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Hume on Necessary Causal Connections

  • Katherin A. Rogers (a1)

According to David Hume our idea of a necessary connection between what we call cause and effect is produced when repeated observation of the conjunction of two events determines the mind to consider one upon the appearance of the other. No matter how we interpret Hume's theory of causation this explanation of the genesis of the idea of necessity is fraught with difficulty. I hope to show, looking at the three major interpretations of Hume's causal theory, that his account is contradictory, plainly wrong, or (at best) inherently impossible to verify.

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1 A Treatise of Human Nature, Selby-Bigge L. A. (ed.), (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), 155156. Further citations will appear as T followed by page numbers. Citations to the Enquiries, Selby-Bigge L. A. (ed.), Third Edition, notes and revision by P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), will appear as E followed by page numbers.

2 Strawson Galen, preparatory to refuting this view, offers a synopsis with citations in The Secret Connexion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), vii, 89.

3 See for example, Passmore J. A., Hume's Intentions (Cambridge University Press, 1952), 76 and Whitehead Alfred North, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, Griffen David Roy and Sherburne Donald W. (eds), (New York: Free Press, 1978), 140.

4 See for example, MacNabb D. G. C., David Hume (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966), 113.

5 Hume says that our idea of causation must be ‘deriv'd from’ some impression (T 75). The opinion of necessity ‘must necessarily arise from’ observation and experience (T 82). In forming the idea of necessity the mind is ‘influenc'd by’ the relation of constant conjunction (T 92). We must find the impression which ‘gives rise to’ the idea of necessity (T 155). It is repeated experience which ‘produces’ the new impression (T 155).

6 Hume's Philosophy of Belief (New York: Humanities Press, 1961), 123. See also Bennett Jonathan, Locke, Berkeley, Hume (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 304305 and Laird John, Hume's Philosophy of Human Nature (London: Methuen, 1932), 130.

7 E19.

8 The Philosophy of David Hume (London: Macmillan, 1949), 1011. See also Mounce H. O., ‘The Idea of a Necessary Connection,’ Philosophy 60, No. 233 (07 1985), 381388.

9 ‘David Hume: Naturalist and Metasceptic’ in Hume, A Re-evaluation Livingston and King (eds), (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976), 38.

10 Hume himself sees the conclusion he has reached about the causes of the idea of necessity ‘as being evident deductions from principles, which we have already establish'd, and which we have often employ'd in our reasonings.’ T 156.

11 Op. cit. note 2. Costa Michael (‘Hume and Causal Realism,’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 67, No. 2 (06 1989), 172190 distinguishes a number of variations on this interpretation with useful citations.

12 T 77.

13 T 166–167. Our idea is what Dorothy Coleman has termed a ‘natural illusion’ (‘Hume's Alleged Pyrrhonism’, Southern Journal of Philosophy 26, No. 4 (Winter 1988), 462).

14 Op. cit. note 2, 160.

15 T 167.

16 E 19.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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