Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation and Hume's Conception of Causality
Slavov, M. (2013). Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation and Hume's Conception of Causality. Philosophia Naturalis, 50 (2), 277-305. doi:10.3196/003180215815620396
Published inPhilosophia Naturalis
© Vittorio Klostermann. This is a final draft version of an article whose final and definitive form has been published by Vittorio Klostermann. Published in this repository with the kind permission of the publisher.
This article investigates the relationship between Hume’s causal philosophy and Newton’s philosophy of nature. I claim that Newton’s experimentalist methodology in gravity research is an important background for understanding Hume’s conception of causality: Hume sees the relation of cause and effect as not being founded on a priori reasoning, similar to the way that Newton criticized non-empirical hypotheses about the properties of gravity. However, according to Hume’s criteria of causal inference, the law of universal gravitation is not a complete causal law, since it does not include a reference either to contiguity or to temporal priority. It is still argued that because of the empirical success of Newton’s theory—the law is a statement of an exceptionless repetition—Hume gives his support to it in interpreting gravity force instrumentally as if it bore a causal relation to motion.