Hume looked at the issue of human understanding in relation to the way people reason and handle different situations which call for cognitive ability. In so doing, he looked at different aspects related to the human mind. This led to his conclusion that causality is not rational. In order to bring a greater understanding to Hume’s ideas on human understanding, the paragraphs below look at the different terms and concepts that Hume uses in his argument.
One of the issues that Hume looks at is the relations of ideas1. This concept comes about as he tries to look at the categories in which the human understanding falls into. He observes that the relations of ideas fall under categories such as arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. In a generalized manner, it can be presumed from his explanation that the relations of ideas are not certain demonstratively or even intuitively. He further argues that the proportions of these kinds can be discovered through thinking even without having to ascertain their existence. In other words, they are facts and there is no need to prove them.
‘ Matters of fact’ is another concept that Hume looks at. 2 This is the other category of human understanding as put by Hume. They are not established in the same way and there are no grounds on which they can be held true or false. He goes ahead to argue that due to this fact, the opposite of a matter of fact can also be just as true since it can be conceived by the mind just as if it were true and real. This means that there are facts which are just known as facts but there is no way to prove that they are actually facts. If an individual argued contrary to that fact and had reasonable grounds to believe that his argument is true, then the opposite of the fact of matter can be seen to be just as true. It is for this reason that Hume puts it that there is no point in trying to prove matters of fact as this would only lead to contradictions that cannot be resolved by the human mind.
Armed with the above concepts, Hume went ahead to look at the issue of causality. 3 He argues that all human reasoning sprouts from the cause and effect relation as it is the only one that takes individuals from the evidence of senses and memory. This is where humans tend to associate events and happenings not with their memory or creativity but with their knowledge of the cause and effect. He gives an example where a traveler coming across a machine or a watch on an island gets to know that there were other men on the site. This is not based on the memory or sense of the individual but on the relation between cause and effect. Causality, as such, is seen as that which precipitates into the happening of an event.
These reasoning and human understanding dynamics help in the shaping of the moral thinking of individuals. Hume looked at this and identified three issues that shape the moral thinking of humans. 4 First of all, there is the situation where individuals have learnt to do something all their lives and they are familiar with it. this creates a sense of culture and how things are done. Faced by a given situation, individuals tend to make their moral decisions based on what they are familiar with. The next thing is the assumption that people should act in a more natural way, or what is termed as letting nature run its course. As such, people do not make the moral decision based on what they term as right, but what they think is the most natural way of doing it. Lastly, there is the assertion that people do not like complex issues. As such, they tend to make the decisions in a manner that make them depend on simple qualities and aspects. These three are the major determinants on how people make decisions.
Having underlined all these concepts, Hume argues that causality is not rational. 5 He argues that knowledge about causality was never discovered through a kind of a priori reasoning. Rather, the discoveries made in the cause of learning the cause and effect tends to be kind of accidental. It is not something that individuals plan about, but they stumble across it as they try to investigate other associated factors. Also, the argument about matters of fact shows that it is quite hard to prove that some facts do exist; they are just assumed to be there. This is not rational at all, and it is the reason Hume argues that causality is not rational.
In conclusion, the paragraphs above look at Hume’s argument on human understanding. They explain the concepts that he brings about to discuss the issue of causality and then concludes that causality is not rational. This has been proven through the argument as indicated above.
Hume, David. Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 2008. (Attached)