Induction refers to “a method of reasoning by which a general law or principle is inferred from observed particular instances” (Flew, 1986, p. 171). The method of inductive inference, in this sense, may be considered as the primary means through which justifications are formulated to show the relationship of evidence towards particular assumptions (Goodman, 1983, p. 13). The process of induction, thereby, may be seen as arising whenever we note that evidence lends support to a hypothesis while in the process failing to establish its deductive certainty.
In relation to the aforementioned method, Hume argued that since no necessary connections exists between empirical phenomena, it is always possible that a future observation will prove our inferences wrong no matter how appealing it may have been or how richly supported by past observations. This problem has been referred to as the problem of the uniformity principle [in this sense the lack of such uniformity]. According to the argument, nature has no uniformity. If such is the case, it thereby follows that there is no voucher that ensures the consistency of man’s most refined predictions.
Consider for example, the statement “Whenever I drop a piece of chalk it will fall”. Two claims may be inferred from such a statement: (1) Dropping a piece of chalk causes it to fall and (2) Dropping a piece of chalk tomorrow will thereby cause it to fall. According to Hume, such claims assume the uniformity of nature. The problem however is evident if one considers that if all knowledge of causation is based on experience and all knowledge of experience is based on the faculties of cognition, in order for knowledge of causation to be valid [at all times] it is necessary that the faculties of cognition are infallible.
However, such is not the case since conditions for the attainment of understanding are based upon fallible faculties. If such is the case, it follows that man’s understanding of the empirical world is obscure thereby providing no solid grounds for the formation of inferences that determine the uniformity of nature from which man derives his causal laws regarding the workings of nature. At this point, it is worthwhile to consider that the aforementioned problem [commonly referred to as Hume’s problem of induction] stems from Hume’s critique of the Cartesian claims regarding the powers of reason.
According to Descartes, man is in possession of an infallible faculty of clear and distinct perception which if properly exercised is able to grasp various general causal principles a priori. In addition to this, Descartes claims that possession of such faculties enables man to establish the essence of the mind [which is thinking] and the body [which is extension] through the use of pure intellectual insight. If such is the case, man is thereby privy to the acquisition of a priori knowledge regarding the behavior of minds and of things.
If such is the case, it follows that man is also privy to the knowledge of the workings of the external world [external to the mind and hence the physical realm]. As was noted at the onset of this paper, Hume’s critique of Descartes’ conception of the powers of reason has thereby resulted to the critique of the process of induction and hence the critique of the assumption regarding the uniformity of nature. It is important to note that Hume’s claim [as an opposition to Descartes’ aforementioned claim] may be understood in two ways.
In the first case, Hume’s claim may be understood as setting the limits of man’s intellectual capacities [which is evident in his emphasis on the fallibility of our faculties for cognition]. In another sense, one may understand Hume’s claim as enabling a naturalistic conception of knowledge acquisition thereby enabling the dissolution of Descartes’ dualism [evident in Descartes’ distinction of the mind from the body]. The importance of such lies in its emphasis on the necessity to set solid foundations for the acquisition of belief.
Within these grounds, it is thereby possible to understand Hume’s subtitle to A Treatise of Human Nature, which states, “Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects”. Hume’s naturalized epistemology may thereby be seen as an attempt to enable the provision of valid and indubitable grounds for the formation of beliefs within both the empirical and moral realms of human existence.
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