Faith and Reason: Is There a Sharp Divide? (Part 7)

David Hume. David Hume was an empiricist. This means that he believed that certain knowledge can only be attained through sensory experience. So he set out to discover exactly what can the senses tell us about reality. We do not have sense experience of structure or unity. We categorize and organize our sense data by using principles such as causation and induction

Causation. We reason from cause to effect. When playing Pool, with but a swing of a stick we see a ball move, make contact with another ball, and then we see the other ball move. Immediately we interpret what we saw as one ball “causing” the other ball to move. Strictly speaking, what we actually saw was a succession of events. One thing happens and then another. Causation is a principle of organization that we intuitively use to make sense of what we saw, but causation, in and of itself, is not perceived by the senses. Why? Because causation is not a “thing” open to be tested by our five sense.

Induction. Not just science, but much of human knowledge relies on inductive reasoning. Besides what I mentioned before, induction relies on the belief that the past informs us of the future. The sun set yesterday at such and such time, so it will set tomorrow at such and such time. How do we know that? Nobody has ever had a sense experience of the future. I know what you are thinking, ‘We know this, because it has happened in the past’. But that is assuming that the past can tell you about the future. You would be assuming that which you are trying to prove, and that’s called begging the question, a logical no-no.

The is/Ought fallacy. The Is/Ought fallacy deals with morality. Can sense experience alone lead us to ethical judgments and values? How do we go from what is the case (the “is”) to what ought to be the case (a moral obligation)? We cannot derive moral obligation from mere observation. There has to be a law outside of us that we all are obligated to obey. If that is not the case, then moral values reduce to mere personal preference. “Murder is wrong” is becomes as morally significant as “I like chocolate.” The Marquis de Sade loved to torture women, I don’t. If sense experience is only way to truth, what makes him wrong, and I right? David pointed out this error in think, and it’s a great logical tool to keep in your back pocket.

Posted on November 21, 2007, in Faith and Reason and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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