Happy birthday Hume the fox, who condemns hedgehogs for their violent and absurd reasoning

The great Scottish philosopher David Hume, friend of other great Scottish philosopher Adam Smith was 300 the other day. Crooked Timber is inviting favourite Hume quotes and Paul Krugman offers this.

I have long entertained a suspicion, with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute, than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake, to which they seem liable, almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety, which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phænomenon, though by the most violent and absurd reasoning.

The quote from Hume is an example of what I was talking about in another post – the idea of understanding the psycho-pathology of disciplinary thought. And it’s also a statement in praise of the fox and against the hedgehog. As a fellow fox I agree.  And note, that Philip Tetlock who knows about these things, indicates that if you’re in the business of trying to make predictions just slightly on the right side of random, you should join us foxes.

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john walker
john walker
10 years ago

Not unlike the story of the Spider and his clever , narrow web, all of his own construction (apart from a shirtload of dead flies) Vs The Honey Bee who harms no one, ranges widely and brings us honey and wax.