Cause and Effect in David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume states, “there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion” (Hume, 1993: 41). Hume establishes in section II that all ideas originate from impressions that employ the senses (11). Therefore, in order for there to be an idea of power or “necessary connexion,” there must be impressions of this connection present in single instances of cause and effect; if there are no such impressions, then there cannot be an idea of “necessary connexion” (52). To illustrate his statement, Hume examines four situations: bodies interacting in the world, mind causing actions of the body, mind causing ideas of ideas, and God as the source of power. I will highlight Hume’s reasons and outline his arguments to establish that there is no “connexion” between cause and effect on the basis of single instances.
Hume’s first reflection focuses on worldly bodies. Assuming that a “necessary connexion” exists between cause and effect, this effect could be determined, without prior experience, through reasoning, upon observation of the cause alone. We, however, observe the body and we observe the effect on the body or system but “the power or force, which actuates the whole machine [universe or chain of effects] is entirely concealed from us, and never discovers itself in any of the sensible qualities of body” (42). Hence, this situation demonstrates no impression of, and therefore no idea of, “necessary connexion” in “single instances of their (bodies) operation” (42).
The second reflection inspects the influence of will, which allows us to posses the idea of power. This power is an idea of reflection, derived from the operations of our mind (42). From here follows three arguments. The first argument proposes that conscious of our will stipulates our understanding of the “connexion” between soul and body and how these two operate with each other to create our will. Since we have no concept of the union of soul and body, there is no impression of “connexion” present through these means. The second argument raises the issue of why there are involuntary organs, such as the heart, that the will is unable to control (43). If we were truly knowledgeable about the power with which the will functions we would understand the existence of these limitations of the physical body and the reason behind the difference between voluntary and involuntary organs. The third argument addresses the motion of the body. ...