Hume and Cause and Effect
Cause and effect is a tool used to link happenings together and create some sort of explanation. Hume lists the “three principles of connexion among ideas” to show the different ways ideas can be associated with one another (14). The principles are resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect. The focus of much of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding falls upon the third listed principle. In Section I, Hume emphasizes the need to uncover the truths about the human mind, even though the process may be strenuous and fatiguing. While the principle of cause and effect is something utilized so often, Hume claims that what we conclude through this process cannot be attributed to reason or understanding and instead must be attributed to custom of habit.
Hume distinguishes two categories into which “all the objects of human reason or enquiry” may be placed into: Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact (15). In regards to matters of fact, cause and effect seems to be the main principle involved. It is clear that when we have a fact, it must have been inferred from something (excluding the claim of inherent or fundamental knowledge). Later in Section V, Hume states that “all belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived from some object” and the conjunction of that present object with another (30). This eliminates any claims of the knowledge of cause and effect being a priori because this is would require previous knowledge drawn from previous experience. For example, no one would imagine that spilling bleach onto a shirt would permanently alter the shirt unless they knew a priori the effects and properties of bleach. Looking at an object a priori makes drawing any sort of conclusion implausible since we have nothing to connect the object to.
Our use of cause and effect is supported by our past experiences and knowledge drawn from them. However, we do not draw conclusions from these experiences through reasoning. Instead, Hume reveals that custom is the “great guide of...