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Epistemology & Philosophy of Science

Volume 57, Issue 1, 2020

Vadim V. Vasilyev
Pages 166-180

David Hume’s Epistemology and Its Contemporary Importance

The paper is about some epistemological ideas of David Hume. At first, I give a review of his most influential epistemological conceptions: his exposition of the problem of induction in the context of his investigation of the nature of empirical reasonings, his analysis of epistemic status of the principle of causation, and his skeptical arguments concerning existence of external world and demonstrative knowledge. Then I discuss those Hume’s epistemological ideas which, as I believe, are usually not rightly understood in literature about Hume’s philosophy. They are connected to his theory of probabilistic reasonings. It is quite common to contrast his theory with approach of Thomas Bayes, but I try to show that in reality Hume’s theory is in perfect agreement with the Bayes’ theorem. In order to do this I interpret a topic of probability of our belief in testimonies of miracles, which Hume discusses, in terms of Bayes’ theorem: P(miracle/testimony) = P(testimony/miracle) x P(miracle) // P(testimony). According to this interpretation a probability of veracity of testimony of a miracle diminishes with diminishing of probability of miracles and diminishes when probability of testimonies increases. That’s very Hume’s position. At the end of the paper I discuss Hume’s insights on non-rational aspects of human cognition, which had anticipated some recent developments in cognitive psychology. In this context I also consider a possibility of justification of our principles of empirical cognition in Hume’s epistemology. I argue that Hume gave a kind of justification of them after all in terms of final causes, and quite legitimate.

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