[lit-ideas] Re: Back to Popper (and further back to Hume)

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 24 Nov 2006 11:56:47 -0800

Donal, in England, wrote:

Hume is not consistent a philosopher and so quoting him can be used to
support this and the opposite: for example, his logical attack on induction
is at odds with his defence of it as a _well-based_ psychological habit.

The passages I quoted set out a purely logical point. They contained an
iterative argument that shows, Hume thinks, that the facts behind the facts are as questionable as the original fact at every stage. This has nothing to do with
'psychology.' You can challenge Hume's argument but you should get it straight
before you do. Hume shows elsewhere that you cannot infer the uniformity of
nature from the past, no matter how regularly one event has been conjoined with another. That is, 'Whenever A then B, in the past' does not entail 'So, whenever A then B.' His argument is that the first statement and 'A, but not B,' is not a
contradiction (and neither is the conjunction of the first two statements a
tautology). So, what justifies us in thinking that the future will be like the
past? Our expectations. We're just wired up to form this habit of association.
This is a brute fact about us for which no explanation is given. Why you think
that the 'logical attack' and the psychological account are at odds with each
other is not clear. The former paves the way for the latter in Hume's writings.

When I wrote that Hume's answer to 'What can the subject say about the
probability of something's being in the third box (and what) or its being
empty?' would be: 'Nothing,' I meant that Hume's answer would be, 'Nothing.'

Donal's response, insofar as I understand it was that this was wrong (?),
because '...there is no inductive probability. There is just as much...chance
of the third box containing...' And here, he lists what might be in the box,
(but does not close the sentence, i.e., does not say that there is just as much
chance of one of the things on his list's being in it as there is...(what?).
Let's let this grammatical incoherence pass. It might help Donal if it were
pointed out that Hume thought that chance applied to the possibility of one of
two things taking place--either x or y. Probability deals with the possibility
of one or more of a number of things but at least more than two's taking place.

Donal adds that the possibility of anything at all's being inside the box (given
perhaps the constraint imposed by the dimensions of the box) is 'the logical
point.' Maybe someday he will explain that to us.

Robert Paul
Reed College

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