Enquiry Sections VII and VIII

The source of our idea of power or necessary connection:

Hume tells us that when we have any doubt concerning the way some term is used, we should ask ‘from what impression is that supposed idea derived?’. If we cannot produce the corresponding impression, we should remain skeptical about whether the term is actually being used with any definite or precise meaning. If we find ourselves confronted with philosophical discussions that turn on the idea of ‘power’ or on the idea of ‘necessary connection’–, e.g., discussions in which Cartesians and others argue about whether or not created substances can have any ‘powers’, and whether or not the ‘necessary connection’ between the body and the mind rules out freedom of thought or the efficacy of the will–we should try to locate the impression or impressions from which these ideas are derived.

Hume considers the following as possible sources:

External Objects

Mind’s Control over the Body

Mind’s Control over Thought

External Objects–sense experience of bodies?: No–all we perceive is one state, followed by another state. We do not perceive any supposed connection between these states.

Exercise of mental control over the body?: No–all we perceive is the will or desire to move some part of the body, followed by the movement of that part of the body. We do not perceive any supposed connection between these two.

Exercise of mental control over thoughts?: No–all we perceive is the will or desire to call up some idea, followed by the idea. We do not perceive any supposed connection between these two.

So, maybe we have no idea of connection or power at all…

or

The impression from which the idea is copied is the feeling of being compelled (or forced) to expect one thing to follow from another, after we have observed similar things to be conjoined through some number of previous cases.

We do not get an impression of power or necessary connection from any single observation of our mind in relation to our own body

We do not get an impression of power or necessary connection from any single observation of our mind in relation to our thoughts and perceptions

We get an impression of power or necessary connection:

when many uniform instances appear, and the same object is always followed by the same event; we then begin to entertain the notion of cause and connexion. We then feel a new sentiment or impression, to wit, a customary connexion in the thought or imagination between one object and its usual attendant; and this sentiment is the original of that idea which we seek for.  (Sect. VII, Part II)

Necessity and Liberty

The source of the idea of necessity:

  • constant conjunction of similar objects
  • mind determined by custom to infer one thing from the appearance of another.

This is what emerges from our experience of inert bodies.

Leads to the view:

“that matter, in all its operations, is actuated by a necessary force, and that every natural effect is so precisely determined by the energy of its cause that no other effect, in such particular circumstances, could possibly have resulted from it”

This is all that we ascribe to matter in terms of necessity (i.e., like events have like causes/effects)

This is also what emerges from our experience of human beings

Human behavior is not, in principle, any less predictable than is the behavior of inert bodies.

We assume constant principles in human nature (ambition, self-love, friendship, generosity, etc.) that provide motives for action in particular situations. For someone to act completely contrary to what our experience suggests that people would do in some particular circumstance, would seem to be just as much a violation of natural laws as if an inert body in motion stopped its own motion or an inert body at rest got up and danced a jig.

Voluntary action does not rule out necessity–nor does a necessary connection between cause and effect rule out causes that act voluntarily (i.e., in accordance with a will, or with a desire for the good that is represented in some action or in its effects).

The source of the idea of liberty:

IDEA = a power of acting or not acting according to the determinations of the will

SOURCE= If we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.

Compatibility of the Two:

The compatibility of the two was never really an issue for the practice of science and the practice of making moral judgments.

Both involve the idea of necessity and causal reasoning concerning matters of fact; moral judgments also involve the idea of liberty–motives and incentives are involved and are contrasted with external forces or constraints–as part of the causal story in relation to which we understand what happened and why, who was responsible, and what should be done in response.

No problem arises there…

It’s only when we get involved in disputes that make use of these ideas in ways that cannot be grounded in experience and common practice that we run into the appearance of incompatibility.

For example:
We go beyond constant conjunction and the determination of the mind to infer cause from effect (or vice versa) to some supposed idea of necessity that warrants claims about the absolute necessity of some existing thing, the absolute necessity of its determinations, the absolute necessity with which effects follow from it, etc. (i.e., Spinoza). That is when we begin to despair concerning the everyday practical conception of ourselves and others as willing, as acting voluntarily, and as responsible for the outcomes of our actions.

We go beyond the lack of external constraint in acting from our desires to some supposed idea of liberty that warrants claims about powers to determine one’s will (or desires) in complete independence from prior causes and external circumstances. That is when we begin to despair concerning the everyday practical conception of ourselves and others as connected with other beings in our desires and actions, and as responsible to them for the outcomes of our actions.

In doing this, we are not making use of well-grounded concepts or ideas for reasoning about matters of fact. We are transforming our well-grounded ideas into absolutes that we can then draw conclusions from simply by using logic to parse out the relations between ideas; however, the results of this enterprise have no real bearing on our actual practices or their legitimacy. The ideas of these absolutes cannot be traced back to impressions, so they lose their connection to proper modes of reasoning concerning real existence and matters of fact.

Brief Reflection before heading into Sections IX -XII
In the section on Liberty and Necessity we really see Hume’s skeptical naturalism taking shape. One of the first things people appeal to in arguing against a thoroughgoing naturalism is human liberty–if this liberty implies the possession of free will, and this is a power that distinguishes the human soul from other causes in nature, then liberty provides a first step beyond natural causes. If liberty does not distinguish human beings from other causes in nature, however, then this step is blocked.