Epistemology: Hume’s Skepticism and Induction Part 2


(intro music) Hi, my name is Daniel Greco. I’m an assistant professor of
philosophy at Yale University. Previously, I discussed
David Hume’s distinction between relations of
ideas and matters of fact. Today, I’d like to discuss how
that distinction gets applied by Hume to offer a skeptical
argument concerning induction. So how can we come to know
about matters of fact? A natural thought is that observation will tell us about matters of fact. You know that it’s sunny because you can go outside and look. Hume is willing to grant, at
least for the sake of argument, that observation is a way of
knowing about matters of fact. But remember, we started
with some examples concerning matters of fact
that we haven’t yet observed. Remember? Concerning what will
happen in the future, say when the next American
presidential election will be, or concerning what animals are like that I, at least, have never directly observed. So how can we know about
these matters of fact, if not by observation and also not by the mere operation of thought? Here’s a general strategy
that Hume thinks we often use. We project observed regularities, things that have been true in those cases that we have observed, onto unobserved cases. So, for example, all the fires
I’ve observed have been hot. Whenever I’ve been exposed to a fire, have gotten a chance to, say, put my hands near it, it’s been hot. So I assume the fires that I haven’t observed will be hot, too. More generally, we start with some premise that says “all observed
Fs have been G” where “F” might be “fire”
and “G” might be “heat,” but it could be something else, too. And we draw the conclusion that all unobserved Fs are Gs too. We’ll call this pattern
of inference “induction.” I think we’ve gone a bit too quick. This can’t be quite right. We don’t always use induction. For instance, here’s an example of induction as I’ve described it. Every hair of mine that
I’ve observed is black, so in the future all my hairs
will continue to be black. Now, I would love it if this
were a good, persuasive argument. But it’s not, given what’s held true for my parents and my aunts and uncles and my grandparents and
humanity as a whole. I have excellent reason to
think that at some point in the future some of
my hairs will be gray. But even if it were true
that every hair of mine that I’ve observed is black, still that wouldn’t give
me reason to think that in the future all of my hairs
will continue to be black. So we don’t always think
that inductive arguments, arguments that use
induction, are good ones. I think it would be too
quick to dismiss induction as an interesting and
important sort of argument on the basis of examples like
the one involving my hair. I think we do often rely
on something like induction, at least when we’re
making inferences about very general features of our environment. So in the case of fires being hot, or say in the case of gravity
continuing to operate, say, the sun rising tomorrow as it’s risen every day in the past, we do take the inductive
arguments to be good ones. So Hume thinks, and I’m inclined to agree, that we’re implicitly assuming, when we make arguments
like this, something like what’s been called the
“uniformity of nature.” We’re implicitly assuming that the future will resemble the past, at least in its most general respects. Maybe the future won’t resemble the past in the respect of my
continuing to have black hairs, but it will resemble
the past in respect of fire continuing to be hot. That’s more general. It will resemble the past in that people will continue to
die, people will be mortal, and in that gravity will
continue to operate, all these very general respects in which the future might resemble the past or ways that we think it will. These are cases where we think
inductive arguments are good. You might think we don’t
need to use induction to come to views about what’s gonna happen in unobserved cases, because we can appeal to laws of nature,
we can appeal to science, which tells us what the laws of nature are and can let us make predictions
about what’s going to happen in cases that we haven’t yet observed. But Hume thought, and
I’m inclined to agree, that really appealing to laws of nature, like say the law of gravity, is just a matter of appealing
to inductive arguments. When we appeal to laws of nature, we are at least implicitly assuming that these most general regularities
that have held before will continue to hold. When we say that the
Earth will continue to revolve around the sun
because gravity says it must, we’re implicitly assuming
that this regularity that’s held in the past concerning how massive bodies interact will continue to hold in the future. That is, we’re implicitly assuming that the uniformity of nature, that the future will resemble the past, will continue to hold. Why should we believe that? Why should we believe that the
future will resemble the past, even in its most general respects? It’s not a relation of ideas. It’s conceivable that
the future should fail to resemble the past, even in
its most general respects. Try to imagine that tomorrow
the sun doesn’t rise, that gravity stops operating. Try to imagine that if you
stick your hand into a fire tomorrow, it won’t burn
but will instead be cold. This is the stuff of science
fiction, but it is imaginable. There’s no incoherence in supposing that while some law of nature has held true in all our observation in the past, it will fail to hold true in the future. I imagine you could
write some good stories, consistent stories,
stories that make sense, premised on the idea that, say, gravity or the laws of chemistry that
have been true in the past might fail to be true in the future. So the mere operation of
thought isn’t going to be enough to convince us that the
uniformity of nature holds. The mere operation of thought, uncovering contradictions, using logic, that’s not going to show us that the future must be like the past. Here’s another way that
we might try and argue that the future will be like the past. We might try to use induction. After all, we saw that when we’re dealing with matters of fact, we generally can’t use the
mere operation of thought, and when we’re dealing
with matters of fact that we can’t directly observe,
we need to use induction. So maybe in arguing that
the uniformity of nature will continue to hold,
we can use induction. What might that look like? Here’s an argument, an inductive argument. In the past, the future
has resembled the past. So in the future, the future
will resemble the past. This looks to be circular. It assumes that because
something happened in the past, it will continue in the future. It would only be a good
form of argument if we already thought that the
future would resemble the past. Otherwise, the mere fact that something has happened in the past wouldn’t be something that we took
to suggest at all that in the future, the future
will resemble the past. How bad is this? How much should it worry us? I find it worrying me. We ordinarily think that
relying on induction is a good way to form
beliefs about the future, it’s a good way to form beliefs about what will happen in unobserved cases. In particular, it’s a better way than other methods that we might use, say tea leaf reading or astrology or consulting a Magic 8 Ball. So suppose I’m wondering
whether I can fly. I’d really like to fly,
and I’m considering jumping out of a tenth story window in the hopes that I’ll
be able to fly when I do. Will that succeed? Will I fly or will I die? If we trust induction,
induction says I’ll die. When things get thrown out of
tenth story windows, they fall, at least when people do. But suppose I take my Magic 8 Ball, shake it up, ask it whether I can fly, and it says, “Without a doubt.” I think most of us would think I should rely on the prediction
that induction gives me rather than the prediction
that the Magic 8 Ball gives me. Why should I do that? What’s better about induction? We’ve already shown that we can give a circular argument in favor of induction. But we can do the same
thing with the Magic 8 Ball. Suppose I ask the Magic 8 Ball,
“Will you tell me the truth? “Are you a good way for me to
form beliefs about the future?” I shake it up and it
says, “Without a doubt.” So when I ask the Magic 8 Ball whether it always tells the
truth, it says that it does. When I ask induction whether
induction will give me reliable beliefs about the future, it says that it does, too. In both cases, I can give a circular, question-begging argument. I can assume that some
method is a reliable way of forming beliefs about the unobserved, and then, using that method,
the method will say, “Good job, stick with me.” But that doesn’t distinguish between induction and trusting the Magic 8 Ball. So do we have any reason to
think that induction will lead to true beliefs and
trusting the Magic 8 Ball won’t? Here’s one interpretation
of what Hume said, Hume’s skeptical solution
to the problem of induction. There’s no rationally compelling reason to use induction rather
than crystal ball gazing or astrology or relying on a Magic 8 Ball. Still, we just can’t help
but reason inductively. It’s a strong habit, much like birds can’t resist
flying south in the winter. It’s not rational, it’s just something we do out of instinct. Because this instinct is so strong, the question of justifying
induction doesn’t really arise, at least not in practice. We’ll keep using it, whatever philosophical
conclusions we come to. So we can set this question aside, recognizing that we’re
behaving irrationally, but that we’re just not able to bring ourselves to behave rationally. Now I can’t quite bring myself
to accept this position. And I’m also skeptical that it’s really the right interpretation of Hume. But it’s very hard to say what’s wrong with our Hume-inspired argument, and lots of subtle and
interesting philosophy has been done that
attempts to do just that. If you’re intrigued, that’s
a topic for another video. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

32 Replies to “Epistemology: Hume’s Skepticism and Induction Part 2”

  1. Platonic Epistemology – the anatomy of an experience

    The platonic epistemology outlined here is both thoroughly platonic and thoroughly pragmatic, in that we cannot objectively say what truth is obtained by Plato's Mind (the One), for that would simply be a higher order of experience, and because experience is subjective, to express it objectively in words would necessarily distort it. That is to say, the truth of the Mona Lisa is the experience of viewing it.
    All we can do here is provide pragmatic methods of finding truth, not what the truth is, although
    we can refine it by levels. For example, in viewing the Mona Lisa, one simply views it, and we can
    refine the type of truth is obtained by advancing through the levels of platonic semiotics. For that, see

    https://[email protected]/RogerClough For personal messages use [email protected]

    There will be found companion pieces to this, my essays on platonic semiotics and platonic semantics, which provide the mechanics for understanding experiences, and what they are, which are the mental objects in mind (Secondnesses). The understanding or meaning of an experience is obtained pragmatically by intending (in the Meinong sense) or thinking (reflecting on) an experience. This makes it conscious as an apperception (see Leibniz) to Plato's Mind. That is truth at the level of apperception, or apperceptive truth. For platonic semiotics, the levels are bicameral. Here we only refer
    the experiences already perceived (such as the image of a page of text).

    Tentative level of consciousness starting with the highest level (0, in Mind) down to already perceived
    image or higher:

    0. Mental experience in Platonic Mind
    () each experience taken at a snapshot in time and stored as an image in separate cell like
    a frame of a movie.
    () these images are later replayed not in time but in sequence to individual minds, like a movie.
    () since Mind has access to the infinity of world experiences, it can also think with the images
    through comparison and association, and other mental processes suggested by the empiricists Locke and Hume.
    1.Reapperceptions (Intended apperceptions (conscious thoughts, ideas))
    () left bicameral brain
    2. Apperceptions (Intended perceptions (conscious perceptions)
    () left and right bicameral brain
    3. Perceptions (unconscious sensory perceptions)
    () right bicameral brain

    Only Platonism can deal with the subjective, because the subjective is realized in the First Person Singular. Which means that no matter how vast your universe is, only a singular point can perceive or experience the world. And only platonism has such a singular point, plato's One or Mind, where a wide band perspective (the Many) is focused down to a single point (the One).

    Here the basic contention is that meaning is produced by an intended experience (see the companion essay on platonic semiotics), which would therefore be a conscious experience or either an apperception, to use Leibniz's term, or, to borrow from Meinong, an intended- if the experience is a mental object or thought or intuition.

    Intending a mental experience is mental pragmatism, or experimentalism, in which an intention is performed on a mental object to see what results. The result is the experience, another word for the meaning of the mental object. Thus the meaning of a piece of chocolate is obtained by eating it,
    just as the meaning of a novel is given by the expeirences given in reading it.

    But to communicate meaning, which is subjective and personal, to others means converting a subjective experience it into language, which is objective which will never precisely give the original experience.

    Plato's Mind is spaceless and timeless. But because Mind (the One) can have an infinite number of experiences, one from each source in the universe, but at the same time, we assumre that it can segregate this infinity of experiences into separate cells in mental space, each advancing in indexed
    order but not in time, like the frames of a movie. These can then be replayed in individual minds
    through their updated perceptions analogous to a movie.

    Associative processes of meaning. This is Mind's own way to thinking and understanding. Since Mind has access to the infinity of world experiences, it can also think with the images through comparison and association, and other mental processes suggested by the empiricists Locke and Hume.

    I do not know what the ultimate result is (what the meal tastes like), all I can do as a pragmatist is provide a likely recipe through platonic semiotics and semantics.

    Dr. Roger B Clough NIST (retired, 2000). See my Leibniz site: https://[email protected]/RogerClough
    For personal messages use [email protected]

  2. Hey Mr. Greco, thanks for this video. I study Hume at the moment for class and it's very helpful. I just thought about something: in your example about black hair, don't you also make an argument relying on induction, since you're saying there's a good chance your haire won't be black based on the knowledge or you parents and great-grandparents – isn't that also inductive reasoning?

  3. great video i'm using it revise for a final tomorrow but, still i would like to see more of this!. most philosophy channels mention biographical information on philosophers but, they rarely touch on epistemology.

  4. "I can't think of any reason why this coin won't come up heads the next time it's tossed," the philosopher says, in respect to the coin that's been tossed a hundred trillion times and has always come up tails, "It's just sheer irrationality why everyone just keeps betting that it will keep coming up tails. What's wrong with all you people?"

  5. I like what one of Hume's character says in response to a skeptic in his book "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". When Cleanthes interpretes Philo's position as to doubt everything he get's a little upset and asks whether Philo will exit through the window at the end of their discourse.

    "Whether your scepticism be as absolute and sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: We shall then see, whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt, if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived from our fallacious senses, and more fallacious experience." – David Hume

  6. Surely a more sensible strategy would be to first ask the 'magic eight ball' if it could fly and then, irrespective of the answer, fling it from the highest window.

  7. I feel like since we have used the "it has happened in the past so it will happen in the future" argument before successfully, there is more basis to trust induction than a magic 8 ball, wouldn't this show that induction is still the "best" way determine what to do in the future?

  8. Good video but aren't you using inductive reasoning yourself at 2:07. Your reasoning is as follows. Every humans hair so far has become gray when they age, so my hair must become gray when I age as well. Now of course this inductive argument sound a lot more reasonable then the no hair color change argument, as we've confirmed it ourselves multiple times. But still it doesn't necessarily have to mean your hair will become gray because of the nature of inductive arguments.

  9. In the past the future has NOT resembled the past. You're fathers black hairs went gray. The existance of me was something that was always not happening, until I began existing

  10. Induction is useful, because if the situation resembles the past for let's say a 100 years, and than it changes for a 100 years. You can 1) have correct believes for 100 years and 2) adjust the argument based on the information that every 100 years, the situation changes.

    Example: you observe your black hairs, so you assume you will have black hairs in the future. And you're right for some 40 years maybe. Than you see your hair get's grey. Now your child can learn through inductive arguments that he will also have blafk hair for 40 years, and than it turnes grey. That way, we know a little more about hair color

  11. Inductive arguments are part of our nature because using it helps us not to die. Therefore you could say that inductive arguments are more trustworthy than the magic ball thing, which is emperically proven to be wrong every now and then

  12. You used induction when you assumed that your hair will go black
    P: As one ages one’s hair goes grey
    C: My hair will not stay black

  13. Fact: the sun will not rise tomorrow. It does not rise or set. Those old descriptors should be tossed out. Our planet spins in relation to the sun. The proper terms are "dawn" and "dusk."

  14. You leave out the fact that predictions based on natural law (the sun rising, fire being hot) are supported by the enormous weight of history that says that never under any circumstances throughout our experience with campfires have cold campfire flames been observed. Whereas the Magic Eight Ball has (I assume) no significant history of being right. If the Magic Eight Ball had a history of being right on a par with our campfire flames being hot, then its predictions would have much more credibility, and I might have actually ended up marrying Karen Mae Lasky back in 3rd grade as her Magic Eight Ball stated.

  15. There are 'black swan' events, in which the event does not conform to the past and our assumptions that black swans are an impossibility! How frequent are black swan events though?

  16. that thing that we cant act rationally about induction is based on induction. so maybe it could be false

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