…on hume’s problem with causation

How is Hume’s Skepticism Related to Reason & Causality?

hume billiard example II

Rationalism: Recall that an inductive argument is one where if the premises are true the conclusion probably will be true. With an inductive argument, we reason from specific examples to general claims about all things. Inductive reasoning has built into it the idea of causation: one effect causes another event. Within this very simple reasonable connection we typically make a demonstrative connection.

If I hit the cue ball   ⃝ to strike the ⑦ ball into the corner pocket that typically is demonstrative that the cue ball   ⃝  hitting the ⑦ ball has a ‘necessary’ connection (above & beyond whether or not the ⑦ ball makes it into the corner pocket). In other words, we might think inductively that the event of striking the   ⃝  cue ball with a cue stick will have a necessary connection between the effect of hitting the cue ball   ⃝  to cause the striking of the ⑦  ball.

As rationalists we think that the two events are necessarily connected. This connection is supplied by reason & it is part of the way we do science. If one effect is necessarily connected to its cause then we can make a basic inference that events in the past will be a good indication of future events. Okay, there’s a quick gloss on a typical way we understand causation (as a rationalist).

hume billiard example

David Hume: With consideration for Hume’s (1711-1776) Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, we must acknowledge his epistemological affinities as unmistakably empiricist. That is to say, everything we have knowledge of we have by way of the senses. This philosophical position usually stands in conflict with rationalism (the way we know of the world is primarily rational—based on a priori reason, not by necessarily sense experience).

Enter Hume’s problem of causation. Given that philosophically Hume was an empiricist he needed to explain the way we have knowledge of the world strictly by way of the five senses. Instead of inferring a way that we acquire knowledge rationally (in an a priori way). With Hume we have a way to account for all knowledge as deriving from impressions, these are sensorial and lead to our more abstract ideas of the impressions. What is of significance here is that as a good empiricist, Hume needs to account for the way we know things by way of experience and only by way of experience. Therefore the connection between our sensorial impressions and the ideas is based solely on experience. We must have a sensorial impression of one event in order to see (hear, touch, taste, or smell) that it causes another event.

Hume’s problem with causation is such that, in a rationalistic way we typically supply the necessary connection between cause & effect without the necessary connection ever being present in the experience. Sometimes students confuse what Hume is having a problem with & often misunderstand that Hume is calling physics into question. He is not suggesting that there is an absence of force between the billiard balls striking one another, or that the force is something we make-up or illusory. He is pointing out that the force is not necessary. Because this force is not necessary for Hume, this means that the typical way in which we supply this necessity is by way of habit and not reason.

In Hume’s empirical context, when we observe two billiard balls striking one another we cannot find something, no matter how hard we look (hear, smell, touch, or taste) that looks like necessity within the action of one event causing the other. That is to say, Hume was skeptical of the necessary connection we typically make in the way we understand causation. He was skeptical of the reasoning we typically use to understand causality.

We make this type of inductive inference on a daily basis: If I hit the cue ball   ⃝ to strike the ⑦ ball into the corner pocket, I habitually infer that the cue ball   ⃝  hitting the ⑦ ball has a ‘necessary’ connection. This necessary connection is typically supplied by reason.

To repeat, Hume is an empiricist so he has to account for the way we know the world strictly by experience. In this way, reason for Hume is called into question because causation does not have a necessary connection found with experience alone and for Hume is demoted to habit. We are in the habit of supplying the necessary connection from one event to the other. Yet another way of saying this would be to say that when we make an inductive inference, from the specific case of something causing another event to happen, we tend to habitually infer that one event will probably be effected by the same cause time & time again. Hume’s critique is that we cannot rely on this probability as necessary. Part of the way out of Hume’s problem is to have a larger sample by which to base the probability of something happening. If we base our conclusions on a wider sample then our conclusions will likely be stronger.

–aurelio madrid

…on kant’s epistemology

transcendental idealismKant’s Epistemology
What is Transcendental Idealism?

Transcendental idealism can be understood on two ways. On a topical level it can represent the whole of Kant’s enlightenment philosophy, and in the context of his epistemology, transcendental idealism is to be distinguished from rationalism & empiricism. Kant’s philosophy is often thought of as a blend of rationalism & empiricism and transcendental idealism became a way to identify Kant’s particular contribution. However, this way of defining transcendental idealism does not actually define what the term means in Kant’s overall project (it merely describes his philosophical position as a blend of empiricism & rationalism).

The easiest route is to divide the term in half, first looking at the term: transcendental. This can be understood as a ‘going beyond’ the matter at hand. To transcend something means to ‘go beyond’ what that something actually is in experience. The classic example: ‘all bachelors are unmarried’ is one such example of this ‘going beyond’. In other words, we ‘go beyond’ experience with the epistemological claim that bachelors are unmarried—we have no need to go out into the world to have certainty that bachelors are unmarried. Such knowledge is known “beyond” experience. Now also acknowledge that what we are describing here is also the way a priori thinking is understood.
With Kant, whatever is transcendental, at the same time describes the particular way in which we think using our a priori reasoning. When we conclude with certainty that a bachelor is unmarried our thought, our cognition, our knowledge is transcendental—we ‘go beyond’ experience in order to affirm this type of a priori knowledge about the world.

Idealism, the other half of the term, is the philosophical (epistemological) position whereby the content of the way in which the world appears to us is mind-dependent. Kant’s epistemology is often characterized by the notion that the world as it is known to us is dependent on the very reasoning we use to understand it. That the world of experience, for example, has a certain causal order is not something we simply observe, but it is the way in which the world is understood by us in a rationally ordered way. Our rational mind constructs the way the world is experienced. A sequence of causal events is not just an observation it is also a construct of our a priori knowledge. This is idealistic because the way in which the world appears to me is mind dependent.

So idealism is different from realism in the sense that realism claims that if a tree falls in the forest & we’re not around to hear it, it still makes a noise. With Kant’s idealism a tree falling out of ear-shot would describe something that falls outside of the way the world appears to us, therefore it might be what Kant named the “thing-in-itself”, that part of things we’ll never have a grasp of.

How does Kant’s transcendental idealism move from Hume’s empiricism?

Hume’s critique of causality awoke Kant from his ‘dogmatic slumbers’ because Hume was astute enough to observe that there is no necessity to be found in any causal connection. Hume is an empiricist who based all the way we know of the world is through sense experience alone. When Hume called into question the very notion of necessity as absent from causation, his empirical skepticism pointed to something we typically identify as reason itself. Kant seizes this opportunity to make a claim for the necessary connection Hume is finding absent in experience. Why?—because it is reason that supplies the connection according to Kant. Hume was on to something & Kant resolves it with a priori reasoning. This is the missing part of Hume’s critique that Kant grabs onto as obviously product of reason itself. In other words, a causal relationship is one that is considered to be a ‘category of understanding,’ for Kant, which is a fancy way of saying it involves reasoning alone to understand a cause & effect relationship at its necessary core. The necessary connection is not found in experience as Hume empirically observed. Kant agrees with this & shows that the necessary connection is not a matter of habit as Hume posited, rather it is an act of reason that supplies the necessary connection we find when one an effect causes something to happen.

Even if we understand causation rationally, we need the experience of it in order to know what to do with it. Kant shows us that we cannot have one without the other. Say for example, I already know that reason supplies the necessary connection between an effect & cause. That’s a pretty minimal way in which to understand the world, given that cause & effect relationships are everywhere. We need to think of the particular empirical manifestation of casual relationships so as to know how to understand their specific relationships & significance.

–aurelio madrid

part of nichiren daishonin’s “on the selection of the time”

ichinen sanzen

(ichinen sanzen chart: three thousand realms in a single moment – click to enlarge)

“In a secular text it says ‘a sage is one who fully understands those things that have not yet made their appearance’, & in the Buddhist text it says, ‘a sage is one who knows the three existences of life—past, present & future.’ Three times now I have gained distinction by having such knowledge.” (WND-I/578-79)

“This is the all important doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single moment of life taught in the Lotus Sutra.” (WND-I/579)

With these quotes from the forth & last part of our study material on Nichiren Daishonin’s gosho “The Selection of the Time,” President Ikeda explains that Nichiren believed that he had a responsibility to relieve the sufferings of Japan. The three times Nichiren speaks of are:

1. When Nichiren submitted the treatise “On Establishing the Correct Treatise for the Peace of the Land.” This was where Nichiren called for the Zen & Nembutsu schools to be abandoned & that if his suggestion was not to be followed great “…trouble will break out within the ruling clan, & the country will be attacked by another country.” (WND-I/579)

2. The second warning was made around the time of the Tatsunokuchi persecution of 1271. First, Nichiren stated that Hei-no-Saemon was making a mistake to behead the ‘Pillar of Japan’ (Nichiren). It was again warned that the wayward Zen & Nembutsu schools were guilty of leading the people off the path & into erroneous teachings, thereby slandering the law—the Mystic Law.

3. The third remonstration came after Nichiren’s exile on Sado & was again with Hei-no-Saemon later on in 1274. This is when Hei-no-Saemon offered to build a temple for Nichiren, only if Nichiren promised “…to conduct prayers on the government’s behalf for the defeat of the Mongol forces.” (LB/50) Basically Nichiren said no way & is quoted with: “Even if it seems that because I was born in the ruler’s domain, I follow him in my actions, I will never follow him in my heart.” (WND-I/579) This was showing that Nichiren wasn’t about to bow-down to authority, especially if that meant to compromise his values of propagating the Mystic Law & seeking to denounce the devilish forces.

It is said that with this prediction (that the Mongols would in fact invade Japan), Nichiren was able to not only stand up to authority with steadfast conviction & determination, but also, that he was relying on the wisdom found in the Lotus Sutra, that was exemplified in the life state of the Buddha who is one with the Mystic Law. As Ikeda explains this, it not only underscores the utmost importance Nichiren placed on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, additionally it highlights T’ien-t’ai’s elucidation of it as it’s found where Nichiren says: “This is the all important doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single moment in life.” (WND-I/579)

Let us believe that when the Daishonin mentions the concept of Ichinen Sanzen, that he’s trying to tell us that this idea is based on documentary proof from one of his mentor’s texts, T’ien-t’ai’s “Maka Shikan” (“Great Concentration & Insight”), where Ichinen Sanzen is the crystallization that “a single life moment possesses three thousand realms.” (DB/77) We already know that Ichinen Sanzen represents the “…mutually inclusive relationship of the ultimate truth & the phenomenal world.” (DB/77) The ten worlds are multiplied by their mutual possession, then multiplied by the ten factors, & then multiplied by the three realms of existence (10 x 10 x 10 x 3 = 300). One critical lesson to be learned by the concept is that “…T’ien-t’ai showed that all phenomena—body & mind, self & environment, sentient & insentient, cause & effect—are integrated in the life moment of a common mortal.” (DB/77) So, the emphasis is on the spiritual/actual co-relationship with the mind & its environment, instead of the traditional idea that the two are somehow separate.

What other things can be learned from what Nichiren is teaching us here? Well, when Nichiren says the he’s possessed by ‘The Thus Come One Shakyamuni’, we can safely say that he’s embodying the Mystic Law, we might even go as far to suggest that he’s embodying the Mystic Law of cause & effect. We’ve already noted that cause & effect is a key part of Ichinen Sanzen & of course it’s key to Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. If we are to the look at Nichiren’s repeated actions to warn the Japanese people of the impending Mongol invasion, we’ll say that this was a direct form of shakabuku—the correcting erroneous views—this can then be considered Nichiren’s act of Kosen Rufu—the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law. All of these actions are causal, where the internal cause was Nichiren’s realization of his own Buddhist nature, the power to implement it in his own life, the influence he sought to have on his external world & with those around him. This is the awareness of the inherent cause of Buddhism combined with the external causes of his world, enough for him to act with such courage so as to implement the historical manifest effect that we’re looking back on right now. This looking back can then be said to be a latent effect of the actions he made hundreds of years ago. “The Shinjikan Sutra says: ‘If you want to know a past cause, look at the present effect—if you want to know a future effect look at the present cause.’” (LEPJ/152)

We as Buddhist’s can choose to be consciously aware of the causal relationship between our past & present causes (latent & manifest) as they relate to future effects (latent, manifest, external & internal). It is because of this awareness that we’ll bring about causes in our own lives.  We can then observe causality in other’s lives too, sometimes a little easier than we can observe in our own. With this said, it’s safe to say that Nichiren isn’t claiming to be a psychic with his predictions. It’s easier to surmise that he ‘saw it coming’, the circumstances were such that he was in tune with the current affairs of the world around him, just as any intelligent (enlightened) person might see clear problems with any self-serving government today, predicting that it will fail, or that it will be toppled &c. It’s in these attunements to our day-to-day world—whether we look to the affairs of state or in our personal lives—where we need to be truly open & aware enough to be actively involved with the causal relationship we have with people, our actions, our temporal involvement & as we are mindfully engaged in the past, present & future. Once we do this we are better able to help others see that this practice isn’t about chanting for magic to happen, nor is it about pushing away our problems. Rather, this is a practice of actively seeking an enlightenment that will enable us to deal with our problems wisely, with realistic faith & it’s also about clearing away needy delusions while we come to terms with our active causal world. Part of the way this is done is learning about the practice & pulling away from a self-satisfied understanding that obscures the truth of things. Once when the Shakyamuni was asked: what is the cause of suffering & death? He replied: birth.

Let’s now take note of the secular quote where Nichiren says: “A sage is one who fully understands those things that have not yet made their appearance.” (WND-I/578-79) Essentially this is about a conscious awareness, an awareness of what lies underneath the already obvious. The quote indicates that will have to look for these things, as they appear in our phenomenal world. If we are chanting (practicing) with the idea that we can manifest the effect of wisdom enough to see that life is causal, after-all our daily chant literally means devotion to the mystic law of cause & effect as it is voiced, as it is practiced. Mystic can mean (among other things) mystery & that must mean that we cannot understand the mysterious law of cause & effect 100% of the time. The causes we make don’t always effect the results we wish for, this is where we are called upon to have faith & courage to face opposition, even when that opposition is in the seat of authority, even when that obstacle is our own ignorance. This is a way to practice with the same mind as Nichiren, Ikeda & each other, since we are practicing as Buddhas of the Latter Day of the Law. T’ien-t’ai’s Ichinen Sanzen as it was found in the Lotus Sutra, shows us that we are profoundly living in the world, not apart from it. Let us bring the latent effect of this cause into our world, like we are doing right now, as we are manifesting wisdom & telling the world about it. This is an act of Kosen Rufu, this is widespread propagation of the law, this starts with the voice of a Buddha found within me & just as it is found within each of us.

Aurelio Madrid

works cited: (DB) “Ichinen Sanzen”, A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms & Concepts, Tokyo, Nichiren Shoshu International, 1983, pp. 177-79.

(LB) Ikeda, Daisaku, “The Selection of the Time—part 4 of 4”, Living Buddhism, vol. 15, no.3, 2011, pp.42-58.

(LEPJ) Ikeda, Daisaku, “From Hell to Buddhahood”, Life an Enigma, a Precious Jewel, trans. Charles S. Terry, New York, Kodansha International Inc., pp. 91-95.

(WND) Daishonin, Nichiren, “The Selection of the Time”, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, eds. & trans. The Gosho Translation Committee, Tokyo, Soka Gakkai, 1999, pp. 538-594.