Generalizing the Problem of Humean Undermining

In Christian Loew, Siegfried Jaag & Michael Townsen Hicks (eds.), Humean Laws for Human Agents. Oxford: Oxford UP (2023)
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For Humeans, many facts—even ones intuitively “about” particular, localized macroscopic parts of the world—turn out to depend on surprisingly global fundamental bases. We investigate some counterintuitive consequences of this picture. Many counterfactuals whose antecedents describe intuitively localized, non-actual states of affairs nevertheless end up involving wide-ranging implications for the global, embedding Humean mosaic. The case of self-undermining chances is a familiar example of this. We examine that example in detail and argue that popular existing strategies such as “holding the laws fixed as laws” or “holding the laws fixed as true” are of no help. Interestingly, we show how a new proposal that draws on the resources of the Mentaculus can yield the right results—but only on the assumption that the Humean can make cross-world identifications. We go on to argue that the Humean cannot make such identifications. We conclude that the root of this trouble is deeper, and its reach broader, than the familiar cases suggest. We think it is very much an open question whether the Humean has sufficient resources to properly conceptualize macroscopic objects or to analyze these “local” counterfactuals.

Author Profiles

Heather Demarest
University of Colorado, Boulder
Elizabeth Miller
Brown University


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