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Asp. Nepangue, King V.

Term Paper 1

An Exposition on David Hume notion of Causation


In the battlefield of philosophy, causation has been one of the most
difficult philosophical problems to answer with certainty. It was one of the
essential concepts in philosophy generally and in the philosophy of science
since the time of ancient Greeks. 1 This concept of causation has emerged in
Pre-Socratic philosophy; it was probably Plato who first stated the principle of
causality: everything that becomes or changes must do so owing to some
cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause. 2 There are, however,
many theories of it but neither of them has attained the title Standard/Valid
Theory of Causation. Otherwise, it would distract the essence of philosophy,
that is, to remain open and thus not limited in one way or another.

Causation, as its name suggests, basically means the cause or the

origin on why this/that event happened. One of the good examples is playing
billiard game. Every moves of a ball has a certain cause. The second ball
would not directly move if theres no one who would hit it. The source of
movement is the one who hit (cause). And the movement of the second ball
is the absolutely effect by the one who hit. So, it is quite clear that cause of
the origin will only determined by its main source. In the latters case,
causation is vague and thus it cannot be perceived simply in the sentences
we are writing or speaking.

1Shan Gao. Humes Analysis of Causality: Its Limitation and


2 Menno Hulswit. A short history of causation accessed:
Hence, the researcher will be discussing some of these attempts
throughout the paper itself. However, the main focus of this paper is limited
only to one philosopher, in the person of David Hume. According to him,a
cause is an object which has always been followed by a certain other, and
whose appearacne has alwatys been folloed by thought of the other. 3This is
not for the reason that his notion is the standard but because he was once
considered as the most intriguing philosopher during the time, especially to
the idea of his with regards to causation. Another reason is that the
researcher, in his thorough examination of Humes causation, finds it a very
interesting philosophy into the attempt of explaining what causation is.

In this paper, therefore, the researcher will try to provide a thorough

expository of Humes causation. Yet, in order to make sense of the latter, the
researcher will begin with providing a glimpse of Humes epistemology
considering that this [epistemology], which is written in his bookEnquiries
Concerning Human Understanding, serves as the first step to the
understanding of Humes notion of Causation.4 Moreover, in his
epistemology, the Treatise of Human Nature will not be disregarded as it is
also of importance to the subject matter.

However, it is inevitable that even how profound and convincing the

idea of a philosopher is, there will be other thinkers who would likely criticize
the latters claim. Hume, of course, is not excuse for these critiques. One of
the critics is Kant, in which, his contention will also be included. Lastly, the
researcher will give his commentary at the latter part of the paper a kind of
evaluation whether Humes theory on causation is reliable or not.

3 C.J. Ducasse

4 Humes most important contributions to the philosophy of causation are found

in A Treatise of Human Nature, and An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding,
the latter generally viewed as a partial recasting of the formerC. M. Lorkowski,
David Hume: Causation <<date accessed:
September 9, 2015
On Humes Epistemology

Epistemology is a field of philosophy that concerns itself with the

nature and process of how knowledge is acquired. 5 In every philosophical
discussion the word knowledge has been a central one in philosophy
almost from the earliest time of its history. 6 In the history of philosophy,
particularly during modern period there was a great conflict between
rationalism and empiricism. Both groups were too much concerned about the
questions how do gain knowledge. These both groups have a unique claim.
Before the researcher directly proceeds to Humes epistemology we will try
first to put a short discussion about the difference between rationalism and
empiricism in order to know the main foundation of Humes epistemology.
Since, this topic was one of the most interested of answering the question of
certainty. The researcher put the definition of the individual group; and it will
start to the group of Rationalism. Rationalism is belief that knowledge is
revealed through a priori reasoning: all reflect an intellectual formulation that
classifies data according to categories of essence, attribute and whole part.
All knowledge does not end in experience because knowledge is innate.
Knowledge is already in the mind; all you need is reason, no need
experience. Rationalist believes that reason is the ultimate source of our
knowledge.8 For rationalism, reason is independent for and superior to
5Shan Gao. Humes Analysis of Causality: Its Limitation and

6 F.M. Anayet Hossain, A Critical Analysis of Empiricism, Open Journal of Philosophy, no. 4,

7LaVonneZinckFakuri, David Hume on Epistemology: Revision and the topics of discourse,

The Journal Narrative Technique, Vol. 23, no. 3 (Fall, 1993), pp.154-169, accessed 30-12-

8 F.M. Anayet Hossain, A Critical Analysis of Empiricism, Open Journal of Philosophy, no. 4,
experience. The awareness of our existence is also a knowledge this does not
mean from sense experience. The examples are our consciousness, our
thought, and our very being. In the Empiricist point of view knowledge is
from our experienced. Empiricism is a philosophical theory which that
human knowledge is derived entirely from sensory experience. 9
Empiricism disregards the concept of instinctive ideas and focuses entirely
on experience and evidence as it relates to sensory perception. 10 To
simplify, all our ideas are grounded in experience and depend on it.
Empiricism upholds the view that experience is the only source of
knowledge, or that senses alone can provide us with knowledge. 11 For
example, before you can totally say that ice cream is delicious you must first
experience it using the sense of taste, otherwise you cannot determine that
the ice cream whether it is delicious or not. Another example, in a certain
place wherein you are have a rest the surrounding were totally closed, the
windows, the lights, the curtain, the door, everything is completely covered
by darkness, can u directly say in some point that outside is raining? No, you
cannot. If we base on the empiricist perspective you cannot directly assert
that everything what you think is correct. Before you can directly believe that
it is raining, first it may undergo the process of observation using senses,
which I think is that is what empiricist trying to say. In the short discussion
above, we can see the big differences of each groups concerning about the
word knowledge. So, the researcher will try to discuss Humes epistemology.
Hume is part of a group of empiricist; it is understandable in the definition
above that the empiricism claim is consider that the thoughts in our mind are

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.
not based on reason but solely a product of experience.Hume developed
epistemology more fully by applying the scientific methods of observation to
a study of human nature itself. His main goal was to establish to a
science of human nature that will put philosophy on a solid foundation of
experience and observation.13 Hume is convinced to say that it is the
human mind which possesses the ability to seemingly think unlimitedly.
Seemingly for the reason that the though tin our mind seems to possess
this wide freedom it is really confined within very narrow limits. 14 This would
mean that however vague the thoughts in our minds are, it does not mean
that it is completely free. Human mind then is not totally free, Hume argues,
as it does not have the capacity to think of something which does not have
an empirical basis. Every thought we have are solely the product of our
sensations. One cannot think of a chair without experiencing what a chair is.
Even those mythical beings, they are just merely a product experience, in a
way, because they are not but a product of sensations; though not literally,
for they are sensed in a different manner.

What Hume is trying to say is that those uncommon creatures/things

we think are just products of our fertile imaginations; but which are grounded
still by experience. When, for instance, I think of a speaking ball pen, I have
not, of course, seen and heard literally a speaking ball pen which drove me
to have in mind a ball pen that which speaks. Rather, this speaking ball pen
is considered to be, as what Hume calls it, a complex idea; Thus, a
12Shan Gao. Humes Analysis of Causality: Its Limitation and

13 Ibid.

14Humes most important contributions to the philosophy of causation are found

in A Treatise of Human Nature, and An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, the latter
generally viewed as a partial recasting of the formerC. M. Lorkowski, David Hume:
Causation <<date accessed: September 9, 2015
combination of two simple experiences. What I have experienced in reality is
just a normal ball pen and an attribute of man, which is, the ability to speak.
It is only my mind that adds and reduces the original attributes of a ball pen
and of mans ability to speak. Thus, in that sense, mind still is limited.

Furthermore, David Hume considers that what we have in mind is of two

classifications, these are, the impressions and the ideas. 15 Both are said to be
our perceptions Impression on the one hand and Ideas on the other. Hume
claims that the idea, thought, and even the minds content are ultimately
based upon impressions which are themselves derived from five
senses.16However, Hume argues that the former, that is, impression, is
genuine; while, the latter is just the imitation of impressions, which are, the
ideas. Hume thus is somehow saying that ideas are not but the fake
manifestations of impression. Thus he says:

Everyone will readily allow that there is a considerable

difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man
feels pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate
warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this
sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties
may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never
can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original
sentiment. All colours of poetry, however splendid, can never
paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the
description be taken for a real lands kip. The liveliest thought is
still inferior to the dullest sensation.17

15 All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct
kinds, which I shall call Impressions and Ideas. The difference betwixt these consists
in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind, and
make their way into our thought or consciousness. David Hume, A Treatise of
Human Nature(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), p.
7<date accessed: September 25, 2015

16LaVonneZinckFakuri, David Hume on Epistemology: Revision and the topics of discourse,

The Journal Narrative Technique, Vol. 23, no. 3 (Fall, 1993), pp.154-169, accessed 30-12-
Basing from the argument above, Hume made clear that the actual
sensations are more realistic than mere reminiscence of experiences since
the former is more vivid and lively sensed than the latter. The
abovementioned argument is what Hume calls the copy thesis18. Impressions
therefore are original. Without impressions, there can be no ideas since it is
only through impressions that ideas are born. This point of view grounds why Hume remains
a dedicated empiricist.

On Humes Causation

David Hume stated that there are two paths wherein the mind
connects ideas. On the one hand; it is done through natural relations, while
through philosophical relations on the other.19Both are somehow
interconnected yet Hume made a distinction between them. In the natural
relations, we are led to imagining the connection of ideas. In a much
concrete way of explaining this kind of relation, it is the same as to thinking
the idea of a table and of a chair with their corresponding principles.
Moreover, natural relations are of three kinds, namely, resemblance,
contiguity of time and space, and cause and effect wherein it is the latter, as
Hume tells us, that is the most prevalent.20Indeed it is, because it gives
something which tells us about the world. In that sense, it can be said that
the cause and effect is not solely a natural relation but also a philosophical
relation. Other philosophical relations are resemblance and contrariety
wherein both can provide with certainty, though not always the case. Hume
17David Hume, Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the
Principles of Morals, 3rd Edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 20

18James Fieser, David Hume, Internet Encyclopedia of

Philosophy,<date accessed: September 26, 2015

19C. M. Lorkowski, David Hume: Causation,

cau/<date accessed: September 9, 2015

emphasizes that cause and effect has already existed and thus present from
the very beginning of time and of the worlds origination. Nevertheless,
Hume tells us that we would never know what really causation is for the
reason that our experiences are just particulars. Our experience of causation
does not bring us to causation that is something universal. This belief of
Hume made him very sceptic to causality. Cause and effect therefore cannot
bring us certainty or knowledge in so far as David Hume is concerned.

Now, the question is, what really then is causation?

According to Hume, the idea of causality is cause is an object which

has always been followed by a certain other, and whose appearance has
always been followed by thought of the other. 21 Basically, causation is
actually just the interconnectedness of events within the world. It is neither
about something that is an a priori nor something that is an abstraction.
When we speak about cause and effect, we mean to say that A causes B. But
what kind of relation does cause and effect, we mean to say A and B?
According to Hume experience furnishes us with three relations, namely,
relation of contiguity, priority in time, and constant conjunction. 22 In relation
of contiguity, it is much concerned with which event happened first before
the result took place. For example, there are three alarm clocks and each
alarm clock should ring in every twelve o clock or lunch time. Then, if one
alarm clock rings in appointed time Ill believe also that each alarm clock
should alarm also because I consider that all of them were ring in appointed
time. In other words, the event A are always close together B. 23 It is
21 C.J. Ducasse, Critique of Humes of Causlity, Journal of Philosophy, Inc. No. 6 ( March
17, 1966), pp. 141-18, accessed: 23/07/2013,

22James Fieser, David Hume,<date accessed:

September 26, 2015>

23 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, Inc 1994), p. 284
grounded upon the space wherein the event happened. The occurrence of,
for instance, two events must happen within the parameter; that is the
nearness of the two events to happen. Secondly, there is priority in time, for
A the cause, always precedes B, the effect.24 For example, For instance, I
punched a guy which caused him a black eye; it tells us that it can never be
the case that he first had a black eye before I punched him. It should be the
other way around. Event A should be prior to event B since B was the result
of the event A. Lastly, that is, constant conjunction of much importance to
causality. Constant conjunction, for we always see A followed B. There is
still another relation that idea of causality suggests to common sense,
namely, between A and B there is necessary connexions. 25In every event
there must be a necessary causal relation. Otherwise, causality will end up
being futile and thus, invalid. Further, this necessary causal relation is also
known to be the driving force which connects two or more events. Upon
punching the guy, there must be a kind of force which made him move
backward and get a black eye. In other sciences, necessary causal
connection is somehow a counterpart for their law of motion.

Furthermore, causality for Hume can also be likened to an event that

repeatedly occurs. One good example of which is that, the moon is seen at
night and not at noon. If so far this premise does not fail, it becomes a habit.
And when it becomes a habit, we are of course expecting for this event to
happen all over and over again. We then tend to become accustomed to this
series of event. In effect, if the other way around, by any chance, happens, it
becomes strange to us.

Humes copy thesis has a very important role in causality since it

allows us to think that it is because of impressions, which is grounded by

24 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, Inc 1994), p. 284

25 Ibid.
experience, that we are able to see priority in time, proximity in space, and
necessary connection. Without impressions, we cannot have any idea of
what those things are. Accordingly, the all are not that really hard to
comprehend except necessary connection. Priority traces back to our
various experiences of time Proximity traces back to our various
experiences of space But what is the experience which gives us the idea of
necessary connection?26 Here comes then the problem of inductive method
arises. David Hume has this bias especially when it comes to knowledge on
causality. According to him, we cannot actually grasp necessary connection
since our experiences are always particular. Thus, it cannot arrive to any
universalization. Hume criticizes much those thinkers who tend to generalize
things since it can never give us true knowledge. Even how consistent the
data are, still, possibilities of its opposites tend to happen. This belief
grounds Humes scepticism. There is no room for man to attain absolute
truth or certainty since everything is just a series of events and hence,
possibly be altered in the least of your expectation. Everything is just a
product of experience. Knowledge is just a product of experience. Experience
is particular, given that we cannot experience all things in the world. Ergo,
we cannot arrive at certainty.

Now, here come then the rationalists, trying to refute Hume. They
argue that to consider causality as part of mans experience is a nave
definition of causality. This person is Immanuel Kant. Kant does not uphold
the empiricist theory of knowledge. But his conception of metaphysics is
similar to Hume. The Kantianism maintains that we san never know reality
in itself, noumena or thing-in-themselves, but only things as they affect us,

26James Fieser, David Hume,<date accessed:

September 26, 2015>
appear to us, phenomena, within our consciousness. 27Immanuel Kant has of
course, told in his Critique of pure reason that:

Every knowledge begins with experience both apriori and

posteriori knowledge but not all knowledge arises out of
experience, only a posterior knowledge arises out of experience;
there is also an apriori knowledge of the world which occurs
through a perception of nature of a thing about which the
statement is made.28

For Immanuel Kant object has no independent existence. All knowledge

begins with experience. According to Kant, our mind which perceives in
certain ways of (space and time) concepts and judges or thinks in certain
ways (categories) make possible the universal and necessary knowledge is
the application and experience. Mind is immaterial, and it never satisfied the
things you do not know. For Kant, it is not only a mere habit, but it is the
operation of the mind. We cannot know the truth in us. We only know what
appears in us. If we do not know the thing-in itself, how can we know the
truth, or how can we verify? It is quite evident that Kantianism refuses to
follow Hume all the way not merely because this would lead to scepticism
but because he felt that although Hume was on the right track, he had not
completed the task of explaining how knowledge is acquired.29

Hume, however, did not any of the idea of the traditional

metaphysicians. He is a philosopher with deep suspicions about the idea
that the world has genuinely modal features.30 This strong opposition is
clearly seen in his epistemology. As what he believes, sensation is more

27Ranilo B. Hermida, Ph.D., Philosophy of Being, p.4

28 F.M. Anayet Hossain, A Critical Analysis of Empiricism, Open Journal of Philosophy, no.
4, 225-230,,2014,43030

29 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc
1994), p. 302
vivid. When for example I was hit by a car, what is very clear is at the
moment of the accident rather than remembering the pain Ive got upon that
accident happened long time ago. Humes most striking philosophical
argument was that since:

All our knowledge comes from experience, we cannot

have any knowledge of causality or necessary connection
because we do not experience causality, and therefore, we
cannot infer or predict any future event from our experience
presence. What we call for causality said Hume, is simply our
habit of associating two events because we experience them
together, but this does not justify the conclusion that these
events have any necessary connection 31
The aforementioned phrase actually led to the alarm of many thinkers,
especially the rationalists. The content has very persuasive words. The
rationalists are of course very sensitive to the empiricists since they consider
the latter as a threat to knowledge and thus to society as a whole. On the
other hand, this notion of Hume led to improve empiricism. Yet, however the
case, its up to the thinkers/researchers which idea to buy: whether causality
is perceived via impression, via reason, or through the combination of both.

On the various interpretations to Humes notion of Causality

Accordingly, if not led astray, there are three groups of thinkers who
have interpreted Humes causation differently. Each of which has their own
belief of what really Hume is trying to talk about. These three are the
following: the causal reductionist, the causal skeptic, and the causal realist.
The causal reductionist takes Humes definitions of causation as
definitive32. Reductionism accepted Humes basic theory of causation as
being successions of events. They hold that causation, power, necessity,

30 Michael J. Loux, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, 3rdEdition (New York:

Routledge,2006 ), p. 188

31 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, Inc 1994), p. 301
and so forth, as something that exist between external objects rather than in
the observer, is constituted entirely by regular succession 33. However, there
is somehow an internal conflict within the group of reductionism and so it has
been divided further into two. On the one hand is the group who believes
that Humes causation is not but solely a conjunction of events; thus a habit;
while on the other hand is the group of reductionism, that are considered by
Robinsons as that which is concerned more on a mere explanatory in
nature, and is merely part of an empiricist psychological theory 34.Whats
wrong with this composition of thinkers is that they tend not to have a
complete Humean account on causation. Second is the Causal Skeptic. This
group of thinkers takes Humes problem of induction as unsolved 35. If the
causal reductionists are more concerned with the objects or the external
entities, rather than the perceiver, as the centre of their inquiry on causality,
the Causal Skeptics are somehow considering the other way around. They
are more into interpretation of:

Claims epistemically rather than ontologically rather

than interpreting Humes insights about tenuousness of our idea
of causation as representing an ontological reduction of what
causation is, Humean causal scepticism can instead be viewed as
his clearly demarcating the limits of our knowledge in this area
and then tracing out the ramifications of this limiting36

Further, they believe that Humes causation remains hanging; thus

unsolved. The third group of thinkers is the Causal Realism. The latter is

32 C. M. Lorkowski, David Hume: Causation,

cau/<date accessed: September 9, 2015.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

somehow in favour with Hume. They added some interpretations to avoid the
negative claims of the causal reductionist and the causal skeptic; this group
believes that Hume has some robust notion of causation37.


In the long run of the exposition of Humes Causation, the researcher

finds it very considerable and thus very practical. Though many would say
that Humes philosophy is a threat to knowledge, still the researcher is
convinced for the following reasons: Firstly, Humes theory of knowledge is
very much evident in reality, that is, in the world but unreliable. Indeed, the
contents of our thoughts are reducible to simple idea and are thus grounded
with experience. Secondly, causation, the researcher believes, is notbasically
in our understanding, following the notion of Hume. For the researcher, it is
the events we are experiencing that pave the way for us to have in mind the
understanding of what causation is. Understanding therefore is just
secondary quality of man. And lastly, but most importantly, the researcher is
very much convinced to the idea that our mind is limited, thus we can never
know what really are the essences of things. What we can know are just the
product of our observations towards the objects we experience, following of
course the philosophy of Hume and of Kant. The idea of each philosopher is
differ with each other. It is more evident in the argument above that Hume
said all knowledge consist of impressions, which derive through our
senses. Hume was right that we do not, for example experience or sense
causality, but Kant rejected his explanation that causality is simply a logical
habit of connecting two events that we call cause and effect. 38Yet, of the

two, the researcher is more convinced with the former, when it comes to
causation and theory of knowledge.

Hume, David.A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1896),<date accessed: September 25, 2015

Hume, David. Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the

Principles of Morals, 3rd Edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1975)

Copleston, Frederick, S.J..A History of Philosophy.Book II (New York: Doubleday, 1985)

Lorkowski, C. M..David Hume: Causation <<date
accessed: September 9, 2015

Fieser, James.David Hume, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,<date accessed: September 26, 2015>

38 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-
Hill, Inc 1994), p. 303
Loux, Michael J..Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, 3rd Edition (New York:
Routledge, 2006)
Hulswit Menno. A short History of Causation //

Shan Gao. Humes Analysis of Causality: Its Limitation and

Implications ,

Fakuri,LaVonneZinck: David Hume on Epistemology: Revision and the topics of

discourse, The Journal Narrative Technique, Vol. 23, no. 3 (Fall, 1993), pp.154-169, accessed 30-

Ducasse,C.J. : Critique of Humes of Causlity, Journal of Philosophy, Inc. No. 6 ( March

17, 1966), pp. 141-18, accessed: 23/07/2013,

Stumpf,Samuel Enoch: Philosophy History and Problems (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill,
Inc 1994)