Friday, September 04, 2009

*Or can one?
This statement provokes a light hearted philosophical reverie in me as I am sitting under my flambuoyant tree, gazing at the pomegranates which are ripening; enjoying my breakfast papaya and trying out the new Djenne Djenno lemon marmelade.
I remember my old friend and mentor Princess Lulie and her fascination with the philosopher David Hume’s dictum that nothing is certain and nothing can be proved (see blog April 21 2007).
I remember enchanted evenings sitting in her Chelsea conservatory discussing this idea, always amid a lot of laughter. Lulie always repeated what Hume said: although it is probable that the sun will rise tomorrow, it is not possible to prove that it will. John W. said that the only field where certainties existed was within mathematics. Sanjay T. refuted even this and maintained that the only things that can be stated with certainty from a philosophical point of view are statements such as: ‘All Bachelors are Unmarried.’
I now call upon any philosophical friends who may be reading this blog: George, for instance, are you there?
How about a statement such as: ‘It is a Certainty that Things Will Change’?
I have an inkling what the philosophers in Pricess Lulie’s conservatory would have said: ‘ It is like the Orange, Sophie. It is probable that it will fall if you drop it. It is highly probable that Things will Change, but it cannot be proven’. Is this what they would have said George?


Blogger David Damant said...

Fram David Damant

It would be better, when studying Hume, and in general, to start with the question whether propositions are meaningful, rather than certain.

Hume was quite clear

"If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask -

Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity of number? [ DD's comment - this would include of course mathematics and tautologies] - No.

Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? [ This would include of course most science] - No.

Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion"

This was taken up by A J Ayer in his brilliant book "Language, Truth and Logic". The difficulty is that if we take in our hand either Hume's proposition or Ayer's book, neither passes either of the two tests of meaning which they propound. I once asked Ayer about this over dinner and he said that, in his heart, he really still believed in his and Hume's approach. "But" I said," you are therefore just as bad as all the metaphysicians and theologians you have been criticising all these years"...."Yes," he replied with glee "I am !!"

As for the sun rising, or more generally in the search for certainty, the problem of induction has never been solved. But for practical purposes the natural sciences have proved reliable enough for induction to be an acceptable working hypothesis. If there is a dramatic law of nature working up to a sudden and dramatic collapse of the universe, we have seen no sign of it.

5:03 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Good Heavens, David Damant! I remember well your learned and interesting talk about German wines chez moi such a long time ago!
Thank you very much for your fascinating comment. Yes, so indeed both John W and Sanjay T were right in a way then, even from Hume's point of view...
All the best,

8:25 PM  

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