Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

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Humelover
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Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Humelover » October 17th, 2020, 5:37 pm

Hey guys,

Currently I am studying Hume's sceptical argument. I think his view on induction is quite interesting. While thinking on and writing about Hume's argument and perspective, I was wondering about the validity and soundness of the sceptical argument that he proposes.

I think his sceptical argument should be something like this:

1. You don't get knowledge of the empirical unobserved by reason or by observation. For example, I cannot tell that the sun will rise tomorrow by thinking about it, and by looking at it.

2. Causal inference will be the only way which will give you this knowledge.

3. To gain knowledge with the use of causal inference, we have to know causal relations.

4. Causal relations could not be known by observation and reason.

5. You can't get knowledge of things that are empirical unobserved

Conclusion: its not possible for us to gain or obtain knowledge about anything that goes beyond our senses, memory and testimony.

What do you think? Is his sceptical argument valid? And is it sound?

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Arjen
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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Arjen » October 18th, 2020, 3:14 am

Hello Humelover, I like your interest in Hume. He is one of history's great thinkers. I do think that this one should be moved to a different subforum though @Greta.

Hume's skeptical argument purtains the distinction between rmpiricism and rationalism. Where, for example Descartes and Rousseau feel that certain knowledge is derived through pure thought, Hume points out that you might think purely, but that observations are needed to have something to think about and to subsequently reflect on your own thoughts to cerrect possible incorrect conclusions.

I think Hume's fork comes down to the seoeration that pure thought is always a priori (before observation) and that we should reflect upon our conclusions a posteriori (after observation). So rationalism purtains our thought and empiricism purtains our observations.

Later Kant defines our "intuition" as a priori: That we a priori know that each thing to be considered has capabilities of a certain sort. The effects it causes, dimensions and so on. About this Schopenhauer later asserts that our minds are "causal" a priori. We cannit think of a thing as not in a schema of space and time. In fact, if we want to think of a thing such as a soul, without dimensions, we first put it into a schema and then define: no mass. So no solid object. But somehow, we still think a priori it does have a point.

I think that is correct and therefore I think Hume's skeptical argument is correct, if taken in this way.
The saying that what is true in theory is not always true in practice, means that the theory is wrong!
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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Wossname » October 18th, 2020, 7:25 am

Greetings Humelover.

My understanding is that Hume’s argument is that you can give no reason to believe events you have not observed will resemble events which you have.

One point is that you never see a cause. You see one pool ball hit another and the other move but all you see are contiguous events (ball hits ball and ball moves). You don’t (he claims) see anything called a cause. This means causal necessity is not a reason for such a belief that is empirically derived.

Further, if we argue that in the past we have found observed events are a reliable guide to unobserved ones (e.g. future events) what reason can we offer to believe that observed events will continue to be so without assuming what is in question (that they are a reliable guide)?

This works backwards in time too. E.g. you see a human shaped footprint on a beach and assume a human was there at some point to leave the footprint. You can give no reason to believe this unobserved event either.

It is (I think) a wonderful argument. Bertrand Russell argued that if Hume’s problem cannot be solved, “there is no intellectual difference between sanity and insanity”. For myself, in the light of this, I think it entirely rational to suppose unobserved events will resemble observed ones. We must hope for predictability and act accordingly even if we should not expect it. With no guide to behaviour we cannot reasonably act. We need to reasonably act. I therefore accept this level of unreason as a reasonable course of action. It may be philosophically dubious but I suggest it is eminently practical. I will not decline to go to the pub because I have no reason to believe the pub will be there when I arrive. That way lies the madness of sobriety and it is to be avoided if possible. So I say take a chance. Comparing alternatives, what do you stand to lose? My local is not in lockdown today but tomorrow it might be. A man should make the most of life’s opportunities no? Of course a well fed turkey may get its throat cut at Christmas, proving the lie of the usefulness of the past as a guide. But then alcohol may turn out to be tomorrow’s cure for all physical ills. Either way I’m off to the pub in hopes of food and ale, and if the past is a guide, I may be some time. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Humelover » October 18th, 2020, 7:33 am

Thanks for your answers! But the thing I am struggling with is if this argument is valid and sound. Obviously, in Philosophy, an argument is valid if it's not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. An argument is sound if the argument is valid and the premises are all true.

Do you think this is the case? Are the premises true, and is it not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false?

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Arjen » October 18th, 2020, 7:50 am

I like it @Wossname . I want to point out that ths:
"there is no intellectual difference between sanity and insanity”
Is solved by applying the rationalism to the workings of the mind only. The a priori part. Thus not to direct observations. That increases our accuracy in regards to our predictions. But, in irder to be certain, we need another observation. Until we get that observation, we should remain in a posture of partial skepticism concerning our predictions.
The saying that what is true in theory is not always true in practice, means that the theory is wrong!
~Immanuel Kant

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Humelover » October 18th, 2020, 8:00 am

@A@Arjen

I tried to message you, because of your interesting thoughts. Unfortunatly I could not message you, because of the admission board. Is there a possibility to discuss the soundnes and validity of the hume argument with you?

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Terrapin Station » October 18th, 2020, 10:04 am

Without getting into the minutiae of how you're stating the argument, because that's not so important, the idea pretty much hinges on using "knowledge" to refer to something we have certainty for. But in my and many others' views, we shouldn't use "knowledge" that way. Knowledge need not be certain. And with knowledge as something that need not be certain, there are a lot of things that we know inductively, without certainty.

To deny this denies a very intuitive and useful way that we use the idea of (and thus term) knowledge. It would be silly to say that we don't know that our car is parked wherever we left it, for example, since we certainly don't behave as if we don't know this. We don't have deductive certainty that our car is parked wherever we left it, but we don't need that.

So Hume's argument works if we use "knowledge" so that it has a connotation of certainty, but it's silly to use "knowledge" that way.

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Arjen » October 18th, 2020, 10:54 am

@Terrapin Station That is exactly as @Wossname meant, I think and I also agree. But, Hume was on about "certain knowledge", which is, after all the argument between rationalism and empiricism. However, to expand on that, I think that the whole argument he makes is an argument against rationalism as a single theory. Which is why I brought it to Kant. Because transcendental idealism contains both. And that, in the end, is the way to arrive at some form of certainty. Which is, incidentally, also the way that our cognition works. Each thought, after all consists of a major and a minor premise. The major one being a universal principle of thought and the minor one being a particular object that we observed.
:)
The saying that what is true in theory is not always true in practice, means that the theory is wrong!
~Immanuel Kant

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Sculptor1 » October 18th, 2020, 11:20 am

Wossname wrote:
October 18th, 2020, 7:25 am
Greetings Humelover.

My understanding is that Hume’s argument is that you can give no reason to believe events you have not observed will resemble events which you have.

One point is that you never see a cause. You see one pool ball hit another and the other move but all you see are contiguous events (ball hits ball and ball moves). You don’t (he claims) see anything called a cause. This means causal necessity is not a reason for such a belief that is empirically derived.
What Hume was keen to point out is that there is no a priori reasoning that could ever tell you what happens next when a ball strikes another. Will the ball bounce back, will they both move, will one turn into a bunch of petunias? We at all times have to rely on induction to form our understanding of the world, and hope that our conclusions work for similar instances.
This "constant conjunction" of resultant action is taken as causality, but as we ought to be aware there maybe an infinite set of descriptions behind each action that could enhance out understanding, but at base level there is not real explanation - just finer description.

Further, if we argue that in the past we have found observed events are a reliable guide to unobserved ones (e.g. future events) what reason can we offer to believe that observed events will continue to be so without assuming what is in question (that they are a reliable guide)?

This works backwards in time too. E.g. you see a human shaped footprint on a beach and assume a human was there at some point to leave the footprint. You can give no reason to believe this unobserved event either.

It is (I think) a wonderful argument. Bertrand Russell argued that if Hume’s problem cannot be solved, “there is no intellectual difference between sanity and insanity”. For myself, in the light of this, I think it entirely rational to suppose unobserved events will resemble observed ones. We must hope for predictability and act accordingly even if we should not expect it. With no guide to behaviour we cannot reasonably act. We need to reasonably act.
All this works well - of course, until it does not. It is then that we need to hold onto a degree of critical self awareness and skepticism to make necessary adjustments in our world view.
This is , hopelfully, what scientists are very good at, whilst the religious amoungst our ranks are totally useless at.

I therefore accept this level of unreason as a reasonable course of action. It may be philosophically dubious but I suggest it is eminently practical. I will not decline to go to the pub because I have no reason to believe the pub will be there when I arrive. That way lies the madness of sobriety and it is to be avoided if possible. So I say take a chance. Comparing alternatives, what do you stand to lose? My local is not in lockdown today but tomorrow it might be. A man should make the most of life’s opportunities no? Of course a well fed turkey may get its throat cut at Christmas, proving the lie of the usefulness of the past as a guide. But then alcohol may turn out to be tomorrow’s cure for all physical ills. Either way I’m off to the pub in hopes of food and ale, and if the past is a guide, I may be some time. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
Going to the pub is one thing. But expecting God to perform yet another miracle is another.

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Jack D Ripper » October 18th, 2020, 3:17 pm

Wossname wrote:
October 18th, 2020, 7:25 am
... I will not decline to go to the pub because I have no reason to believe the pub will be there when I arrive. That way lies the madness of sobriety and it is to be avoided if possible. So I say take a chance. ...

You seem like a true philosopher.

Hume wrote:
Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.
https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/341#Hume_0222_109

It might be worth noting, in case someone takes the wording the wrong way, that in Hume's time, the standard way of writing was as if someone of an unknown sex was a man. I do not think that it can reasonably be taken to mean something that one might take such an expression if it were written today, as it was just following standard practice for English sentences in that era.
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Jack D Ripper » October 18th, 2020, 3:23 pm

Humelover wrote:
October 17th, 2020, 5:37 pm
Hey guys,

Currently I am studying Hume's sceptical argument. I think his view on induction is quite interesting. While thinking on and writing about Hume's argument and perspective, I was wondering about the validity and soundness of the sceptical argument that he proposes.

I think his sceptical argument should be something like this:

1. You don't get knowledge of the empirical unobserved by reason or by observation. For example, I cannot tell that the sun will rise tomorrow by thinking about it, and by looking at it.

2. Causal inference will be the only way which will give you this knowledge.

3. To gain knowledge with the use of causal inference, we have to know causal relations.

4. Causal relations could not be known by observation and reason.

5. You can't get knowledge of things that are empirical unobserved

Conclusion: its not possible for us to gain or obtain knowledge about anything that goes beyond our senses, memory and testimony.

What do you think? Is his sceptical argument valid? And is it sound?

I do not like the way you have worded his argument, but allowing for that, there is an error in your conclusion, in that Hume did not include testimony in his description:
It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, to enquire what is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory.
https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/341#Hume_0222_135


But in answer to your main question, Hume is right on this, as he is on so many things.
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Arjen » October 18th, 2020, 4:09 pm

I was waiting for you to respond here @Jack D Ripper . Isn't this the general principle on which you base your argument against the existence of God?
The saying that what is true in theory is not always true in practice, means that the theory is wrong!
~Immanuel Kant

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Steve3007 » October 18th, 2020, 4:14 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:To deny this denies a very intuitive and useful way that we use the idea of (and thus term) knowledge.
"Useful" being the key word.

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Jack D Ripper » October 18th, 2020, 4:21 pm

Arjen wrote:
October 18th, 2020, 4:09 pm
I was waiting for you to respond here @Jack D Ripper . Isn't this the general principle on which you base your argument against the existence of God?
No.
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." - David Hume

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Re: Hume's sceptical argument: valid and sound?

Post by Arjen » October 18th, 2020, 4:22 pm

Jack D Ripper wrote:
October 18th, 2020, 4:21 pm
Arjen wrote:
October 18th, 2020, 4:09 pm
I was waiting for you to respond here @Jack D Ripper . Isn't this the general principle on which you base your argument against the existence of God?
No.
No? It can't be seen, therefore we must investigate our thoughts on the matter? I could swear you used that somwhere?
The saying that what is true in theory is not always true in practice, means that the theory is wrong!
~Immanuel Kant

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