Understanding cause-and-effect can be like “brain cell gymnastics” when reading different Philosophers’ perspectives on the topic. This is because their theories often conflict with one another, which, at first, makes the topic very confusing for a reader; but later pulls the reader into much deeper thinking and appreciation of this philosophical debate. The same was true for me when I first read the class materials related to Nietzsche and Hume as they both brought unique, debatable, and conflicting views about how cause-and-effect were compared.
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The differences between the opinions that Nietzsche and Hume made it easy for me to forget my own beliefs and accept each of their points of view. This paper will compare the works of David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche and study their viewpoints about the nature of the cause-and-effect relationship. It will also highlight some clear differences of opinion regarding cause-and-effect relationship as well as address their relatively consistent view on how human perception and human experience creates major difficulties for linking a cause to an effect.
The idea of cause-and-effect has been studied by many philosophers, including Hume and Nietzsche, two well-known voices in the Enlightenment Era. To better understand the cause-and-effect relationship, it is important to explore what is at the core of their arguments against causation. Both Hume’s “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” and Nietzsche’s “The Twilight of the Idols” lead to a similar conclusion regarding the cause-and-effect relation, however, Nietzsche relies mainly on contradicting logic in his views around causality, whereas Hume points to subjectivity as the basis of cause-and-effect relationships.
Hume suggests that morality is complex and potentially represents a grey area to explore due to the ethical uncertainty of possible solutions. In Hume’s view, unlike mathematical concepts, moral ideas cannot be measured or quantified, leading to ambiguity (Hume 854 Section VI). As such, it begs the question of whether the connections that people make can be considered as real, or whether they represent their own subjective belief of morality.
Therefore, according to Hume, it is very important to make the “necessary connections” that explain alleged links between cause and effect from a specific perspective (Hume 855 Section VII). Also, in his argument against an objective basis for causation, Hume mentions that a large number of factors play in shaping the outcome, thus influencing the effect. Referring to it as the effect of “concealing forces,” Hume questions the likelihood of objective reasoning when covering the relationship between the supposed cause and the effect that follows (Hume 856 Section VII).
Hume’s focuses on the idea of external forces shaping unavoidable outcomes and refers to personal volition (wish, will, desire) in his review of the nature of causality. In particular, Hume’s calls out the fact that the simple concept of acting on one’s own accord is highly doubtful due to the inconsistency and autonomy of the many different functions of the human body (Hume 858 Section VII). He suggests that people lack control over what he defines as the “immediate object of power” because they cannot control it (Hume 858 Section VII).
Essentially. Hume emphasizes the dichotomy of the power of motion and that of energy. Expanding on this view, Hume concludes that being aware of cause-and-effect relationships without understanding their nature is impossible, proving an overall limited command of the mind (Hume 857 Section VII). As such, Hume draws a thick line between the idea of human volition and the force that defines an individual’s choices due to the presence of a divinity.
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Hume also suggests that by ignoring the external forces that define choices, a person yields to a logical fallacy (Hume 859 Section VII). Developing his concept of dichotomy in the free-will argument, Hume covers the idea of conjoined and connected events, arguing that external forces are far too strong to be comprehended. As a result, in Hume’s view, it is the limitation and imperfection of human understanding that explains the lack of a connection between cause and effect.
Nietzsche refers to the works of Socrates and is armed with skepticism when addressing this philosophical topic. He attempts to prove that morality is alien to human nature and provides meaningful challenges to its traditional principles and the value of life. Nietzsche introduces the concept of “Agon” as an idea of struggle and challenge when explaining cause-and-effect as a philosophical relation (Nietzsche 1231 Section I). According to Nietzsche, it is through this personal struggle that one can become “the master of oneself” and overcome the limitations of morality as a false notion that people have been forced to accept (Nietzsche 1234 Section VI).
Nietzsche believes that one’s faith, spirituality, and morally positive ideas block the ability to analyze the nature of reality and create a false view of cause-and-effect as a philosophical relationship. He defines the phenomenon as “causa sui” (the “cause of itself”) meaning that causality as a concept is detached from objective reality (Nietzsche 1232 Section V). In his beliefs, the perception of self is seen as a random factor that defines the interpretation of reality.
Additionally, Nietzsche connects the development of the false notion of causation as the effect of misinterpreting the concepts “I” and “being” (Nietzsche 1233 Section VI). According to Nietzsche, once one’s “self” is created, the person builds an entire false world around it leading to the development of new false cause-and-effect relationships. Claiming that the idea of truth is incompatible with objective reality, Nietzsche also questions an individual’s ability to link separate experiences into a cause-and-effect chain. Nietzsche also rejects the concept of truth when he questions and disproves the existence of morality as a philosophical measurement.
An essential characteristic of Nietzsche’s argument specific to cause-and-effect is the error of false causality. Nietzsche explains that the individual who follows their internal facts and patterns that cannot be verified as a part of objective reality will fall into the trap of the error of imaginary causes (Nietzsche 1238 Section VII). Simply said, the quality of one’s analysis is directly influenced by their sensations and subjective perceptions. Considering the aforementioned, Nietzsche’s beliefs align closely with Socrates’ philosophical view that truth is an idea. Nietzsche suggests that the search for a cause-and-effect relation is useless.
To further appreciate the differences between Nietzsche and Hume’s, it is important to address their differing perspectives and stances on the nature of causality. While Hume tends to see the lack of connectivity between events as a natural effect of low levels of awareness and knowledge among people, Nietzsche denies any presence of causation as an event, linking it directly to subjectivity. Specifically, Nietzsche states the following: “Everything that is of the first rank must be causa sui [cause of itself].
Origination from something else counts as an objection that creates doubt on the value of what has so originated” (Nietzsche 1232 Section VI). Nietzsche is claiming that the cause as an idea should be rejected. Hume, in contrast, concludes that the cause exists yet is unattainable to the human mind: “All we know is our profound ignorance” (Hume 860 Section VII). Both perspectives are seemingly different from each other in understanding the nature of cause-and-effect relations.
However, at some point, Hume’s and Nietzsche’s perspectives intersect since both view the cause-and-effect relation as an error that can be brought into a philosophical framework through compromise and incident-specific approach. Therefore, the links between the philosophies of Hume and Nietzsche are worth exploring because they both bring forward a similar set of reasonable conclusions and share the same basic line of reasoning.
Both philosophers are skeptical of the concept of causation, but there are similarities when Nietzsche’s metaphysics meets Hume’s critique of causation. Each philosopher provides different explanations, Nietzsche being strongly against morality and Hume using subjectivity as the key to his argument, yet both acknowledge that the connection between cause and effect is highly elusive and unattainable. Both Hume and Nietzsche explain the basis of the cause-and-effect connection as existing due to limitations in human perception. Therefore, while discounting the factual existence of cause-and-effect as a universal notion, both philosophers tend to agree that it needs to be included in the theoretical model as a useful idea that allows exploring the effects of external and internal factors on people’s perception.
Nietzsche’s argument about the four errors in human judgment is very similar to Hume’s position concerning the fallacy of human nature. For instance, the error of imaginary causes is comparable to Hume’s idea that people’s opinions are biased due to the presence of personal experiences (Nietzsche 1235 Section V). The error of false causality directly connects to Hume’s position regarding the blurred line between objective reality and perception, which highlights the problem of biased viewpoints affected by personal experiences. This shows that the connection between Hume’s and Nietzsche’s perceptions of causality is more likely than it might have been considered at first glance.
Although reasons can be identified suggesting that Hume and Nietzsche offer the same perspective on the concept of causality, specific details can also be identified separating their arguments. In comparison to Nietzsche’s belief that causality is the influence of cultural thinking and ideas, such as religious principles, Hume locks in on the personal experience. This is a clear and primary difference between the perspectives of the two philosophers.
While both arrive at the same conclusion of causality being a result of the individual’s ideas of what is true, the source of the specific assumption is different in each case: Hume points to flaws in people’s perceptions, and Nietzsche focuses on the obvious existence of subjectivity in people’s judgment of objective reality.
Nonetheless, analyzing the detailed opinions shows that each standpoint is really like the other in principle. The element of subjectivity as the basis of a person’s convictions and beliefs onto objective reality is similar to the idea of people’s experiences being the reason for a biased analysis and following misrepresentation of cause-and-effect connections.
Hume argues that “there is nothing in several instances different from every single instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar, except only that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit” (Hume 861 Section VII). In contrast to Hume’s perspective, Nietzsche states that “we, we immoralists, are the answer here” (Nietzsche 1236 Section VI). The difference between Hume’s and Nietzsche’s theories is very small and difficult to grasp, yet it is important in defining the uniqueness of each philosopher’s position.
Although the difference in details makes Nietzsche’s and Hume’s theories seemingly dissimilar, the philosophers share several similar viewpoints regarding the nature of cause-and-effect relationships in philosophy. Through the course readings, it is possible to declare that the primary notion of morality as an artificial construct is at the core of Nietzsche’s argument, whereas Hume relies primarily on his interpretation of subjectivity in moral judgments.
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This difference separates one philosophical theory from another, making the opinion of each philosopher unique and incomparable. However, understanding that the details in the philosophers’ interpretation of the nature of causality can be considered irrelevant means that their standpoints concerning the phenomenon are similar. In conclusion, Nietzsche’s stance is very close to Hume’s in the philosophers’ overall claim that the nature of cause-and-effect relationships is elusive and hardly true.