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He gives similar but not identical definitions in the Enquiry. There are reams of literature addressing whether these two definitions are the same and, if not, to which of them Hume gives primacy. Robinson is perhaps the staunchest proponent of the position that the two are nonequivalent, arguing that there is an nonequivalence in meaning and that they fail to capture the same extension. Two objects can be constantly conjoined without our mind determining that one causes the other, and it seems possible that we can be determined that one object causes another without their being constantly conjoined.

But if the definitions fail in this way, then it is problematic that Hume maintains that both are adequate definitions of causation.

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Some scholars have argued for ways of squaring the two definitions Don Garrett, for instance, argues that the two are equivalent if they are both read objectively or both read subjectively , while others have given reason to think that seeking to fit or eliminate definitions may be a misguided project. One alternative to fitting the definitions lies in the possibility that they are doing two separate things, and it might therefore be inappropriate to reduce one to the other or claim that one is more significant than the other.

There are several interpretations that allow us to meaningfully maintain the distinction and therefore the nonequivalence between the two definitions unproblematically. For instance, D1 can be seen as tracing the external impressions that is, the constant conjunction requisite for our idea of causation while D2 traces the internal impressions, both of which are important to Hume in providing a complete account.

Another method is to cash out the two definitions in terms of the types of relation. Walter Ott argues that, if this is right, then the lack of equivalence is not a problem, as philosophical and natural relations would not be expected to capture the same extension. If the definitions were meant to separately track the philosophical and natural relations, we might expect Hume to have explained that distinction in the Enquiry rather than dropping it while still maintaining two definitions.

Bennett Though this treatment of literature considering the definitions as meaningfully nonequivalent has been brief, it does serve to show that the definitions need not be forced together. In fact, later in the Treatise , Hume states that necessity is defined by both, either as the constant conjunction or as the mental inference, that they are two different senses of necessity, and Hume, at various points, identifies both as the essence of connection or power.

Whether or not Robinson is right in thinking Hume is mistaken in holding this position, Hume himself does not seem to believe one definition is superior to the other, or that they are nonequivalent. Attempting to establish primacy between the definitions implies that they are somehow the bottom line for Hume on causation. But Hume is at pains to point out that the definitions are inadequate. And what stronger instance can be produced of the surprizing ignorance and weakness of the understanding than [the analysis of causation]?

But though both these definitions be drawn from circumstances foreign to cause, we cannot remedy this inconvenience, or attain any more perfect definition…. EHU 7. The tone this passage conveys is one of resigned dissatisfaction. Although Hume does the best that can be expected on the subject, he is dissatisfied, but this dissatisfaction is inevitable.

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This is because, as Hume maintains in Part VII of the Enquiry , a definiens is nothing but an enumeration of the constituent simple ideas in the definiendum. It is an inconvenience that they appeal to something foreign, something we should like to remedy. Unfortunately, such a remedy is impossible, so the definitions, while as precise as they can be, still leave us wanting something further. But if this is right, then Hume should be able to endorse both D1 and D2 as vital components of causation without implying that he endorses either or both as necessary and sufficient for causation.

Though Hume gives a quick version of the Problem in the middle of his discussion of causation in the Treatise T 1.

Probabilistic Theories of Causation

It should be noted, however, that not everyone agrees about what exactly the Problem consists in. Briefly, the typified version of the Problem as arguing for inductive skepticism can be described as follows:. Recall that proper reasoning involves only relations of ideas and matters of fact. Again, the key differentia distinguishing the two categories of knowledge is that asserting the negation of a true relation of ideas is to assert a contradiction, but this is not the case with genuine matters of fact.

Learning a theory of causality.

But in Section IV, Hume only pursues the justification for matters of fact, of which there are two categories:. For Hume, B would include both predictions and the laws of nature upon which predictions rest. We cannot claim direct experience of predictions or of general laws, but knowledge of them must still be classified as matters of fact, since both they and their negations remain conceivable. In considering the foundations for predictions, however, we must remember that, for Hume, only the relation of cause and effect gives us predictive power, as it alone allows us to go beyond memory and the senses.

All such predictions must therefore involve causality and must therefore be of category B. But what justifies them? Since the Problem of Induction demands that causal connections cannot be known a priori , and that our access is only to constant conjunction, the Problem seems to require the most crucial components of his account of necessity. It is therefore not entirely clear how Hume views the relationship between his account of necessity and the Problem.

This is to say that B is grounded in A. But again, A by itself gives us no predictive power. The answer to this question seems to be inductive reasoning. We use direct observation to draw conclusions about unobserved states of affairs. But this is just to once more assert that B is grounded in A. The more interesting question therefore becomes how we do this. What lets us reason from A to B? The only apparent answer is the assumption of some version of the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature PUN , the doctrine that nature is always uniform, so unobserved instances of phenomena will resemble the observed.

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This is called an assumption since we have not, as yet, established that we are justified in holding such a principle. Once more, it cannot be known a priori , as we assert no contradiction by maintaining its falsity. A sporadic, random universe is perfectly conceivable. Therefore, knowledge of the PUN must be a matter of fact. But the principle is predictive and not directly observed.

This means that the PUN is an instance of B , but we were invoking the PUN as the grounds for moving from beliefs of type A to beliefs of type B , thus creating a vicious circle when attempting to justify type B matters of fact. We use knowledge of B as a justification for our knowledge of B. We have no ground that allows us to move from A to B , to move beyond sensation and memory, so any matter of fact knowledge beyond these becomes suspect.

However, there are philosophers Max Black, R. Braithwaite, Charles Peirce, and Brian Skyrms, for instance that, while agreeing that Hume targets the justification of inductive inference, insist that this particular justificatory circle is not vicious or that it is unproblematic for various reasons. As discussed below, Hume may be one such philosopher. Alternatively, there are those that think that Hume claims too much in insisting that inductive arguments fail to lend probability to their conclusions.

Hume illicitly adds that no invalid argument can still be reasonable. Stove Induction is simply not supported by argument, good or bad. Instead, it is an instinctive mechanism that we share with animals.


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In the external world, causation simply is the regularity of constant conjunction. Because of the variant opinions of how we should view the relationship between the two definitions proffered by Hume, we find two divergent types of reduction of Humean causation. Robinson, for instance, claims that D2 is explanatory in nature, and is merely part of an empiricist psychological theory. Robinson A reductive emphasis on D1 as definitive ignores not only D2 as a definition but also ignores all of the argument leading up to it. However, this practice may not be as uncharitable as it appears, as many scholars see the first definition as the only component of his account relevant to metaphysics.

For instance, D. Armstrong, after describing both components, simply announces his intention to set aside the mental component as irrelevant to the metaphysics of causation. In addition to its accounting for the necessity of causation mentioned above, recall that Hume makes frequent reference to both definitions as accurate or just, and at one point even refers to D2 as constituting the essence of causation. Below, the assumption that Hume is even doing metaphysics will also be challenged.

The more common Humean reduction, then, adds a projectivist twist by somehow reducing causation to constant conjunction plus the internal impression of necessity. Largely for this reason, we have a host of reductionist interpretations rather than a single version. The unifying thread of the reductionist interpretations is that causation, as it exists in the object , is constituted by regularity. After all, both D1 and D2 seem reductive in nature.

If, as is often the case, we take definitions to represent the necessary and sufficient conditions of the definiendum, then both the definitions are reductive notions of causation.

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Theories of Causation - Bibliography - PhilPapers

D1 reduces causation to proximity, continuity, and constant conjunction, and D2 similarly reduces causation to proximity, continuity, and the internal mental determination that moves the first object or idea to the second. Therefore, the various forms of causal reductionism can constitute reasonable interpretations of Hume.

By putting the two definitions at center state, Hume can plausibly be read as emphasizing that our only notion of causation is constant conjunction with certitude that it will continue.


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  • One way to interpret the reasoning behind assigning Hume the position of causal skepticism is by assigning similar import to the passages emphasized by the reductionists, but interpreting the claims epistemically rather than ontologically. If it is true that constant conjunction with or without the added component of mental determination represents the totality of the content we can assign to our concept of causation, then we lose any claim to robust metaphysical necessity. But once this is lost, we also sacrifice our only rational grounding of causal inference.

    Our experience of constant conjunction only provides a projectivist necessity, but a projectivist necessity does not provide any obvious form of accurate predictive power. Hence, if we limit causation to the content provided by the two definitions, we cannot use this weak necessity to justify the PUN and therefore cannot ground predictions.

    We are therefore left in a position of inductive skepticism which denies knowledge beyond memory and what is present to the senses. By limiting causation to constant conjunction, we are incapable of grounding causal inference; hence Humean inductive skepticism.

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    Since we never directly experience power, all causal claims certainly appear susceptible to the Problem of Induction. The attempted justification of causal inference would lead to the vicious regress explained above in lieu of finding a proper grounding.