PY1006 (2009-10

)

REASONING AND KNOWLEDGE
LECTURE TEN: The Human Condition is the Humean Condition 2/3/2010 Dr. Patrick Greenough
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1. Overview.

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Last Thursday we did two things:

(1) We looked at the distinction between deduction and induction, and (2) We looked at Hume¶s famous problem of induction (sometimes called Humean scepticism).
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1. Overview.

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This time, we will look at three strategies for addressing Humean Scepticism:

(1) Hume¶s naturalism. (2) Feigl and Reichenbach¶s pragmatism. (3) The quasi-Foundationalism of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
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2. The problem again.

In a nutshell: it¶s only rational to reason from the observed to the unobserved (that is reason via induction) if one has good evidence that similar causes produce similar effects (i.e. that nature is uniform).

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2. The problem again.

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BUT: the only way we can know that similar causes produce similar effects is by using induction (i.e. reasoning from the observed to the unobserved). Conclusion: inductive reasoning is groundless: any attempt to justify it is circular.
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3. What the problem of induction is not.

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The problem of induction is not that inductive inferences are deductively invalid.

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3. What the problem of induction is not.

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Nor is it the problem that inductive inferences are not always reliable. So be careful when you read passages like these from Bertrand Russell:

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3. What the problem of induction is not.

Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who usually feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead (Russell, Problems of Philosophy 1915.).
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3. What the problem of induction is not.

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Even if induction only yields claims of the form µAll F¶s are probably G¶ (µsmoking probably causes cancer¶), this is still not sufficient to respond to the problem. But why exactly?

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3. What the problem of induction is not.

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Because to reason from observations that µAll observed F¶s are G¶ to the claim that µAll F¶s are probably G¶ is to presuppose that the future will probably resemble the past, and the only evidence for this latter claim comes from induction itself. Hence, the circular justification has not gone away.
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3. What the problem of induction is not.

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The problem is, as Russell says: All arguments which, on the basis of experience, argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present assume the inductive principle [i.e. the use of induction]; hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question (Problems of Philosophy).
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4. Humean Naturalism.

[...] after the constant conjunction of two objects²heat and flame for instance, weight and solidity²we are determined by custom alone to expect the one from the appearance of the other. This hypothesis seems even the only one which explains the difficulty, why we draw, from a thousand instances, an inference which we are not able to draw from one instance, that is, in no respect, different from them [...] All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning (Enquiry §V, my italics)
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4. Humean Naturalism.

[There is] a kind of pre-established harmony between the course of nature and the succession of our ideas. [...] Custom is that principle by which this correspondence has been effected; so necessary to the subsistence of our species, and the regulation of our conduct, in every circumstance and occurrence of human life (Enquiry §V).
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4. Humean Naturalism.

Hume¶s slogan: µNature is stronger than Reason¶. ‡ «

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4. Humean Naturalism.

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« Even so, the inductive sceptic is right² induction is not rationally justified.

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4. Humean Naturalism.

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4. Humean Naturalism.

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Hume, recall, adopts a similar response to scepticism about the existence of the external world. He thinks that scepticism about the external world is right but that we cannot fail to believe in the existence of the external world.
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4. Humean Naturalism.

Problem: Is this not a kind of nihilism? Hume seems to be saying that induction is essential but irrational, that it is just the human condition that we are born to be irrational!

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5. Two features of Hume¶s response.

(1) Pragmatism: We cannot but help believe certain propositions ²it enables the human species to survive. ‡ Indeed, trust in induction is therefore practically useful. (see below)

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5. Two features of Hume¶s response.

(2) Biperspectivalism: Although Hume felt that there was no answer to sceptical reflection, he nevertheless argued that such sceptical doubts should be ignored once one leaves the study, or the seminar, or the lecture.

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5. Two features of Hume¶s response.

The chief and most confounding objection to excessive scepticism [is] that no durable good can ever result from it; while it retains its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic, What his meaning is? And what he proposes by all these curious researches? He is immediately at a loss, and knows not what to answer (Hume, Enquiry pp. 159-60).

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5. Two features of Hume¶s response.

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That is, although one can never answer the sceptic, it is legitimate to disregard sceptical doubts as irrelevant, unimportant, and perhaps incoherent. «

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

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Recall that Hume says: µCustom is that principle by which this correspondence has been effected; so necessary to the subsistence of our species, and the regulation of our conduct, in every circumstance and occurrence of human life¶.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

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This seems to suggest that Hume thinks that inductive inferences are justified because they contribute to the success of the human species. But Hume has already said that induction cannot be justified. To make sense of this apparent contradiction we can distinguish (following Feigl and Sellars) validation from vindication:
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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

Validation: In order to validate a proposition or principle, we aim to show how the proposition or principle can be grounded on fundamental principles.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

Vindication: In order to vindicate a proposition or principle, we aim to show that it has many pragmatic virtues²it is somehow practically useful to accept.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

Feigl and Reichenbach: Induction can't be validated but it can be vindicated, that is, it cannot be justified, but that does not entail that we are not entitled (in some sense) to employ induction.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

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To vindicate induction one must consider both its instrumental success as a rule of prediction, and its consistency with our own habits and patterns of thought.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

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The instrumental success of an assumption is measured by its successful applicability²we do (allegedly) know that induction has been successful after all.

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

Problem 1: It may prove to be instrumentally successful to brainwash people into accepting many things. Does that mean that brainwashing is vindicated?

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6. Feigl and Reichenbach on induction.

Problem 2: Surely an attempt to vindicate induction is circular too « (Discussion point).

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Doubting²I might say²has to come to an end somewhere. At some point we have to say²without doubting: that results from this cause. [«] Why is it that µdoubt must come to an end somewhere?¶ ±Is it because the game would never get started if it were to begin with doubt? [«]

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

[«] The origin and the primitive form of the language game is a reaction [...] is certainty, not uncertainty. For uncertainty could never lead to action. I want to say: it is characteristic of our language that the foundation on which it grows consists in steady ways of living, regular ways of acting (Wittgenstein, On Certainty).

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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These µsteady ways of living, and regular ways of acting¶ sound just like Hume¶s µcustoms¶ and µhabits¶. Talk of µreaction¶ sounds like Hume¶s epistemology²we cannot help but react to the environment by believing.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Key idea: The µlanguage game¶ of talking of cause and effect doesn¶t include universal doubt. The game would simply not make sense if such doubt were operative.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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« Where Wittgenstein departs from Hume, however, is in seeing belief in such propositions as, in some sense, definitional of a certain practice.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

[...] the questions that we raise and our doubts depend upon the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn. [..] That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted. [«] We just can¶t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put (On Certainty).
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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Belief in certain propositions is what enables us to get our inquiries going. Because these propositions perform such a framework role, they are not to be thought of as either supported by reasons or need of such support.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Diagnosis: ALL FORMS OF SCEPTICISM involve the mistake of confusing a hinge proposition for an ordinary non-hinge proposition. ‡ That is, in taking up the sceptical challenge, We seek reasons where none are to be found.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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Roughly, then, µhinge propositions¶ are propositions which one lacks any direct grounds to believe, but which are (in some sense) legitimately believed nonetheless because one is compelled to believe them and they perform some sort of essential role in our practices of forming beliefs.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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Typically, hinge propositions will be the denials of radical sceptical hypotheses. Examples: µThere is an external world¶, µI am not a brain in a vat¶, µThe World did not come into existence Five minutes ago¶, µInduction is justified¶.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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³Hinge´ propositions have three main properties: (i) One cannot help but believe them: one does not choose to believe or disbelieve these propositions on the basis of reasons.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

(ii) Belief in them is essential if one is to coherently enter into a certain discourse or way of acquiring beliefs.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

(iii) One cannot acquire a non-circular justification to believe them.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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Wittgenstein is a Foundationalist, but in a very special sense «

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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There are basic beliefs but: (a) these beliefs may be a hinge proposition in one context and a nonhinge proposition in another, (b) these basic beliefs are non-epistemic in that there is no justification for our belief in them.
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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

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Wittgenstein¶s response can be seen as an attempt to mitigate the dogmatism of the µdogmatic¶ response to Agrippa¶s Trilemma: It¶s OK not to be able to cite some justification, one merely needs to respond that this is just how I go on.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Philosophical Investigations 211: [...] Well, how do I know? ²If that means µHave I reasons?¶ the answer is: my reasons will soon give out. And then I shall act, without reasons.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Philosophical Investigations 217: If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: ³This is simply what I do´.

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7. Wittgenstein on Humean Scepticism.

Philosophical Investigations 485: Justification by experience comes to an end. If it did not it would not be justification (my italics).

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8. Do you want to read more? ‡ James Ladyman (2001): Understanding Philosophy of Science, Ch. 2. ‡ Peter Strawson (1985): Scepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties, Ch. 1. ‡ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1969): On Certainty, Harper Torchbooks, (it¶s not easy«.) ‡ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1976): µCause and Effect: Intuitive Awareness¶, in Paul K. Moser and Arnold vander Nat Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches, Oxford, 1995
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