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September 17th, 2010

Request for Info

Does anyone know where I could find literature on the relationship between Hume’s epistemological views (especially his views on induction) and his political views? Reading through some of the relevant material makes me suspect there should be a close connection – roughly that in each case past theorists have erred by expecting too much of reason, and in giving too little weight to Custom and Habit. But I’m a rank amateur, and I suspect this is the kind of thing on which experts have written valuable things.

Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized

1 Comment »

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One Response to “Request for Info”

  1. rpg says:

    What’s interesting is that if you take Hume at his word, you can’t really get a strong dichotomy going between the categories of reason and custom in the first place. To rely on reason just is, in the end (in reasoning about matters of fact, anyway, as Hume puts it) — it just is, in the end, reliance on the association of ideas that he calls in the Treatise “Cause and Effect” — itself a matter of the mind habitually passing from one idea to another with which the first is constantly conjoined. So one couldn’t, in one’s political theory, be expecting too much of reason if what is meant to be expressed by the worry is relying on something other than custom or habit. Reasoning about matters of fact just is habit — as is necessity, for what it’s worth.

    And indeed: in the Treatise what we see is a careful defense of existing property relations (the substance of justice, for Hume) on the grounds that they are consistent with the constant conjunctions of ideas that we habitually make. Possession itself is defined as a species of cause and effect (which, again, is a “Relation of Ideas,” in Hume, a matter of epistemic habit).

    Also relevant to the issue is that societies too, for Hume, like selves, are themselves bundles of impressions — though here what he calls the “Imagination” also plays a role, in addition to the habit of “Cause and Effect.”

    I think you’re right that the upshot of all of this is that it is indeed custom that holds things together, for Hume — but it does so equally at the level of epistemology and metaphysics as at the level of social practice.

    This said, the dichotomy that Hume himself tries to get going with respect to agency isn’t one between reason and custom, but between reason and moral sentiment. There is a different story to be told there.

    Warmly,
    Ruth

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