Frederick F. Schmitt offers a systematic interpretation of David Humes epistemology, as it is presented in the indispensable A Treatise of Human Nature. Humes text alternately manifests scepticism, empiricism, and naturalism in epistemology. Interpretations of his epistemology have tended to emphasise one of these apparently conflicting positions over the others. But Schmitt argues that the positions can be reconciled by tracing them to a single underlyingepistemology of knowledge and probability quietly at work in the text, an epistemology according to which truth is the chief cognitive merit of a belief, and knowledge and probable belief are species of reliable belief. Hume adopts Lockes dichotomy between knowledge and probability and reassigns causalinference from its traditional place in knowledge to the domain of probability--his most significant departure from earlier accounts of cognition. This shift of causal inference to an associative and imaginative operation raises doubts about the merit of causal inference, suggesting the counterintuitive consequence that causal inference is wholly inferior to knowledge-producing demonstration. To defend his associationist psychology of causal inference from this suggestion, Hume must favourablycompare causal inference with demonstration in a manner compatible with associationism. He does this by finding an epistemic status shared by demonstrative knowledge and causally inferred beliefs--the status of justified belief. On the interpretation developed here, he identifies knowledge withinfallible belief and justified belief with reliable belief, i.e., belief produced by truth-conducive belief-forming operations. Since infallibility implies reliable belief, knowledge implies justified belief. He then argues that causally inferred beliefs are reliable, so share this status with knowledge. Indeed Hume assumes that causally inferred beliefs enjoy this status in his very argument for associationism. On the reliability interpretation, Humes accounts of knowledge and justifiedbelief are part of a broader veritistic epistemology making true belief the chief epistemic value and goal of science. The veritistic interpretation advanced here contrasts with interpretations on which the chief epistemic value of belief is its empirical adequacy, stability, or fulfilment of a naturalfunction, as well as with the suggestion that the chief value of belief is its utility for common life. Veritistic interpretations are offered of the natural function of belief, the rules of causal inference, scepticism about body and matter, and the criteria of justification. As Schmitt shows, there is much attention to Humes sources in Locke and to the complexities of his epistemic vocabulary.
- Publication Date:
- 30 / 01 / 2014