I doubt you, not me.
About Hume's Enquiry of Human Understanding.

I used the English version of An enquiry concerning human understanding. When I make any citation I will refer to the number provided by Hume and not the page on which it is written. It is one blog about one book and therefore very long, but I decided to keep into one blog because it is one book too. The ratio is still below 1:10, even with a lot of comments.
If you love Hume, I might dissappoint you. I read his book (in Dutch) years ago and was impressed by his reasoning. To put it mildly, I was not impressed this time and quite surprised about that difference.

I. Of the different species of philosophy

In this first section describes Hume his source of inspiration and the place philosophy has in society and daily life. His source of inspiration is quite moderate: “But as, after all, the abstractedness of these speculations is no recommendation, but rather a disadvantage to them, and as this difficulty may perhaps be surmounted by care and art, and the avoiding of all unnecessary detail, we have, in the following enquiry, attempted to throw some light upon subjects, from which uncertainty has hitherto deterred the wise, and obscurity the ignorant. Happy, if we can unite the boundaries of the different species of philosophy, by reconciling profound enquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty! And still more happy, if, reasoning in this easy manner, we can undermine the foundations of an abstruse philosophy, which seems to have hitherto served only as a shelter to superstition, and a cover to absurdity and error!”, nr. 10. Happiness is the end goal. Although his last sentence has a different tone, he serves a common good in trying to end some abstruse philosophy. Who would sustain that, do you? But when Hume comes to the end of his book, the tone has changed severely: “When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in 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. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”, nr. 132.

I am sorry, I can't find any happiness in making havoc or the burning of books of people I disagree with.

II. Of the origin of ideas

In this section lays Hume the foundation of his philosophy. Perceptions of the mind can be distinguished in two different categories, namely ideas and impressions. Impressions are the vivid sensations to the mind and ideas (and thoughts) are reflections based on those impressions. Every idea is in the end based on an impression. The mind is free to do whatever with any impression, but the collection of ideas is limited by all impressions made. Impressions are the origin of ideas and no idea can come to existence without a fundation by an impression. The mind has, however, a very big freedom to go from the impressions to the ideas: “But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. ”, nr. 13. Some sentences later: “In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones. ”, nr. 13. To my surprise, he seems not to live up to his own words when he is saying 'When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality.', nr. 17 (italics in the original). Here is it suddenly possible that other people have pointless meanings or ideas and that those ideas are not based on any impression. How? How can he make a distinction between a term without meaning or idea or one based on a meaning or idea? How can he prove that term is not founded on any impression? How does he know that someone is capable to express ideas that are not linked to impressions, when he asserted that ideas are always confined by impressions?
Because ideas are dependent on impressions and impressions on vivid sensations to the mind, concludes Hume that impressions are unprecedented original perceptions. But when he talks about causal relationships, he asserts that it is impossible to know on forehand what capacities an object has. Learning the object, one can understand it and anticipate on the expected features of the same or a similar object. That implies that based on experience or ideas about a certain object or category of objects impressions of an object might change in the future, hence that impressions are not (always) original and unprecedented perceptions. In his words they are based on ideas and as citated above in his opinion can one have ideas that are not based on any impression.

III. Of the assocation of ideas

In a very short section describes Hume the three types of connexions among ideas, namely:

  1. resemblance,
  2. contiguity in time or place, and
  3. cause and effect.

As always with those types of lists, this one is one among many. A fourth type of relationship is for example context. One must be really a North American to compare the final on the world championship of football with the Super Bowl. Anyhow, every person is able to create his own list and will have good reasons to do so. I do not consider such a list crucial to any system of thought unless the philosopher himself states it explicitely as such. Hume does not consider this list that important as well.

IV. skeptical doubts concerning the operations of understanding

Much more important for his philosophy is the next distinction. He divides all objects of reason and enquiry into two categories:

  1. Relations of ideas, and
  2. matters of facts.

Relations of ideas are discoverable constructs of the mind and independent from any existence in the universe. Or they belong to the realms of Geometry, Algebra and Arithmetic or are affirmations that can be proven to be certain. This definition of relations of ideas is very restrictive and can be translated into the collection of all ideas that are true. All laws of physics for instance are no relations of ideas, but matter of facts. Social sciences likewise.

Hume does not give any example for those affirmations that are certain. It would be interesting, because now is it a weakness in his definition. First of all it creates the difficulty that an affirmation must be proven certain, whatever that is, secondly it excludes matters of facts to be certain. The latter is more serious, because this restricts the certainty of matter of facts by definition.

Concerning matter of facts says Hume that they can not be proven wrong nor can its opposite. The nature of the evidence of a matter of fact is done by testimony of private sensations or the recollection of an individual memory. All matters of fact are based on the relationship between cause and effect and therefore should knowledge about that type of relationship be enquired more deeply. The causal relationship is the only thing by which we can go beyond the direct influence of the impression, hence is it this type of relationship, which is at the focus of investigation of Hume. According to Hume can cause and effect only be learned by experience, not by reasoning.

The difficulty with understanding Hume is imho the mindset he asks of the reader. He asks the reader to see ones own perception with total new refreshment and to return to the state of wondering, the first impression: “And as the first imagination or invention of a particular effect, in all natural operations, is arbitrary, where we consult not experience; so must we also esteem the supposed tie or connexion between the cause and effect, which binds them together, and renders it impossible that any other effect could result from the operation of that cause. ”, nr. 25. To rephrase this in popular language: it is never too late to make a first impression anew.
How can one think about experiences and matters of fact as if they are brand new? After so many years of living? The next citation shows the challenge he is offering and being able to think from this perspective makes him in my opinion interesting to read/meet. “No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact. ”, nr. 23.
“Such is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest degree. ”, nr. 24. Besides that the latter is humorous in my opinion, it is also an example how one has to go beyond his own custom line of thinking to understand where he is talking about. While I was trying to understand Hume, I had to try to find my custom management and the process to cover itself up. I have a natural born resistance against skepticism and any philosophy, which tries to deny any possibility to know the world. That thought is so overwhelming, that it is very hard to let that go and listen to what Hume is telling about the weakness of the human mind.
When you have to see anything as if it is the first time, then it becomes questionable why a certain effect is the effect of that particular cause. In other words how do we know that 'this' is the cause and 'that' is the effect? If you are going to ask yourself that, then you enter a world in which everything is brand new again. He even concludes that the effect is a distinct event from the cause. That disconnects any event from its cause, which is perceived as causing that particular event. Causes and effects are discoverable, not reasonable. That is the reason that their connection is not that certain as one might think.
Hume definitely has a good sense of humor: “ The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of it. Thus the observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to elude or avoid it. ”, nr. 26. A beautiful argument of Hume is when he shows that from one effect a total different kind of effect is supposed to exist, although no common cause is known. When one sees for instance a bread and that bread looks similar to other breads which nourished well, then it is expected that this particular bread will have the same effect. In other words, the appearance of the bread should be a proper prediction of the quality of the nourishment of the bread. It is obvious that those things are not the same, but that both effects share a common, yet unknown, cause. We base a lot of our thoughts in reality on this type of association. In advertising is it used heavily. Your life will be complete when you drive that particular car, isn't it? The type of reasoning for ideas is demonstrative reasoning and the type of reasoning with regards to facts is called moral reasoning. Demonstrative reasoning can be prolonged very far and reach great complexity, whereas moral reasoning can not. For matters of facts, which in themselves have no logic, can only the latter be applied. A table to show the differences between relations of ideas vs. matter of facts. This should also give a better idea about the differences between ideas and impressions.

Relations of ideas Matter of facts
Discoverable constructs of the mind Only discoverable by experience and observation
Independent from existence Dependent on existence
Can be proven right or wrong Its counterpart can exist too
In the end based on impressions, but that can be very remote All based on cause and effect
Demonstrative reasoning Moral reasoning

Hume wonders what is the process to establish a causal relationship? It is clear that reasoning can't be the path from impression to relationship. He presents different reasons, one of them that reasoning is too slow and another one that reasoning is fallible, whereas the process to establish those types of relationship is in itself quite accurate. Many times we do conceive a causal relationship, although we can not explain what is happening. We do know when we fall in love and who is the cause of our love, but why and how and what is happening with us? If we would fall in love by reason, what a different world would it be. (The example is mine.) Wondering about the characteristics of the causal relationship to understand why it is a causal relationship is asking too much and he will end where he expects: “Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public, even though, perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution? We shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our ignorance, if we do not augment our knowledge. ”, nr. 32.

I think the problem with this type of question (why a causal relationship is a causal relationship?) is that you can not explain yourself without losing yourself. Please think about the question 'Does the collection which contains all collections, contain itself?'. The immediate answer is 'Yes, off course'. With the realisation of the consequences of the answer comes the puzzlement and the next question blows its up: How can it contain anything but itself? The moment you imagine that the collection contains anything but itself, endless combinations can be made. It is really an explosion of combinations. That is caused by the reflection on itself. That is always creating those kind of problems. You can not explain truth using truth or logic using logic or in this case causality using causality. All these attempts will naturally fail. But to establish a logic reasoning or a valid causal relationship one has to base itself on something which provides a reliable and stable result. And then off course, will the next level of question rise to the surface...

V. skeptical solution of these doubts

In this section introduces Hume the foundation of human understanding. Hume identifies custom as the mechanism which produces causality, not reasoning. One of the things custom is capable of and reasoning not, is to draw a conclusion after a significant number of measurements, which it could not after only one. Reasoning would be capable of drawing that conclusion only after one measurement and it would not come to a better conclusion after a significant number of measurements: “All belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived merely from some object, present to the memory or senses, and a customary conjunction between that and some other object. Or in other words; having found, in many instances, that any two kinds of objects -flame and heat, snow and cold- have always been conjoined together; if flame or snow be presented anew to the senses, the mind is carried by custom to expect heat or cold, and to believe that such a quality does exist, and will discover itself upon a nearer approach.”, nr. 38. Hence, custom has a learning curve and become more and more reliable over time and experience, where reasoning does not show this type of progress. The following statement is a very crucial one in the understanding of his philosophy when Hume makes a distinction between fantasy and reality: “It follows, therefore, that the difference between fiction and belief lies in some sentiment or feeling, which is annexed to the latter, not to the former, and which depends not on the will, nor can be commanded at pleasure. It must be excited by nature, like all other sentiments; and must arise from the particular situation, in which the mind is placed at any particular juncture. Whenever any object is presented to the memory or senses, it immediately, by the force of custom, carries the imagination to conceive that object, which is usually conjoined to it; and this conception is attended with a feeling or sentiment, different from the loose reveries of the fancy. In this consists the whole nature of belief. ”, nr. 39. In this statement Hume silently supposes an external influence on the mind, because otherwise he can not explain the difference between fact and fiction. The distinction between fiction and belief is very much comparable to the distinction idea and impression. The more reality in it, the more direct sensations are involved, the more vivid they are. Most of all, a belief gets the object of attention directly and forcefully in the mind, whereas a fantasy requires a lot more energy to produce a similar result. It are beliefs, which create the connection between the objects of the different type of relationships (Resemblance, Contiguity and Causality). The belief of a certain person is bigger when there is a good looking picture of that person in front of you. When one is coming close at home and one still believes that home is existing as it was, then bigger the desire to be at home. The same is true for causality: when one throws a dry piece of wood into the fire, one expects that the flames will augment, not perish. By means of a belief can impressions and ideas become linked, which strenghtens most of all the idea.

VI. Of probability

The natural consequence of the combination custom with belief is that one can not know anything for sure. It is reasoning which is capable of knowing things in truth. But our knowledge about impressions without a proper understanding but reliable expectations (beliefs) can not lead us to truth. Because an impression is not a truth more then being itself, can it not be used to contradict or deny opposite impressions. The chance that tomorrow the sun will not rise is very small, but the fact that it rose yesterday to its zenit is not in contradiction with the opposite happening tomorrow. We can not know anything for sure, it is all probability.

VII. Of the idea of necessary connexion

This leads Hume to the very question of the power or necessary connexion, which makes the transformation from the cause to the effect possible. If we could know that, then we might get to know truths. If there is a causality implying a relationship between a certain cause and a certain effect, then there must be some non-coincidental connexion between the two. Otherwise is it just a conjoinance of two objects in time and place. If there is any, then we should be able to perceive it, or we talk about something non existing. Therefore: where and how can any nessecary connexion be perceived? Hume is looking in different sources for impressions in which we perceive this transformation power. First he is looking to the obvious powers of transformation in two distinct objects and although he can see the effect, he has no direct impression of any power at work. One can not see it either in a singular object. All characteristics of an object are complete in themselves and one can not draw any conclusion about them without further knowledge. When it is not perceivable by external objects, might we then perceive it in ourselves? Like the expression of our will or ideas in the mind. He can't find any. He does perceive our volition to move a limb and he perceives the effect – the movement – but he can nowhere trace anything in between. That is hidden from consciousness. The creation of a new idea, which is really an act of real creation out of nothing, remains just as inconceivable to us as anything else. First it was not there, and then it was. How beautiful and impressive this act might be, it is incomprehendable and remains out of perception. And what about the communication between body and soul? Is there a necessary connexion visible? Again no, there is not. Hume at his best: “Is it more difficult to conceive that motion may arise from impulse than that it may arise from volition? All we know is our profound ignorance in both cases.”, nr. 57. The only thing Hume finds over and over again as the explanation for any connexion is the repetition of similar events taking place by which the idea arises of any connection. Someone will see any connexion between objects, when he can foretell what effect will happen after a certain cause. Hume concludes that there is no necessary connexion and it is all imagination as a result of repetition: “For as this idea arises from a number of similar instances, and not from any single instance, it must arise from that circumstance, in which the number of instances differ from every individual instance. But this customary connexion or transition of the imagination is the only circumstance in which they differ. In every other particular they are alike.”, nr. 61. The repetition is required to get the impression of a nessecary connexion.

Albeit I like his reasoning and admire his outstanding argumentation capacity, I could not disagree more with his conclusion. Let's take a look from the other side: what if someone must perform a movement with a limb and only can do that being conscious of all unimportant processes in between? All processes which support and execute the volition and let the soul and body react as one should not get any attention in order to let the volition and the limb work fluently together. Focus on what is important, never mind the rest. Is that human ignorance or nature's wisdom to optimize knowledge with the attention available? What Hume wants to know to give any process a solid foundation, is what one should not want to know to get a result from that process.

VIII. Of liberty and necessity

After this search in vain for an impression of a nessecary connexion is Hume trying to find a foundation for necessity and liberty. He talks ample about necessity and very short about liberty. He defines liberty as the choice to act according to the will or not and puts it in opposition to necessity. But because necessity is related to causality and causality is the only type of relationship for matters of fact, can liberty only exist when there can be a matter of fact, which does not have a cause. Hence, concludes Hume, does it not exist. Let's concentrate on necessity. He starts the section with the goal to solve the discussion around necessity and liberty once and for all by showing that people always have agreed with oneanother about the subject. He argues that he can solve this issue, because if humans have basically the same faculties of the mind, they should eventually all think the same. Later on will he reuse this argument when he states that to understand the Greeks and Romans, one can study the French and English. It is a highly unusual yet simple and strong argument for an universal mindset. The only thing Hume has to do is to provide reasonable descriptions for both necessity and liberty. Necessity could provide the solidity of perception, which is not found in the causal relationship itself. Hume defines necessity as the perception of observable uniformity in nature, when similar objects are constantly conjoined together and the mind expects the second object to appear based on the appearance of the first. If nature did not show this uniformity, then would we never have had the concepts of necessity and connexion. Necessity is a perception, but the origin of necessity is in nature, that is in the external world. Hume repeats this ambivalence later on: “Necessity may be defined two ways, conformably to the two definitions of cause, of which it makes an essential part. It consists either in the constant conjunction of like objects or in the inference of the understanding from one object to another.”, nr. 75. There is a relation between the regular conjunction and the expectations: “Had not objects a regular conjunction with each other, we should never have entertained any notion of cause and effect; and this regular conjunction produces that inference of the understanding, which is the only connexion, that we can have any comprehension of.”, nr. 74. This would imply that Hume restricts necessity to the expectation of the mind, although it has to be based on a regularity in the outside world. In a lot of situations events appear to have no connexions to any cause (and there seems to be no necessity). Then is it most likely that there exist several (hidden) contrary causes, which create a perception that there is no regularity present: “And that therefore the irregular events, which outwardly discover themselves, can be no proof that the laws of nature are not observed with the greatest regularity in its internal operations and government. ”, nr. 67. Although use of the word 'observed' creates an ambiguity, because it can mean 'perceived' or 'obeyed', it is evident to Hume that necessity can exist independent of a personal perception. He even states that the laws of nature are irrefutable. Hardly the words of a skeptic, isn't it? In the previous chapter showed Hume that we were ignorant about the connexion between cause and effect, indifferent if the causal relationship was between inanimate objects or acts of volition or thoughts of the mind. Here he asserts that the same applies for necessity and that it is a common misunderstanding to think that we know more of the relationship between inanimated objects then of the relationships between our thoughts and acts of volition. Trying to understand necessity should we first start to understand the role of necessity in causality among inanimated objects and then continue with our own processes of volition and thought. Acts of volition and thoughts display a regular connexion to character, motives etc. and we firmly expect those to exist too. They should not be perceived as two completely different types of process: “And indeed, when we consider how aptly natural and moral evidence link together, and form only one chain of argument, we shall make no scruple to allow that they are of the same nature, and derived from the same principles. A prisoner who has neither money nor interest, discovers the impossibility of his escape, as well when he considers the obstinacy of the goaler, as the walls and bars with which he is surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses rather to work upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible nature of the other. ”, nr. 70. The second part of this section deals with the personal safety of Hume. He is trying to prove that his arguments are safe to society and not impiuos (which does not imply pious). He does not present any new arguments to his discussion about necessity and liberty.

After having read this section and being able to talk to Hume directly, I would ask him if he really believed that in a 2000 year old discussion there was no other person trying to be as reasonably as he thinks he is himself? I am afraid that I could not believe what I was about to hear. Every time that Hume was talking about regularity and necessity I was thinking 'switch those terms'. Necessity is in reality, regularity in perception. That is in line with his perception, that necessity can exist, but not perceived by a certain person. We might perceive only irregularities, but the necessity is there independent from our perception. It is far more logic and complicated (and in accordance with expectations about reality and our perception). That would also explain why we can perceive the proper regularities, although we do not understand what is happening. The latter is not always important in making good predictions. Another problem which arises when Hume is right that necessity is a perception, is that it does not explain where the perceived regularity comes from? Is it not there? Is the earth not rotating around its own axis? Is it regular without any reason or cause? Just be-cause? Is that just? :-) If there is no necessity in the event itself, why is it then regular? That is highly unexpected, doesn't it? What is the cause of those regularities? Not perception, that is for sure. What we perceive as necessity might be an explanation, but what if the explanation is wrong? Does that change the regularity or the necessity? I would say that necessity is independent of explanation, where perception of regularity is. Most of all, however, does switching those terms explain something more. That the earth is called earth and a planet is an agreement, that it is orbiting around the sun (which is called sun and star) hopefully not. I hope sincerely that the orbit of the earth around the sun is totally independent from any viewpoint of any human being or our understanding. That makes it far more stable and easy to understand. Could we exist, when not based on very stable matter and a very stable situation of the earth orbiting the sun for so many years? Hume states that we have no other notion of necessity then the regular conjunction and consequent interference, but I think stability is the best proof for necessity and causality. Please witness the vast stability needed to let the universe exist and try to explain that without necessity and causality. I am all ears.

IX. Of the reason of Animals

After necessity is broken into pieces, Hume concentrates in this very short chapter on the type of reasoning performed by animals. He concludes that animals can not reason like humans do, but they are capable of creating associations and understanding causal relationships. When a dog hears his name he will react. He sees it as a proof that the thought process of humans is like the ones from animals and provided by nature. Basically is it based on custom and otherwise instinct. Hume shows that a lot of human behaviour is guided by instincts, like the avoidance of fire. I was very surprised that long before the evolution theory was formulated by Darwin people like Hume were already thinking close to it.

X. about Miracles

That Hume is not a religious man is quite obvious when reading this book and definitely in his chapter about miracles. He defines miracles as “a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. ”, nr. 90. It is not enough to be rare, it must be impossible under normal circumstances. I consider that definition as an argument of the type 'begging the question', because of the use of the term violation. That does not leave much freedom of thought. The consequences of his definition is that miracles ought not happen anyhow, which is equal to the inclusion of a negative judgement a priori. “That no 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 endeavours to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.” , nr. 91 is another 'begging the question' remark as it will be virtually impossible to have a testimony more reliable then a violation of the well established laws of nature.

I had missed the next citation, until I asked myself while reading this chapter X about Miracles if Hume made some remarks abouth laws of nature before. I found this one particular important – and very much inline with his philosophy: “But to convince us that all the laws of nature, and all the operations of bodies without exception, are known only by experience, the following reflections may, perhaps, suffice. ”, nr. 25. If I would write that, I would hereafter not use the words 'laws of nature' anymore, but introduce here another phrase like 'our perception of the laws of nature' or even 'our explanation of nature'. At least I would make a distinction between the perception of those regularities and their underlying explanation and avoid to use an expression which suggests an authority one can not claim.

The way Hume describes miracles is it not possible to believe in anyone of them. If you do, then you put yourself willingly in the company of ignorant people without any civilization, because those are the people according to Hume who are by lack of knowledge and culture willing to believe in miracles. Miracles are never happening in places of culture and knowledge, but always coming from backward places and or times. Quite often the people who claim miracles have a distinct selfinterest in other people believing in the miracles and people are willing to deceive each other.

A lot of religions prove their special connection with their God(s) by claiming that miracles happened in their favor. That should make them more reliable then any other religion. I agree with Hume that that is not a serious argument. Hume says that this shows the fallaciousness of religions, because they exclude oneanother, when each is claiming to have the best relationship with their God(s). How elegant his argumentation is, I disagree with Hume that he himself could use this argument. Religions and miracles are in his point of view matter of facts and not relations of ideas. The consequence is that religions nor miracles can claim to exclude oneanother, because matter of facts are not capable doing that. So, although religions claim to have the best relationship with their God(s) based on miracles, Hume should have said that that claim is invalid. He should have said that they could only make that claim when they were based on affirmations, which were proved to be certain, but they are matter of facts, because they are clearly not based on those kind of affirmations nor are they part of Geometry, Algebra or Arithmetics. His argumentation is not in line with his own words. This chapter is clearly not his best one, because his treatment of miracles has at least six flaws:

  1. Suddenly is Hume aware of nature of laws, implying that he deliberately changes the rules of the game in order to give more strength to his arguments. They are a deus ex machina in his book, because before this chapter he wanted to prove that we could not have direct knowledge of a causal relationship and all we could know was a conjoinance of objects and events lacking any necessity. All knowledge is a probability. How can you violate a probability? And if it really happens that a particular event is not in line with the laws of nature, but it does happen, what does it tell about our perception of the laws of nature? That they are not that strict as required? Or that we do not know them completely? Or that our concept of nature is not complete? Or that there are no laws? Or that strict laws can have exceptions? ...
  2. Hume himself acknowledges that a miracle is a matter of fact. One matter of fact is – in his words – never a contradiction to any other matter of fact, hence a law based on a collection of matter of facts can never exclude a certain matter of fact. In other words, a miracle can never be a violation of a law, which is based on a collection of other matter of facts. This definition is not in line with his own previous philosophy.
  3. When people claim a miracle, they claim a miracle, they do not say that it is normal that it happened, and you could say that they basically agree with Hume. Therefore, when people claim to have witnessed a miracle, they are aware of what they are doing. The reason that a miracle should not happen as part of the refutation of a miracle is the same argument as the reason to claim that a miracle has happened. It is an agreement upon facts, which is actually quite rare, and does not prove nor disprove the miracle.
  4. Is someone less trustworthy because he claims to have witnessed a miracle? Why? Do you never believe someone who is telling something you do not know? My guess is that as a consequence you do not know a lot. Is a claim less trustworthy because the person is known to have lied before? Very practical, but not very philosophical and definitely an ad hominem fallacy upon people he does not know himself. 'If you claim to have witnessed a miracle, you cannot be trusted.' 'Why not?' 'Because you have claimed to witness a miracle.' Tautology too?
  5. If you think about Jezus and all Dutchmen ever lived. There are a lot of miracles ascribed to Jezus. Did they all happen or were they all a lie? There are supposed to have lived more then 58 million Dutchmen. For none of them were there people to claim that they did so many miraculous things. People can lie and cheat on oneanother, but for none of those 58 million people was this type of cheating executed in a way as done for Jezus. Those apostels were willing to die for it. Would you do that for a lie? What can be a reasonable explanation? That none of the 58 million Dutchmen were backward people or not living in those times? How attractive that explanation might be, I sense some self interest in this argument. Not that we were not willing to lie or cheat? I am silent in all languages. Not that we were willing to believe in miracles as a lot of us believe in the miracles of Jezus and Mohammed? So what makes this not happen in the Netherlands, but in Israel? I do not say that those miracles ascribed to Jezus were true as I am not interested to form an opinion about it, but it remains very remarkable how unwilling those apostels were to abandon their belief in front of torture and death. The fact that it happened and that it inspired so many people to change religion, is that not a trustworthy statement?
  6. Hume states that direct impressions are more reliable than witnesses of other people. If I go to a doctor I reason quite the opposite. What a doctor can see, I can not and the doctor can see my injuries better then I can, although I have the most lively impressions of it. An experienced observer can tell a lot more about a situation – even not being present – then an unexperienced observer present in the situation.

XI. Of a particular providence and of a future state

In the last but one chapter Hume is presenting the last support in his line of thinking. Here he proves that philosophy is not a dangerous activity for the stability of society and religion. Philosophy has its own realm, which does not touch practical life. Within the realm of philosophy he can debate freely and say anything, as long as he does not have the pretention that it affects daily life in all its different aspects. Within that debate he can use all his argumentational power to prove his points and within this apology he is showing this argumentation. His main argument in his apology is that one can not infer a cause from any effect, which creates more then just the effect, which has taken place. He states that the effect describes the size of the cause and all that is needed to explain the effect is sufficient. When an effect is taking in place in nature, then the cause should be found in nature as well and for instance, not be the responsibility of any deity.

This is almost equal to the Razor of Ockham, which states that one should select that hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions, when different hypotheses have an equal explanatory power. This Razor and Humes argument are very much alike, with one small, but very important difference. The Razor of Ockham says nothing about the actual relationship between the cause and the effect. It only states that one should go for the optimal combination of less complex explanations with the most explanatory power. It says nothing about the nature of the explanation and puts no restriction on any relationship between cause and effect. Humes argument on the other hand is restricting features of the cause, before we know it. The way you describe the effect is the way you have to describe the cause, whatever the cause might be. Hume contradicts himself severely, because he acknowledged that a human being can have a volition to move his own limb. Is the movement of a limb, which is the effect, equal to the cause? Could we know that type of cause out of this type of effect? Lets say that it is all matter that is responsible for the movement of an arm and the volition of the person to move that arm. So the causes are the same, but the effects (a volition and the lifting of an arm) totally different. If you remember the complex relationship between impression and ideas, then will it be very difficult to say that a certain impression is an exact cause for all the ideas that have (in)directly made use of that particular impression or to reason backwards from any idea to its cause. Impressions are more vivid then ideas, because the first are caused by experience and the latter not. The difference between impressions and their own memories is direct experience, which implies that the more different the cause is from its effect, the stronger it is.

XII. Of the academical or skeptical philosophy

In this final chapter tries Hume to answer the questions what a skeptic is and how far those philosophical systems of doubt and uncertainty extend. There are a lot arguments in the skeptic tradition, which he does not adhere. For instance, in the skepticism of Descartes: “The Cartesian doubt, therefore, 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 .”, nr. 116. In a moderate sense however, does he considerate it to be a necessary preparative attitude to kept refrained from rash opinions, judgements and the like. The quality of the senses has often been the target for criticism. It reminds him that relying on the senses alone is not enough and the results have to be corrected by reasoning. Much more important then the fallaciousness of the senses is the problem how to get from the perception to the external reality. After all, all we have are our perceptions and these are only copies and representations of independent objects from us. What we see are not the independent objects, but a representation from our personal perspective. How to prove an existing independent reality, when we only have representations to our disposal? Hume knows how to use the argument that if one knows the effect, one can not tell anything about the cause: “By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? ”, nr. 119.
“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.”, nr. 119. Later in the chapter Hume tries to prove that characteristics of objects are mere perceptions of the mind, even empty characteristics like space. His argument is that it is an effect of perception and not of the object itself. We can feel if something is soft or hard, but that is with regard from the perspective of our senses. A snail is soft compared to us and will maybe have the experience to live in a world which is always harder, where a turtle might feel different (the example is mine).

Although those differences are undeniable, it is not a prove that we can not experience external objects with specific characteristics. What Hume seems to forget is the locus of control for a specific characteristic. That gives information where the source of the perception is located. If it is in the sense, then is the perception the cause of the phenomena, but if it is not in the perception, but in the object, then is the object the cause of the characteristic. A color blind person perceives less colors then other people notwithstanding the colors are there. The person is called color blind, because it is clear that color is a property in control of the object and not being able to see a certain color has to be a property of the person. The color blindness is therefore in the locus of control of the person and the color in the locus of control of the object. You can not get certainty about any measurement without more then one measurement. If you read the examples of skeptics, then you read mostly examples like 'if you are on a certain distance from a table' and so on, you read never 'when three people move simultaneously away from the same table and a fourth person remains at the table...'. With examples in which there are more simultaneous perceptions from different perspectives, which can be exchanged directly, is it possible to create an objective viewpoint from which the different loci of control for a variety of characteristics can be inferred. Any counter argumentation based on impossibility to combine perceptions from different perspectives or problems with inferring conclusions put themselves the moment they utter that out of the game. When you state that it is impossible to combine perceptions, then is that already requiring an experience with a multitude of perceptions, otherwise can you not come to the conclusion that it is impossible. When you reason that reason is not capable of combining this information, the same underlying statement can be made: you succeeded yourself first otherwise could you never come to that conclusion. When I would counter the sentence 'Truth does not exist' in a similar vein, then I would show that I was not willing to listen to the meaning of the sentence and therefore not willing to listen to the other. The person who makes that statement 'Truth does not exist' might have listened very well to himself. There is no internal contradiction between what he has said throughout his life, his self reflection and his conclusion. But using the previous arguments the other would show in my opinion that he is not willing to see what he himself has successfully accomplished. In other words, he was not willing to listen to himself and the conclusion is in contradiction with his self reflection. If that is correct, then can I use that as a counter argument. I think it is.

Part II

Skepticism has the purpose to find objections against abstract reasoning, matters of fact and existence. His main reason for the absurdity of all abstract reasoning is to think about the infinitive divisibility of space and time. Aside for many reasons from quantum mechanics, can one separate line of reasoning never be a serious objection of abstract reasoning. Or would one fallacy demonstrate the obliviousness of argumentation? I admit that using one line of abstract reasoning to refute all of them is not an abstract reasoning. Allthough the conclusion drawn from one example to a whole set of reasonings definitely is. :-) To my surprise has Hume the conviction that no good can come from skepticism and that a skepticist should be the first one to laugh about his own reasonings, which are in practical life nothing but amusement.

Part III

A more moderate form of skepticism might be beneficial to philosophers and society claims Hume. First of all might philosophers become aware of the relativity of their performance as human reasoning is not that particular good. Second might it help people to restrict the subjects of philosophy to those objects the human mind is capable of reasoning: the science of quantity and number.

In this chapter describes Hume arguments stemming from two Greecian schools of skepticism, namely Phyrronism and Academic skepticism. Phyrronism is more radical then Academic skepticism, because the first one does not accept that truth exists. Academic skepticism had the maxim 'Nothing can be known, not even this'. For Phyrronism was this far to dogmatic, they wanted to be in an eternal state of inquiry. They used the term ataraxia to describe this state of mind in which judgement was suspended and all dogmatic believes consequently put aside. Although the Academic skepticists also tried to reach a balanced state, they called it epoche, which is the state of suspension of judgement. Furthermore did they say that there is no necessary correspondence between the perception and the object perceived. Finally that we can have ideas, but never know when something is true, hence all we can know is probability. Sounds familiar by now, doesn't it? My conclusion about skepticism is that the more you are involved in it, the less you have to say. That is why Hume has similar arguments as the old Greeks a few thousand years ago. The more you reduce, the more you have in common. At the end of all denial there is one point of nothingness in which all negations can mirror themselves. The ultimate denial itself being pointless.

“This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more philosophical skeptics will always triumph, when they endeavour to introduce an universal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge and enquiry. Do you follow the instincts and propensities of nature, may they say, in assenting to the veracity of sense? But these lead you to believe that the very perception or sensible image is the external object. Do you disclaim this principle, in order to embrace a more rational opinion, that the perceptions are only representations of something external? You here depart from your natural propensities and more obvious sentiments; and yet are not able to satisfy your reason, which can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove, that the perceptions are connected with any external objects. ”, nr. 121. Very funny, but now the skepticist should take his accountability. The first person to whom the writing is applicable, is the person who wrote it himself. Hence, how can a skeptic doubt the experience of other people, when he claims that his perceptions are proven not to connect to any external object? I know mine do. :-)