Hume’s Hubris…

Hume’s Hubris… February 10, 2021

“How do atheists overcome Hume’s problem of induction?” was an original post on a Facebook site.

It reveals that the writer imagines, like Hume did, that induction has a problem because it cannot be thoughtfully justified.  

Induction has to rely on generalizing about a class of things e.g. “all swans we have seen are white, and, therefore, all swans are white”, (this was true before the discovery of black swans), and that things that happen in the future will obey the same processes as did the events of the past e.g. “the sun always rises in the East”.  Hume called this the principle of uniformity of nature.  The ‘problem’ boils down to a lack of certainty.

Oddly, this ‘problem’ studiously ignores the fact that induction usually works, as is evidenced by this internet connected computer that I’m using, which is the technological outcome of a lot of discoveries based on induction.

Hume and Bayes were contemporaries although they had different ways of thinking, and the Bayesian style has recently come to explain the superiority of probabilistic reasoning over absolutism, the latter simply not being available in nature… Bayes brought probability into the assessment. 

But, why should mental justification be the criterion for whether there is a ‘problem’ or not? 

Was there a ‘problem’ of reasoning when we didn’t understand fire? Or did we just accept that it worked and investigated how it worked?  Of course, that’s a poor analogy because, as we now know, fire is a chemical reaction, while logical outcomes are just concepts which, like Penrose’s triangle, have no necessary correspondence in nature. 

Hume seems to have made the assumption that we should be able to think of a reason for why things are like they are. That’s elevating thoughts above repeatedly observable facts.  This was his mistake. 

The one reliable source of information is not inside our heads – it’s out there – in the universe. 

Expecting us to be able to understand it or construct a justifiable explanation for it inside our heads might simply be arrogant. 

I contend that demanding philosophical justification may be Humean hubris. 

Let’s start by taking a look at deduction, the supposedly higher form of logical reasoning compared to induction.

Deduction seems to offer certainty, but this is an illusion, because it simply rehashes the premises to make a ‘conclusion’ and it all depends on the definitions of human fabricated word concepts. 

Here’s an example: 

  1. All human beings are mortal things.
  2. Socrates is a human being.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is a mortal thing.

What have we learned from that? 

Absolutely nothing. ‘Human beings’ and ‘mortal things’ are just word expressions that we have assigned meaning to. We’ve been playing with words, that’s all. It’s sophistry.

As a method of discovery, deduction is a complete failure. It just looks compelling because it rearranges known concepts in a way that gives the appearance of being useful. I don’t know why deduction is regarded as having any value. It’s actually a reasoning dead end.

On the other hand, induction, although it doesn’t purport to be certain, actually is a valuable tool for finding out new information. Why? Because it compares thoughts with observations, with reality, and enables us to make models and predictions that we can test for falsehood and build on.  It’s reasonable.

What we are coming up against here is the belief that our thoughts are superior to the way the cosmos actually is!  Egocentric arrogance or what?

Surely quantum theory ought to have cured us of that misconception… It works amazingly well, but even Physicists can’t understand it!  Yet…  

Watch this space…

Image:  JBy Tobias R. – Metoc – Own work, Public Domain,

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