Hume, the New Hume, and Causal Connections

Hume Studies 26 (1):41-75 (2000)
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Abstract

In this article, I weigh in on the debate between "Humeans" and "New Humeans" concerning David Hume's stance on the existence of causal connections in "the objects." According to New Humeans, Hume believes in causal connections; according to Humeans, he does not. My argument against New Humeans is that it is too difficult to reconcile Hume's repeated claims that causal connections are inconceivable with any belief that they these inconceivable somethings still exist. Specifically, Hume either assumes or does not assume that causal connections do or must exist. If he does not, then the New Hume is false. If he does, then it is only reasonable to expect him to do one of two things: (1) provide explicit and unambiguous statements to the effect that he still believes that causal connections do or must exist despite his belief that we cannot even conceive of them and/or (2) provide textual evidence that he subscribes to a reason for believing that causal connections do or must exist in the objects despite his belief that we cannot even conceive of them. I then argue that Hume never satisfies either (1) or (2). My ultimate conclusion is not that the New Hume is false. On the contrary, in section IX, I will argue that the New Hume is still a viable possibility if we attribute a certain other position to Hume – what I will refer to as "Newtonian Empiricism." But I will also argue that this rather plausible interpretation of Hume is equally consistent with Hume's being an agnostic about causal connections and Hume's being a Humean about causal connections. Therefore while we have no good reason to subscribe to the New Hume (rather than Hume's being an agnostic or a Humean), we cannot conclusively rule out this interpretation.

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Ken M. Levy
Louisiana State University

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