cites omitted), and thus
> the empiricist reservations about experimental knowledge of unobservable
> causal powers and mechanisms are profoundly mistaken."  The basic idea is
> that scientists actually do posit causal structures and processes and
> relying on the best background theories available to them, design
> experiments and explanations.  The success of the endeavor is good
> for the structures and processes proposed, whether unobservable or not.
> ((Boyd, "Observations, Explanatory Power, and Simplicity:  Toward a
> Non-Humean Account.")
> The Boyd and Cartwright articles can be found in Philosophy of Science
> (1991) edited by Boyd, Gasper and Trout.
> Value is an unobservable causal structure, and Marx, economics or social
> science more generally without cause makes less sense of the world than we
> can afford.  So getting past Hume's legacy is important for us.
> Howard
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Rakesh Bhandari" <rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU>
> Sent: Friday, November 14, 2003 1:15 PM
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Hume (just citations)
> > Interesting discussion underway.
> >
> > On a Marxist theory of causality, see Anjan Chakrabarti and Stephen
> Cullenberg
> > Transition and Development in India, pp. 31ff
> >
> > On Althusser's distinction between transitive and expressive causality,
> see
> > Robert Paul Resch Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory.
> >
> > Rakesh

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Nov 16 2003 - 00:00:01 EST