Dialogue

Articles

The Powers That Be

E. H. Maddena1 and P. H. Harea1

a1 State University of New York at Buffalo

The Humean tradition claims to show that the direct perception of causal power is in principle impossible. One argument for this conclusion is very simple: One cannot perceive what is not there; ‘causal power’ entails ‘necessary connection’; there are no necessary connections between matters of fact; therefore one cannot perceive causal power. The heart of this argument, of course, and the backbone of the Humean tradition, is that there are no necessary connections between matters of fact. This contention is supported by the familiar Humean dialectic. If there were a necessary connection of any kind between C and E, then the conjunction of C · ˜ E would be self-contradictory. However, all events are complete in themselves and never alone require that any other event will or must result from them. It is very strange to think of water freezing when heated or air pressure decreasing with depth, but no matter how foreign these conceptions may seem there is nothing self-contradictory about them. Since the assertion of C · ˜ E is never self-contradictory, it follows that there can be no necessary connection, logical or “causal”, between them, and hence there is no causal power that we could directly perceive.

(Online publication March 1971)