There is something heroic about David Hume single-mindedly batttling away to enquire into human knowledge and question the existence of God (in the eighteenth century). His theory of cause and effect is counter-intuitive and takes some reflection to really understand. As Jeremy Neil says, he doesn’t deny the ‘idea’ we all have that one thing causes another; he just points out that there is no sensory or empirical evidence to prove causation. This is typical philosophical thinking; it is thinking about thinking really and questioning appearances.
However, as my poem light-heartedly shows, I am a little sceptical about his scepticism! Blake named Bacon, John Locke and Newton as the Satanic Trinity and he didn’t think much of Hume either. He objected to their extreme scepticism and wrote a poem with these lines: If the sun and moon would doubt, they would immediately go out!
Apparently, Hume was even tempered and was also serene and uncomplaining on his death-bed.
David Hume’s Apple (not Newton’s)
It exists; he’ll not deny (one among five).
It’s even conjoined to two (at least) events:
One, seeing it; two, desiring it.
Hey presto; one minute it’s resting in a bowl,
the next it’s in my tum – (yum, that’s better!).
The principle of custom and habit can of course
explain the non-effect of my non-causal appetite,
the non-effect of my tongue moving up and back,
the non-effect of my epiglottis closing off my trachea,
the non-effect of salivation, juices flowing
(even the blending of non-causes and non-effects in the mind of God!)
and the non-effect of my non-swallowing oesophagus muscles
to deliver the ripe fruit into my stomach (secret powers?).
There’s a necessary connection (all in the mind?)
between my appetite, will, instinct, motion and gratification.
Can you stomach that? Bon appetite!