Saturday, 17 May 2014

David Hume sets the agenda


John Heil in an interview in 3am:The Universe as we find it
JH: Substances, not properties, have powers. Objects do what they do because they are what they are (and their circumstances are what they are, a qualification I shall henceforth omit for ease of exposition). The tomato rolls, makes a circular concave impression in the carpet, looks spherical, feels spherical because it is spherical. The tomato’s sphericality is a quality, and it is by virtue of possessing this quality that the ball does or would do what it does. If the ball’s sphericality is a property of the ball, this property is a powerful quality.
Most of us are trained to start with Humeanism and adjust. Humeanism is the default. You need a good reason move from a default position. If you start with the idea that properties are qualities, and that objects do what they do because they are governed by laws of nature, the addition of powers will seem gratuitous. We have laws. Laws explain why objects behave as they do. Who needs powers?

A.E. Taylor likewise finds David Hume a sort of point from which the modern begins to qualify from. Like the Irish Labour Party a few years ago after losing a multitude of seats – 'we may have lost but we set the agenda'. In philosophy however setting the agenda is a sort of victory.

When we ask how, if a " thing" is merely the series or sum of its attributes, and possesses no underlying unity to which the attributes belong, the whole of our ordinary language about things comes to be constructed on the contrary assumption, how it is that we always talk and think as if every " bundle " of attributes were owned by something of which we can say that it has the quality, we are met by the phenomenalist with a reference to Psychology. Owing to the fact, which Phenomenalism and Associationism are content to accept as ultimate, that sensible qualities are always presented to our perception in definite groups, it is argued that the thought of any one member of such a group is enough to revive by association the thought of the other qualities which have regularly been presented simultaneously with itself or in immediate succession to it. Hence, because thus associated in our perception, the group comes naturally, though illegitimately, by one of those mental fictions of which Hume treats so fully, to be thought of as one, though it is actually a discrete multiplicity. The unity of the thing thus lies not in itself, but solely in our way of perceiving and thinking.
(from Elements of Metaphysics)



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