The Scots Man and the Sea; Or; The Sun May Or May Not Rise, IDK
January 29, 2014 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Did Hume, in writing about the problem of induction, go on any thing like a tangent about how we might as well just row out into the middle of the sea?

Slightly goofy, I know. At a party in grad school, I have a recollection that someone told me about reading Hume, and their being amused by a long rant about how since we can't know anything about anything that hasn't happened yet, we might as well just row out into the sea and die.

Unfortunately, occasional attempts to find this passage with Google etc since then have only found a discussion of 'convention' involving two men in a rowboat pulling together.

So: Did I hallucinate this/was lied to/some other causal or non-causal explanation, or is there in fact a passage along these lines? It's probably my favorite bit from a major philosophical treatise and it'd be a bummer if it didn't exist.
posted by PMdixon to Religion & Philosophy (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could they have been talking about this bit from "Of The Original Contract":

"Can we seriously say, that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice to leave his country, when he knows no foreign language or manners, and lives, from day to day, by the small wages which he acquires? We may as well assert that a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep, and must leap into the ocean and perish, the moment he leaves her."
posted by mittens at 5:04 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

This might be it. It's from A Treatise of Human Nature, the beginning of book I, part IV, section VII, "Conclusion of this book," right after he has spent several sections doubting all sorts of things and in particular the decidability of many questions about personal identity:
But before I launch out into those immense depths of philosophy, which lie before me, I find myself inclined to stop a moment in my present station, and to ponder that voyage, which I have undertaken, and which undoubtedly requires the utmost art and industry to be brought to a happy conclusion. Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escaped shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances. My memory of past errors and perplexities, makes me diffident for the future. The wretched condition, weakness, and disorder of the faculties, I must employ in my enquiries, encrease my apprehensions. And the impossibility of amending or correcting these faculties, reduces me almost to despair, and makes me resolve to perish on the barren rock, on which I am at present, rather than venture myself upon that boundless ocean, which runs out into immensity. This sudden view of my danger strikes me with melancholy; and as it is usual for that passion, above all others, to indulge itself; I cannot forbear feeding my despair, with all those desponding reflections, which the present subject furnishes me with in such abundance.

I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expelled all human commerce, and left utterly abandoned and disconsolate. Fain would I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side. I have exposed myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declared my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surprized, if they should express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; though such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:20 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

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