David Hume, ‘The problem of induction’ and the workingman’s sausage

sausage_2001253c

David Hume is credited with developing induction. He argued that our inductive generalisations rest on the assumption that unobserved cases will follow the patterns that we discovered in observed cases but that one cannot make induction deductively certain. We cannot know that nature is uniform.

Hume distinguished between relations of ideas and matters of fact. He regarded deductive reasoning as demonstrative (involving certainty, established through relations of ideas) and inductive reasoning as probable (involving matters of fact, known by experience).

Hume denied the objective character of causality, arguing that there is no necessary relationship between cause and effect.

He insisted that philosophy cannot go beyond experience and that there is no solution to the ‘problem of induction’ which he set as a syllogism. He asked how we can move from a first premise that all observed A’s have been B to the conclusion that all A’s without restriction have been, are, and will be B.

He thought it can be addressed from two perspectives – that of redundancy (‘All A’s have been observed’), which is disqualified because it cannot be an argument from experience, and that of ‘the principle of the uniformity of nature’.

He also ruled this out because it could only be known to be true by a question-begging appeal to arguments of the very kind here in question (Nature has always been uniform. How does one know? Because it has always been uniform.). Further, such a premise would have to imply that all the A’s experienced by anyone constitute in all respects a perfectly representative sample of A’s.

Hume’s ‘moral’ conclusion was that argument from experience must be without rational foundation.

‘He seems nevertheless to have felt few scruples over the apparent inconsistency of going on to insist, first, that such argument is grounded in the deepest instincts of our nature, and, second, that the rational man everywhere proportions his belief to the evidence – evidence which in practice crucially includes that outcome of procedures alleged earlier to be without rational foundation…Argument from experience should be thought of not as an irreparably fallacious attempt to deduce conclusions necessarily wider than available premises can contain, but rather as a matter of following a tentative and self-correcting rule, a rule that is part of the very paradigm of inquiring rationality – that one would think that other A’s have been and will be the same, until and unless a particular reason is discovered to revise these expectations.’1

Lenin wrote that the sophism of idealist philosophy is that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a barrier between the two, not an image of the external phenomenon, but the sole entity.2

Whence arises the relations of ideas in deduction – from other ideas, or from within a form of matter which is utterly part of the world?

The (theoretically) absolute truth in nature is approached (the deepening of truth, inseparable from change and uncertainty) through a compound of relative truths by a process of sensory experience, brain processing of that experience and the testing of the resulting ideas in practice.

And this debate, which ultimately traces to that concerning the precedence of matter (objective reality) or consciousness as thought over the other, is directly related to ideology.

‘The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer and is nourished by pork meat, that the employer is a robber and that the sausage is pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the body. Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.

The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble…In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not…The chemists have gone deeper – they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more.’3

Notes

1. In A. Flew, Ed.,  A  Dictionary of Philosophy, London: Pan, 1984, 172

2. V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress, Moscow 1977, 38

3. Ibid., 185-186; Paul Lafargue, “Le matérialisme de Marx et l’idéalisme de Kant”, Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900.

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The purpose of bourgeois philosophy

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Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

The purpose of bourgeois philosophy:

‘The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer…that the employer is a robber…Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.’

The counter to bourgeois philosophy:

‘The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble…In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not…The chemists have gone deeper – they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more.’

Paul Lafargue

The same counter in different words:
‘The question whether objective [gegenständliche] truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’

Marx, Second thesis on Feuerbach, 1845

A summary of how we have developed:

‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature…’

Lenin

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Engels on materialism: part 2 – the ideological function of Hume and Kant

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

…there is yet a set of different philosophers — those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint. The materialistic additions made by Feuerbach are more ingenious than profound. The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice — namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such “things-in-themselves” until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the “thing-in-itself” became a thing for us — as, for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar. For 300 years, the Copernican solar system was a hypothesis with 100, 1,000, 10,000 to 1 chances in its favour, but still always a hypothesis. But then Leverrier, by means of the data provided by this system, not only deduced the necessity of the existence of an unknown planet, but also calculated the position in the heavens which this planet must necessarily occupy, and when [Johann] Galle really found this planet [Neptune, discovered 1846, at Berlin Observatory], the Copernican system was proved. If, nevertheless, the neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect the Kantian conception in Germany, and the agnostics that of Hume in England (where in fact it never became extinct), this is, in view of their theoretical and practical refutation accomplished long ago, scientifically a regression and practically merely a shamefaced way of surreptitiously accepting materialism, while denying it before the world.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Images: Hume/Kant

Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism

darkenergy

Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads

Karl Grün quotes a letter from Marx to Feuerbach dated October 20, 1843, in which Marx invites Feuerbach to write an article for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher against Schelling. This Schelling, writes Marx, is a shallow braggart with his claims to having embraced and transcended all previous philosophical trends. “To the French romanticists and mystics he [Schelling] says: I am the union of philosophy and theology; to the French materialists: I am the union of the flesh and the idea; to the French skeptics: I am the destroyer of dogmatism.” That the “skeptics”, be they called Humeans or Kantians (or, in the twentieth century, Machists), cry out against the “dogmatism” of both materialism and idealism, Marx at that time already saw; and, without letting himself be diverted by any one of a thousand wretched little philosophical systems, he was able through Feuerbach to take directly the materialist road against idealism. Thirty years later, in the afterword to the second edition of the first volume of Capital, Marx just as clearly and definitely contrasted his materialism to Hegel’s idealism, i.e., the most consistent and most developed idealism; he contemptuously brushed Comtean “positivism” aside and dubbed as wretched epigoni the contemporary philosophers who imagined that they had destroyed Hegel when in reality they had reverted to a repetition of the pre-Hegelian errors of Kant and Hume. In the letter to Kugelmann of June 27, 1870, Marx refers just as contemptuously to “Büchner, Lange, Dühring, Fechner, etc.”, because they were incapable of understanding of Hegel’s dialectics and treated him with scorn. And finally, take the various philosophical utterances by Marx in Capital and other works, and you will find an invariable basic motif: insistence upon materialism and contemptuous derision of all obscurity, of all confusion and all deviations towards idealism. All Marx’s philosophical utterances revolve within these two fundamental opposites, and from the standpoint of professorial philosophy, their defect lies in this “narrowness” and “one-sidedness”. In reality, this refusal to recognise the hybrid projects for reconciling materialism and idealism constitutes the great merit of Marx, who moved forward along a sharply-defined philosophical road.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 316-317

Dark matter ring modelled around galaxy cluster CL0024+17

Dark matter ring modelled around galaxy cluster CL0024+17

Distant supernova, dark energy

Distant supernova, dark energy. For details, click on third link at bottom.

If you add up all the matter and energy in the universe, you'd find little that is familiar. The stars and gas that astronomers see in their telescopes make up just 0.5 percent of the cosmos. Just 0.01 percent of the universe is made of elements heavier than hydrogen or helium. Because of uncertainties, the numbers in this chart do not add up to 100 percent.

What the universe is made of: if you add up all the matter and energy in the universe, you’d find little that is familiar. The stars and gas that astronomers see in their telescopes make up just 0.5 percent of the cosmos. Just 0.01 percent of the universe is made of elements heavier than hydrogen or helium. Because of uncertainties, the numbers in this chart do not add up to 100 percent.

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Part one/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th

Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism – Part Four

The ‘Thing-in-Itself’ (continued)

…it was immediately clear to Albert Lévy that the basic position not only of Marxian materialism but of every materialism, of “all earlier” materialism, is the recognition of real objects outside us, to which objects our ideas “correspond”. This elementary truth, which holds good for all materialism in general, is unknown only to the Russian Machists. Lévy continues:

“…On the other hand, Marx expresses regret that materialism had left it to idealism to appreciate the importance of the active forces [i.e., human practice]. It is these active forces which, according to Marx, must be wrested from idealism in order to integrate them into the materialist system; but it will of course be necessary to give these active forces the real and sensible character which idealism cannot grant them. Marx’s idea, then, is the following: just as to our ideas there correspond real objects outside us, so to our phenomenal activity there corresponds a real activity outside us, an activity of things. In this sense humanity partakes of the absolute, not only through theoretical knowledge but also through practical activity; thus all human activity acquires a dignity, a nobility, that permits it to advance hand in hand with theory. …”

Albert Lévy is a professor. And a proper professor cannot avoid abusing the materialists as being metaphysicians. For the professorial idealists, Humeans and Kantians every kind of materialism is “metaphysics”, because beyond the phenomenon (appearance, the thing-for-us) it discerns a reality outside us. A. Lévy is therefore essentially right when he says that in Marx’s opinion there corresponds to man’s “phenomenal activity” “an activity of things”, that is to say, human practice has not only a phenomenal (in the Humean and Kantian sense of the term), but an objectively real significance. The criterion of practice – as we shall show in detail in its proper place – has entirely different meanings for Mach and Marx. “Humanity partakes of the absolute” means that human knowledge reflects absolute truth; the practice of humanity, by verifying our ideas, corroborates what in those ideas corresponds to absolute truth. A. Lévy continues:

“…Having reached this point, Marx naturally encounters the objections of the critics. He has admitted the existence of things-in-themselves, of which our theory is the human translation; he cannot evade the usual objection: what assurance have you of the accuracy of the translation? What proof have you that the human mind gives you an objective truth? To this objection Marx replies in his second Thesis”.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 90-91

Part four/to be continued…

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Marx’s second Thesis on Feuerbach:

‘The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory, but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’

Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach

Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism – Part Three

The ‘Thing-in-Itself’ (continued)

The question at issue is Marx’s second Thesis on Feuerbach and Plekhanov’s translation of the word Diesseitigkeit.

Here is the second Thesis:

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory, but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”

Instead of “prove the this-sidedness of thinking” (a literal translation), Plekhanov has: prove that thinking “does not stop at this side of phenomena”. And Mr. V. Chernov cries: “The contradiction between Marx and Engels has been eliminated very simply…It appears as though Marx, like Engels, asserted the knowability of things-in-themselves and the ‘other-sidedness’ of thinking” (loc. cit., p. 34, note).

What can be done with a Voroshilov whose every phrase makes confusion worse confounded! It is sheer ignorance, Mr. Victor Chernov, not to know that all materialists assert the knowability of things-in-themselves. It is ignorance, Mr. Victor Chernov, or infinite slovenliness, to skip the very first phrase of the thesis and not to realise that the “objective truth” (gegenständliche Wahrheit) of thinking means nothing else than the existence of objects (“things-in-themselves”) truly reflected by thinking. It is sheer illiteracy, Mr. Victor Chernov, to assert that from Plekhanov’s paraphrase (Plekhanov gave a paraphrase and not a translation) “it appears as though” Marx defended the other-sidedness of thought. Because only the Humeans and the Kantians confine thought to “this side of phenomena”. But for all materialists, including those of the seventeenth century whom Bishop Berkeley demolished (see Introduction), “phenomena” are “things-for-us” or copies of the “objects in themselves”. Of course, Plekhanov’s free paraphrase is not obligatory for those who desire to know Marx himself, but it is obligatory to try to understand what Marx meant and not to prance about like a Voroshilov.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 89

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Part three/to be continued…

Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach

A Materialist Critique of Skepticism: Part Three

‘The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect’, ink, colour on paper, handscroll, 8th century, Japan. Artist not named. Woodblock reproduction published in 1941, University Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo.

‘The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect’, ink, colour on paper, handscroll, 8th century, Japan. Artist not named. Woodblock reproduction published in 1941, University Museum, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo.

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What runs through skepticism is a differentiation between philosophy as abstract reason or contemplation and a world of practical engagement – the world of ‘the common man’. Barnes defends Empiricus’s rejection of causality from his philosophy but acceptance of it in his discussion of the events of ‘ordinary’ Life, as Common Sense:

‘Sextus makes no attempt to avoid that ordinary vocabulary, the causal import of which he must surely have recognised. More specifically, Sextus from time to time permits himself an overtly causal sentence: a wound to the heart will cause death; motion and rest must have causes; good things may be the cause of misery.’23

Barnes writes that ‘Sextus’s causal utterances are not embarrassing flaws on the smooth body of his philosophical system…For Sextus presents himself as the champion of what he calls Life, bios. Life is contrasted with Philosophy.’24 Life ‘represents the wisdom of the plain man who is uncorrupted by esoteric and presumptuous speculation…the Skeptics are friends of Common Sense’25 And no doubt of the Common Man.

Empiricus wrote that it is easy to reject causality – ‘it is impossible to assert firmly that anything is a cause of anything’26 Barnes wrote ‘The Skeptic, then, attacks unobservable entities and judgements ostensibly made about them; he fixes his sights on what by nature escapes our sight, and on the Believers’ blind statements about such things’27

While the different treatment of causality in the realm of the philosopher and the world of the Common Man is most important, what underlies this (and much else) is the divorce of theory from its proper basis in practice and the absence in understanding of the necessary relation between the two.

In the latter, knowledge on the basis of sensory experience is intuitively accepted, in the former that connection is not questioned but denied because the relation between objective reality, sensation and brain is not understood.

To claim this difference is due to Empiricus’s acceptance of his society’s customs etc. does not deny the immense difference between philosophy and ‘bios’ – nor the revealing manner in which Barnes described it.

The materialist recognises the importance and nature of theorising to our knowledge of the world and distinguishes between the complete cause (the sum total of all the circumstances, the presence of which necessarily gives rise to the effect) and the specific cause. Causality is apprehended only through the revelation of essence and contradiction as the law of movement and development.

In his Meditations,28 Descartes did the same thing – first making himself comfortable, then severing philosophical (metaphysical) speculation from practical life29 and engaging in that human facility for self-reflection – consciousness reflecting on itself – to the furthest degree (which Plotinus had done in the first phenomenology and to the same extent, as Soul progressed through the hypostases of the Enneads, almost one and a half thousand years before) at the end of which, and in the most brazen manner – given his apparent agonising in the previous meditations – returned to ‘the world of the senses,’ stating he could clearly distinguish between dreaming and being awake and acknowledging his trust in the relations between his senses, memory and understanding.30

Yet no matter how well-reasoned the arguments of Descartes’ objectors (particularly those of Gassendi and Hobbes), they all missed the point – there can be no argument on the basis of or in relation to the physical world against Descartes’ meditations – because he utterly severed the physical from the ‘mental’ which comprised them.31 Descartes failed to counter skepticism because he too distinguished his contemplation from its basis in life and the world.32

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

23. Jonathan Barnes, ‘Ancient Skepticism and Causation,’ The Skeptical Tradition, Ed., Myles Burnyeat, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, pp. 149-203, 155

24. Ibid., 156

25. Ibid.

26. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 149

27. ‘Ancient Skepticism and Causation’ op. cit., 157

28. ‘the title “Meditations” presents the work as something other than a chain of philosophical argumentation, and links it, rather, to religious exercises. …The “withdrawal of the mind from the senses” Descartes recommends as a precondition of the search for truth may well seem more reminiscent of spiritual techniques than of scientific enquiry.’ Introduction to Réne Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Trans., Michael Moriarty, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, xiv-xv.

29. ‘Let us then suppose that we are dreaming, and that these particular things (that we have our eyes open, are moving our head, stretching out our hands) are not true; and that perhaps we do not even have hands or the rest of a body like what we see.’ Ibid., 14.

30. From Descartes’ Synopsis of the Meditations: ‘Finally (in the Sixth Meditation), all the reasons are put forward that lead us to conclude in the existence of material things: not that I think these are very useful when it comes to proving what they do prove, namely that a world really exists, and that human beings have bodies, and so forth, things which no one in their right mind has ever seriously doubted’ Ibid., 12. And from the end of his Sixth Meditation: ‘I need no longer fear that the things the senses represent to me in ordinary life are false: on the contrary, the hyperbolic doubts of these past days can be dismissed as ridiculous. …when things happen to me in such a way that I am distinctly aware of whence, where, and when they have come, and I connect the perception of them to the rest of my life, without any gaps, then I am well and truly certain that they are happening not in my sleep but when I am awake. Nor should I doubt even in the slightest degree of their truth, if after I have summoned all the senses, the memory, and the understanding to join in their examination, none of these reports anything that clashes with the report of the rest.’ Ibid., 63-64.

31. ‘my doubts are metaphysical, and have nothing to do with practical life. Bourdin thus gives the unwary reader the impression that I am so mad as to doubt, in ordinary life, whether the earth exists, and whether I have a body.’ Ibid., 215. Stroud, writing in support of Descartes got it right: ‘how could a test or a circumstance or a state of affairs indicate to him that he is not dreaming if a condition of knowing anything about the world is that he knows he is not dreaming? It could not. He could never fulfil the condition.’ ‘The Problem of the External World’ op. cit., 15.

32. Hume, who held that argument from experience must be without rational foundation was another who made the same distinction between philosophy and ‘common life.’ ‘He seems nevertheless to have felt few scruples over the apparent inconsistency of going on to insist, first, that such argument is grounded in the deepest instincts of our nature, and, second, that the rational man everywhere proportions his belief to the evidence – evidence which in practice crucially includes that outcome of procedures alleged earlier to be without rational foundation…Argument from experience should be thought of not as an irreparably fallacious attempt to deduce conclusions necessarily wider than available premises can contain, but rather as a matter of following a tentative and self-correcting rule, a rule that is part of the very paradigm of inquiring rationality – that one would think that other A’s have been and will be the same, until and unless a particular reason is discovered to revise these expectations.’ Antony Flew, Ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy, London: Pan, 1984, 172. Davidson likewise not only argued for a divorce of the senses from what takes place in consciousness – i.e. reason and belief (for him only beliefs can justify other beliefs since ‘beliefs are by nature generally true’) – but ‘abandoning the search for a basis for knowledge outside the scope of our beliefs.’ Like Descartes, he writes that our senses and observations might be lying to us – we can’t swear them to truthfulness. Donald Davidson, ‘A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge’ in Epistemology An Anthology, op. cit., pp. 162, 156, 157.

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