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Does Hume's account of our idea of 'necessary connexion' preclude him from believing that there are hidden causal powers?
Hume's account of 'necessary connexion' forms a part of his wider account of causation, and as a result forms a part of Hume's epistemology as a whole. Before we attempt to answer this question, it should first be considered what, specifically, is to be understood firstly by the term 'necessary connexion' - a phrase Hume uses more than once in his Treatise - and secondly by the term 'hidden causal powers'. The question itself appears to point to a specific problem encountered by defenders of the classical Humean position, a problem which relates to Hume's external-world scepticism. Before examining this problem, then, we should prepare ourselves by making clear our understanding of the terms in question, but also by considering the difficulties inherent in attempting to interpret Hume's position correctly and accurately from his writings alone, and at the same time considering the most relevant models of interpretation that have been forwarded with regard to Hume's account of causation. These things having been considered, we will be able to proceed with an examination of the problem in question: namely, how Hume's belief in 'hidden causal powers', as expressed in his account of the concept of 'natural connexion', can be reconciled with the sceptical position we know him to have held. We shall see that our means of reconciling these two positions lies in clarifying an apparent misunderstanding of Hume's account, and of Hume's further doctrine of 'natural belief'. The inevitable difficulty is clear in attempting to interpret the complex philosophy of a man long since passed away, and a number of different models of interpretation have thus arisen. The first of these we have already called the regularity theory of causation. On this view, event or instance A can be said to truly be the cause of event or instance B if A is prior to and contiguous to B both spatially and temporally, and if all instances of event or instance A are prior to and contiguous both spatially and temporally to B. This view thus suggests that there is nothing that exists within the objects themselves that might be described as 'hidden causal powers', and is the view which has classically been considered the 'Humean' account of causation. Galen Strawson attempts, convincingly, to demonstrate that Hume did in fact not follow the regularity theory of causation, arguing that to understand Hume as a 'regularity theorist' is to confuse Hume's epistemological claim, that all we can ever know of causation in external objects is regular succession - in the style of the regularity theory - with the positive ontological assertion that all that causation actually is, in external objects, is regular succession. We will return to this point later, and detail the second, more accurate interpretation of Hume's position, after considering what is meant by the terms used in the title question. The concepts of 'necessary connexion' and 'hidden causal powers' are linked, in that they both correspond to the question of what it is that ties together a particular cause with its particular effect in the external world. 'Necessary connexion' in this context refers to the relationship between the cause and the effect, and, as KP Winkler shows by collating a number of quotations in support of the notion of Hume as a believer in 'secret connections' 1, we can be in little doubt that Hume did indeed, contrary to the regularity theory interpretation of his account, believe in the existence of some 'necessary connexion'. We should, however, leave until later the discussion of Hume's ideas regarding 'necessary connexion'. In discussing the 1 KP Winkler, The New Hume, in R Read and KA Richman (eds.), The New Hume Debate, London (2000), p55
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