I recently read a story* about a little boy who, reaching for a slice of carrot, was nicked by his mother’s knife. Apparently she didn’t seem him reaching for it while she was slicing the carrot and immediately whisked him up and attended to his small cut. While she was holding him, he looked up at her and said, “I just wanted a carrot.” Only then did she realize he thought she cut him on purpose. And what is worse, he didn’t seem convinced by her pleading to the contrary.

It got me wondering: how often are we are cut for carrots? How frequently do we experience an effect and assume a cause for it that is entirely false? As the sort of meaning-seeking beings we are, it must happen all the time. I wager that many of us are walking around saddened by perceived slights and/or injuries that are merely the result of two things happening close together. Although, not David Hume (though he’s quite dead, so “walking around” may not be the right turn-of-phrase).

Hume thought that all cause and effect relationships were always open to doubt.  He argued that whatever knowledge and predictive power of what-causes-what is the result of experience or habit. When we send a billiard ball down the table and it breaks the rack of balls, we begin to believe (out of experience) that the same thing will happen again the next time we do it–but, according to Hume, we don’t KNOW that it will happen.  Hume insists there is no absolute or necessary connection between a certain cause and a certain effect–and since we do not have infinite experiences to refer to, we can never have absolute certainty regarding cause and effect.

That being said, I don’t think we need to doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I do think when our mother gives a little cut as we innocently reach for a carrot–its probably not intentional. Now give your mother a hug.

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*the story came from this book, which I can’t really recommend–it’s got some nice bits, but that’s about all.

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