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The Problem of Induction by David Hume - Essay Example

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3/23/2012 The Humean Problem of Induction The problem of induction as presented by David Hume is strong, and is a huge obstacle to positive scientific and philosophical enquiries. When understood fully, the argument seems to undermine any attempt at gaining knowledge, or avoiding radical skepticism, which would level any justification for belief…
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The Problem of Induction by David Hume
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The Problem of Induction by David Hume

I however, do not believe this response is an argument, and the problem of Induction maintains it’s force as a theoretically worry to serious philosophers. Furthermore Hume offers a solution to theoretical skepticism by distinguishing between the type of skepticism inquired about by philosophers, and the skepticism you should engage in in everyday life. In other words, Hume admits this problem is theoretically unanswerable, but practically speaking, is unlivable. By making this distinction, I believe that Hume makes the skeptical problem of induction less worrisome, while preserving its theoretical significance. Before going into any solutions Hume provides, we should first explain the basics of Hume’s argument from induction. The conclusion of Hume’s argument about the limitations of inductive reasoning, is that we have no basis to conclude that the future will resemble the past. The idea of cause and effect is not grounded in experience, because we cannot see cause and effect. For example, Hume points out that we cannot conclude that fire causes burns simply from putting our hand in the fire and noticing that it burns. We only are brought to believe this through repeated attempts, and a hypothesis that we should not try it in the future. Nor are our conclusions from experience based upon human understanding or reason, because that would rely on the false implicit assumption that nature always continues uniformly. That is, we cannot legitimately conclude that things in the past will continue to follow that path out of necessity. Hume comes to these conclusions through a complex explanation about how humans come to understand things through experience. A beginning point in Hume’s skepticism about empirical and inductive reasoning, is that forming any argument about experience relies on the assumption that the future will resemble the past. He states, “In reality, all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such objects (Hume, 27). In other words, arguments from experience require that we assume what we have seen in the past will happen similarly in the future. However, this premise could never be proved deductively, because that would require believing any event is absolutely necessary, but it is always possible for things to happen otherwise. It also cannot be proved causally, because that would beg the question. In other words, such an argument would assume the existence of causality, which cannot be proved, because it is the very thing in question. Hume further points out that what we immediately learn from the senses does not always lead us to discover the true underlying properties of nature. For example, simply by observing and tasting bread, we do not arrive at the conclusion that bread nourishes. The only way we know bread nourishes, is by consuming it, and realizing that effect: Should it be said that, from a number of uniform experiments, we infer a connexion between the sensible qualities and the secret pow- ers; this, I must confess, seems the same difficulty, couched in different terms. The question still recurs, on what process of argument this infer- ence is founded?...It is ... Read More
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