Hume: Reasoning About Matters of Fact P1

(Next week I will consider a response from Hume)

In Hume’s work Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding he develops a well thought out and developed picture of what human understanding looks like. In this picture we can see that human understanding can only reason about two things; matters of fact and relations of ideas. Hume describes relations of ideas (ROI for short) as being like mathematical truths. These relations can be demonstrated and understood purely through thought and no physical objects would need to exist for any of these things to be true (truths about circles and triangles for example) and they are demonstrably true (if you were to imagine there contrary you could arrive at a contradiction). Next, there are the matters of fact which have contingent truth values. The nature of matters of fact implies that we cannot be as certain of them since we can always imagine the contradictory state of events (e.g. “the sun not rising tomorrow” and the contrary that “the sun will rise tomorrow”; both seem possible). Hume then reasons that we can only arrive at matters of fact by cause and effect reasoning. From here Hume doubts cause and effect which launches his whole skepticism.

It seems like the test he develops to distinguish between MOF and ROI isn’t sufficient enough to stop some apparent MOF from being ROI’s as well. This is my problem.

Hume’s Argument

Essentially, I see Hume’s reasoning to be as follows:

  1. If one had strong grounds for believing MOF to be true then one could establish the truth of MOF the same way one could establish the truth of ROI.
  2. It is not the case that one can establish the truth of MOF the same way one could establish the truth of ROI.
  3. Therefore, it is not the case that we have strong grounds for believing MOF to be true.

The argument is a very clear modus tollens argument so the validity is not in question. The problem with the argument is premise 2. Hume does not set up a good case for the truth of this premise and it has to do with the origins for his belief in premise 1. Let’s take a look at the justification for each premise.

Hume asserts the truth of premise 2 explicitly here “Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not established in the same way; and we cannot have such strong grounds for thinking them true.”(Hume 11) In this quote we actually have Hume asserting premise 2 and 3 in conjunction but it is important to see the deductive work being done in the very same paragraph that implies premise 1. Premise 1 is derived from a test that Hume does that I call the imaginability-of-contraries (IOC for short) test. The test says that if one can imagine the contrary of a statement without implying a contradiction and can do it as easily and clearly as if it conformed to reality then that statement does not have a strong and reliable ground for its truth. Hume’s example involves whether the sun will rise tomorrow or not. One can easily imagine either one and not violate the two conditions set out by IOC test. I assume, because of the quote above, that this test is also Hume’s distinguishing factor between the MOF and ROI since it seems that ROI do not pass the IOC test. One, for example, cannot imagine the four sided triangle or the triangle whose sum of all its angles adds up to more than 180 degrees without implying a contradiction. When one asserts “the sun will not rise tomorrow” they assert something that passes the IOC test since it doesn’t imply a contradiction and one can easily imagine it and it would be clear as if it could conform with reality. This is where I believe Hume is fundamentally flawed.

The IOC Examined (My Argument)

            Mathematical truths fail the IOC because they are definitions of what it is to be a certain thing. Conducting the test is like me asking you to imagine the contrary of any arbitrary definition; obviously any contrary statement would imply a contradiction if that statement is the definition of something. Let’s say shadows are by definition the dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface. Imagine a non-dark shadow (a well-lit shadow) it is implies a contradiction. Let’s say, by definition, for a star to be the Sun then it needs to be a star exactly 92,960,000 miles away from earth, the earth needs to be revolving around it at exactly 1 revolution per 365 days, etc. (add any other physical facts that define our sun distinctly from all other stars) and have part of the definition be that it will “rise” tomorrow (or more accurately that we continue to revolve around it) then by definition the sun will rise tomorrow. Now I cannot assert the statement “the sun will not rise tomorrow” without implying a contradiction. If I tried to assert that some sun was not to rise tomorrow it would be nonsense, we wouldn’t even be talking about the same object since that’s what it is to be the sun.

What about the second half of the test involving the imaginability of contraries? Doesn’t this say something about the sun since the numerically identical star to our sun can perhaps stop being our center point of revolution thus making our imagining the contrary of “the sun will rise tomorrow” seem plausible even given the definition of sun? It is true that this seems different from the triangle since one cannot imagine a four sided triangle in any sense at all. I would then implore the questioner to look at the shadow and try to imagine a light shadow. Not a relatively light shadow, I mean a shadow of light. This is simply impossible since the definition of shadow is not like the sun. The definition of shadow does more than point out what it is to be something at a given time in a given set of circumstances (like the star who is only our sun when we are revolving around it) but it truly defines what it is for a thing to be that thing. Shadows are an area of non-light (lack of light) and thus one cannot imagine the contrary for shadow. It seems plausible that one cannot talk about the contrary of shadow without talking about a completely different object. Thus we have a matter of fact, namely the definition of shadows, which fails the IOC test.


This article will examine two arguments. One argument is for Animalism and one is against.

Animalism:Animalism, according to Olson, is the belief that all people are numerically identical to some animal. For each person there is a unique human organism and that organism is you. (Also, this animalism doesn’t say you are essentially an animal).

Brain-Transplant Argument

            Imagine a scenario where the cerebrum in your head is transplanted to another body. It seems plausible that you would perhaps go along with your cerebrum and now be in that other body. The being that receives your cerebrum will alone be mentally continuous with you (in any relevant sense of mental continuity) so you will not stay behind with an empty head but instead go along with your cerebrum. It seems that there is a human animal now lying behind with an empty head and another human animal with which you identify.  With the story above in mind the argument would look like this:

  1. I can be separated from my human animal.
  2. No human animal can be separated from itself.
  3. Thus, by Leibniz’s law I am not a human animal.

The argument is deductively valid so to reject the conclusion one must reject one of the premises. It is my belief that Olson would probably reject premise 1. Premise 1 only holds true by the principle of mental continuity which I believe Olson would reject, even though it is not explicitly stated by Olson that this is the premise he would reject.

The Thinking Animal Argument

            This argument is based on a few acute observations: we are intimately related to some human animal, it is located where you are located (for example sitting in the same chair you are sitting in), and it seems reasonable to believe that this animal can think. From these observations we receive the following:

  1. There exists an X such that X is a human animal and X is located where you are.
  2. For all X if X is located where you are and X is a human animal the X is thinking.
  3. For all X if X is located where you are and X is thinking then X is numerically identical to you.
  4. Thus, there exists and X such that X is a human animal and X is numerically identical to you.

This argument is likewise deductively valid. So again to reject the conclusion we must reject one the premises. Part of Olson’s argument is to do exactly that. Olson walks through what would happen if you were to reject any of the three premises.

Alternative one is to reject premise A. If you reject that there is a human animal located exactly where you are at this moment then you are rejecting the existence of all human animals. If you reject that fact that human animals exist it may be hard to believe in any organism’s existence. So Olson would believe that for most of us this alternative may not seem attractive.

Alternative two is to reject premise B. If you reject premise 2 then you are accepting that human animals cannot think. It is akin to saying that there is a human animal located where you are but it isn’t thinking. This, once again, would call into question the mental properties of all organisms. Rejecting this premise may lead you to believe that no material thing can think which would be difficult to prove. Thus, some of us may not want to conclude that organisms and material things cannot think.

Alternative three is to reject premise C. If you reject this premise then you are not alone. There would be a human animal thinking all of your thoughts located exactly where you are. This is the least attractive route. I believe the creepiness alone would lead us to reject this but there are other issues as well. Of the many problems we can say that the metaphysical distinction would be almost useless to make. It wouldn’t be practical in any given situation. It would also seem impossible to understand which one you are. Are you the animal or the mind thinking all the same thoughts as the animal? Would you ever know?

Because of the alternatives above we are led to believe that the thinking-animal argument is also sound. It seems that rejecting any of the premises would result in some strange and perhaps absurd results. But, we shall still evaluate both the thinking-animal argument and the brain-transplant argument by trying to deny a premise boldly.


First, let us evaluate the brain-transplant argument. It seems at first obvious that premise 2 is indisputable (no human animal can be separated from itself) since no object can be separated from itself (essentially).  So, premise 1 seems like the only reasonable premise to refuse. Now this has interesting results either way. Let’s assume you cannot be separated from your body, that is to say, you wouldn’t go along with your cerebrum. This is plausible and we would all accept this to be a different person. Let’s say you do go along with the cerebrum (in a mental continuous sense) but you reject the fact that you are the same person. This only seems plausible if you consider a case where you receive a significantly different body. If you were to receive a body that was lacking in abilities that the other body had you might be tempted to say that by Leibniz’s law you are a different person since there is something true of you now that was false of you previously. But, perhaps it is as C.S. Lewis says “You are a soul, you have a body,” and your mind (cerebrum) can just “possess” different bodies that aren’t essentially you so Leibniz’s law would not hold. To reject this possession way of thinking one must reject mental continuity. I do not have an opinion on mental continuity but mental continuity seems more plausible to me so I am tempted to say this argument is sound. Verily, both alternatives seem plausible.

When evaluating Olson’s thinking animal argument we are left with a much more difficult task. Olson does you the favor of considering all your alternatives for you which seems to narrow things down quickly but, also makes you feel ridiculous for rejecting any of the premises. Personally, I think the only premise one can reject while remaining rational and consistent would be premise B. As we discussed, Olson asserts that this leads you to the belief that human animals cannot think. Now, this might sound ridiculous to some but if you are a dualist and consider the mind separate from the human animal then perhaps this premise isn’t so hard to negate. Referring to the C.S. Lewis quote above, some dualist would say that it is obvious that human animals don’t think, souls think.  Since, as I mentioned earlier, Olson’s animalism doesn’t commit you to being essentially an animal. So, we can say that we are essentially a mind, a ghost in the machine, a soul, what have you, and then conclude there is a thinking thing and an animal located where we are located and we are that animal, (not essentially the animal though), yet it is not the case that the animals is thinking. But, we are still the thinking animal.


I am undecided on the matter. But I do believe it is possible for souls to exist so I would lean toward that counterargument against the thinking-animal argument.

Citation: In R. Martin and J. Barresi, eds., Personal Identity, Blackwell 2003: 318-34.

Berkeley Part 2: Berkeley’s Possible Response

Possible Berkeleyan Response

            I believe that Berkeley may have an underlying principle that would help support his ontology. In sections 5 through 6 Berkeley gives us a test we can’t seem to pass, the test being, abstract the principle of being perceived from the object.  So for example Berkeley demonstrates that he himself can abstract something if what is meant by abstraction is imagining some thing’s existence apart from those things that it exists in combination with. For example, Berkeley says we can imagine a torso without the arms or the smell of rose without the rose even if we have never experienced this. But, we cannot separate the perceptibility of the object from the object. If we try we are left with no object at all. This why Berkeley believes there is a necessary connection to the things being perceived and it being. Thus it would render many of my question-begging objections false since he is merely describing objects the way the way they seem to exist; inseparable from their being perceived (and in a demonstrable way by the example of abstraction).


            I don’t believe this a very sound objection to there being no physical objects. Berkeley may put me in an agnostic state toward matter but I don’t believe he can prove that matter doesn’t exist. I say this because the abstraction example above, while powerful, seems to be true even if matter does exist. The logically consistent story we would give back to Berkeley would be that of a Humean nature (where one cannot imagine anything unperceived). If matter exists and we can perceive it, and we cannot conceive of anything we haven’t perceived, then we just have a strong connection between ideas and things sensed. Imagine something you haven’t perceived (and isn’t just an adding or subtracting or composition of ideas and so on…). You can’t. So of course you can’t abstract the perceptible qualities from the object of thought. If perceiving is a necessary condition for having the idea of something then we could never have this non-sense of abstracting perceptible qualities from a thing.

Philosophy and the Real World: Leadership Class

So my partner so brilliantly wrote a piece Studying Philosophy, Getting a Job, and Saving the World. Which is ever so fitting for the question of what is a philosophy supposed to do to make some money in this world. I however am the philosopher that has spent time in a number of other fields. Some of these have been more conducive to philosophy than others. My current position is an Executive Director of Tri-County Love INC, a nonprofit that works with churches to help people in need.

My role puts me as a community leader in my small town and I regularly participate in leadership type activities. One particular leadership class caught my attention, because it was free for my wife and I, and it provided lunch and dinner.

One particular topic found our curriculum caught me off guard with my philosophical training. Granted in the field of leadership development, is a very progressive field and not as rigorous as analytic philosophy. The discussion of conflicts categorized them into relationship conflicts, data conflicts, interest conflicts, structural conflicts and value conflicts. The last is the one of most interest.

The curriculum defined value conflicts as “caused by perceived or actual incompatible belief systems.” Personally, I think the definition needs more, but I can agree with it for the class. However, a few sentences later we run across this problem. “Value disputes arise only when people attempt to force one set of values on others or lay claim to exclusive value systems that do not allow for divergent beliefs.”

Really… Did I just read that. No doubt they missed that the very statement written is a value statement. In our politically correct, want to offend no one culture, this statement is taken as a truth. It is likely the one absolute truth in the whole class.

Another quote to show the absurdity of this paragraph, “Differing values need not cause conflict.” This can only be true if we accept that harmony with others is a more important value than our current beliefs. However, there are some values that are actually of greater importance than harmony: justice, honesty and courage.

In a nutshell, what can I say that my background in philosophy has done? It gave me tools to critique information presented as truth, by understanding and finding the logical inconsistencies.