Psychology, epistemology, and skepticism in Hume’s argument about induction

Synthese 152 (3):321-338 (2006)
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Abstract

Since the mid-1970s, scholars have recognized that the skeptical interpretation of Hume's central argument about induction is problematic. The science of human nature presupposes that inductive inference is justified and there are endorsements of induction throughout "Treatise" Book I. The recent suggestion that I.iii.6 is confined to the psychology of inductive inference cannot account for the epistemic flavor of its claims that neither a genuine demonstration nor a non-question-begging inductive argument can establish the uniformity principle. For Hume, that inductive inference is justified is part of the data to be explained. Bad argument is therefore excluded as the cause of inductive inference; and there is no good argument to cause it. Does this reinstate the problem of induction, undermining Hume's own assumption that induction is justified? It does so only if justification must derive from "reason", from the availability of a cogent argument. Hume rejects this internalist thesis; induction's favorable epistemic status derives from features of custom, the mechanism that generates inductive beliefs. Hume is attracted to this externalist posture because it provides a direct explanation of the epistemic achievements of children and non-human animals — creatures that must rely on custom unsupplemented by argument.

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Author's Profile

Louis Loeb
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor