David Hume argues that matters of facts are not to be relied upon because of they are identified through the inductive reasoning which is an unreliable method unlike deductive reasoning. In this essay I will outline and analyse his arguments and reasoning for concluding this. I will also argue that whilst Popper’s attempt is admirable, he ultimately fails to successfully answer Hume’s challenge because he employs induction during this attempt, thus begging the question and falling into the circularity trap. This does not mean, however, that we are left with no reason to rely on science.
Hume’s argument for the radical conclusion that we cannot justify in matters of fact starts with the distinction he makes between matters of fact and relation of ideas as the only two sources of knowledge. Relations of ideas are derived from deductive reasoning and these truths are discoverable via operation of thought alone. Also to deny this knowledge results in contradiction. For example, it does not make sense to say that a basic triangle has more than three sides. Matters of fact are derived from inductive reasoning and these truths are discoverable through experience. Hume deems these truths are open to doubt because matters of fact are not logically certain. Denying a matter of fact will never entail a contradiction because they all depend on the relation between cause and effect and this is not a formal relation (deductive). No effect can be inferred from a cause alone and to deny the effect will never entail a contradiction. For example, water may have drowned a person but to deny it will drown next time is not contradictory, whereas to deny the next triangle will have three sides is. Hume reasons that as humans we understand matters of fact through cause and effect. He argues that we make an irrational connection between the two when in fact they are separate events. For example, I assume that a billiard ball that is hit it will hit another ball and that ball will move. Because I’ve experienced this I then assume it will happen every time, however, according to Hume that is just one possible option. But there is no necessity to the effect because there is no necessity to the cause and effect relation.
Hume argues that all our general scientific laws are based on the cause and effect relation and assume this relation will hold good into the future. However, he shows that it is unjustified for humans to base future predictions on matters of fact because they rely on an assumption that cannot be justified, namely that nature is uniform (the future will be like the past. For example, if I have only seen white swans; I will infer that therefore all swans must be white because I have only ever seen white swans. However, this clearly unjustified as black swans were later discovered.
Hume argues that humans make an illogical assumption and the fallacy of circularity in thinking that because something has happened in the past it will happen again and because matters of facts are derived from this illogical inference they are therefore unreliable.
An implication of Hume’s challenge is that science is irrational and dogmatic. Popper presents a reply to Hume by defending science as a rational and non-dogmatic discipline. He does this by drawing a distinction between two kinds of science, Pseudo-science and Real science. Popper develops his demarcation by defending an alternative to the inductive method which he agrees possesses all the characteristics afforded to it by Hume. He instead presents science as employing deductive reasoning (modus tollens) and nurturing a critical attitude. Popper argues that a real scientific theory is one that is not dogmatic (irrational, close-minded, resistant to change and seeking of verification) arguing instead the science is open to…