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Hume Studies Volume 29, Number 1, April 2003, pp. 43-61 Conceivability and Modality in Hume: A Lemma in an Argument in Defense of Skeptical Realism PETER KAIL Introduction: A Realist View of Necessity and the Key Objection Those who seek to defend a skeptical realist reading of Hume on causal necessity have a number of textual and philosophical hurdles to clear. This paper attempts to clear one and only one hurdle. So one should not look here for a complete case in favor of a skeptical realist reading: I merely attempt to dispose of what looks like a decisive objection to a conception of objective necessary connection which, I believe, Hume endorses. The skeptical realist Hume, as I and others read him, is a Hume who wishes to deny that human beings have the cognitive wherewithal to perceive or grasp the necessary connection which relates the objects of genuine causal relations. His "skeptical conclusion" is that we cannot grasp in re necessity, nor that there is no necessity. That bald statement, of course, leaves us with a whole host of questions: why should we think that Hume believes that there really is causal necessity? Is this position compatible with his positive account of our idea of necessary connection, or his theory of belief (and of ideas in general)? What of Hume's talk of "necessity in the objects" lacking a meaning? And how does Peter Kail is Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, The University of Edinburgh, David Hume Tower, George Square, Edinburgh ΕΗ8 9JX, United Kingdom, e-mail: peter.kail@ed.ac.uk 44 Peter Kail such a skeptical realist reading mesh with Hume's general philosophical project (or, indeed, what does it tell us about that)? None of these questions can be addressed here.1 Instead, as I said, I want to defend a conception of necessary connection that seems vulnerable to a decisive objection. First, then, I need to spell out what that conception is. Hume takes acquaintance with necessary connection (the "power, force or efficacy") to entail certain conceptual-cum-epistemological consequences. Roughly, acquaintance with necessary connection would entail (a) the possibility of a priori knowledge of the relevant cause's effect and (b) the impossibility of conceiving the cause without its effect. He tells us that: From the first appearance of an object, we can never conjecture what effect will result from it. But were the power or energy of any cause discoverable by the mind, we could foresee the effect, even without experience; and might, at first, pronounce with certainty concerning it, by the mere dint of thought and reasoning. (EHU 7.1.7; SBN 63) A similar claim is made in the Treatise: We must distinctly and particularly conceive the connection betwixt cause and effect, and be able to pronounce, from a simple view of the one, that it must be follow'd or preceded by the other. This is the true manner of conceiving a particular power in a particular body. (T 1.3.14.13; SBN 161) These aspects of Hume's treatment of necessity constitute what Galen Strawson has called the "AP Property."2 Notice that the AP Property furnishes a thin, but nevertheless contentful, specification of that of which we are ignorant when Hume says we are ignorant of necessary connection. Necessary connection is that feature, acquaintance with which, would yield what is specified in the AP Property. One can go further by suggesting that what the AP Property picks out are unknown (and, for reasons of deep contingency, unknowable) essences.3 This thought is intimated by a number of things Hume says: 'Tis easy to observe, that in tracing this relation, the inference we draw from cause to effect, is not deriv'd merely from a survey of these particular objects, and from such a penetration into their essences as may discover the dependence of the one upon the other. (T 1.3.6.1; SBN 86 (my emphasis)) Hume Studies Conceivability and Modality 45 And: It has been observ'd already, that in no single instance the ultimate connexion of any objects is discoverable, either by our senses or reason , and that we can never penetrate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 43-61
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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