Friday, December 28, 2007

One thing I have learned from Hume

I have learned at least one very valuable thing from Hume: there is no real metaphysical problem in dualist mind-body causation or in temporally backwards causation.

This is a surprising thing to take from Hume, given that Hume does find dualist mind-body causation troublesome and his account of causation makes temporally backwards causation incoherent. But here is my line of reasoning.

We learn from the Inquiry that what intuitively seem the least problematic cases of causation, namely kinematic interaction between solid objects in contact with each other, are as mysterious as cases of causation that we might intuitively find more surprising, like action at a distance. Leibniz thought there was something deeply odd about gravitational action at a distance--it was as if there was a "mutual love, as if matter had senses"[note 1]. But on Hume's analysis, the puzzlement by someone like Leibniz about action at a distance and the lack of puzzlement about mechanistic interaction is simply due to our being overly familiar with mechanistic interaction. However, if we engage in some mental estrangement from the mechanistic interaction, we realize it is just as mysterious as action at a distance.

Likewise, I think mind-body causation and backwards causation are strange, but they are no more mysterious than mechanistic interaction. Since we should not reject mechanistic interaction (unlike Hume, I am willing to take it at face value), neither should we reject the possibilities of the former.

Granted, puzzlement at mind-body causation or backwards causation is not the only argument against these. But it is psychologically the most powerful. The only other form of argument against these is something like this: "On account A of causation, mind-body causation or backwards causation is impossible. Account A is true. Hence, mind-body causation or backwards causation is impossible." But we learn from Hume's valiant failed attempt at a regularity account of causation just how hard it is to come up with an account of causation. In fact, I think all accounts of causation that do not simply take causation to be primitive fail. And accounts of causation that do take causation to be primitive have no special difficulty about mind-body causation or backwards causation.


Enigman said...

Hi, I tend to agree but my (admittedly unsophisticated) intuition is that things (of any sort) can't cause things that have already happened; perhaps because things that have already happened don't stand in need of being caused ...

Even if some A were to depend (in some way) upon some B in its future, would A not have been caused by whatever predetermined B (that predetermination following from the past being fixed, and A being dependent upon B)?

Alexander R Pruss said...

But what does it mean that the past is fixed and the future is not? For some people it means that we need to give up on classical logic. For others it just means that we can cause future events but not past ones. The first option is unattractive; the second begs the question against those who allow backwards causation.