A few days ago, I left a comment at Dr. Feser’s blog in response to some of his claims about the doctrine of causality in Hume. My thesis is:
[Hume] has no problem with causality, so far as it is verified in first person experience.
Feser gave a response that gets right to the point:
Well, Berkeley certainly thinks we have a “notion” (if not “idea”) of ourselves as causes, but I don’t see how Hume does. In fact, he thinks that even in our introspection of our selves as acting, what we perceive is a volition followed by (say) a bodily movement, but not any necessary connection between them, nor any force or power in the first to bring about the second. In other words, the relationship between events in the first-person, mental case is not relevantly different from the relationship between events in the third-person, material case. We observe a constant conjunction (between the motion of billiard ball A and that of billiard ball B, or between a volition and a bodily movement) but that’s it. Or am I misunderstanding you?
The difficulty is that it is very difficult, if not utterly impossible to apply Hume’s doctrine of causality to his arguments in the second part of his Treatise, and the difference is not merely an accidental slip of using the word “because” here and there, but a continual and radical appeal to causes in a robust sense. Take the second chapter, where difficulties begin in the very chapter heading and become insurmountable after the first paragraph:
Of pride and humility; their objects and causes
The passions of PRIDE and HUMILITY being simple and uniform impressions, `tis impossible we can ever, by a multitude of words, give a just definition of them, or indeed of any of the passions. The utmost we can pretend to is a description of them, by an enumeration of such circumstances, as attend them: But as these words, pride and humility, are of general use, and the impressions they represent the most common of any, every one, of himself, will be able to form a just idea of them, without any danger of mistake. For which reason, not to lose time upon preliminaries, I shall immediately enter upon the examination of these passions…
But tho’ that connected succession of perceptions, which we call self, be always the object of these two passions, `tis impossible it can be their CAUSE, or be sufficient alone to excite them. For as these passions are directly contrary, and have the same object in common; were their object also their cause; it cou’d never produce any degree of the one passion, but at the same time it must excite an equal degree of the other; which opposition and contrariety must destroy both. Tis impossible a man can at the same time be both proud and humble; and where he has different reasons for these passions, as frequently happens, the passions either take place alternately; or if they encounter, the one annihilates the other, as far as its strength goes, and the remainder only of that, which is superior, continues to operate upon the mind. But in the present case neither of the passions cou’d ever become superior; because supposing it to be the view only of ourself, which excited them, that being perfectly indifferent to either, must produce both in the very same proportion; or in other words, can produce neither. To excite any passion, and at’ the same time raise an equal share of its antagonist, is immediately to undo what was done, and must leave the mind at last perfectly calm and indifferent.
We must therefore, make a distinction betwixt the cause and the object of these passions; betwixt that idea, which excites them, and that to which they direct their view, when excited. Pride and humility, being once rais’d, immediately turn our attention to ourself, and regard that as their ultimate and final object; but there is something farther requisite in order to raise them: Something, which is peculiar to one of the passions, and produces not both in the very same degree. The first idea, that is presented to the mind, is that of the cause or productive principle. This excites the passion, connected with it; and that passion, when excited. turns our view to another idea, which is that of self. Here then is a passion plac’d betwixt two ideas, of which the one produces it, and the other is produc’d by it. The first idea, therefore, represents the cause, the second the object of the passion.
To begin with the causes of pride and humility; we may observe, that their most obvious and remarkable property is the vast variety of subjects, on which they may be plac’d. Every valuable quality of the mind, whether of the imagination, judgment, memory or disposition; wit, good-sense, learning, courage, justice, integrity; all these are the cause of pride; and their opposites of humility. Nor are these passions confin’d to the mind but extend their view to the body likewise. A man may he proud of his beauty, strength, agility, good mein, address in dancing, riding, and of his dexterity in any manual business or manufacture. But this is not all. The passions looking farther, comprehend whatever objects are in the least ally’d or related to us. Our country, family, children, relations, riches, houses, gardens, horses, dogs, cloaths; any of these may become a cause either of pride or of humility.
From the consideration of these causes,
One could go on quoting passages like this ad infinitum.
My claim (which I think is the simplest hypothesis) is that Hume recognized that knowledge of causality required us to know the interior of the cause and the effect, so that we could discern some connection between them “from the inside”. This makes real causality possible to observe in ourselves, but impossible to observe in billiard balls. Who can speak for the inner life of a billiard ball? There might be some doubt as to whether there is anything to know.
If this is right, Hume is in radical agreement with St. Thomas that causality requires an ability to “read the interiors” of something. All causality is from the end or goal, but ends or goals must correspond to some appetite or interior order to the end on the part of the thing being caused by it. Hume denies that we can know this interior order in stones and billiard balls. St. Thomas would say that an outright denial goes too far, but he would agree with Hume that there is not much to know. (Both St. Thomas, and Plato agree that the good or goal of inanimate things is far more in their order to the good of the animate, more than to any action for themselves. See the argument that soul is prior to nature in book Ten of the Laws)
If this is right, Hume and St. Thomas agree that “causes are known by that which knows the interior of something”. Hume denies that we have any such power to know this outside of subjective experience, St. Thomas says that it is proper to intellect to read the interiors, or natures of things- even though, in the case of human beings, we cannot read much, or as much as we might like.