Re: Hume

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Nov 19 2003 - 06:15:50 EST

Hi Ajit,

A fair repsonse. Many thanks. My response below.

> ___________________
> Andy, I'm not proposing that we should all follow Hume
> or get involved in solving Hume's problem of radical
> sceptism of empirical knowledge. All I'm pointing out
> is that the causal theorizing by science has not
> completely established its foundations.

No rational person would want to go down the road of Hume's radical scepticism.
We are agreed that Hume is 'soothing' as long as we do not take him to far. But the
problem is how do we *stop* his slide to scepticism, how do we stop taking him too
far, whilst taking on board his insight that we do not apprehend reality immediately?
It is a philosophical problem. It is not easy to solve, but I am suggesteing that, at a
minimum, we *recognise* the problem, and in the absence of a solution, we leave
the problem open. That is we should remain open to a solution, recognise the
necessity of a solution, even if we can't find it in the philosophy with which we are

I am further suggesting that materialist dialectics embraces a solution on which
more below.

> I'm not
> convinced of your solutions to Hume's problem though.
> How can you be "sure" that you will die if you don't
> eat? since you have not stopped eating and not died
> yet.

My certainty -- and yours -- is revealed in our practice. We eat and drink and avoid
dropping from great heights, if we can!

An alternative interpretation of our practice is to say that we are not *certain* but we
do think it *very likely* that we need to eat and drink to live. Actually I think this is
disingenuous. It is, as Ian put it, 'silly'. It flies in the face of our day-to-day reality and
activity, unless by 'very likely' we mean 'practically certain'. But I do not need to
establish this case. It is not necessary to Hume's sceptical challenge. Hume points
out that the seemingly innocuous notion of mind-independent causality rules out
even *probabalistic* knowledge. It rules out knowledge, however vague, of
likelihoods. Hume's challenge is a serious one (in philsophical terms): how do we
uphold mind-independece whilst avoiding the slippery slope towards scepticism?

 Then you say, "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." But this is just an
> assertion. How do we know this?

Sure it is an assertion. Anything 'in a nutshell' is going to be an assertion. I argue the
case at length in my PhD. Ilyenkov argues the case at length in his work. Notably,
Ilyenkov draws on Spinoza for the most abstract points, and these are then
developed fundamentally by Marx and Engels. (e.g. recall the 'practical premises' in
the German Ideology). This entails the famous 'inversion' of Hegel. It's tough stuff.
But any philosophy is tough. The prevalent philsophy in society tends to reflect the
structure of that society. Certainly, the prevalent philsophy and philsophy of science
with which we social scientists are familiar is a long way from materialist dialectics.
The prevalent philsophy is also, I would argue, inherently and unhelpfully
contradictory (often sliding to radical scepticism with Hume). This has done Marxist
economics no favours, on my argument. Hence I argue that we should begin to take
alternative philosophies like materialist dialectics more seriously. Authors that do
this make best sense of value, capital and capitalism, on my argument.

Many thanks,


 Cheers, ajit sinha
> >
> >
> > > 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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