Instigator / Pro

THBT: Hume's induction problem is solvable


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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The problem of induction is the philosophical question of what are the justifications, if any, for any growth of knowledge understood in the classic philosophical sense—knowledge that goes beyond a mere collection of observations—highlighting the apparent lack of justification in particular for:

Generalizing about the properties of a class of objects based on some number of observations of particular instances of that class (e.g., the inference that "all swans we have seen are white, and, therefore, all swans are white", before the discovery of black swans) or

Presupposing that a sequence of events in the future will occur as it always has in the past (e.g., that the laws of physics will hold as they have always been observed to hold). Hume called this the principle of uniformity of nature.

In inductive reasoning, one makes a series of observations and infers a new claim based on them. For instance, from a series of observations that eating bread always has taste and fulfills our sense of hunger, we come to assume eating the next piece of bread wont leave us hungry and unfulfilled.

Pro: Humes induction problem can likely be solved
Con: Humes induction problem is unlikely to be solved

Round 1
David Hume, Causality and the Principle of A Priori Certainty
Hume contends that there is no evidence from experience to support the necessity of one event occurring after another, and that causality cannot be rationally justified. In other words, denying the alleged necessity of causality does not involve contradiction. However, denying a statement is what establishes its necessity if doing so produces a clear contradiction. Denial of the alleged necessity of causality therefore does not amount to a contradiction because there is no contradiction involved. Causation is not a priori if rejecting the necessity of causality does not involve contradiction. Hume’s claims stem from separating two asserts of knowledge as "relations of ideas"—a priori, meaning that they are certain and it is impossible to imagine them to be false. They tell you about the meaning of words and the knowledge of truths and facts. Following on from this, it would be impossible to know if there were craters on the moon without empirical evidence, as it isn't a contradiction to imagine it not having craters.

By challenging two claims, he illustrates how causality and knowledge are related. Every cause has an effect, so if event A causes event B, then event B will always be the outcome of event A in the future. The following claims cannot be supported by our senses or by our intuition. These assertions, according to Hume, are problematic.

A priori / a posteriori and analytic / synthetic

According to Kant, philosophy and mathematics are examples of disciplines that are a priori, meaning that the true propositions they discover can be figured out by reasoning alone rather than depending on scientific experiments or everyday experience.

A proposition is a priori if it can be deduced from first principles. relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.

E.g. A square has four sides.

A proposition is a posteriori if it can be justified only based on experience of its objects.

E.g. "My car is white": we need to have perception or some other means of experience of the car to know whether it is indeed white.

A proposition is analytic if it is true based on the mere interrelations of its concepts, i.e., based on their meaning alone.

E.g., "Bachelors are unmarried"; this is true based on the very meaning of the concept "bachelor," for it means an unmarried man.

A proposition is synthetic if it is made true only by something outside its mere concepts, i.e., by the objects of the concepts.

E.g. "7x4 = 28": this is not true based on terms alone. It is synthetic, not analytic, because it requires references to concepts outside of itself for its truth (i.e., its truth is not self-evidently present in the terms of its expression). 28 doesn't necessarily contain 7x4. This is something we discover and then connect to the concept to form knowledge (synthesis). And it is a priori, not a posteriori, because the truth of the statement precedes any experience that conforms to it; it isn't a contingent truth that may or may not be the case dependent upon experience, but a necessary truth that can be safely said to condition all experience.

Therefore mathematics is an example of a synthetic a priori.

Ehyeh's critique of Hume's induction from phenomenology 
I cannot appeal to the outside world or science in this discussion to disprove Hume's problem of induction. Doing so would not solve the premises outlined within the first paragraph which is "that which has a cause can be imagined not to have a cause, therefore is never certain or a priori." An example of this would be the fact that we could imagine a bowling ball going through the pins instead of hitting them. This means it is never certain if one day the bowling ball could go through the pins, as it is never contradictory in imagination ( a priori) as well as the empirical world ( a posteriori).

That means we must move our attention to the mind itself. It's evident cause and effect is not simple a priori, as it appears to be deniable within the material universe. Yet, what I can do is argue its authenticity as a synthetic a priori, not through the material universe but simply through one's own mind. Thoughts within the human mind are contingent upon either two related yet distinct categories of experience:

  • An experience of the senses
  • An experience of thought/reason
Within both of these cases, both are wholly dependant on the law of cause and effect to occur. How can one even begin to have a new thought if not for some change from the previous thought? This therefore highlights thoughts stemming from something, thoughts stem from sensory feedback, creating a closed systematic loop of cause and effect and change in ones own mind. If we did not have this cause and effect within our own mind, the mind would be stagnant, still. It would become impossible to have thoughts after your first thought, which would entail the undeniable fact that if not for cause and effect, we could not exist.

This therefore highlights that for as long as we live, even if we assume material reality itself doesn't exist, We can be sure the law of cause and effect is real and absolute for as long as we continue to live, simply through our own phenomelogical experience of ourselves.

The necessity of cause and effect for experience
Having demonstrated that cause and effect is necessarily absolute for as long as we live, this then highlights the fact that cause and effect for as long as life exists will never wholly cease. It is a synthetic a priori meaning; it is the first consequence of experience. Just as understanding language is not the condition, but rather the consequence, of hearing it, so too is knowing space not the condition, but rather the consequence, of experiencing it. It would be simply impossible for humans and conscious self-aware life to exist if not for cause and effect, as we would never get beyond our first thought.

Following on from this, if the philosophy of materialism is correct (which it very likely is as it fulfils all its necessary conditions for it to be possible), Then the existence of cause and effect, although cannot be known within all circumstances, necessarily exists as an objective property of existence. As it were, without it, there would be no conservation of energy.

There would be no conservation of momentum. Following on from this, it would appear that both in a solipsist sense and a materialist sense, cause and effect must necessarily exist. If this law were flawed in any part of the universe, it would lead to the complete collapse of the system, as it would fly right in the face of the fact that "energy cannot be created nor destroyed". As I will demonstrate, if this were the case, it would destroy the idea that the universe could begin to exist in the first place! as I will demonstrate.
I would argue being comes before time, not time before being. To exist, time requires space, substance, and being. This also answers the question of why there is something and not nothing. For time to exist, something must first exist for time to act on. Therefore, the primordial substance of the universe must necessarily of always existed. This necessitates the fact that the law of cause and effect (motion) has simply always existed up till now. If it did not exist, then nothing could begin to exist.

As outlined in the debate parameters, my burden is to establish the that Hume’s induction problem is likely unsolvable. In order to meet my burden, it is important that the definition of the problem is clearly articulated for the layman, in order to make the voting audience broader.

What is induction?
Induction (in this context) is defined as the method that can be used to make a prediction. Example: The scientific method is an appropriate tool to induce (or predict) an outcome of an experiment.

What is Hume’s problem?
Hume never mentioned the word ‘induction’ in his writing. He simply articulated that past experiences are poor sources of information and should not be readily trusted to predict the future.

Why can the past not be trusted?
Hume was not actually concerned with the past itself, but rather with the observer of the past. He was concerned with the fragile and error-prone human mind, and its ability (or lack thereof) to interpret the past and accurately use it to predict the future.

From the horse’s mouth:”[o]ur reason [to be taken here quite generally, to include the imagination]must be consider'd as a kind of cause, of which truth is the natural effect; but such-a-one as by the irruption of other causes, and by the inconstancy of our mental powers, may frequently be prevented. (Hume THN, 180)”.

Essentially, Hume admitted that Human reasoning is limited by what is knowable and calculable by the human mind and since humans are not omniscient with truly uninterruptable thought processes, we will always miss a piece of the puzzle.

Wait! You mean Hume’s problem is not with causality itself, but rather with the error-prone human mind?
Yes. Arguably, there is only one correct answer to a problem. However, the observer is fallible. He makes mistakes. He forgets a step in the equation, or misreads a number, or miscalculates, or is so limited in his power of observation that the full set of evidence cannot humanly be considered. He still arrives at an answer, but the problem has been corrupted by the observer himself. The mere fact that the observer has limitation is enough to conclude (according to Hume) that the answer is incomplete and cannot be trusted.

That means, whenever we try to solve a problem, we must not only consider the evidence before us, we must also account for ourselves. We are a component of the dataset. We are limited in our ability to interpret the data, we inject our own bias into the problem, and we lack omniscience and true objectivity. We are our own barrier to the truth.
It is therefore logical to conclude that an incomplete evidence set interpreted by an error prone and falsely motivated mind results in an untrustworthy conclusion.

Imagine you are standing in a room in front of a red button. A scientist next to the button tells you “If you push the red button, a chute opens and candy falls from the ceiling”. To prove his statement, the scientist provides you with a dataset. The dataset reveals that the red button has been pushed 5,382,956 times and candy fell from the ceiling every time.
Trusting the data, you push the button. Poison gas fills the room and both you and the scientist die.

What happened? Clearly, the scientists did not push the button enough times. There was a 0.0000185771 % chance that poison gas would be released instead of candy.
Every problem is imperfectly solved because there is always another variable to discover and there is always a modicum of human error that is unaccounted for.

Is it possible to solve Hume’s problem?
Logically, no.
Here is why:
Suppose you set out to solve Hume’s problem. You create a set of conditions that need to be met in order to solve the problem.
According to Hume’s problem, the effort to solve Hume’s problem is insufficient. There is a variable missing and the mere fact that a human mind has endeavored to solve the problem, makes the solution imperfect.

What if an artificial mind, like a computer, is programmed to solve the problem?
Who programmed the computer?
Was it a human? If so, human error, limitation and lack of perspective is built into the machine. It cannot solve the problem any better than the person who designed it. It could, however, arrive at the incorrect answer much faster.

What is the best we can hope for?
Error reduction. Error elimination is arguably improbable, but if we endeavor to account for as much of our own limitation as possible, we can maximally approach the right answer to a problem. I think the solution to Hume’s problem can be best described as the distance between the observer and the target being perpetually divided in half. The observer and the target will never meet, but they will get closer to each other with every division.

Round 2
Opponent forfeits round. No new arguments.
Round 3
My apologies for failing to post an argument in the previous round. I was exhausted and burnt out from debating. The break also gave me more time to formulate and develop a cohesive, solid argument. I realize that in order to do this, I will have to throw everything from my previous rounds out the window and start over with something Kant failed to do, and in fact, every philosopher has failed to do: create a new category of mind capable of overcoming Hume's problem of induction. To do this, I must first explain the flaws in Kant's synthetic a priori, as well as why it fails to solve Hume's problem of induction, and in-fact, actually contradicts the nature of reality itself.

Kantian categories of mind, the issue of synthetic a priori
Kant's claim is that if in experience we knew things as they were in themselves, then Hume would be correct and there could be no synthetic a priori knowledge. But since we know instead only appearances (i.e., how things appear to us), which must conform to our subjective modes of experience, we can know in advance that these experiences will (necessarily and\universally) conform to the only ways in which we could possibly know or experience objects. On this reading, Kant's view of experience turns out to be much like Locke's, i.e., that we experience only things that exist in our minds and infer the existence of a mind-independent reality. But this is a misunderstanding of Kant, who believes that knowledge of an object must always have a "sensible" aspect and a conceptual aspect. In each case, there is a subjective contribution that can be known a priori.

  • Synthetic a priori knowledge is possible because all knowledge is only of appearances (which must conform to our modes of experience) and not of independently real things in themselves (which are independent of our modes of experience).
  • This claim, that we know only appearances and not things in themselves, is known as Kant's transcendental idealism. So Kant's claim is that if in experience we knew things as they were in themselves, then Hume would be correct, and there could be no synthetic a priori knowledge.
  • synthetic a priori knowledge is" possible", but only because certain aspects of our experience of objects reflects something that we (i.e., our mind's) contribute to that experience, and has nothing to do with how objects are independently of being experienced. So, in Kant's language, space and time are transcendentally ideal.
Based on this information, for synthetic a priori to be possible, we must not actually be perceiving things for what they truly are. This fact in-itself disproves the certainty of synthetic a priori, synthetic a priori relies on human faith if one chooses to believe its veracity.

For Kant to fully disprove Hume wrong with certainty, he would of had to of created analytic a posteriori. The analytic a posteriori is the fourth class of knowledge possible as combinations of Immanuel Kant’s semantic (analytic/synthetic) and epistemic (a priori/a posteriori) dichotomies. There is no reason why we cannot assert the other three combinations, but the analytic a posteriori appears to be self-defeating. In Kant’s words:

“It would be absurd to found an analytic judgement on experience. Since, in forming the judgement, I must not go outside my concept, there is no need to appeal to the testimony of experience in its support”. (Kant, 1787)

The logically contradictory nature of synthetic a priori
Firstly, i must explain why synthetic a priori is not just unlikely (or likely in Kant's mind) but why it is simply impossible. Following Kant's reasoning for the existence of synthetic a priori it would seem time and space would have to be simple figments of our imagination, simple illusions created by the mind. This is internally contradictory. Kant and Hume both agree that which is a priori does not precede experience but necessitates the existence of experience itself.
If Kant and Hume both agree that we must necessarily exist (as it is logically undeniable even within our imagination), then time and space must exist not in the mind but in reality itself. If Kant knows he exists because it is a priori and necessary for his experience of reality itself, he then knows he necessarily exists not within imagination but reality. This applies all the same to space-time itself.
To further illustrate and prove this point: definition of reality:

  • the quality or state of being real
  • a real event, entity, or state of affairs
Following this line of reasoning, synthetic a priori knowledge is not real, therefore it cannot be said to be necessary, as all that which is necessary for existence must necessarily exist within reality itself.

To further illustrate the internal contradiction of synthetic a priori with a syllogism:

  1. all a priori must be undeniable necessary facts of reality
  2. that which exists within the imagination or can be conceptualised in the mind is not an experience of objective reality. e.g. i can imagine a unicorn, that doesn't mean it necessarily exists in reality.
  3. something cannot be both imaginary and real. This is a contradiction of terms. Cinderella doesn't both exist and not exist within reality when i imagine her. That's a contradiction, a contradiction of existence vs. non existence.
  4. synthetic a priori knowledge does not exist within reality itself meaning it  cannot be a necessary fact of reality, therefore is not a priori.
  • This means synthetic a priori is internally contradictory, and therefore simply impossible.

The analytic a posteriori existence of self consciousness
“It would be absurd to found an analytic judgement on experience. Since, in forming the judgement, I must not go outside my concept, there is no need to appeal to the testimony of experience in its support”. (Kant, 1787)
In other words, an a posteriori proposition must be justified by experience, but an analytic judgements must be justified by virtue of the meaning of the terms they contains. Since we can know analytic truths without experiencing them in the world, all analytic truths must be a priori. In order to know something  analytically a posteriori would require the necessity of that thing to be inseparable from any experience of it, so that there can be no experience in which it is not known, and no prior to experience in which it is. There are several entities that satisfy this requirement,  one of which is self-consciousness, space-time. We know our need for consciousness from the fact that we need to be conscious to know our need for consciousness , so it is analytical. It is also impossible that we might know our own consciousness in the absence of experience of it, for only the experience of consciousness can be conscious of consciousness, so it is a posteriori. The experience itself—a posteriori—is what validates self-consciousness analytically. Through this finding, i overcome the pitfall which i have shown Kant falls into: Believing that which is imaginary is a priori.

The analytic a posteriori necessity of space-time
Space-time must necessarily be a priori (as it is present in all possible experiences). At the same time, we must experience time to know time. As Kant argued, space-time does not exist outside the self. This idea is paramount if his ideas for synthetic a priori were to be true. I have previously shown this philosophy to be a logical impossibility. Science has proven Kant wrong; the scientific method has demonstrated that time exists within reality itself. This is to be expected; it's impossible, after all, for something to be a priori while not existing within reality itself. Science itself proves this aspect of my philosophy correct.

  • There are many other examples of analytic a posteriori. I'm getting a bit tired of rattling on, so I will leave it at that in regards to analytic a posteriori. And simply move on to Hume's problem of induction.
Argument through patterns of necessity
The basic constituents of the universe behave in predictable ways according to the laws of nature. In principle, you can just as easily know their past paths as their future ones. The current position and momentum of a particle determine its movement forward into the next second, but they also determine how it was moving in the previous second. Neither is really a cause necessarily preceding an effect. There is just a pattern that particles follow, kind of like how the number after 12 is 13 and the number after 11 is 12. 12 doesn't cause 13 or 11. There is just a pattern traced out by those numbers. At a fundamental microscopic level, all we can say is that there are patterns between events at a fundamental microscopic level. The macroscopic human scale concept of cause and effect only emerges when you have larger collections of particles like humans. This suggests cause and effect may not exist, at least in the way humans like to think they do. But, like numbers, things that move in patterns do so due to some form of analytic a posteriori necessity.

  • Although I don't think I necessarily proved Hume wrong, I did give a strong alternative explanation which he wouldn't be able to prove wrong either.
  • I did prove Kant wrong. This is easily a top 5 philosophical discovery for me. This means the discussion was more than worthwhile.
  • I did get very lazy towards the end. I do have much more to say. It is very late here where I am and I need to go to bed soon. I've lost interest in saying much more for now. I definitely could of went deeper if i had the drive and the time.

The Facts of this debate:

  1. The opponent forfeited the second round.
  2. In his final round, the opponent abandoned his first argument entirely and created a brand new argument.
  3. Essentially, the opponent forfeited two of three rounds and never addressed my opening argument.
Conclusion: My opponent conceded every argument I made, conceded the first argument he made in round one, forfeited the second round and created a brand new argument in the final round, when closing statements are appropriate.

By my count, that's 2 concessions, 1 forfeiture and 1 breach of conduct.

I urge a vote for CON.