By Nicholas Unwin (auth.)

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This ensures that it is notoriously difficult to decide whether Hume is really a sceptic. In so far as he denies that our beliefs can be given a rational foundation, he evidently is one. However, unlike the Pyrrhonists, he firmly rejects the suggestion that we should therefore abandon them. Whereas the former thought that suspension of judgement would inevitably follow from sceptical argument, Hume insists that our minds are just impervious to such influences, except perhaps for very short periods of time.

After all, nobody would demand an independent justification of deduction, or complain that deductive reasoning is viciously circular because we cannot give one. Why should induction be different? This response may be acceptable up to a point. After all, the meanings of words are not sacred, and if we wish to define ‘rational’ in a certain way, then so be it. Likewise, if we wish to invent a new form of reasoning with its own distinctive norms, then nothing can stop us. However, not all that much will be achieved.

After all, we do live with them! But imagine that things were the other way round, and that we had always had reduced attitudes. Then suppose that someone were to suggest one day that we should augment them (perhaps with a view to simplifying the rules of inter-species conversation). Such augmentation will clearly lead to an increase in our commitments and, although the new conversational rules are much simpler, actual conversations with Martians about most matters of fact will now become seriously disputatious – interminably so.

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