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Re: [ontolog-forum] Science, Statistics and Ontolog

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: Sean Barker <sean.barker@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2011 16:09:50 +0000
Message-id: <4EC3E04E.6030507@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
My reading of Hume is that, although we might be confident in practice that a particular (causal) relationship exists, there is no logical reason to assume that, because the universe has been governed by consistent relationships in the past, it will continue to do so in the future. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Hume and his times is limited -  I have just looked him up in Wikipedia "a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively "impressions" or direct sensations and fainter "ideas," which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behaviour is governed by "custom"; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the "constant conjunction" of causes and effects."

I think this implies (please correct me) that our ontologies are the consequence of our experience, and that this may be part of the arguments of the time about whether the real is defined by ideas, and the world illustrates the real, or whether the real is defined by the world and ideas follow from our observation of the world. It was about the same time that Berkeley asked whether, if a tree fell in a forest and no-one heard it, would it still make a sound?

 I tend rather to the view that our ontologies are the result of a dialect between our current ontology (somewhat culturally derived) and our experience (given the qualification that our experience is couched in terms of our ontology). On the assumption that there is an underlying physical reality (an objective set of causal relations) then - in a sort of Newton-Raphson convergence - eventually we should get an ontology from which we can infer the results of future experience. However, this is a distinction of methodology, and makes no difference to Hume's point. Once you assume (reasonably) that there are underlying causal relationships, the problem is then how to reliably uncover them.

Sean Barker, Bristol

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