David Hume What Came First: The Chicken or the Egg? David Hume moves through a logical progression of the ideas behind cause and effect. He critically analyzes the reasons behind those generally accepted ideas. Though the relation of cause and effect seems to be completely logical and based on common sense, he discusses our impressions and ideas and why they are believed. Hume’s progression, starting with his initial definition of cause, to his final conclusion in his doctrine on causality. As a result, it proves how Hume’s argument on causality follows the same path as his epistemology, with the two ideas complimenting each other so that it is rationally impossible to accept the epistemology and not accept his argument on causality. Hume starts by explaining definitions of causes and characteristics that make up the popular definition of cause.
Contiguity is the idea that things go together, or are results of each other. Whatever objects operate together as causes and effects are seen as contiguous.There are chains of causes that lead to every effect, whether or not they can be discovered they are presumed to exist. As Hume puts it, “Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other” (160). Along with contiguity is the concept of succession.
The cause must precede the effect. An object can be contiguous and occur prior to another without being its cause, a necessary connection between the two must be established.The relation of cause to effect does not depend on the known qualities of objects, but instead on the ideas of contiguity and succession, which are imperfect. Hume refutes the definition of cause as something productive of another, because cause and production are synonymous, and therefore one definition using the other is circular. Hume questions why it is necessary that everything whose existence has a beginning, should also have a cause. He also questions why particular causes must have such particular effects, and why is an inference drawn from one to the other. The statement that whatever has a beginning has also a cause of existence is not implied by any of the relations of resemblance, proportions in quantity and number, degrees of any quality, or contrariety; therefore, it is not able to be refutable using reason.
Using that logic states that everything that exists must have a beginning, thus needing a cause. If it didn’t have a cause then it would have had to produce itself, and that logic would mean that it had to exist before it existed. That argument contradicts itself, because it uses itself as a cause for existence in its premise, when it is proving the concept of cause being a necessity. Therefore, it begs the question to prove cause and effect by relying on the conclusion to prove the premise. The ideas of cause and effect cannot vary too far from actual impressions of the mind or ideas from the memory.
We must first establish the existence of causes before we can infer effects from them.We have only two ways of doing that, either by an immediate perception of our memory or senses, called impressions, or, by an inference from other causes, called thoughts. For example, “A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island would conclude that there had once been men in that island” (160). Regardless of the source of the impression, the imagination and perceptions of the senses are the foundation for the reasoning that traces the relation of cause and effect. The inference that we draw from cause to effect does not come from a dependence on the two concepts to each other or from a rational objective look at the two. One object does not imply the existence of any other.
All distinct ideas are separable, as are the ideas of cause and effect. The only way that we can infer the existence of one object from another is through experience. Contiguity and succession are not sufficient to make us pronounce any two objects to be cause and effect, unless we perceive, that these two relations are preserved in several circumstances. Instances of which we have had no experience, must resemble those, of which we have had experience. “Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them.
It is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard toa particular event” (162).There is a transition from impression to idea, with the necessary connection possibly depending on the inference, instead of the inference depending on the necessary connection. The only connection or relation of objects, which can lead us beyond the immediate impressions of our memory and senses, is that of cause and effect, because we can base one inference from an object to another. The idea of cause and effect comes from past experience that informs us that some particular objects are conjoined with each other.
There is, however, debate over whether a necessary connection exists between cause and effect. If cause and effect are connected, there must be a reason, or necessity for their connection.All of our ideas are formed from impressions, therefore there must be an impression that forms the idea of necessity, if there really is such an idea. The idea of necessity lies between cause and effect, therefore that is where the focus must turn. When two objects are presented before us, one cause the other effect, no tie will ever be perceived uniting the two. All ideas are founded in impressions.
The necessary connection between causes and effects is the foundation of the inference from one to the other.Nevertheless, necessity only exists in the mind, not in physical material objects. “All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning” (164). The idea of the connection arises from the repetition of their union. That repetition doesn’t change anything in the objects, or make them relate to each other, it only affects the mind. “Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses …