Category: contingent


I think you were right that the text book makes this much more difficult than it needs to be.


I’ll try to keep it simple. (Not one of my strong areas, I know)

The point of the fork is to keep separate the two kinds of statements we can make about the world. 

The first kind, ‘Relations of Ideas’ are things like  “2 + 2 = 4”“all bachelors are unmarried”, and truths of geometry, mathematics and logic.

These kind of ideas have certainty, but according to Hume, tell us nothing about the world. It is as if they are sealed off from the ‘physical’ world. The logical ‘purity’ of these ideas, and therefore their certainty, either cannot transfer to the real world, (as in the application of geometry and maths to the construction of bridges that are perfect in ‘theory’ but collapse in the ‘real’ world), or tell us nothing, like a bachelor telling you “Hello, I’m a bachellor, I’m not married!” 

The second kind ‘Matters of Fact’ are statements like, “flowers bloom in the spring”,  “the Earth has precisely one moon”, and “water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit”. These kind of statements are based on our experience and observation of the world. They cannot have the kind of certainty that ‘relations of ideas’ have because:

1. we use our senses to get the information (and we know how dodgy they are!)
2. we can never be certain that the behaviour of these things won’t change. (We might be very, very confident that it won’t change, but we cannot have logical certainty about it.) 

Hume’s purpose was to show that science, cannot bring these two kinds of statements together however much it wants to. It can say very useful things about the physical world based on it’s experiments and observations, and it can describe the various physical phenomena in terms of logic, maths & geometry, but that certainty will never be in those phenomena themselves. 

I think that’s rather brilliant. But, of course, I may be wrong. 

If that’s not enough for you then see Wikipedia which is excellent on this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hume’s_fork

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I had resisted the temptation to use any of my hero’s work, but I succumbed and offered you a brief chunk of Richard Rorty’s  ‘Solidarity or Objectivity?’ I’m glad I did because you’d never heard of either – (Oh innocent youth!) 


Subjectivity is a point of view: my point of view, your point of view even Luke’s point of view. The thing about subjectivity is that it never gives you ‘the whole picture’, it never gives you a ‘God’s eye view’, it is only ever how things look from where you are ‘standing’. 

The big question is this: is objectivity actually possible? Lots of people claim ‘objective’ knowledge, they claim facts about all sorts of things (scientists in particular do this), but to really be ‘objective’ in a philosophical way objective knowledge would have to completely true for ever and in all conceivable circumstances.  It would have to describe a thing or things ‘as they actually are in themselves’, all the way down and through and completely. If the universe (or a twig) could speak and told us what it was all about then that would be objective knowledge. As long as the universe (or twig) wasn’t a liar or just having a laugh. 

Most of you didn’t really believe in objective knowledge when defined like this, but then you (it was Eleanor I think – apologies if it wasn’t) finally got to see Mark Steel talking about Newton you said that he ‘discovered’ gravity and I said, very irritatingly no doubt, that he couldn’t ‘discover’ gravity unless gravity was a ‘thing’ that was ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered and that if we don’t really believe in ‘objective’ knowledge then it would be better to say that he ‘invented’ or ‘conceived’ of gravity as a way of explaining the way the world works. That isn’t to say it isn’t a marvellously clever or useful concept, but simply to doubt whether if the universe could speak it would tell us, ‘well, there’s this force called “gravity” and it can be calculated mathematically’, etc.