Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fichte makes a wry comment on Hume in the beginning of the Wissenschaftslehre

Which is great and makes a lot of sense. Just, and finally, got a copy of the Wissenschaftslehre itself, as opposed to just the introductions and am digging into it. Fichte starts it out by making an obvious although indirect reference to Hume's skepticism and some of the problems with it. Hume's skepticism is the thing that Kant was originally arguing against, in a pretty insightful way, and Fichte appears to be taking up the standard.

Hume makes the argument that causation as such can not be proved to exist, and that just because you see one thing happen after the other, say one billiard ball hitting another one, that doesn't mean that you know that one fact caused the other to occur. According to Hume, all that a person can know objectively are generalizations based on how things tend to occur, in that billiard balls tend to move when hit. Theoretically, any number of things could happen once one billiard ball hits another. But there are problems with this, many problems regarding things like why it is that we can navigate the world as if these general ideas are true without encountering serious problems.

Fichte, however, takes a different track.

Okay, he metaphorically says, since according to Hume two facts occurring in succession to one another can't be proved to be connected in any sort of causitive way, what about one fact that persists over time? Say you're observing billiard balls on a table, you look at one billiard ball, it isn't moving, and you keep looking at it for five seconds. How do you know that the billiard ball you started looking at is the same one that you stopped looking at? After all, what your eyes have been perceiving are successions of facts, and there's no logical connection between facts. How do you prove that in that space of time your billiard ball didn't miraculously change into an orange with a billiard ball coating without you knowing it? Or, to use more modern terms, how do you know that in that same time span the billiard ball didn't transform itself into a hologram?

You could of course dissect the billiard ball to make sure that it's still a billiard ball, but that would almost be beside the point. What Fichte is getting at, and by the way this whole example is something I invented based on his ideas not something he presented in this form, is that if you take Hume's skepticism seriously not only can you not prove things like causation, you can't prove any solid facts about anything that exists in the empirical world. Not only is there no way to prove apparent regularities, there's no way to prove regularities at all, including the most basic ones like a thing persisting as itself, more or less, over time.

Because the skepticism potentially runs this deep, and yet the laws of nature aren't regularly broken in absurd ways, like billiard balls suddenly turning into oranges with billiard ball coatings while we're looking at them, our perception of how the world is has to reflect in some way the reality of it. The information that we perceive about the world that's true has to go beyond the raw empirical data that enters our senses.

No comments: