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Hume then asks how we know the principle of cause and effect: if I see one billiard ball rolling toward another, how do I know that the second ball will move when it is struck? He suggests that this knowledge cannot be a priori, since I can deny that the second billiard ball will move without contradiction. Cause and effect are themselves totally distinct: nothing in the movement of the first billiard ball can a priori suggest to me the movement of the second billiard ball. Hume thus concludes that our knowledge of cause and effect must be based on experience. From observed phenomena in the past we infer as yet unobserved phenomena in the future.

We base our knowledge of future events in past experience, but how do we know that the past is a good guide for future predictions? Hume distinguishes between “demonstrative reasoning,” which is based on relations of ideas, and “moral reasoning,” which is based on matters of fact. We cannot know that the future will resemble the past by means of demonstrative reasoning, since there is no contradiction in suggesting that the future will not resemble the past. Moral reasoning is also unhelpful, since it falls into a vicious circle. If all our predictions about the future are based on this principle–that the future will resemble the past–and that principle is derived from past experience, we cannot know that it will remain true in the future except by assuming that principle from the outset.

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