Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Modern Philosophy 13

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about the sections nine through eleven of Hume’s “Enquiry.” The following is my submission:

Hume reasoned that his arguments from preceding sections would be more authoritative it could be demonstrated that other “reasonable” animals act similarly to mankind; hence, section nine is devoted to this purpose. Hume concedes that men reason superior to animals because men have greater focus, acuter memory, a higher capacity for observation, and possess a priori instincts which are better suited to the task. Otherwise, however, Hume argues the inferences animals make are remarkably similar to men: dogs, for example, do not respond to certain tones a certain way by means of abstruse reasoning – their responses are predicated on custom alone. The difference between men and other reasonable animals, then, lies only in the degree to which each are able to form connections from perceptions.

Hume begins his tenth section by arguing that miraculous events – events which “violate the laws of nature” – should not be believed on the basis of testimony alone. The veracity of human testimony is often taken for granted, yet the possibility of contrary testimony refutes the absolute reliability of testimony. Furthermore, the relativity of experience also implies that miracles cannot be witnessed, as what one regards as miraculous may be commonplace to another; differences in technology, topology, etc. corroborate this. Finally, the suspect character of those who have purported to have seen a miracle is such that one ought to reject future claims, regardless of how many people confirm it.

Much of Hume’s arguments in these two sections seem to utilize cause-effect and necessary connection argumentation, both of which Hume criticized in his earlier sections. References to a priori instincts, the character of those who claim to have witnessed miracles, etc. indicate inferences which, because they are at best only grounded in perceived correlations, are not justified. Also, Hume’s argument against miracles is circular, as the “laws of nature” to which Hume alleges miracles would violate (by definition) are defined in such a way that one must ignore the fact that events have been perceived which men regard as miraculous; in other words, Hume constructs his opinion of “laws of nature” without regard for miraculous experience and then uses this to invalidate miraculous experience.

In the eleventh section, Hume considers the arguments of a friend pertaining to natural theology. His friend argues that, even if it were true that a teleological argument were a good proof of the existence of a “higher” being (god), many superstitious persons further ascribe unwarranted effects from this being in an effort at anthropomorphization. Most who mean to prove the existence of God on the basis of natural theology are wont to prove more than they are able. Hume’s friend particularly criticizes these men for irrationally reasoning Hell (an effect) from a god (the cause) whose existence was purportedly established teleologically (effects). The transition from considering God as the conclusion of the observation of the world to using the same God as the premise by which one justifies a notion of Hell is a leap in logic. Hume summarizes this argument when he writes: “where any cause is known only by its particular effects, it must be impossible to infer any new effects from that cause.” While Hume reiterates his doubt that a cause can be reasoned from observation of effects, he in general agrees with his friend that one ought not to speculate on matters which are beyond the limitations of reason. The reasoning in this section is, assuming the validity of previous sections, sound.

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