Re: Hume

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Nov 26 2003 - 06:49:43 EST

Hi Ian,

I've been referred to Harre and Madden's argument before but have
yet to examine it properly. Thanks for the reminder - I will definitely
get to it soon. You ask the telling questions regarding (your
articulation of) this argument. You write:

> Perhaps we have complicated
> matters by not sufficiently distinguishing between these
> cases:
> (a) An unknown hitherto undetected mechanism able to
> transform known things in surprising ways (e.g., a
> trickster that turns computers into elephants), and
> (b) The logical possibility of a known thing able to
> act in a surprising way (e.g., bread suddenly becoming
> poison).

> It seems to me that things like (a) are always possible
> because we have limited information about the universe.
> But I think (b) is not possible, assuming that we have
> correctly understood the nature of a thing.
> Do you agree with this? Or do you think the possibility
> of (a) ruins any claims we can make about objective causality
> and introduces fundamental uncertainty?

Bingo! This latter alternative is exactly my point: (a) rules out the
assumption that 'we have correctly understood the nature' of

A typical crtical realist repsonse would be to say we *must* assume
we know something, on pain of contradiction. I agree, but argue that
the corrolary must be that we rework our conception of mind-
indpenendent causality, and hence our conception of 'real essences
of nature', in order to rule out (a). Otherwise our conception of
mind-indpendent causality will contradict our asumption that we
have knowledge of reality.

So now you have grasped the sceptical aspect of my argument. I
take this to be a different interpretation of Humean scepticism to the
usual one. Do you think it stands up to scrutiny?

The hope is that, given this sceptical argument, it is easier to grasp
the materialist 'solution'.

Many thanks,


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