Tuesday, April 18, 2017

David Hume and empirical evidence

David Hume (1711-1776) was an influential philosopher best known for his system of logic and support for empiricism. Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said,
I freely admit that the remembrance of David Hume was the very thing that many years ago first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave a completely different direction to my researches in the field of speculative philosophy. (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 1783)
This post is a collection of quotes from Hume describing his philosophy of science.

Analysis of evidence

"In our reasonings concerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence... A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748)

"By this means all knowledge degenerates into probability; and this probability is greater or less, according to our experience of the veracity or deceitfulness of our understanding, and according to the simplicity or intricacy of the question." (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739)

"We must therefore glean up our experiments in this science from a cautious observation of human life... Where experiments of this kind are judiciously collected and compared, we may hope to establish on them a science." (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739)

Analysis of complex phenomena

"Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain." (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779)

"In such a chain, too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct countries into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts." (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779)

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