Quotations from Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sections 7-12
David Hume (1711-1776)
Necessity, Causation, Freedom, and Religion 

VII. Of the Idea of Necessary Connection

Complex ideas, may, perhaps, be well known by definition, which is nothing but an enumeration of those parts or simple ideas, that compose them. But when we have pushed up definitions to the most simple ideas, and find still more ambiguity and obscurity; what resource are we then possessed of? (VII)

10.  It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all the purposes of providence, than if the great Creator were obliged every moment to adjust its parts, and animate by his breath all the wheels of that stupendous machine.(VII)
11.  We are got to fairy land, long ere we have reached the last steps of our theory [of the universal operation of the Supreme Being] (VII). 

  • Among the most obscure and uncertain ideas that occur in metaphysics. {1}
  • No impression of necessitation or force to be got from observation of particular instances of causation. {3}
    • don't observe that E has to follow C
    • just that E does follow C. {2}
  • "From the first appearance of an object, we can never conjecture what effect will result from it." (369)
  • No impression of necessary force comes from "reflection on our own minds" contra Locke & Berkeley {4}
    • introspection reveals no such thing
    • mind-body interaction is mysterious
  • argument from the incorrigibility & immediacy of reflective awareness
    • what the mind directly perceives (ideas and impressions) are known immediately (no further experience is required) and infallibly or incorrigibly {6}
    • mind knowledge of powers to move our limbs, etc.
      •  is indirect or mediate: via experience
      • fallible: e.g., the palsied man. {5}
  • argument from anatomy {7}
  • same arguments apply with regard to mind's power to cause motions of ideas or trains of thought:
    • careful introspection doesn't find any such thing {8}
    • mind's self-command has limits discoverable only by experience.
    • presumably here there is "some secret mechanism or structure of parts, upon which the effect depends" (VII)
  • Conclusion: the "necessity" and "force" of which metaphysians speak is incomprensible: experience reveals only frequent or constant conjunction of things not any necessary connection between them. {9}
  • Against all pretence of Divine Causation 
    • just a deus ex machina
    • actually irreligious: better God should delegate or design things so they work by themselves. {10}
    • convoluted arguments carrying us far from common life and experience are untrustworthy. {11}
  1. There are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics, more obscure and uncertain, than those of power, force, energy or necessary connexion, of which it is every moment necessary for us to treat in all our disquisitions. (VII)
  2. When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. (VII)
  3. [T]here is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (VII)
  4. The motion of our body follows upon the command of our will. Of this we are every moment conscious. But the means, by which this is effected; the energy, by which the will performs so extraordinary an operation; of this we are so far from being immediately conscious, that it must for ever escape our most diligent enquiry. (VII
  5. A man, suddenly struck with palsy in the leg or arm, or who had newly lost those members, frequently endeavours, at first to move them, and employ them, in their usual offices. (VII)
  6. [C]onsciousness never deceives. (VII
  7. How indeed can we be conscious of a power to move our limbs, when we have no such power; but only that to move certain animal spirits, which, though they produce at last the motion of our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is wholly beyond our comprehension? (VII)
  8. We only feel the event, namely, the existence of an idea, consequent to a command of the will: but the manner, in which this operation is performed, the power by which it is produced, is entirely beyond our comprehension. (VII)
  9. [W]e only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connexion between them. (VII)

VIII. Of Liberty and Necessity

Necessity: All events are causally determined; i.e., necessated by antecedent events.
Freedom: Some human choices are free.
Incompatibility: An event is free only if not causally determined. 

INC & FW & -ND
INC & -FW & ND
-IND & FW & ND

Absolute (or Libertarian) Freedom: freedom to do otherwise period; categorically & unconditionally
Hypothetical Freedom:
Free to do otherwise if I had so chosen. A voluntary act is caused in the right way (not uncaused)

<1> If HL then either (1) there really are no misdeeds or (2) God is their ultimate author.
<2> There are misdeeds and God is not their ultimate author (else it'd be unjust for him to eternally punish). Therefore
<3> not HL.

From this circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot, and remains still undecided, we may presume that there is some ambiguity in the expression, and that the disputants affix different ideas to the terms employed in the controversy. (VIII)

15. A man who is robbed of a considerable sum; does he find his vexation for the loss anywise diminished by these sublime reflections? 
Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil. (VIII)

  • Controversy due to terminological confusion & ambiguous use of words; when the expressions are clarified, everyone is shown to have always completely agreed. {1}{16}
  • Concerning Necessity
  • Twofold source of the idea {2}
    1. the uniformity or constant conjunction of similar operations observable in nature. 
    2. the mind being "determined by custom to infer the one appearance from the other" (VIII)
  • Application to the Free Will Problem
    • observed & acknowledged uniformity our behavior
    • same motives produce the same actions {3}
    • to a good enough approximation {8}
      • as in other cause-effect associations
      • following the Philosopher's Maxim {4}
      • exceptions attributed to deeper (as yet undiscovered) regularities or causes.
      • not to chance or indeterminacy
      • [AIDS & HIV example] 
    • which give rise by custom to inductive inferences (preditions & generalizations) about people's thoughts and behavior. {5}
    • So character & motive necessitate conduct. {6}
    • "all mankind have always agreed in the doctrine of necessity according to the foregoing definition and explication of it" (VIII). 
  • Supporting argument: " how aptly natural and moral evidence link together, and form only one chain of argumen.t" (VIII) {7}
  • Speculation on Resistance to the hypothesis: "why all mankind, though they have ever, without hesitation, acknowledged the doctrine of necessity in their whole practice and reasoning, have yet discovered such a reluctance to acknowledge it in words": {9}
    • mistaken notion of necessity at work in external cause-effect relations.
    • feel no such connections in themselves when they voluntarily choose to act or refrain
    • wrongly infer "there is a difference between the effects which result from material force, and those which arise from thought and intelligence" (VIII
    • buttressed by " a false sensation of seeming experience which we have, or may have, of liberty or indifference, in many of our actions" (VIII) {10}
  • Concerning Liberty
  • a power of acting or not acting according to the determinations of the mill
  • this hypothetical liberty = absence of constraint {11}
    • freedom to have acted otherwise if I had chosen
    • not absolute freedom of uncaused choice
  • supposed absolute freedom is indistinguishable from mere chance "which is universally allowed to have no existence" (VIII). {12}
  • "[H]ypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner in chains." (VIII)
  • Moral & Religious Implications
  • accusation of inconsistency with faith & morals a low form of argument {13}
    • verges on -- and too often crossing over the line to -- personal attack.
    • invalid: such inconsistency of P =/=> falsity of P
  • defense HL from immorality accusation 
    • not only consistent with our practices {15}
    • it's indispensable to our practices; it's absolute freedom that's actually contrary to morals! {14} 
  • contrariety to certain religious doctrines "admits not of so easy and satisfactory an answer" (VIII)
  1. [A]ll men have ever agreed in the doctrine both of necessity and of liberty, according to any reasonable sense, which can be put on these terms; and that the whole controversy, has hitherto turned merely upon words. (VIII)
  2. Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation arises entirely from the uniformity observable in the operations of nature, where similar objects are constantly conjoined together, and the mind is determined by custom to infer the one from the appearance of the other. These two circumstances form the whole of that necessity, which we ascribe to matter. Beyond the constant conjunction of similar objects, and the consequent inference from one to the other, we have no notion of any necessity or connexion. (VIII)
  3. It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations. The same motives always produce the same actions: the same events follow from the same causes. (VIII)
  4. But philosophers, observing that, almost in every part of nature, there is contained a vast variety of springs and principles, which are hid, by reason of their minuteness or remoteness, find, that it is at least possible the contrariety of events may not proceed from any contingency in the cause, but from the secret operation of contrary causes. (VIII)
  5. [T]his experienced uniformity in human actions is a source whence we draw inferences concerning them. (VIII)
  6. It seems almost impossible, therefore, to engage either in science or action of any kind without acknowledging the doctrine of necessity, and this inference from motive to voluntary actions, from characters to conduct. (VIII)
  7. The same prisoner, when conducted to the scaffold, foresees his death as certainly from the constancy and fidelity of his guards, as from the operation of the axe or wheel. (VIII)
  8. A man who at noon leaves his purse full of gold on the pavement at Charing-Cross, may as well expect that it will fly away like a feather, as that he will find it untouched an hour after. (VIII)
  9. But being once convinced that we know nothing farther of causation of any kind than merely the constant conjunction of objects, and the consequent inference of the mind from one to another, and finding that these two circumstances are universally allowed to have place in voluntary actions; we may be more easily led to own the same necessity common to all causes. (VIII)
  10. We feel, that our actions are subject to our will, on most occasions; and imagine we feel, that the will itself is subject to nothing, because, when by a denial of it we are provoked to try, we feel, that it moves easily every way, and produces an image of itself . . . even on that side, on which it did not settle. (VIII)
  11. By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every one who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here, then, is no subject of dispute. (VIII)
  12. And if the definition [of necessity] above mentioned be admitted; liberty, when opposed to necessity, not to constraint, is the same thing with chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence. (VIII)
  13. There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blameable, than, in philosophical disputes, to endeavour the refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretence of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. (VIII)

IX. Of the Reason of Animals

  • Analogical basis of all empirical reasonings. {1}
    • exact similarity: certain inferences
    • partial similarity: probable inferences
  • Notable human to animal likenesses
    • anatomical
    • behavioral: "It seems evident, that animals as well as men learn many things from experience, and infer, that the same events will always follow from the same causes" (IX)
  • Concluion (by analogy):
    • such learning is instinctual & habit-based in them (the irrational brutes)
    • probably it's similarly based in them {3}
  • Notable differences: due to our possession of language and larger brain: (1) more self-awareness about the learning process; (2) better grasp of complications; (3) ability to chain together longer inferences; (4) formation of explicit generalization; (5) greater information access: can learn from other's experiences via their testimony.
  • Conclusion: they're not all that unlike us: they have thought and "knowledge" of matters of fact like ours in kind, although to a lesser extent
    • simpler and more unified story preferred {2}
    • our induction is unconscious or precognitive like theirs {4}
  1. All our reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded on a species of Analogy, which leads us to expect from any cause the same events, which we have observed to result from similar causes. (IX)
  2. [A]ny theory, by which we explain the operations of the understanding, or the origin and connexion of the passions in man, will acquire additional authority, if we find, that the same theory is requisite to explain the same phenomena in all other animals. (IX)
  3. In all these cases, we may observe, that the animal infers some fact beyond what immediately strikes his senses; and that this inference is altogether founded on past experience, while the creature expects from the present object the same consequences, which it has always found in its observation to result from similar objects. (IX)
  4. [T]he experimental reasoning itself, which we possess in common with beasts, and on which the whole conduct of life depends, is nothing but a species of instinct or mechanical power, that acts in us unknown to ourselves; and in its chief operations, is not directed by any such relations or comparisons of ideas, as are the proper objects of our intellectual faculties. (IX)

X. Of Miracles

[A] weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger. (X)

A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. (X)

6.  "[N]o human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle and make it a just foundation for any system of religion" (X)

  • Miracles =df transgressions of the laws of nature {2}
  • Since the laws of nature are how things always go otherwise (except for miracles) reports of miracles are reports of events of the utmost improbability. {1}{3}
  • Probability that such testimony is false is always higher since
    • credulity, misapprehension, & dishonesty, on the other hand, are common as dirt. {4}
    • especially as concerns devout religious persuasions
  • Conclusion: Reports of miracles are never beliefworthy {5}
  • Heaven Discovered!
  1. [N]o testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish. (X)
  2. A miracle may be accurately defined a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the imposition of some invisible agent. (X)
  3. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. (X)
  4. We account for it by the known and natural principles of credulity and delusion. (X)
  5. [I]f the spirit of religion join itself to the love or wonder, there is an end to common sense; and human testimony,  in thse cirucumstances, loses all pretensions to authority. (X)

XI. Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State

2.  The knowledge of the cause being derived solely from the effect, they must be exactly adjusted to each other; and the one can never refer to anything farther, or be the foundation of any new inference and conclusion show only the need to assign a designer intelligent enough to create so much order as actually exist. (XI)

  • The Design Argument
    • there is order and structural design in nature
    • nothing but the deliberate work of an intelligent creator could have made something so orderly and well-structured.
    • therefore nature (or the world) be the product of God, an infiinitely powerful, good, and intelligent Designer. {1}
  • Critique of the Design Argument 
    • "When we infer any particular cause from an effect, we must proportion the one to the other, and can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect." (XI).
    • The natural world is finite and imperfect.
    • Therefore, we are at most warranted in inferring a infinite & imperfect: not God. {2}
  1. You . . . have acknowledged, that the chief or sole argument for a divine existence . . . is derived from the order of nature; where there appear such marks of intelligence and design, that you think it extravagant to assign for its cause, either chance, or the blind and unguided force of matter. You allow, that this is an argument drawn from effects to causes. From the order of the work, you infer, that there must have been project and forethought in the workman. If you cannot make out this point, you allow, that your conclusion fails; and you pretend not to establish the conclusion in a greater latitude than the phenomena of nature will justify. (XI)

XI. Of the Academical of Sceptical Philosophy

In general, there is a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner (XII).

4.  Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. (XII)

  • Two species of skepticism distinguished
    • antecedent: Cartesian doubt which "were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature (as it plainly is not) would be entirely incurable; and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction upon any subject" (XII)
    • consequent to science and (his own): doesn’t apply in practice -- nature is too strong.
  • Two species of knowledge (moderate skepticism)
    • a priori knowledge of relations of ideas: known with certainty: limited to mathematics
    • "knowledge" of matters of fact: uncertainly based on experience: science and common sense
  • Against the pretensions of metaphysics } {3}
    • to give certain knowledge of matters of fact exceeding all possible experience
      • belief in an external world {1}
      • ex nihilo nihil fit {2}
  • Against the pretensions of morality 
    • to give knowledge of objective values
    • not based on human taste and sentiment {4}
  1. It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resembling them: how shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects The supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning. (XII)
  2. That impious maxim of the ancient philosophy, Ex nihilo, nihil fit, by which the creation of matter was excluded, ceases to be a maxim, according to this philosophy. Not only the will of the supreme Being may create matter; but, for aught, we know a priori, the will of any other being might create it, or any other cause, that the most whimsical imagination can assign. (XII)
  3. If we take into our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Consign it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. (XII)

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