History is incredibly important in the modern day world in order to understand the behaviour of the human race and to predict from current factors what may occur in the future. One of the contributors to our understanding is David Hume through his book “The History of England”. However, as a result of his definition of causation, it may seem odd for Hume to be a historian. This article will explore whether Hume’s definition of causation and the study of history are compossible.
What was Hume’s idea of causation?
Hume disagreed that our concept of causation corresponds to something physical in the external world. That is to say, you can’t go looking for causation and find it in the middle of the field. Instead, he suggested that causation was something added by the mind to two events. For instance, if in the past every time you clapped there was a storm, you would feel anticipation for a storm to occur when you clap. It is this sensation of anticipation as a result of past experiences of events that Hume labels as causation.
How this affect’s the study of history?
The study of history is all about how factors are linked together to lead to historical events within the chain of history. However, if we accept that there is no external causation, then there is nothing meaningful that our language refers to. To illustrate this, imagine two snooker balls. If one hits another, the brain creates the concept of causation to link the two events. However, this merely refers to the internal anticipation of the next ball moving as a result of the first ball. There is nothing in the external world which refers to causation. Therefore, causation is meaningless when applied to the external world. This is the same in terms of history.For instance, if we state that Serbia caused World War One, then this is meaningless under Hume’s definition as this is something we have added to the situation by our minds and wasn’t something that existed in the external world. As a result, this undermines the whole study of history. This is nonsensical as, when we talk of history, it is meaningful. However, Hume would suggest that this is not the case.. It seems that we can’t accept the study of history alongside Hume’s definition of causation. Therefore, we need to reject it in order to maintain our value of history.
In defence of Hume
The assumption above is that causation being in our minds makes it a meaningless concept and adds no value to the external world. However, on the contrary, it is something incredibly valuable. The study of history is important for understanding events and predicting the future, in order to know what to do and avoid past mistakes. Therefore, just because causation is within our mind does not make it meaningless, as the power of prediction that history provides us with is incredibly valuable. Therefore, history still works with Hume’s idea of causation. However, it is still an uncomfortable position to take, and, as a result, may lead to us rejecting Hume’s definition of causation anyway.