My favorite Christmas present this year was one of several from Diane, love of my life.
The one I have in mind was a book both of substantive philosophy and of the history of philosophy written by Galen Strawson, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin. The Secret Connexion: Causation, Realism, and David Hume (2014). The first edition of the book came out a quarter century ago, this second edition, judging from all the post-1989 references, is the product of a good deal of additional toil. And to answer an obvious question: no, it wasn't Diane's idea to buy this for me, but I am grateful she accepted my prodding in this direction with good grace.
Strawson's historical point is that David Hume is often misunderstood on the issue of causation. He is seen as having denied that there is any such thing as Causation (capital "C"), allowing only a sort of lower-case causation. There is, in his opinion as generally understood, no force in the world of events and objects by virtue of which some events regularly produce other events, inclusive of impacts upon the human senses. That would be Causation. Rather, there is only the bare fact of regularity of succession, the lower-case "causation."
That standard understanding of Hume is, Strawson says, quite mistaken. It is the work of subsequent positivists fishing about for an ancestor. Hume did believe in Causation, he just didn't believe that humans understand or ever will be able to understand it. His epistemological point is mistaken for a metaphysical/ontological point.
Hume said for example that we humans "are ignorant of those powers and forces on which [the] regular course and succession of objects totally depends." It doesn't follow that there are no such powers or forces. Indeed, if there weren't, it wouldn't make any sense to bemoan our "ignorance" thereof, as Hume plainly does. So he presumes what he is often thought to have denied.
Strawson also contends that Hum was more-or-less right in all of this -- right to believe in Causation as something to which we can at least make vague reference, and right to contend that we can know very little about it, though our acquaintance with lower-case causation may confuse us into believing otherwise. This is the philosophical point, beyond the historical argument.
I hope to examine Strawson's case in more detail in each of my next two blog entries. Tomorrow the substantive philosophical argument, Saturday the historical question of what to think about Hume.