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David Hume on Necessary Connexion

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Daniel Jordan

Sept 30, 2017


In this paper I will address what Hume deliberates as a phenomenon in which he calls “Necessary Connexion,” which can be interchanged with cause and effect. Cause and Effect (Necessary Connexion) is associated with repetition; conjunction of one event followed by another does not provide support for cause and effect. However, once an object/event is followed by a second object/event repetitively, then that object becomes a cause and the following becomes the effect.  It is also possible that neither “Cause and Effect” or “Necessary Connexion” are all-inclusive definitions of what we truly get when one event occurs after another repeatedly. The connexion that we associate with two events (one followed by the other) is not based solely on repetition of similar circumstances, but based on reason. David Hume assigns repetition to necessary connexion by using the billiard balls as an example. His logic is that when an event first occurs, there is no inference or understanding of what will happen next. When the man drops the billiard ball for the first time he just assumes everything is happening by chance once the second billiard ball is affected. As repetition occurs, a necessary connection is assigned by us and we infer causation from the movement of the second billiard ball to be the event that immediately preceded its action; we start to put a label on something that is more inclusive than the label itself. In David Hume’s paper he associates cause with something bigger than we, as humans, can understand. Although his analysis is very informative I disagree with his perspective that inquires we do not understand or have “no idea of,” this phenomenon behind this cause and effect label we have assigned.

Furthermore, as humans we have made and created technology, civilizations, medicine, etc. because of our understanding of this phenomenon behind cause and effect. I disagree with Hume’s belief that we are unable to define this cause and effect phenomenon simply because we are connected to this larger phenomenon and therefore have understanding. We understand this “cause and effect” and use it to make our world function. Our assumption of cause and effect is so innate that I also believe it is somewhat trustworthy. Hence, I disagree with Hume’s belief because we do have an idea of what necessary connexion is, in fact, it is essential to our being as humans. Humans create connexions between objects that don’t even have a connexion. For instance, some individuals are superstitious and partake in behaviors such as throwing salt over their shoulder and expect good luck. Although, there is no necessary connexion between salt and good luck, some people draw connexions. What validates a “necessary connection?” According to Hume, a necessary connection should be observed and created within your mind. It’s interesting how the human mind can draw a connection between two objects, in which by themselves would have no relationship to one another. This connection is not made in ignorance, take for example my belt; it is an object and its cause is to keep my pants on my waist. This cause transpires into an effect once the belt is attached to my waist. This necessary connection drawn between the belt and the position of my pants on my waist is not solely based upon the repetition of wearing a belt and observing that my pants stay up. For example, there are other aspects to consider, the belt is made of material that’s sturdy and long enough to wrap around my waist. In addition, the buckle at the front of the belt and the strap allows me to apply the pressure necessary to my waist and pants to prevent the pants from falling from my waist. Therefore, it’s not the repetition of wearing the belt that ensures my pants from falling because I can use any material sturdy and long aside from a belt: string, rope, scarf, etc. There are countless examples like these in which there is reason in addition to repetition that lead to the connections we make between an object and its effect.  

Hume does not consider the process of human reasoning when he references necessary connexion. Maybe Hume doesn’t take these examples into consideration because these are not the necessary connections he is referring to or perhaps, Hume uses much more concentrated and specific reasoning than provided in my example; to understand Hume’s argument more fully we must minimize the variability between the objects used in the examples. For instance, let’s assume that if we strike a paper cup with the same belt, the paper cup will be displaced by the belt and if we find this to be the case 100 times over again, it is still not the repetition alone that creates the connection that has been assigned between the belt and the cup, it is the physics behind the mass and density of the belt compared to the mass and density of the cup that is responsible for the cup moving. One may say, how do we assume that larger mass and density displaces lesser mass and density? Isn’t it because of the repetition of the larger object forcefully displacing the smaller object? Yes, that is true, however, to refine our definition of this phenomenon behind cause and effect, we must use a definition that limits causation through human reason such as, the belt is lager and will displace the smaller cup because larger objects always displace smaller objects. In the example used by Hume with the billiard balls, the billiard balls all contain the same mass, distance, density, etc. But even in the example with the billiard balls, the reason that the last ball changes position is because of outside interference with your hand displacing one of the first billiard balls to begin with. Every connection drawn is done so with reasonable cause. However, this “reasonable cause” is still reduced to the fact that when you let go of one billiard ball, it falls towards the others, and the only reason we assume that is through recurring events. Hume’s argument for necessary connection is stronger for those events that are basically identical in recurrence, and weaker for more general events that have a simple explanation. In a situation in which we cannot ascribe the connexion between two events to be ascribed to anything other than its reoccurrence, then it would hold true that we only know of necessary connection because of a repetition of similar circumstances every time.



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