The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
In Dave’s July 29 post, he mentioned the problem of induction. He writes: “The problem of induction will always stand in our way of reaching 100% certainty.” The problem of induction is about much more. In fact, it’s not primarily concerned with certainty. If the problem of induction has no solution, then we are not warranted in making inferences about unobserved states of the world on the basis of observed states.
Here’s a passage from Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Feel free to check out davidhume.org for this and more.
“How is [our natural state of ignorance with regard to the powers and influence of all objects] remedied by experience? It only shews us a number of uniform effects, resulting from certain objects, and teaches us, that those particular objects, at that particular time, were endowed with such powers and forces. When a new object, endowed with similar sensible qualities, is produced, we expect similar powers and forces, and look for a like effect. From a body of like colour and consistence with bread, we expect like nourishment and support. But this surely is a step or progress of the mind, which wants to be explained. When a man says, I have found, in all past instances, such sensible qualities conjoined with such secret powers: And when he says, similar sensible qualities will always be conjoined with similar secret powers; he is not guilty of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any respect the same. You say that the one proposition is an inference from the other. But you must confess that the inference is not intuitive; neither is it demonstrative: Of what nature is it then? To say it is experimental, is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion, that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not, that, for the future, it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently, all their effects and influence, may change, without any change in their sensible qualities.”
Dave also wrote in his post that, “[s]cience is the best tool ever discovered for drawing up a consistent and clear picture of the world around us…” If Hume is right, though, the best we can say is that it has been the best tool and that we have no reason to expect it to have continued success. Another way of putting it: scientific inferences are never warranted.
What do you think? Is Hume missing something? Am I missing something? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to ask for clarification.
After completing an economics degree in 2008 at Washington University in St Louis, Alex Papulis just finished a year at Mizzou as a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student. He enjoyed it and is now starting his first year in the philosophy MA program at UW-Milwaukee.