Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Humean metaphysics implies Cartesian epistemology

Let’s assume two theses:

  1. Humean view of causation.

  2. Mental causalism: mental activity requires some mental states to stand in causal relations.

If I accept these two theses, then I can a priori and with certainty infer a modest uniformity of nature thesis. Here’s why. On mental causalism, mental activity requires causation. On Humeanism, causation depends on the actual arrangement of matter. If the regularities found in my immediate vicinity do not extend to the universe as a whole, then they are no causal laws or causal relations. Thus, given causalism and Humeanism, I can infer a priori and with certainty from the obvious fact that I have mental states that there are regularities in the stuff that my mind is made of that extend universally. In other words, we get a Cartesian-type epistemological conclusion: I think, so there must be regularity.

In other words, Humean metaphysics of nature plus a causalist theory of mind implies a radically non-Humean epistemology of nature. The most plausible naturalist theories of mind all accept causalism. So, it seems, that a Humean metaphysics of nature plus naturalism—which is typically a part of contemporary Humean metaphysics—implies a radically non-Humean epistemology of nature.

So Humean metaphysics and epistemology don’t go together. So what? Why not just accept the metaphysics and reject the epistemology? The reason this is not acceptable is that the Cartesian thesis that the regularity of nature follows with certainty from what I know about myself is only plausible (if even then!) given Descartes’ theism.

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