Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Welcome, Humeans!

Image result for hume turban

Let's put on our Hume caps and begin co-philosophizing about le bon David. His Treatise of Human Nature is the obvious place to begin.

I've invited my co-Humeans to state their starting point reflections, objections, concerns et al. Mine, in a nutshell, revolve around William James's claim that Hume's empiricism was insufficiently radical. "Most empiricists had been halfhearted; and Hume was perhaps the most half-hearted of the lot... The reader will recognize in Hume's famous pages a fresh example of the way in which conceptual translations always maltreat fact..." Some Problems of Philosophy

So there's the gauntlet thrown: is Jamesian radical empiricism an improvement on its Humean predecessor or not?

I take the James side, in the James v. Hume radical or skeptical empiricism debate, but Hume remains my favorite Scots freethinker and namesake. He led the way.
Photo published for Hume Walk

UPDATE, Sep.9 - "How to read Hume" podcast

UPDATE, Dec. 11 - "Dialogues Concerning Moral Nihilism"


  1. I first came across the writings of The Righteous Saint David of Edinburgh some 2 years ago (a time period that's felt more like a decade) in an Epistemology class. It was one of those things that took a while to sink in—in fact, we read Hume on the second day of class, if I remember correctly, and in honesty it wasn't until a much later date, months later in fact, that I began to understand the significance of Hume's writing. It didn't sink in until I engaged in a minor debate with the instructor of said class about the nature of scientific law that Hume had, in fact, been correct all along. It was at the precise moment that I was awakened from my dogmatic slumber.

    I'd always considered myself a "skeptic" in the colloquial sense of the word, and an empiricist as well, but after that particular moment I began to question my own dogmas. "Everybody got a gris-gris," so say my Cajun ancestors. I set out to study Hume as much as I could, reading his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and his Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, first getting up the guts to dive into his Treatise about a year ago. I must say that I, in contrast to Dr. Oliver, would be willing to argue the precise inverse on radical vs. skeptical empiricism, that it was in fact William James who could not commit to empiricism truly, and to accept the consequences thereof. Hume was many things. A pragmatist wasn't one of them. This is, in fact, why David Hume is perhaps my greatest philosophical hero—he never built "trapdoors" to escape the consequences of his philosophy as so many did. I derive from Hume's writings exactly the kind of epistemological nihilism against which James always seems so desperate to fight. I would argue very strongly against James's critique of the following passage from the Enquiry:

    "It appears that, in single instances of the operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any thing but one event following another, without being able to comprehend any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connexion between it and its supposed effect. The same difficulty occurs in contemplating the operations of mind on body—where we observe the motion of the latter to follow upon the volition of the former, but are not able to observe or conceive the tie which binds together the motion and volition, or the energy by which the mind produces this effect. The authority of the will over its own faculties and ideas is not a whit more comprehensible; so that, upon the whole, there appears not, throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected."



      This is a statement about empirical perception and it is absolutely fundamental to empiricism. We cannot be said to observe cause ever—only mere correlation. Cause may well exist, and we may be able to make a practical statement about the relation of cause and effect in particular instances, but the truth is that, for an empiricist, there is first and foremost (and perhaps only) sense data about which we can speak with any intellectual honesty. James will raise the point that Hume contradicts "common sense," but this is not a legitimate concern for a philosopher. Common sense is the realm of the uninitiated, and the hallmark of the life unexamined.

      The cherry-picker in me, though, will always remember that key phrase of Hume's that changes EVERYTHING—"be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man." Hume's separation of these two elements makes it abundantly clear that, although our deepest philosophical investigation may reveal something, it does not necessarily interfere with our interaction with the external world on a day-to-day level. At the risk of coming across as pompous, I will link here to my favorite of my essays, which deals with the question of whether scientific theories can be true or false. It is available at the following link:


      In short, I look very forward to delving deep into the world of Le Bon David, and I can't wait to see how it turns out!

  2. Game on, Jon! Of course, whether the radical route is a "trapdoor" OR an escape hatch (from philosophical abstraction and hyper-skeptical irrelevance) is the question. Or, no, it's A question. No reason why we should limit ourselves to just one. In fact, I want there to be enough questions before us so that I too can affirm the good David at least occasionally.

    Looking forward to hearing our colleague's "point d'appui" on this and other Humean matters... and to seeing how much we depart, over the course of the next few months, from our respective starting places.

    Looking forward as well to seeing what a good job we do of philosophizing while still being men!

  3. Hoping you can both find time before Friday afternoon to post your brief reactions to Blackburn's way of reading Hume, to give us a good launchpoint for discussion. For my part, I'm with him on the overall strategy of interpreting Hume as an evolutionary psychologist ahead of his time; and I'm intrigued by B's treatment of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Was H's last word really an attempt to subvert and disarm ("transform") the whole God question? "This is not primarily about the existence of God... Hume realizes he does not need to contest the bare assertion of the existence of God." Interesting! But true? We'll see. In cerveza (and H20) veritas...

  4. "How to read Hume" podcast - http://up-dawn.madewithopinion.com/how-to-read-hume/