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The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong Routledge Revivals

The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong Routledge Revivals

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Published by: Volnei Ramos Martins on Mar 24, 2011
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(Note 68 to page 43)

It is not surprising that Hume would be guilty of this confusion [between expectation that is

instinctive and habitual, and expectation that is justified by the principles of the calculus

of prob-ability]. For at the time he wrote, psychology was far less developed than it is now

and study of the probability calculus had not yet sufficiently clarified the process of rational
induction. But it is surprising to find that James Mill and Herbert Spencer did not advance
in the slightest beyond Hume (see James Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human
Vol. I, Chapter 9 and note 108) and that even the excellent J.S.Mill never saw
the essential distinction between the two procedures—this despite the fact that Laplace’s
Essai Philosophique sur les Probability was at his disposal. Mill’s failure to recognize the
purely analytic character of mathematics and the general significance of the deductive

procedure is connected with the same point. He had even denied that the syllogism leads
to new knowledge. If one bases mathematics upon induction, then, of course, one cannot

justify induction mathematically, for this would lead to a vicious circle. So far as
this point is concerned, Jevons’ Logic is beyond question the more nearly adequate.
But there is reason to believe that Mill had some inkling of the distinction we have referred
to. In a note to his edition of James Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind
(Volume I, Chapter 11, p. 407), he criticizes his father’s theory in the following terms:”…if

belief is only an inseparable association, belief is a matter of habit and accident, and not of
reason. Assuredly an association, however close, is not a sufficient ground of belief*

; it is
not evidence that the corresponding facts are united in external nature. The theory seems to
annihilate all distinction between the belief of the wise, which is regulated by evidence, and
conforms to the real successions and co-existences of the facts of the universe, and the
belief of fools, which is mechanically produced by any accidental association that suggests

the idea of a succession or coexistence to the mind; a belief aptly characterized by the
popular expression, ‘believing a thing because they have taken it into their heads”. This is
all excellent. But it is robbed of its essential worth when Mill writes in a subsequent note
(op. cit., p. 438, note no): “It must be conceded to him [the author of the Analysis] that an
association, sufficiently strong to exclude all ideas that would exclude itself, produces a kind of
mechanical belief;
and that the processes by which the belief is corrected, or reduced to rational
grounds, all consist in the growth of a counter-association tending to raise the idea of a

disappointment of the first expectation, and as the one or the other prevails in the

particular case, the belief or expectation exists or does not exist exactly as if the belief

were the the same thing with the association.”
There is much here to give one pause. Mill refers to ideas that mutually exclude one
another. What sort of ideas could these be? Mill tells us elsewhere that he knows “no case


[The italics up to this point are Mill’s; the remaining ones are Brentano’s.]

Supplementary Notes 67

of absolute incompatibility of thought…except between the presence of something and its
absence” (op. cit.,9 Vol. I, pp. 98–9, note 30). But are even these thoughts incompatible?
Mill himself tells us the opposite elsewhere. He says that along with the thought of being
there is always given at the same time the thought of non-being: “We are only conscious
of the presence [of objects] by comparison with their absence” (p. 26, note 39). But aside
from all this, how strange it is that Mill here allows the distinctive nature of the evident to
escape him entirely and retains only that blind and mechanical formation of judgement
which he had rightly looked down upon! So far as this point is concerned, the sceptic
Hume stands far higher than Mill. For Hume sees at least that no such empirical
conception of induction can satisfy the requirements of reason. Sigwart’s criticism of
Mill’s theory of induction (Logik, Vol. II, p. 371) is basically sound. But in turning to his
own “postulates”, he does not provide us with any satisfactory alternative.

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