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PHL lecture, jan. 24.doc

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

Hume: Mental Mechanics • Hume was an important figure of the so-called ‘Scottish Enlightenment,’ in the company of other notables such as his friend Adam Smith o In common with other Enlightenment thinkers, Hume adopted the following broad claim: Progress is made by the free exercise of reason alone  He regarded his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding as the clearest expression of his mature philosophical views, which were meant to put “the study of man” on a scientific basis  Like Hobbes, Hume was dissatisfied with previous philosophy and impressed with the genuine advances made by science • The ‘science’ Hume has in his mind is that of Newton: to uncover general laws that reduce the diversity of the phenomena to the conjoint operation of several simple principles. o Thus Hume tried to introduce regularity and order into our understanding of ourselves, and he begins by investigating our cognitive apparatus, in order to “discover, at least in some degree, the secret springs and principles, by which the human mind is actuated in its operations.” o Hume therefore takes philosophy proper to begin with the philosophy of mind • Hume presents the fundamentals of his “Theory of Ideas” in Enquiry II. He begins with the following three claims: o (T1) All perceptions are either (a) impressions, or (b) ideas o (T2) Sensing and sentiment produce only impressions, whereas thinking produces only ideas o (T3) All ideas are ‘copies’ of impressions • Impressions are distinguished from ideas in being more “forceful and lively” in themselves o It roughly matches up with the distinction between feeling and thinking, present experience and non-present experience  E.g. memory • The last of theses, (T3), is known as the “copy thesis” because it links impressions and ideas o Hume offers two arguments for (T3) in 2.14-15; the first argument depends on a distinction that requires a restatement of both theses put forward so far o Hume now says that ideas may be either simple or complex o Now ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ are relational terms: simple/complex with respect to, well, what? o 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 o Thus simplicity and complexity are explained in terms of the composition of ideas o Hume’s example makes this clear  The idea of a golden mountain as he says in 2.13, 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) impression, or (b) an idea that is either  (B1) simple in itself or  (B2) 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 coy of an impression  Note that Hume’s phrasing of (T3*)(a): simple ideas are copies of impressions.  That
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