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Aristotle and Rand vs Hume: Causation and Induction

Ayn Rand and many scholars blame Kant for killing the Enlightenment.  Kant is the founder of what I call the Germany anti-Enlightenment movement.  It seems to me that David Hume may be as responsible for killing the Enlightenment or more so than Kant partly because his arguments are more understandable.  Hume is part of what I call the Scottish anti-Enlightenment.  Francis Hutcheson is usually considered the father of the Scottish anti-Enlightenment, but Hume is its most powerful advocate.

Hume provides three arguments that attack the core of the Enlightenment:

1) His skepticism of causation

2) His skepticism of induction

3) His “is-ought” attack on ethics.

Rand concentrated her attention on the third problem.  She explained, “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.”

The first two arguments are actually interrelated for Hume.  He was grappling with the problem that for deductive syllogisms to be true the premise statements must be true, but how do we arrive at the premise concepts?  The classical example is:


All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.


For Hume this syllogism raises the issue of how do we know that all men are mortal?  We have not met all men and all men who have lived have not died and how do we know that the future will be like the past?  Hume realized that all abstract statements, indeed all concepts must be start with humeindividual perceptions or instances, unless god or someone gives us a tablet with all the abstractions.  But how do we go from particular instances to an abstraction?  For example, all the people I know are mortal, to “all men are mortal”?  This is a question of induction and Hume realized for induction to be true, we must assume that cause and effect exists and is knowable.  However Hume did not see any justification for our confidence that cause and effect exists or is knowable.  Hume saw cause and effect as a physiological pattern recognition that at best has a probabilistic certainty.  Thus to Hume his skepticism about induction and causal relationships are intimately interconnected.

Hume ignores the law of identity in his arguments, which is at least in part how I think Rand and Aristotle would respond to Hume.  A thing is what it is and therefore it has certain properties.  If a thing changes then we know that something caused it to change.  Otherwise it would violate the law of identity.  Perhaps Hume’s response would be to attack the law of identity, however this would be an extraordinary claim and therefore require extraordinary evidence.[1]

Hume illustrates his ideas on the lack of causality with billiard balls.  This is how Wikipedia explains it:

For example, when one thinks of “a billiard ball moving in a straight line toward another”, one can conceive that the first ball bounces back with the second ball remaining at rest, the first ball stops and the second ball moves, or the first ball jumps over the second, etc. There is no reason to conclude any of these possibilities over the others.

This example shows that Hume is ignoring the law of identity.[2]  For instance, the first ball cannot jump over the second ball without violating the law of identity.[3]  Billiard balls do not jump for no reason.  The same is true of the first ball bouncing back and the second ball staying in place.  A billiard ball when struck moves.

A famous example to illustrate Hume’s attack on induction is the black swan scenario.  In this scenario you observe one hundred swans and they are all white.  Thus you infer (induction) that all swans are white.  The next day you see a black swan.  This is essentially what Hume thinks scientists are doing.  Hume is making this argument about 50 years after Isaac Newton’s Principia.  I think this shows that Hume had an agenda to attack the Enlightenment.  Newton’s laws of mechanics and gravity had overwhelming shown the power of science and reason and therefore induction, but Hume chose to reject them.  Hume did not even come close to meeting his burden of proof in this argument.

The swan example shows another flaw in Hume’s argument.  Hume has made an inference based on an accidental cause.  I consider this and intellectual dishonest argument.  Eggs are white, clouds are white, paper is white, some flowers are white, and so are some other birds.  Drawing the conclusion that all swans are white is to focus on an accidental cause of relations, Aristotle would point out.  Most humans are within a certain height range, but that would be no reason to define humans as being above 4.5 feet or below 6.5 feet.  Hume in this example ignores what is an important or causal feature of swans for a trivial feature.  This is worthy of a side show magician not serious philosophy or science.  His excuse would be that there is no causation.


Perfect knowledge.

This is another error that people who argue along the lines of Hume make.  An example of this argument was used to attack Newton’s ideas on gravity.  People argued that Newton had failed to explain why masses have gravity or how gravity works at a distance and therefore they rejected all of Newton’s ideas on gravity.  The criticism is fair, but the conclusion is not.  In fact, Newton acknowledged this was a problem, but that did not mean that he had not contributed enormously to the understanding of gravity.


The perfect knowledge argument is that if you do not know everything with perfect precision, then you do not anything.  The only way to you can meet this definition of knowledge is to be omniscient, which is metaphysically impossible.  Thus they setup a false argument by setting a standard for knowledge that can never be met.

Rand’s response would be that perfect knowledge proponents are using the wrong definition of knowledge.

“Knowledge” is . . . a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation.[4]

A related attack on knowledge is to ignore its context and then show it does not work outside of that context.

Knowledge is contextual . . . By “context” we mean the sum of cognitive elements conditioning the acquisition, validity or application of any item of human knowledge.[5]

In the case of Newton his mechanics are correct within the context in which the knowledge was developed.  There are areas (context) where Newtonian mechanics is not correct.  All this proves is that Newton was not omniscient, not that “he got it all wrong.”


Probabilistic knowledge

One of the proposed solutions to Hume and suggested by Hume himself is that knowledge is probabilistic.[6]  Karl Popper is probably the best known advocate of this idea.  This idea as applied to the black swan case above would be that the more swans we see the more certain we are that all swans are white, however we never know for sure.  Thus we never know anything and scientific theories are never true, they have just not been proven incorrect yet.

This idea has become quite popular in the scientific community.  However, probabilistic knowledge ignores the law of identity.  Probability is built on the law of identity.[7]  Probability theory was developed to understand the odds in games of chance.  For instance, what is the probability that a die when rolled will land on a six.  If we rolled a die and the position of the numbers could change without cause {that is the die could violate the law of identity) then probability theory would not work.  In order to determine the probability of the die being six when rolled we determine all the possible outcomes (law of identity) and then we determined how many of these are a six.  Probability also does not defy causation, it assumes that we do not know the initial conditions and the initial conditions are random.  If we know the initial conditions then we can use Newtonian mechanics to determine exactly which number will appear on the die when we roll it.

Now some people will counter that is not true since we don’t know if a fly will land on the die or an asteroid will land on us just as the die is thrown.  This is context dropping of knowledge and this was discussed above.

The probabilistic hypothesis of knowledge shows a lack of understanding of the law of identity.


Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

David Hume is still highly influential today.  For instance, his “is-ought” argument underpins the moral and cultural relativism arguments of today.  His attack on causality shows up in Karl Popper’s ideas that knowledge is probabilistic and we can never know anything.  This leads to today’s modern cynicism.  It also is the basis of the environmentalists so called “precautionary principle.”  Hume’s attack on causation allows Keynesians to maintain that consumption is more important than production, modern economics to maintain that production is more important than invention. or that capital causes inventions ,or Obama’s “you didn’t build that”

Confusing cause and effect is the source of numerous errors that lead to real problems in the real world.  For instance, are increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere the cause of increasing temperatures on Earth or is it the result of increasing temperatures.

What is amazing to me is that Hume wrote these ideas after Locke, Bacon, Newton, Galileo, Robert Boyle, etc.  In my opinion, Hume and his non-continental followers have not been given the scrutiny they deserve.

Hume deserves equal billing with Kant for the ignominy of killing the Enlightenment and the resulting human suffering.


[1] Thomas Paine

[2] To some extent Hume’s “is-ought” argument also ignores the law of identity.

[3] This is true not withstanding the nonsense of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

[4] Ayn Rand Lexicon, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology “Concepts of Consciousness,” Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 35

[5] Ayn Rand Lexicon, Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 5

[6] This is an easy trap to fall into and one that the author has made.

[7] This is true notwithstanding the nonsense of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.


February 6, 2016 Posted by | philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Two Most Important People to the US Presidential Election are not in the Race

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

John Maynard Keynes

Based on this quote you might think that the two most important people in the US presidential election are John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. However, both of these men were influenced profoundly by two philosophers whose importance extends far beyond economics, Immanuel Kant and David Hume.

humeKant’s influence on today’s leftist movements is hardly likely to be surprising to most people.  Kant’s attack on reason and reality started the whole German philosophical movement, which has been written about extensively.  For instance, Stephen Hick’s excellent book Explaining Postmodernism shows this connection as do many other people.  The connection between Kant and Keynes may seem more tenuous except that American leftists are inevitably Keynesians.  However, the paper “The Philosophy of John Maynard Keynes (A Reconsideration)” by Elke Muchlinski shows that Keynes and Kant shared a common epistemological approach.

Keynes delineated an epistemological approach to the theory of probability. He conceived probability in a broader sense, not only as a class which is capable of numerical measurement. He made a turning point to the categories of knowledge, ignorance, rational belief and precariousness. His method provides a background for his conception of convention which still encompasses the fragility and precariousness of knowledge. Keynes rejected formal logic as inadequate for his purposes to outline the process of acquiring knowledge. To defend his view of uncertainty inherently to all economic questions he relied to conceptions of degree of credibility, degree of confidence and conventional judgment.

Seeing Kant’s and Keynes influence on a Hillary Clinton or an Elizabeth Warren is probably pretty easy for many people.

What is perhaps less well known is David Hume’s influence on U.S. conservatives and Friedrich Hayek. The blog The American Conservative calls Hume “The First Conservative” and the First Principles, a conservative philosophical journal agrees. Hume gave us the problem of induction, denied that causality exists, and most importantly for this article, he rejected Locke’s natural rights and the idea of ethics based on reason.  Locke’s natural rights are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, form the basis for the Bill of Rights, and was the foundation of most of common law at the time. Ultimately, Hume attacks reason and science in order to make room for religion and tradition.

Hayek was highly influenced by Hume.  This paper entitled, Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University, explains:

For Hayek, the rules of morality and justice are the same as they were for David Hume: conventions that have emerged and endured because they smooth the coordination of human affairs and are indispensable, given the nature of reality and the circumstances of human existence, to the effective functioning of society. For Hayek as for Hume the rules of morality and justice are not the products of reason and they cannot be rationally justified in the way demanded by constructivist thinkers. And since our moral traditions cannot be rationally justified in accordance with the demands of reason or the canons of science, we must be content with the more modest effort of “rational reconstruction,” a “natural-historical” investigation of how our institutions came into being, which can enable us to understand the needs they serve.

It might be harder to see Hume’s influence on a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, but it is there.  The libertarians might argue that this argument does not apply to Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz, however the libertarian movement is also profoundly influenced by Hume and Hayek.  For instance, the libertarian think tank Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEE) has a whole series of excellent lectures on the Scottish Enlightenment extolling the virtues of this philosophical movement, which definitely includes Hume and Hayek.

What is missing from this election is a candidate that represents John Locke, natural rights, reason – in other words the values on which the United States was founded.

Paraphrasing Ayn Rand, in a debate between two irrational positions, it is the one that asks its followers to believe in the most fantastical and the one that is willing to be the most ruthless that will win.



For those of us in the patent business this means we are unlikely to see any improvements as a result of this presidential election.  Patent law is based in natural rights and reason.

August 17, 2015 Posted by | philosophy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hayek: Friend or Foe of Reason, Liberty and Capitalism?

I have been accused of taking the Austrian School of Economics out of context.  Rather than range all over the topic, I will address one Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, primarily with respect to his epistemology.  However, his sense of ethics follows directly from his epistemology so this will be discussed.  As well, his metaphysics will be touched on.

My criteria of whether Hayek is a friend or foe will primarily focus on whether he is an advocate for reason (logic and evidence) as best defined by Rand and Locke.  I focus primarily on Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, which lays out his ideas on epistemology.  There are dozens of papers on this subject and below I will provide quotes from a number of papers that analyze Hayek’s theory.


Austrian economist, political philosopher, and winner of the 1974 Nobel memorial prize –[Hayek] spent a good part of his career developing a theory of cultural evolution. According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups. The theory, of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project. In the present paper, I explore the history of this theory of cultural evolution. (Emphasis Added)

The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, Erik Angner

Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science


It is clear from the quote above that ethics is a group level, not at the individual level.  The ethics of a group are random and the dominate ethical rules are determined by some sort of evolutionary success.  According to the paper this is not a side issue or something Hayek scribbled out that is separate from the rest of his ideas.

It is hard to believe that Rand or Locke would have been impressed with the idea that ethics are determined by the success of groups.


According to Hayek, reason was not the driving force behind cultural evolution, but rather co-evolved in the course of this process.  (Emphasis Added)

Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution a Critique of the Critiques, by Horst Feldmann


This paper suggests that reason is the result of cultural evolution just like ethics.  It is hard to see Rand or Locke agreeing with this.



Hayek argues, however, that the demand for rational, conscious (“political”) control of the concrete particulars of social life is based upon a misunderstanding of the process of cultural evolution and on a hubristic and dangerous overestimation of the capacity of the conscious reasoning intellect. As we have seen, Hayek contends that civilization is not the creation of the reasoning mind, but the unintended outcome of the spontaneous play of innumerable minds within a matrix of nonrational values, beliefs, and traditions. The desire of modern constructivists to “make everything subject to rational control” represents for Hayek an egregious “abuse of reason” based upon a failure to recognize the limits to reason’s sphere of competence.63 Such limits, again, stem from the fact that reason is confronted by an immovable epistemological barrier: its irremediable ignorance of most of the particular, concrete facts that determine the actions of individuals within society. The constructivist’s main error is the refusal to recognize that reason is only competent in the realm of the abstract. Hayek observes that the “rationalist . . . revolt against reason is . . . usually directed against the abstractness of thought [and] against the submission to abstract rules” and is marked by a passionate embrace of the concrete. He sums up the constructivist error in this way: “constructivist rationalism rejects the demand for the discipline of reason because it deceives itself that reason can directly master all particulars; and it is thereby led to a preference for the concrete over the abstract, the particular over the general, because its adherents do not realize how much they thereby limit the span of true control by reason.”64 (Emphasis Added)

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University


“Matrix of nonrational values, beliefs, and traditions” are responsible for civilization?  It is clear that Hayek does not think there is anything special about Natural Rights or the United States or any other country or their values.  The best we can say is that it is the best based on its success at this time.

“Rejects the demand for the disciple of reason”?  This sounds like it comes straight from an environmentalist or a modern socialist.  It is clear that Hayek is not just talking about the limits of the knowledge of a central planner, he is attacking reason itself.  The best possible spin is that Hayek is only attacking reason with respect to knowledge of human affairs, i.e., economics, social sciences, ethics, law, political structures, literature and the arts.

It is clear from Hayek’s rejection of reason that he does not agree with an Aristotelian or Objectivist idea of an objective reality that is knowable.  At best Hayek’s metaphysics is consistent with Plato’s theory of forms, where we can only get a vague glimpse of reality.


“The picture of man as a being who, thanks to his reason, can rise above the values of civilization, in order to judge it from the outside . . . is an illusion.”83 For Hayek, morals, values, and reason are entirely natural phenomena, evolutionary adaptations which have enabled man to survive and flourish in his particular kind of world.

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University


Does the first sentence above sound like Howard Roark or Ellsworth Toohey?  Hayek is pushing the worst sort of collectivism.  It is a collectivist attack on the mind itself, on the independence of the mind based on reason.  Hayek would have stood hand and hand with the Catholic Church in condemning Galileo to death.


For Hayek, the rules of morality and justice are the same as they were for David Hume: conventions that have emerged and endured because they smooth the coordination of human affairs and are indispensable, given the nature of reality and the circumstances of human existence, to the effective functioning of society.87 For Hayek as for Hume the rules of morality and justice are not the products of reason and they cannot be rationally justified in the way demanded by constructivist thinkers. And since our moral traditions cannot be rationally justified in accordance with the demands of reason or the canons of science, we must be content with the more modest effort of “rational reconstruction,” a “natural-historical” investigation of how our institutions came into being, which can enable us to understand the needs they serve.88

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University


Morality is not based on reason according to Hayek, it is based on convention.  David Hume was the philosopher that came up with the ‘is-ought” problem in ethics that is the basis for moral relativism.  Solving the “is-ought” problem was one of the major accomplishments Rand’s ethics.

Hume also attacked cause and effect and therefore reason, arguing that the best we can say about events is that they are closely related or probablistic.  I consider Hume worse than Kant, partly because he is more understandable than Kant and because he inspired Kant.  Here is what Rand had to say about Hume.

“If you observe that ever since Hume and Kant (mainly Kant, because Hume was merely the Bertrand Russell of his time) philosophy has been striving to prove that man’s mind is impotent, that there’s no such thing as reality and we wouldn’t be able to perceive it if there were—you will realize the magnitude of the treason involved.”


F.A. Hayek was the chief conduit through which Hume’s moral, political, and social theory entered the mainstream of modern libertarian thought. In his article “The Legal and Political Philosophy of David Hume” (originally presented as a lecture at the University of Freiburg on July 18, 1963), Hayek bemoaned the fact that Hume’s legal and political philosophy had been “curiously neglected.” In addition to being “one of the founders of economic theory” and the greatest British legal philosopher before Bentham, Hume “gives us probably the only comprehensive statement of the legal and political philosophy which later became known as [classical] liberalism.”  Self-Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism: David Hume, by George Smith, formerly Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Humane Studies, a lecturer on American History for Cato Summer Seminars, and Executive Editor of Knowledge Products. Smith’s fourth book, The System of Liberty, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.


This clearly shows that David Hume was a big part of Hayek’s philosophical background.  Bentham is Jeremy Bentham, who is considered the father of utilitarianism and is known for being an intellectual father of the utopian socialist movement in England.


Perhaps no other area of Burke’s and Hayek’s thought is as congruent as their understanding of the role of reason in human affairs; their views are so close as to suggest that Hayek’s thought on this issue is merely an elaboration, although quite an extensive one, of Burke’s theme. Hayek developed several of Burke’s most crucial insights: 1) the priority of social experience (or “tradition”) over reason; 2) the notion that inherited social institutions embody a “superindividual wisdom” 22 which transcends that available to the conscious reasoning mind; and 3) the impotence of reason to ‘design’ a viable social order. (Emphasis Added)

The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek:A Critical Comparison, Linda C. Raeder is Associate Editor of HUMANITAS and a Research Associate at the National Humanities Institute


Here is another attack on reason, an appeal to collective reasoning and another statement that reason is impotent.


Burke and Hayek, then, shared a common enemy as well as a common understanding: Enlightenment rationalism. Perhaps the most characteristic attribute of Enlightenment thought was its cavalier dismissal of ‘irrational’ tradition as mere superstition and prejudice.

The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek:A Critical Comparison, Linda C. Raeder is Associate Editor of HUMANITAS and a Research Associate at the National Humanities Institute

This statement makes it clear that Hayek was anti-reason and anti-enlightenment.


Hayek, by contrast, is a critic of what he calls ―constructive rationalism.‖2 His concept of rationalism is somewhat idiosyncratic, and is not equivalent to Rand‘s conception of reason. Nevertheless, it leads him to claim that ―no universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us,‖3 which is obviously not consistent with her view. For Hayek, moral rules have a status lying ―between instinct and reason.‖4 (Emphasis Added)

Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade

Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction

David Kelley The Atlas Society


This is another case discussing how Hayek did not think that ethics were based on reason or that reason could ever tell us anything about ethics.

This case for market freedom is essentially negative. Hayek seems to think that if socialist planning were possible, socialism might be the morally ideal system. But the inescapable ignorance of would-be planners excludes that possibility: ―If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty.‖10

Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade

Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction

David Kelley The Atlas Society


Hayek is not pro-liberty, at best he is pro-tradition, which is why it is not surprising to see so many religious people affiliated with the Austrian School of Economics.  He is anti-reason and specifically bases his justification for ‘free markets’ on the limitations of reason generally and on the inability of reason to create or understand morals.  His defense of the pricing mechanism of free markets is based not on liberty but on the idea of spontaneous order.  More fundamentally, Hayek bases his justification of the pricing mechanism on tradition and utilitarian grounds.

Hayek’s metaphysics appear to be Platonic, which is incompatible with Rand and Locke.  His epistemology is more consistent with Hume or Kant than Rand or Locke.  You might argue that Hayek was only discussing the limits of reason with regard to social sciences, however at the least he applies it to all areas of human interaction, which includes ethics, the law, and the political realm.  This means he is against Natural Rights and Locke, which means he is against capitalism.  Capitalism is the economic system that arises when the law protects people’s natural rights, particularly their property rights.  Hayek does not recognize property rights, at best he recognizes societies’ property conventions, which means he cannot understand capitalism.  This is more than enough for me to damn Hayek as an enemy of capitalism and a foe.

In my opinion, Hayek’s esteem of Hume, Bentham, and Burke point to a much deeper antipathy to reason.  His ethics is essentially majority rules with the modifier of natural selection.  He specifically thinks it is the most absurd folly to think any one person can use reason to judge a society.  This is consistent with his intellectual compatriots Hume and Burke.  Hayek’s ethics is perfectly consistent with the moral relativists that say we cannot judge and an ISIS or a USSR or christianity.  His ethics are antithetical to Rand’s and Locke’s.  Hayek is clear that he does not think Natural Rights can be justified by reason and that Natural Rights cannot claim any special place in the world.  Hayek is not a friend of reason, liberty, or capitalism.  Rand’s estimation of Hayek is similar to mine, although I think I have spent much more time analyzing the issue.





I am willing to entertain any serious evidence that I have mischaracterized Rand or how the sources I am citing mischaracterized his arguments.  I am not interested in unsubstantiated claims that I have misunderstood or mischaracterized Hayek.  Do not complain that my standard is Rand and Locke, I told you that upfront.  I am not interested in arguments that talk about other leading figures in the Austrian School of economics.  Stick to the subject and provide actual evidence.


March 4, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, -History | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments