“If objects had not an uniform and regular connection with each other, we shou’d never arrive at any idea of cause and effect; and even after all, the necessity, which enters into that idea, is nothing but a determination of the mind to pass from one object to its usual attendant, and infer the existence of one from that of the other. Here then are two particulars, which we are to consider as essential to necessity, viz. the constant union and the inference of the mind; and wherever we discover these we must acknowledge a necessity.” D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p.448.
Too many take Hume to talk mainly, and in a definitive way, about how the world is. Hume himself is confused sometimes, taking psychological subject matter to physical conclusions. This is an annoying fallacy, & more annoying still is a tendency of some who self-advertise as being part of the Humean tradition to promote it to an empirical dogma.
As pointed out by Davidson, there is a difference between our everyday statements of causality and the lofty heights of mathematical physics. To put it more tellingly: there is a difference between ‘if A then B’ and ‘E=mc2’.
This difference is a difference of more consequence than mostly thought. Let us go & explore it, so we can plant the seed of a long needed civil war on ‘minds’.
I won’t waste too much time on the difference. Hume has it right: ‘if A then B’ is the origin – in the mind – of causality. It is a tentative and fallible inference based on the recognition of similarities (people interested can read the first 2 parts of my thesis ‘Do Humans Think?’ linked here somewhere for a technical treatment of this). Davidson has it right as well: science proceeds by elimination of all this ‘if’-ing & ‘then’-ing. It is true in all cases, independent of time & it works equally well predicting things in the past as it does predicting things in the future. As statistical as it gets, it attempts all of the time something final & is incapable of saying things that are ‘merely’ probable.
‘Nuff said, the picture will be clear. The error can be traced back to the quote above: ‘if A then B’ does not offer any path to ‘necessity’. Kant would maybe say that there is not enough material in the ‘if-then’-ing to build a house which gives the comfort of necessity. You can say that this is not much different from the classical claims contra empiricism saying it is a non-starter because the chaos cannot organize itself. But it isn’t because it is clear that empiricism does provide a starter, in fact the only starter that we have. The problem is not that, the problem is that empiricism does not & can’t account for the pristinely absolute concepts such as necessity.
It could go there via the idealization into A’s, B’s and conditionals but that’s precisely what it doesn’t want to (and for good reason, in fact!). So it makes Hume’s error – or imprecision – into an (to my knowledge as yet not attacked) empirical dogma: it constructs a physicalist world of necessity in which the fallible psychology of humans is progressively gaining insight up to the limiting situation (i.e. an ideal that cannot be called an ideal) wherein all ‘mental hocus-pocus’ will be replaced by pure science (& the first to go is – not unjustifiably, it has to be noted: organized religion).
The physical world is rich and all-explaining. The mental world is a weak derivative of it. Anything anybody says that is not ‘rational by the strictest of lights’ is nonsense.
Here we come to the consequence, finally (my apologies for that). If the link from the ‘if .. then’ inference to necessity doesn’t work, we have a non-mysterious explanation for our everyday knowledge (and even for its progressive insight) but we don’t have any for our scientific knowledge!
So it’s exactly the reverse of what these self-proclaimed Humeans hold: their mosaic of physical externalities is the depopulated version condemned to eternal catch-up and without a sufficiently empirical ground. Our common sense is the one that’s empirical and rich enough to create more and more subject matter (true, false, nonsensical) and do it in a democratic way where even lesser geniuses contribute without first getting a fiat from mathematics professors.
In the “if a/b” there is more then what is in the “e=mc2” world. Not the same and certainly not less! This is not an anti-scientific view, it is an anti-scientistic view.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Bill Frisell, Disfarmer; at least during moments I was not too worried my very ill son wouldn’t be too disturbed by it]
Clarifying end note: this was an attack on, for instance, Lewisianism – it is time for an all out civil war in the analytic realm. High time because the more nonsensically entrenched the positions of the lesser analytic philosophers are (the type that police their departments as some economists policed the freshwater economy departments), the more continuing creep we see of mystico-religious babble. And long overdue in fact when we see nonsense about brains is infecting brain scientists to develop thinking rivalled in ‘the dangerous nonsense’ category of thought by phreneology.