restricted access Is Hume a Sceptic About Induction?: On a Would-be Revolution in the Interpretation of Hume's Philosophy
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IS HUME A SCEPTIC ABOUT INDUCTION? On a Would-be Revolution in the Interpretation of Hume's Philosophy The history of philosophy does not abound with great philosophers. But the number of those whose preoccupation is with the interpretation of the great philosophers' works is overwhelming. It is not surprising, therefore, that time and again we come upon arguments to the effect that a great philosopher has never been properly understood. What, after all, could better justify one in adding still another paper or book to the number of works published yearly on any great philosopher, than the claim that one put forward a new interpretation; and what could be a more revolutionary interpretation than that which claims that a certain philosophy has been misunderstood altogether. This is not to say that real revolutions in the interpretation of major philosophical works are a priori precluded. It could possibly happen that generations of scholars have again and again been mistaken as to a philosopher's basic intentions. But one should certainly check and double-check any such revolutionary interpretation lest one fall a victim to it. In what follows I shall discuss a recent revolutionary interpretation concerning Hume's attitude toward induction. Hume scholars in the past have been at variance over many a question, but they all agreed that Hume was the first to present the problem of the justification of induction systematically. They also agreed that Hume tried to prove that induction cannot be justified: there is no convincing argument which could (without begging the question) demonstrate that inductively based predictions and theories are reasonable. According to this traditional view Hume's attitude to induction was of course sceptical. But lately T. Beauchamp and T. Mappes argued that this view was totally mistaken. They claim that Hume never grappled with the problem which came to be called the problem of the justification of induction; actually it does not appear in his writings. The view that Hume was bent on proving the impossibility of such a justification is simply erroneous. According to these philosophers had Hume discussed this problem at all he might well have either argued with Strawson that it was a pseudo-problem or tried with Reichenbach to justify induction pragmatically. If this interpretation is correct, we must conclude that the traditional view of Hume as a sceptical philosopher who denied the rationality of inductive inferences is false to the 2 point of being a mere fabrication. I shall analyse here some of the arguments advanced by Beauchamp and Mappes in order to expose some of their weak points. I shall try to show that however revolutionary their interpretation, it is only a would-be revolution. If I still find it worthwhile to discuss it at length, it is because their interpretation - as erroneous as it is raises a very important question about the consistency of Hume's philosophy. My aim is not merely to expose some of the vulnerable points of what I shall call the "revolutionary interpretation" but also to deal with the fundamental question it raises. II Beauchamp and Mappes argue that it never occurred to Hume to dispute the rationality of induction. He could doubt whether certain inductive inferences could pass the test of the established institutional standards of inductive reasoning, but the "external problem" of the justifiability of the entire institution of inductive reasoning was never raised by him. This interpretation is based on two kinds of arguments: the one, a general argument, has to do with the principles of Hume's philosophy and the other with textual considerations. According to the general argument the traditional view that Hume doubted the rationality of the empiricalinductive method is incompatible with well-known facts about Hume, such as his use of this very method, or his assertion that it was the major innovation of the Treatise. "Are we to believe", Beauchamp and Mappes ask, "that the most influential figure in modern empiricism, who wrote a Treatise using the empirical method, binds himself to a procedure whose conclusions cannot be given rational justification of any kind?"3 The textual underpinnings of the revolutionary interpretation are of two kinds: on the negative side it is maintained that...