|'Hume, you are fat bastard'|
We live in a world of cause and effect. Something occurs and an event or effect follows on from that initial cause. Without the initiating event, there can be no subsequent follow-on event. This is how the real world works, doesn't it? Some folk state that an infinite regress of 'causes' is not possible and therefore, we must have an initiating, first cause. Therefore, there must be an ultimate 'first cause' and some wise folk reckon that this first cause must be the hand of god; ergo god exists. Now this is an excellent example of specious reasoning and easily demolished with a little stern thought- another post, perhaps?
However, we should be wary in thinking that every example of cause and effect, although correlated, represents a causal chain of action. This is a trap to ensnare the intellectually lazy; observer beware! There is a nice Latin tag for this sort of thing: 'post hoc ergo propter hoc'. This fallacy renders into English as: "After this, therefore because of this." Here is such an example: Consider two clocks sitting on a shelf. They are both set to chime on the hour however, the first clock has been set to chime one second before its companion time piece. A naive observer may reason that the chime of the first clock initiates the chime of the second. Even after a thousand observations the correlation of the two events would remain perfect. Only a madman, or an African Bushman, would be swayed and convinced by causality in this instance. Other examples are not so obvious. Spurious deduction from 'causative correlation' is beloved by the politician and the bane of the scientist.
The British Empiricist Philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776) understood this problem very well and couched it in lucid and beautifully canted prose. Hume was a student of induction and thus considered that most of our knowledge is based on our sensory experience. In this way, he deviated from the ancient Greek philosophers who placed a greater emphasis on pure thought. Both methodologies have their place and all knowledge comes from both these fundamental sources; nothing else exists.
Hume did not take causation for granted and challenged our common sense intuitive approach to the subject. He raised the problem of 'correlation' and considered cause and effect an artificial juxtaposition imposed by the mind. I think he was right to expose causation to intellectual rigour. He stated, that when we experience 'causation' we can only say that one event follows another event in time. We can't state for certain that the events are causally connected, or can we? The argument that constant conjunction between events infers causation, in the general sense, is flawed. As we have seen with the problem of 'The Chiming Clocks', correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Furthermore, Hume considers that the inference of causal events is not based on reason but adherence to custom. It is simply the mind making the connection of causality, whether causality actually occurs on any particular occasion is a different question. Are there instances where we can be certain that event 'A' causes event 'B'. Of course there are, otherwise we would be living in a madman's dream. Are we able to refute Hume whilst taking into account some of his salient points?
I think Hume is correct to think that our minds are conditioned to recognise patterns of correlation from which we then, extrapolate; how could it be any other way? As one event follows another we make the connection that the first event invokes the second event. And with repetition we become more convinced in our deduction. When we strike our thumb with a hammer is it correct to deduce that the subsequent pain and swelling is due to the descent of the hammer? We don't have to repeat the performance in this instance; ultimate wisdom follows from a single blow and cause and effect is fixed in the mind after a single, very painful, observation of conjoined events. If Hume is wrong in this simple example then he must be wrong in others also. It is not difficult to conceive other such instances of such clear causality. Hume may concede the point but rejoinder that the general 'idea' of causation is fixed in the mind, in the first place, by the conjoining of contiguous events.
It is a matter of conjecture whether Hume believed of what he wrote and if he did, to what extent. Philosophers are scamps and do not always write as they think. Nevertheless, their writings provide a spur for deeper thought and thus make us intellectually richer. Not me, though, I'm still pondering the problem of the hammer. Wisdom, for some, can only be gained once they run out of fingers. Now to dream......
|'God, you don't exist'|