In A Treatise of Human Nature, section 1.4.7 (the conclusion of part 1), Hume states that there are some circumstances in which belief in the continued existence of matter and the belief in cause and effect contradict each other.

How can this be? I have not been able to form a clear example of this. Can you set one out please?

  • 1
    Can you quote the relevant reference? (I'm sure I could find it online but it'd be nice to have the minimal meaningful context here) – Mitch Aug 4 '11 at 19:57
  • 1
    The copy I'm reading from is the Oxford Philosophical Texts edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J Norton amazon.com/… – NiallJG Aug 7 '11 at 11:40
  • Don't have a copy of THN to hand. Is he simply contrasting the belief in material cause and effect with the belief in material continuity? In other words, the problem of a "first cause" or a "final effect"? Or, as we might say today, big bang versus steady state universe. In this case, "continued" would not mean only going forward, but material continuity per se. Just an off-the-cuff guess. – Nelson Alexander Jan 25 '16 at 18:59

The passage in 1.4.7 is referring back to an earlier argument found in 1.3.14. You'll find a fuller explanation there:

Having thus explain’d the manner, in which we reason beyond our immediate impressions, and conclude that such particular causes must have such particular effects; we must now return upon our footsteps to examine that question, which[26] first occur’d to us, and which we dropt in our way, viz. what is our idea of necessity, when we say that two objects are necessarily connected together. Upon this head I repeat what I have often had occasion to observe, that as we have no idea, that is not deriv’d from an impression, we must find some impression, that gives rise to this idea of necessity, if we assert we have really such an idea. In order to this I consider, in what objects necessity is commonly suppos’d to lie; and finding that it is always ascrib’d to causes and effects, I turn my eye to two objects suppos’d to be plac’d in that relation; and examine them in all the situations, of which they are susceptible. I immediately perceive, that they are contiguous in time and place, and that the object we call cause precedes the other we call effect. In no one instance can I go any farther, nor is it possible for me to discover any third relation betwixt these objects. I therefore enlarge my view to comprehend several instances; where I find like objects always existing in like relations of contiguity and succession. At first sight this seems to serve but little to my purpose. The reflection on several instances only repeats the same objects; and therefore can never give rise to a new idea. But upon farther enquiry I find, that the repetition is not in every particular the same, but produces a new impression, and by that means the idea, which I at present examine. For after a frequent repetition, I find, that upon the appearance of one of the objects, the mind is determin’d by custom to consider its usual attendant, and to consider it in a stronger light upon account of its relation to the first object. ‘Tis this impression, then, or determination, which affords me the idea of necessity... (David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 1.3.14)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Would it be possible to give a paraphrase of the argument (or at least a quote or link to that passage)? – Mitch Aug 4 '11 at 19:58
  • It's not one passage-- it's the thrust of 1.3.14. If your goal is to understand Hume, it's a pretty important section to read. If you read it and have further questions, just ask. If, on the other hand, your goal is to understand Hume without actually reading Hume, I'm not sure I'm the guy to help you out. – Michael Dorfman Aug 5 '11 at 8:44
  • 2
    I understand your direction. It's just that here on a Q&A site, it is an expected convenience to offer to the reader something beyond a simple link. Any additional comment you give (even just a sentence), will whet our appetites, give us an idea whether it is a topic worth pursuing. Right now, the only substantive content is in the title. – Mitch Aug 5 '11 at 13:57
  • 1
    The question made specific reference to section 1.4.7 of the Treatise, so I thought it was safe to assume that the questioner had already read 1.3.14 (which occurs earlier in the text, naturally). Given that the question presupposes that one has read (or is reading) the Treatise, I didn't think any more information was necessary or desirable. If the question had been "Please summarize Hume's argument in 1.3.14", I probably wouldn't have answered at all, as I don't think I could explain it more clearly than Hume does. Expected convenience doesn't trump the need to do one's own homework, IMHO – Michael Dorfman Aug 5 '11 at 19:35
  • 1
    I'm reading the passage now and will write an answer here once I've groked it, thanks for directing me to the source Michael. – NiallJG Aug 7 '11 at 11:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.