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Hume- EHU 2.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

HUME: MENTAL MECHANICS [1] Hume presents the fundamentals of his “Theory of Ideas” in Enquiry 2—the mental mechan- ics that support his new science of the mind. He begins with the following three claims: (T1) All perceptions are either (a) impressions, or (b) ideas. (T2) Sensing and sentiment produce only impressions, whereas thinking produces only ideas. (T3) All ideas are ‘copies’ of impressions. Impressions are distinguished from ideas in being more “forceful and lively” in themselves; it roughly matches up with the distinction between feeling and thinking, present experience and non-present experience (e.g. memory). The last of these, (T3), is known as the “copy thesis” because it links impressions and ideas. Hume offers two arguments for (T3) in §§2.6–7; the first argument depends on a distinction that requires a restatement of both theses put forward so far. Hume now says that ideas may be either simple or complex. Now ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ are relational terms: simple/complex with respect to, well, what? Hume wheels in a venerable theory: he claims, on the basis of introspection, that thinking is a matter of combination and division, and hence that a single idea may be produced by the combination of many ideas. Thus simplicity and complexity are explained in terms of the composition of ideas. Hume’s example makes this clear. The idea of a golden mountain, as he says in §2.5, is clearly derived from the imaginative combination of the idea-of-gold and the idea-of-the-mountain. (It’s worth noting that Hume assumes that compounding ideas results in an idea with compound content—not an obvious claim.) Hence we may reformulate Hume’s explicit theses as follows: (T1*) Each perception is either (a) an impression, or (b) an idea that is either (b1) simple in itself or (2 ) a complex composite of simple ideas. (T3*) Each idea is either (a) a simple idea that is a copy of an impression, or (b) a complex composite of simple ideas, each of which is a copy of an impression. Note Hume’s phrasing of (T3*)(a): simple ideas are copies of impressions. That is, Hume holds that, as a matter of fact, we can not only divide mental phenomena exclusively and exhaustively into two groups, but that one group consists only of copies of members of the other group. Now Hume offers two arguments for (T3*). The first is a general burden-of-proof argument: Hume announces that all ideas are ultimately copies of impressions, and challenges his opponents to produce a counterexample. The second argument is based on a (putatively) factual account of the way human minds work. In the case of those who are (say) blind from birth, and hence lack the relevant impressions, we find that they do not have the corresponding ideas. This second argument reveals that Hume has adopted another thesis without putting it on the table for discussion, namely the converse of (T2): (T4) Impressions are produced only by sensing and sentiment, whereas ide
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