Friday, April 3, 2020

Humeans should be (Kenneth-)Pearceans

I have long thought that Humeanism leads to strong inductive scepticism about the future—the thesis that typical inductive generalizations about the future aren’t even more likely than not—roughly because there are a lot more induction-unfriendly worlds with our world’s history than induction-friendly ones.

But this argument assumes that there isn’t some extra-systemic explanation of why we have an induction-friendly physical reality. If there is, then the mere counting of worlds does nothing. Now, standard theism provides such an extra-systemic explanation. But standard theism is incompatible with Humeanism, because God-to-world causation is incompatible with the Humean understanding of causation.

However, it’s occurred to me today that there is a non-standard theism that could furnish the Humean with an escape: Kenneth Pearce has advocated a theism on which God explains the contingent world in a non-causal way.

I don’t know of another option for the Humean in the literature. I know of three candidates for extra-systemic explanations of physical reality:

  1. there isn’t one

  2. there is one, and it’s theistic

  3. there is one, and it’s necessitarian (e.g., Optimalism).

The Humean can’t take the necessitarian way out, because Humeanism is strongly opposed to such necessities. The first option leads to inductive scepticism. That leaves 2. But Humeans cannot accept causal theism. So that leaves them non-causal theism.


Atno said...

An alternative would be non-theistic design. Maybe 1) there is a multiverse, 2) with a sufficiently advanced alien civilization that has the power to form bubble universes and select for good laws.

1 is required to avoid regress ("how could alien civilizations exist?"), and 2 avoids problems with entropy/Boltzmann galaxies for us, that is, why our universe is orderly throughout, instead of just being life-permitting.

(It is a weird hypothesis, however. And I'm not sure it avoids all the problems with entropy and (in this case) inductive chaos. If there are enough universes for there to be an alien civilization, presumably there should be many Boltzmann universes and universes with inductive chaos. So assuming we are standard observers we might still face problems)

Atno said...

Unless the aliens create such a large number of orderly universes to the point where standard observers shouldn't be surprised they aren't in a chaotic world.

That makes the hypothesis weirder and more complex, though.

Alexander R Pruss said...


On a Humean story, the only way the aliens could enact laws would be by making use of meta-lawlike regularities. But the problem of induction comes back at the level of possible multiverses with different meta-lawlike regularities.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On reflection, I was wrong. The Humean can't take the Pearcean way out, either, for exactly the same reason that the Humean cannot take the Optimalist way out. The problem with Optimalism is that it required a large dollop of non-analytic non-mathematical necessity, and so does theism (since theism only helps with the problem if it is *necessary* that God exists).

Kenny Pearce said...

A lot depends here on how broadly we're understanding 'Humeanism'. If all we mean is Humeanism (i.e., descriptivism) about causation, then I think the Humean can endorse my view, and can also endorse optimalism, and should endorse one or the other of these views for precisely the reason you give. But I employ a lot of anti-Humean deep metaphysics (most notably: grounding). So if we're thinking of the Humean program more broadly (not just about causation), then your second thoughts are pretty clearly correct. You're going to need some anti-Humean machinery somewhere in order for there to be any kind of 'extra-systematic' explanation of anything. After all (as Hume emphasizes in the Dialogues) in order for God to explain anything in Hume's framework there would need to be observed regularities about divine action.