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'Tho causation be a philosophical relation... 'tis only so far as it is a natural relation, and produces an union among our ideas, that we are able to reason upon it, or draw any inference upon it' (HUME). Discuss. The concept of causation was an important one for the wider theories of David Hume, since causation as he described it formed an important part of the application of his own epistemological theory, espoused first in the Treatise of Human Nature, and again later in An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. To adequately frame the discussion that the title question prompts us to undertake, we should briefly set the quotation in context with regard to the preceding passages in the Treatise to which it stands as a conclusion, before going on to discuss, in the main part of the essay, those concepts in Hume's work to which the quotation refers. This will begin with an explication of Hume's theory of causation, and a discussion regarding a number of key ways in which this theory might be interpreted. Particular reference should also be made as to whether causation should be considered an actual, extra-mental concept somehow tangible in the external world, or whether causation should be considered as a concept only present in the mind, as a result of observation and inference. I shall argue that Hume comes down upon the side of the latter, although we will discuss the notion of Hume as a causal realist in some detail. The quotation comes from a passage in Book I of the Treatise that begins with a discussion of the 'principle of union among ideas', wherein Hume argues that 'when every individual of any species of objects is found by experience to be constantly united with an individual of another species, the appearance of any new individual of either species naturally conveys the thought to its usual attendant'. 1 This principle Hume transposes onto the concept of causation, arguing that there exists no other notion of how cause and effect operates other than the notions we have of particular objects having been always in some way conjoined in past observed instances. The reason for this conjunction, Hume further suggests, is something into which 'we cannot penetrate', but is simple brute fact, and we can only observe the cause and the effect, and form a union between them in the mind. The title quotation follows this point, and suggests then (in context) that it is only when we consider the concept of causation as existing in our minds that we are able to make sense of it, when it builds unions between ideas. This is one of the conclusions that Hume draws from his discussion of causation, and we will thus return to this point later. Firstly, however, we should consider some varying interpretations of Hume's theory of causation. According to Hume, we reason inductively by associating constantly conjoined events, and it is this mental act of association that is the basis of our concept of causation. I would contend that there are three main ways in which Hume's theory of causation might be understood, but we should begin with the classical interpretation, which suggests that Hume analyses causal propositions, such as 'A causes B', in terms of 'regularities in perception', thus 'A caused B' is equivalent to 'Whenever A-type events happen, B-type events follow'. Galen Strawson has laid out his understanding of this regularity thus: 'one particular object or objectinvolving event of Type A - call it A1 - is truly said to be the cause of another particular object or objectinvolving event of thy B - call it B1 - just in case A1 is prior to and spatio-temporally contiguous to B1, and 1 D Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, (1740) I.iii.6
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