Belief in Causality: The Nature of Causal ‘Inference’

  • Norman Kemp Smith


WE have seen how limited and narrow is the field to which Hume confines ‘ knowledge ’ and ‘ science ’. What lies outside this field is at best merely probable; not, Hume adds,1 in the sense that it does not allow of certainty; probability can amount to proof. But the certainty is of a type quite other than that of demonstration. In knowledge the opposite of what is known is inconceivable; outside the realm of knowledge we have only the sheerly de facto, as disclosed in experience. When experience is consistent with itself, there is no experience to oppose to experience, and belief can operate in full force. But as the opposite of every matter of fact is still conceivable, there remains always the possibility — the possibility which justifies Hume in treating the certainty as being no more than the upper limit of probability — that experience may at any time vary from its own past character, presenting to us what has hitherto been uniform as allowing of variation. We are then thrown back upon probability in its more usual sense, namely, as being a calculation as to which of certain experienced alternatives is the most likely to occur.


Causal Inference Causal Connexion Normative Sense Natural Relation Space Relation 
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Copyright information

© Norman Kemp Smith 1941

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Kemp Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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