Hume on Causation, Relations and “Necessary Connexions”

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A specter is haunting Hume scholarship: the specter of the “New Hume.” Contrary to more traditional interpretations, according to which Hume rejects belief in any conception of causation that invokes (metaphysically) necessary connections between distinct existences, proponents of the New Hume hold that Hume at the least allowed for the possibility of such connections—it’s just that he thought we couldn’t know much, if anything, about them, if we assume that they do exist. I will argue that the views of the “New Humers” (as I shall call them) are mistaken. I will begin by discussing their reading of Hume on causation, using Galen Strawson as a foil. I then examine the relation between Hume’s view of relations (pun intended) and his account of “necessary connexions”. Next, I argue that this account, once properly understood, shows that he did not believe in what we would think of as necessary connections while at the same time explaining why, as the New Humers point out, Hume sometimes writes in ways that can make it sound like he does, as well as reconciling Hume’s two definitions of causation. After that, I answer objections, and then raise some doubts about Hume’s account before finally concluding the paper.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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