Hume on Thick and Thin Causation

Dissertation, Marquette University (2018)
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Hume is known for his claim that our idea of causation is nothing beyond constant conjunction, and that our idea of necessary connection is nothing beyond a felt determination of the mind. In short, Hume endorses a "thin" conception of causation and necessary connection. In recent years, however, a sizeable number of philosophers have come to view Hume as someone who believes in the existence of thick causal connections - that is, causal connections that allow one to infer a priori the effect from the cause, and vice versa. Hume doesn't wish to deny such connections, said philosopher's claim, he only seeks to demonstrate that we can't know anything about the nature of the thick causal connections that make up the natural world. In this dissertation, I defend the old or traditional interpretation of Hume on causation. I draw attention to the important but neglected role of clear and distinct perception in Hume's thought, arguing that for Hume our impressions are clear and distinct perceptions, whereas our ideas are faint and obscure. Accordingly, Hume's copy principle - the thesis that our ideas are copies of our impressions - is Hume's way of rendering our naturally obscure and confused ideas distinct. One need only discern the impression from which said ideas are copied. In this way, I show that Hume's opinion concerning our idea of thick causation is that it's an obscure and confused idea, and that the only clear and distinct idea we can have of causation is thin causation. Furthermore, since meaning for Hume is a matter of a word's being associated with an idea, Hume thinks that an expression such as "thick causation" is meaningless or confused. In one sense, then, Hume is a positivist, and as such doesn't believe in thick causal connections.



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Alexander Bozzo
University of Wisconsin, Stout

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References found in this work

Naming and Necessity: Lectures Given to the Princeton University Philosophy Colloquium.Saul A. Kripke - 1980 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1973 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Philosophical explanations.Robert Nozick - 1981 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
A treatise of human nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1739 - Oxford,: Clarendon press. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge.

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