Hume’s Causal Epistemology: How Pre-Established Harmony, Custom and General Rules Confer Justification




Wilk, Thomas M.

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Hume has often been read as a sort of global skeptic. In this thesis, I argue that he should be understood instead as a causal epistemologist with the hope that this reading can provide new insights into Hume's project as well as shed light on some of the difficult questions of contemporary naturalistic epistemology. The common practice of approaching Hume's negative arguments in T 1.3.6 and T 1.4.1 in search of an account of the normativity of belief has led many to read him as a thoroughgoing skeptic, but coming to them with an understanding of the explanatory nature of Hume's project opens the possibility of reading these arguments as descriptive accounts of belief formation and reason and preserves possibilities for finding accounts of the warrant of reason and the justification of beliefs elsewhere in his works. Approaching these arguments in this light, I turn to an excerpt from Section V of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding that has received little attention in which Hume argues that the source of the truth of our beliefs is the "pre-established harmony between the course of nature [which is not directly known to us] and the succession of our ideas," which is actuated by custom or habit. This discussion of the harmony between causation in the objects and causation in human minds serves as Hume's account of warrant and marks him as a prototypical causal epistemologist of the likes of Alvin Goldman. When this account of warrant is paired with Hume's account of the rationality achieved by the application of general rules, he can be read as offering a full-fledged externalist causal epistemology with an internalist epistemic norms that guide rational belief formation. These two levels of normativity jointly confer justification on our correctly formed beliefs.



Skepticism, Reason, Treatise on Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Owen, Goldman