Tag: david hume

Richard Epstein on Classical Liberalism, the Administrative State, Free Speech, and Silicon Valley Regulation


For this week’s Big Ideas with Ben Weingarten podcast, I had legendary classical liberal legal theorist and longtime professor at University of Chicago Law School and now at NYU Law — and prodigious Ricochet podcaster Professor Richard Epstein on the podcast to discuss among other things:

  • The role that Professor Epstein’s famous book, “Takings” played in Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing — and then-Senator Joe Biden’s hectoring
  • Professor Epstein’s groundbreaking theories on private property rights, eminent domain and the Takings and Commerce Clauses
  • The practical argument against progressivism
  • Whether we should deconstruct the administrative state, and if so how to do it
  • The danger to free speech emanating from college campuses in a world of microaggressions, trigger warnings, de-platforming
  • The folly of regulating Silicon Valley social media companies
  • Classical liberalism versus socialism and libertarianism

You can find the episode on iTunes, everywhere else podcasts are found or download the episode directly here.

The Problem of Social Induction


Scottish philosopher David Hume — a skeptic’s skeptic, and not exactly a vaunted figure around here — is famous, in part, for his criticism of inductive reasoning. (Induction involves moving from a particular (or a series of particulars) to some general conclusion.) We tend, for instance, to use inductive reasoning when linking cause and effect. If I lift a ball and let go, the ball falls. The ball behaves this way every time I release it. As far as I know, every single human who hoists a ball into the air and drops it notices the same thing. The ball invariably plunges toward the earth. I conclude, therefore, that a causal relationship exists between my letting go and the ball’s descent.

But, according to Hume, my reasoning is faulty.* No matter how many times I observe one phenomenon following another, I can never be certain that the first causes the second. To do so — to achieve certainty — would require knowledge of the principles underlying that causal chain. But I have no such knowledge. I don’t know, and can’t know, whether there is a causal chain.

Humean skepticism has its problems, of course. But so does induction. Some inductive conclusions are simply wrong — as in the famous case of swan color. Flawed inductive reasoning has a particular habit of creeping into the social and political spheres. What do I mean? I’ll explain: