The Ways of the Wise: Hume’s Rules of Causal Reasoning


In their responses to Hume’s account of causal reasoning, Hume’s own contemporaries and many subsequent readers have tended to focus on the skeptical implications of that account. More recent scholarship has emphasized that Hume’s account of causal inference is not purely skeptical, for Hume often suggests that forming a belief through causal inference based on repeated experience is the right way to form beliefs. One less-noticed feature of Hume’s account of causal inference, however, is that Hume links good causal inference with virtue; thinkers who adopt certain methods of causal reasoning and eschew other methods possess the epistemic virtue that he characterizes as “wisdom” or “good sense.” This paper argues that Hume’s account of causal reasoning and his normative claims about belief can fruitfully be interpreted by focusing on what Hume says about such doxastic wisdom: why he thinks it is better to be wise than unwise; what he means when he characterizes certain methods of belief-formation as wise; how the cognitive habits employed by the wise differ from those of the unwise; and how he thinks someone can who lacks the epistemic virtue of wisdom can come to acquire it. Since much of the secondary literature on Humean virtue has focused on the “moral” rather than “intellectual” virtues (EPM App 4.2; SBN 313), attention to Humean doxastic wisdom also helps to provide a more complete picture of his account of virtue.