Philosophy Index

David Hume

David Hume (1711–1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. Hume was educated in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then moved to France for three years where he completed work on A Treatise of Human Nature.

In 1763, Hume became Secretary to the British embassy in France, where he befriended Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Empiricism

Hume was an empiricist, arguing that all knowledge comes from experience. Hume famously brings the problem of induction, which argues that reason cannot be a true source of knowledge. The problem is that we cannot assume from particulars any universal claim, thus we have no certainty in the results of rational claims in the sciences, nor do we have good reason to assume that the future will resemble the past.

Cause and Effect

In his examination of cause and effect, David Hume also asserts that we have no knowledge of cause and effect. Hume describes our observance of supposed causality as repeatedly connected ideas. It is through always seeing one event following another that we make a psychological leap into a universal claim, that the first event causes the second.

This has been interpereted in two ways. The literal, hard interperetation of this is a metaphysical one, in which Hume is seen to be certainly denying that causality exists at all — that our view of the causal relation between objects is purely an illusion.

The softer interperetation of Hume's writing, which is more popular, limits his claim to epistemology. On this account, Hume is not denying that causality exists, but merely saying that we have no knowledge of it. We do not actually witness causality, nor do we have good reason to know that it exists. Causality may very well be the reason for the constant connections of events we witness, but we do not have the ability to acquire knowedge of this, because of the problem of induction. We cannot assume causality on rational grounds, and we certainly do not perceive causality itself, but only the events that seem to follow in succession.

Hume's Guillotine

Hume can also be credited with brininging questions about the logical validity of normative claims to the attention of philosophers. His argument, known as Hume's Guillotine or the is/ought problem, is that normative ("ought to" or value-based) claims do not have logical value, as they cannot be derived from positive ("is", descriptive or factual) claims.

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Name: David Hume
Born: May 7, 1711, Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: August 25, 1776, Edinburgh, Scotland