Probable Reasoning: The Negative Argument

David Owen

in Hume's Reason

Published in print April 2002 | ISBN: 9780199252602
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598159 | DOI:
Probable Reasoning: The Negative Argument

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Hume's negative argument about probable reasoning is sometimes called the problem of induction. The modern version of that argument is centrally concerned with the warrant of probable reasoning and the justification of the beliefs that result from such reasoning. It is argued here that Hume is more concerned with the mechanism that produces such beliefs, and that his problem is more one of explanation than justification. What does Hume mean by raising the question whether we are determined by reason in making the inference from a present impression to an unobserved idea? If we were determined by reason, something, such as the idea of necessary connection or the principle of uniformity, would have to serve as the intermediary via which we get from the impression to the idea. But no such idea or principle is available to us prior to our engaging in probable reasoning. So inferences or reasonings from the observed to the unobserved are not explained by an appeal to the faculty of reason. The point about not being determined by reason does not show that such inferences, or the beliefs we thus come to hold, are unreasonable. It shows that our coming to have such beliefs is not explained by an appeal to the proper functioning of the faculty of reason.

Keywords: determined by reason; faculty of reason; Hume; induction; inference; justification; necessary connection; principle of uniformity; probable reasoning; reason; reasoning; unreasonable

Chapter.  17139 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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