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Of Idea’s Essay, Research Paper

Hume: Matters of fact and relation of idea’s

In David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he attempts, by way of empiricism, to uncover the basis for knowledge and reasoning. Hume deals with the principle of induction, and his views on synthetic and analytic truths. Take his favourite example: his belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. Clearly, this is a matter of fact; it rests on our conviction that each sunrise is an effect caused by the rotation of the earth. But our belief in that causal relation is based on past observations, and our confidence that it will continue tomorrow cannot be justified by reference to the past. So we have no rational basis for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow. Yet we do believe it. In this essay I intend to explain his theories of matters of fact and relations of ideas, and show how they effect his scepticism concerning induction from past experience to future expectations.

If we look at the first argument we see that it states, if I can’t know the principle of induction to be true, I can’t know the sun will rise tomorrow. I can’t know the principle of induction to be true. So I can’t know the sun will rise tomorrow. Hume argues this by relating it to the explanation in his Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding by defining the only two types of knowledge. Relations of ideas and matters of fact. His definition of relations of ideas is that they are the knowledge which is “either intuitively or demonstratively certain”(132). They are universal truths that include mathematics and geometry, and do not actually exist in the world except in the form of ideas (132). Matters of fact, on the other hand, require investigation in the real world, and are completely uncertain because the contrary of every matter of fact is equally possible and conceivable (132). Hume sets out to discover that which makes us believe any matters of fact that exist beyond what we have observed with our senses in the past or are witnessing in the present. This exploration serves to clarify the distinction between matters of fact and relations of ideas and indicates their important implications.

Hume comes up with the relation of cause and effect as the only way to reason beyond our senses. Hume then decides that the only way that we come to think in terms of cause and effect is through experience, defeating the validity of the second argument of the principle of induction. We can never know the effect of anything unless we have experienced it. This applies to objects as well as events. We are unaware of the effects of gunpowder, magnates, or food until we experience them because there is nothing in the qualities that we sense in any of these that indicates what they will potentially do. The same goes for events, such as the collision of billiard balls. There is nothing in the motion of the billiard balls indicating that they will communicate motion to each other unless we have seen it happen before (133).

The only certainty that we have is relations of ideas but they do not actually tell us anything to explain ultimate causation. Breaking down all thought into two categories has shown that we can never reason about anything in the world such as if the sun will rise, because our only forms of reasoning tell us nothing for certain. This is a very important part of Hume’s “sceptical doubts” about induction from past experience to future expectations. He argues that reasoning is not the basis for making conclusions from the experience of cause and effect. He qualifies this argument by reminding us that we will assume certain causes to have certain effects even though we do not understand the reasons why they behave that way. We do not know the true connection between the sensible qualities of the cause and the sensible qualities of the effect, we simply infer one from the other because of past experience (135). We jump from a premise that we can be sure of, that an object has always had a certain effect, to the premise that all objects with similar properties will have similar effects. But “there is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if it indeed be drawn by reasoning and argument” (135). Hume states that this “medium” is that “the future will be conformable to the past” and “from causes which appear similar we expect similar effects” (136). Hume goes on to argue that we cannot ever prove that this is actually the case. This brings us back to the premises of matters of fact and relations of ideas. Neither force of reason can ever prove that what happened today will happen again tomorrow because neither force of reasoning can tell us anything for certain about the world. Therefore the major underlying assumption that we make everyday about the nature of the world such as if the sun will rise tomorrow cannot and does not draw upon reasoning and can never be proved. Hume would not agree with the second argument since he states that one reason we do not use reason to suppose that which happened today will happen in the future is because we have no basis to believe that it would.

In conclusion it is evident that Hume would disagree with any validity of the second argument, as he proves that reasoning is not why we make conclusions from experience, it is actually induction that dictates what we can expect. Hume’s conclusions lead me to believe the argument is itself a matter of fact and so may not even say anything certain about the real world. In the end it boils down to the fact that we do not know that anything is real. Hume says that we cannot see the effect just by looking at the cause (133). Although Hume would not agree that the second argument is valid, this would not be the case if we understood ultimate cause, and reason would replace induction as our means of prediction. Hume was wrong to assume that his theory of the types of knowledge is impervious to its own implications. Because his theory is a matter of fact, it is not necessarily going to hold true in the future. All of his other theories that are based on this one cannot be justified either. Particularly the theory of induction. New types of knowledge may find induction as the reason for our beliefs about the future.

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