Understanding David Hume's Concept of Necessary Connection

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Along with George Berkeley and John Locke, David Hume (1711 - 1776) was a well-known British empiricist during the Early Modern period. These three philosophers argued for empirical knowledge standards that were comparable: that there are no innate ideas and that knowledge can only be gained through experience. The Early Modern debate on causation revolved around "closely synonymous" main ideas, the majority of which involved necessary connection and power. In defining what “necessary connection” entails, Hume showcases the constructive and critical uses of his definition accounts while attempting “to fix the exact meaning of the terms… so as to do away with part of the obscurity that most skeptics complain of in his philosophical species” (Hume 74). As such, he defines necessary connection as “the connection which people feel in their minds that entails a customary transition of one’s imagination from an object to the accustomed attendant from which the mind forms the notion of power, or rather the necessary connection” (Hume 78). Hume followed a tortuous route in arriving at how individuals draw specific casual inferences so as to come up with the characterization of ‘The Idea of Necessary Connection.’

To have a clear idea about necessary connection or power, the first step involves determining the impressions at the source (Hume, 2012, 170). Hume comes up with three potential sources in his predecessors’ work: According to Locke, ideas on power are obtained secondary external impressions of physical object interactions, and from primary internal impressions of our bodies’ capabilities to move and consider ideas. On the other hand Malebranche’s argument posited that what people consider to be causes of mental activities or bodily movements are not causes at all: they happen to be God’s occasions, who is the only source of obligatory association, to operate in this world. However, Hume’s argument is against all of these possibilities. In his argument, Hume posits that external impressions of bodily interactions cannot yield notions of power. For instance, seeing the motion of a billiard ball following another is only an observation of their conjunction, and not their connection (Hume 85). On internal impressions, Hume underlines that the operations happening in our minds are not helpful. According to Hume, this is the first component of causation in developing an understanding of the idea of necessary connection. Even though there exists voluntary bodily movements, the fact remains that we learn through experience and not from the personal willpower internal impression.

In his second component of causation, Hume emphasizes that it is not far from clarity: what the necessity implied by clarity is all about (Hume, 2012, 170). Clearly, necessity is not a rational modality since there is a possibility of worlds in which standard causation laws do not hold. As such, it is tempting to put it that the necessity entailed in causation is definitely metaphysical or physical necessity. On the contrary, Hume terms such expositions as unhelpful as they do not give anything about the originality of the involved impressions. At best, he says that they merely add up to a declaration that casual laws define causation. The invocation of this type of necessity is circular or trivial putting into consideration that this is the very worth that he attempts to discover. As such it is pertinent that we follow a different path in the consideration of what our personal impressions towards necessity amount to. At base, causation only involves a matter of fact; therefore Hume further challenges us to be considerate of what we know of the component intuitions of causation (Hume 77). In regard to his argument, we are not in a position to conceive any other connections between effect and cause simply because there is no other extant impression for back-tracing our idea(s).

In his conclusion on understanding the idea of necessary connection, Hume posits that our feeling of determination emanating from the mind is just, so is our consciousness of the routine shift from one connected object to another. This is apparently the source of our notion of necessary connection. When we assert that an item is “necessarily connected” to another, our real meaning is that the two objects bear an aligned connection to each other in our minds, thereby giving rise to this conjecture. Having outlined Hume’s approach to causality and the idea of necessary connection, Hume offers us the definition of causation or cause: he actually gives two definitions. First he defines cause as “an object that is followed by another, whereby all objects that share similarity with the first are closely followed by those sharing a similarity to the second” (Hume 87). This definition gives the pertinent external impressions. The second definition, Hume states that “cause is the object closely followed by another and with a manifestation that always transmits the notion(s) to the other” (Hume 87). In this definition, Hume is able to capture internal impression, which entails our wakefulness of being led by norms to progress from cause to effect. In togetherness, both of these definitions capture all the pertinent impressions that are involved. As such, Hume locates the basis of the thought of necessary connection in the individual and not in things or objects, or even in the ideas of such things (as regarded in effects and causes). Using his approach, Hume completely transforms the path taken by the causation debate, changing what everyone previously thought about the notion of necessary connection.

Despite his circuitous route in defining and creating an understanding of the idea of necessary connection, Hume clearly brings out the thought by arriving at the definitions of causation in intricate steps. Basing his argument on individual internal and external impressions, Hume is able to show that our thoughts on causation can be defined by his one-of-a-kind illustration, thus bringing revolutionary results in the subjects of free will, miracles, and intelligent design. In short, according to Hume’s exposition on necessary connection, complex ideas can be simplified to more describable parts for better human understanding.

Works Cited

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Hume, David. A treatise of human nature. Courier Corporation, 2012.

Hume, David. An enquiry concerning human understanding: A critical edition. Vol. 3. Oxford University Press, 2000.

August 09, 2021




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