Hume on Induction

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Hume’s Problem Of Induction

In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume challenges the traditional theories of causality, the idea that one can make an observation about two events and infer a new claim concerning the conjunction of the first event and the “resulting” second event. Instead of accepting this notion of causality, Hume questions the certainty of matters of fact and more specifically induction. Hume states there are two distinct types of knowledge: relations of ideas and matters of fact. Relations of ideas are products of deductive, truth-preserving inferences. For instance, the statement 2+2=4 will always be true and cannot be negated without contradiction. Hume denotes relations of ideas as ‘a priori’ , ideas that can be known without experience. On the other hand, matters of fact are products of inductive reasoning that can be negated with contradiction because they may only be known through experience. Hume reckons that experience doesn’t prove very much because the future cannot be proven by the past. Even though we have seen something over and over again, doesn’t mean that it will happen tomorrow or the next day after that. For instance, one could conclude the sun will rise tomorrow morning based on the observation that it has risen every morning of our existence. Yet, this relationship between the morning and the sun rising “leaves not the lowest degree of evidence in any proposition” (Hume 267) that goes beyond our present observations and memory. In essence, cause and effect is no more than ones meaningless habit of association. We have no rational basis for believing that the sun will rise, yet we choose to believe it.

In response to his problem of induction, Hume poses a skeptical solution indulging upon habits and beliefs. He recognizes that there is no exact solution to address the problem of induction because as human beings, when we observe the constant conjunction of two events occurring repetitively, we habitually grow accustom to...
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