Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hume, cont.

Fred Wilson:

""""Given Hume’s general argument against objective necessary connections, there is no logical necessity attaching to any causal judgement; it is always possible that events will be contrary to any causal law. The human mind can therefore never achieve the level of absolute certainty that Cartesians and Aristotelians demand; all causal judgments are fallible. This amounts to scepticism provided that one thinks that such standards as those of the Cartesian are reasonable. However, given the argument against objective necessities, and therefore against the possibility of absolute certainty, it is not reasonable, Hume holds, to
adopt the Cartesian standard. Hence, given the Humean argument his position
cannot reasonably be characterized as sceptical.

This means in particular that Hume’s pragmatic justification or vindication of the norms of empirical science as the defining standards of human reason is itself empirical and fallible. This does not imply, however, that Hume is a sceptic about science or about causal inferen- ces. For, if a sceptic is one who holds that no causal judgement is ever reasonable or that all are equally reasonable, then Hume is no sceptic. Now, the basic evidence for a causal judgement that all A’s are B’s is
the fact that all observed A’s are Bs. Often enough, however, we observe a
certain contrariety in effects; that is, A’s are sometimes followed by B s and
sometimes by C’s.2’ We do not in such cases, at least we do not if we are
philosophers, simply conclude that there is no causality here, that here it is
chance and not causation that is opera-tive. Rather, we infer that there is a
hitherto unknown factor, call it D*, such that an A is B just in case that it is
D* and is C just in case that it is not D*. We make this inference on the basis
of our past successes in discovering previously unknown causal factors which can explain the contrariety of events. The vulgar, of curse, often do explain by appeal to chance the observed contrariety of effects; to use Hume's example, that my watch sometimes does not work properly is due to chance. But to the artisan such an explanation will not do: he knows better. What stops the watch is not chance but a hidden - unknown but not unknowable cause -for example, a speck of dust?' Science, or what is the same for Hume, philosophy, has systematically extended the watchmaker's experience to many other cases, and has been systematically successful in discovering causes for contrary ef-fects. It is just this fact of experience,
that science has been successful in discovering causes, that leads us to affirm
the proposition, the law about laws to use Mill's phrase:' that for every event
there is a cause, that is, the proposition that for every event there is a
causal law under which it can be subsumed..."

(the naive sunday schooler reads a few sentences about Hume and skepticism, and thinks the old reprobate denied knowledge via experience, induction, probability, if not science itself. Nyet. As Wilson notes, Hume is not a ultra-skeptic, except in the sense that he points out that causal "laws" are matters of habit and observation, not necessary or axiomatic (that said, I might agree with mechanists that Hume overstated the case for subjectivity, as did the early Popper). Newtonian mechanics were thought absolute, until Einstein arrived. That said, Hume does provide fairly convincing arguments why miracles should not be accepted as legitimate--the uniformity of experience precludes people rising from the dead, or jezebels riding on the back of 10 headed beasts--and a fortiori, why scripture has no authority...While perhaps not quite a Newton, Hume served human liberty.

Even some cheese-eating surrender monkeys french postmodernists, like Deleuze, have expressed an admiration for Hume:

""Deleuze insists that one of Hume's greatest contributions to modern philosophy is his insistence that all relations are external to their terms: this is the essence of Hume's anti-transcendental stance. Human nature cannot unite itself, there is no 'I' which stands before experience, but only moments of experience themselves, unattached and meaningless without any necessary relation to each other. A flash of red, a movement, a gust of wind, these elements must be externally related to each other to create the sensation of a tree in autumn. In the social world, this externality attests to the always-already interested nature of life: no relation is necessary, or governed by neutral laws, so every relation has a localised and passional motive. The ways in which habits are formed attests to the desires at the heart of our social milieu."""""

Contingencies also notes a rather unsettling, anti-essentialist aspect to Hume-- psychological, perhaps, rather than logical. Deleuze's writing also should be considered a type of conceptual psychology, and not philosophy per se--a point overlooked by the PoMo bashers (CS Peirce had claimed Hume as an early pragmatist). Reality is ostensive; knowledge is ostensive. Wittgenstein himself had read Hume, and understands Ostension (Deleuze however referred to Wittgenstein as an assassin of philosophy, or something).

There is a fourth planet-object. Westerners call it "Mars," after Ares.. Egyptians referred to it as eye of Horus. Hindus called it something else. The Mars-object could be named, Sram, or anything, really. Like other planets, Mars follows an elliptical orbit. That's not likely to change, at least until the sun explodes (you think I jest? read the guesstimates of "experts"regarding solaric activity). Hume, however, would remind us that the supposed "laws" of elliptical orbits--or solar physics--while for all intensive purposes permanent (at least they appear so to mere mortals), are themselves not necessary.

There are no comforting, stable eternal truths, whether in terms of human experience, religion, science, or politics, yet the "process" for Hume--or Deleuze, presumably--lacks the mystical or heroic aspects ala Hegel. In that sense, Hume does seem akin to the ancient stoics, who also concerned themselves with chance, fortune, the fates, and hardening themselves against ....Contingencies.

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