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HUME’S PROBLEMS WITH INDUCTION 7








1. Hume’s “problem of induction”






In the present essay, I would like to make a number of comments regarding Hume’s so-
called problem of induction, or rather emphasize his many problems with induction. I am
mindful of Hume in all my writings. In at least two places, I devote some attention to
1
Hume’s particular viewpoints . If elsewhere I often do not mention him, or I just mention
2
him in passing , as one proponent of this or that doctrine under discussion, it is because my
emphasis is on proposing coherent theories rather than lingering on incoherent ones.
David Hume is undoubtedly a challenging and influential philosopher. In his works, he
3
repeatedly attacks many common concepts, such as the validity of induction (notably,
generalization); the existence or knowability of natural necessity or law, causal connection
or causation; and the existence or knowability of a self or person; that will is free of
determinism and indeterminism; that an “ought” may be derived from an “is” or is a
special kind of “is”.
These are of course essentially various facets of one and the same assault against common
sense, against human reason. I will briefly now reply to each of these skeptical objections.
The central or root question here is, I believe, that of the validity of induction. For the other
problems are solvable mostly by inductive means. So that if induction is invalid, it is
indeed difficult to see how the various other basic ideas of reason could be justified.
4
With regard to Hume’s problem with generalization: Hume doubted the validity of
generalization on the ground that having in the past observed certain regularities is no
guarantee that in the future such regularities will hold. To appeal to a principle of
Uniformity of Nature would, according to him, be a circular argument, since such a
principle could only itself be known by generalization.

In Hume’s view, a generalization is just a mental knee-jerk reaction by humans (and even
animals, though they do it non-verbally), an expression of the expectation formed by
repeated experiences of a similar kind, a sort of psychological instinct or habit rather than
an epistemologically justifiable scientific methodology.







1
Namely, in Phenomenology, chapter II (section 5), and in Ruminations, part I, chapter 8
(sections 4-7).
2
See mentions in: Future Logic, chapters 65 and 67. Phenomenology, ch. I, V, VI and VII.
Judaic Logic, ch. 2. Buddhist Illogic, ch. 7. The Logic of Causation, ch. 3, 10, 16 and app. 1.
Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, ch. 2. Ruminations, part I, ch. 9, and part II, ch. 1, 6, 7.
Meditations, ch. 32.
3
Scotland, 1711-76.
4
In his Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), and subsequent works. The Treatise is posted
in full at http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/hume/treatise1.html.
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