Re: Hume

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Mon Nov 17 2003 - 12:16:40 EST

Hi Ajit,

I agree that Hume's problem is not bunk. The trouble is to find a solution. His own
solution was irrational: purely irrational custom or habit impels humans to believe in
mind-independent causation as far as Hume is concerned. According to Hume, we
leave by the stairs and not the window due to the force of custom and habit, not
because we have knowledge that falling from great height will kill us.

And this example reveals the *practical* problem with Hume: his notions are
hopelessly at variance with our obvious intuitions such that we have rationally
acceptable knowledge of reality.

To the extent that Hume reminds us that reality is not apprehended in an immediate
way then he is indeed 'soothing'. But for the above reasons, I would argue that we
must reject Hume's key arguments, as a whole. If we are not going to spend a long
to philosophising we are best to simply leave open the solution to Hume's problem,
i.e. the problem of how to uphold mind-independence without sliding to scepticism.
We cannot follow Hume's own irrational response.

A philosophical solution is to be found in materialist dialectics. In a nutshell, idea
and object are united and made to conform to one another in human labour. Error
lies not in the fact that the ultimate reality, the 'real essences' of objects, lies forever
out of bounds of human cognition, as in Kantian (self-contradictory) noumena.
Instead error lies in the fact that we encounter only a small portion of the universe.
We have perfectely adequate ideas of the objects around us (e.g. I know for sure
that a denial of my material needs will kill me.... I always leave by the stairs... ) but
we cannot see immediately how they are united into the system as a whole (the
ultimate system being the universe). And of course we never will grasp in full the
universe. Our knowledge will always be very imperfect. Thus we have a mind-
independent, fallibly grasped world but we have avoided Hume's slide to sceptism.

Many thanks,


> Because economic theory does not have to be an
> empiricist philosophy of knowledge. Hume himself did
> not follow his empiricist philosophy in his other
> works because his philosophy ultimately leads to
> nihilism. But that does not mean that the
> philosophical problem he raised for empiricist
> knowledge, particularly for the implied relation of
> cause and effect, is all bunk. It shows us the
> limitation of what we claim to know. Now, we all know
> that all sciences are predictive, i.e. built on the
> relation of cause and effect. But science is not in a
> business of proving anything--it is neither philosophy
> nor mathematics. In some Kantian sense science simply
> takes the relation of cause and effect as a priori or
> its fundamental belief or axiom. On this basis it only
> tentatively suggests certain causal explanations for
> various phenomena. But these theories must always
> remain tentative and can never prove its correctness
> beyond doubt. The main role of science is to act as a
> medicine that sooths our mind by giving some sort of
> order to desperate phenomena--it keeps us from going
> crazy! That's an admirable job and economics can be
> part of it. But it is also good to know the
> limitations of what we claim to know. Cheers, ajit sinha

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