Hume's principle


  • João Paulo Monteiro Universidade de Lisboa



Hume's project aimed at the discovery of the principles of human nature, and among these the most important in most respects is not association of ideas, but the one he calls "custom or habil." But what is the real nature of Hume's principle? It would be philosophically naïve to decide that Hume's concept of habit simply reproduces the dominant conception. In the latter the main element is time, and the possibility of habit depending only on repetition is absent in the tradition, from Aristotle to Berkeley. When Hume proposes to explain causal inference by habit, he uses this word as tantamount to the old principle of induction by simple enumeration, which may depend only on repetition, the element of time being reduced to the strict minimum necessary for the repetition to occur. Hume's principle of causal knowledge is really a new principle, not the old "psycho logical" tendency called custom or habit, and his attempt tacitly was to change the very essence of the concept envolved.