Superphysics Superphysics
Section 3

Causes Always Arise from Consequence

by David Hume Icon
6 minutes  • 1111 words
Table of contents

Existence Does Not Always Need a Cause

It is a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence.

This is accepted without any proof given or demanded.

It is supposed to be founded on intuition.

Intuition is a kind of conviction.

It is one of those maxims which may be denied on the surface, but is impossible for men to really doubt in their hearts.

But if we examine this maxim by the idea of knowledge explained previously, we shall discover:

  • no intuitive certainty in it, and
  • that it is of a nature quite foreign to intuition.

All certainty arises from the:

  • comparison of ideas, and
  • discovery of such unalterable relations, so long as the ideas continue the same.

These relations are:

  • Resemblance
  • Proportions in quantity or number
  • Degrees of any quality
  • Contrariety

None of these relations are implied in the proposition: Whatever has a beginning has also a cause of existence.

Therefore, this proposition is not intuitively certain.

Anyone who asserts it to be intuitively certain, must:

  • deny these to be the only infallible relations, and
  • find some other relation of that kind to be implied in it, which then must be examined.

We can only show a need for a cause to every new existence or every newly-modified existence if we can show that everything was created.

If its creation cannot be proven, then we cannot prove its existence. This proves that the foregoing maxim is not intuitively nor demonstrably certain.

It will be easy for us to think of any object to be non-existing this moment and existing the next moment, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a cause, since:

  • the cause cannot be proven,
  • all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and
  • the ideas of cause and effect are distinct.

Therefore, the separation of the idea of a cause from the idea of a beginning of existence is possible for the imagination.

Consequently, the actual separation of the cause from the object is possible and it implies no absurdity.

Therefore, the cause cannot be refuted by any reasoning from mere ideas.

Without such a reasoning, it is impossible to demonstrate the need of a cause.

Every demonstration produced for the need of a cause is fallacious and sophistical.

False Argument 1: All the points of time and place in which we can suppose any object to begin to exist, are equal in themselves.

The object must remain in eternal suspense if there is no cause for that time and place to fix and determine its existence. The object thus can never begin to exist unless there is some cause to fix its beginning. This is the argument of Thomas Hobbes.

But I ask: Isn’t it easier to suppose that an object’s time and place are fixed without a cause, than to suppose its existence came from a cause that is uncertain?

The first question is this sophistical system is always whether the object shall exist. The next question is when and where it shall begin to exist. If the removal of a cause of whether the object shall exist is absurd, then the removal of a cause of where and when the object shall exist is also absurd. If that absurdity needs a proof whether the object shall exist, then that absurdity will also need a proof in the time and place of that object’s existence.

Thus, the absurdity of not having a cause whether the object shall exist, can never be a proof of the already-existing object.

Likewise, the existence of the object can never be a proof that there was a cause that determined it to exist, because both cause and existence:

  • are on the same footing, and
  • uses the same reasoning.

False Argument 2: Everything must have a cause.

For if anything lacked a cause, it would produce itself. It would exist before it existed, which is impossible. This argument is from Dr. Clarke and others, and has equal difficulty of Hobbes’ argument.

Its reasoning is plainly inconclusive because it supposes that in our denial of a cause, we expressly deny that there must be a cause. The cause is taken to be the object itself. This is a contradiction.

If anything comes into existence without a cause, it does not mean that it itself is its own cause.

On the contrary, it means that the idea of needing a cause is removed.

An object that exists absolutely without any cause, is certainly not its own cause.

The problem is caused by asserting that the one follows from the other.

By doing so, you conclude that it is impossible for anything to ever begin to exist without a cause.

If you cancel one probable cause, then you must find another cause.

False Argument 3: Whatever is produced without any cause, is produced by nothing.

In other words, it has nothing for its cause. But nothing can never be a cause, no more than nothing can be something. By this same intuition, we perceive that nothing can never be a cause.

Consequently, we must perceive that every object has a real cause of its existence.

This argument is from John Locke.

All of those arguments are founded on the same fallacy.

When we exclude all causes, we really do exclude them. We cannot suppose anything or even the object itself to be the cause since we already removed the idea of a cause. If everything must have a cause, it follows that after removing all causes, we must accept the object itself or of nothing as causes. But this takes the very point of the question for granted, whether everything must have a cause or not. Those who say that every effect must have a cause because it is implied in the very idea of effect, are still more frivolous.

Every effect necessarily pre-supposes a cause. Effect is a relative term, of which cause is the correlative. But this does not prove, that every being must be preceded by a cause. For example, every husband must have a wife. But it does not mean that every man must get married. The true question is whether every object which begins to exist, must owe its existence to a cause.

This is not intuitively nor demonstratively certain. We do not derive the need for a cause from knowledge or any scientific reasoning. This need arises from observation and experience. How does experience give rise to such a need? Why do we conclude that such particular causes must have such effects? Why do we form an inference from one to another? We shall answer these in Section 14.

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