Ideas of David Hume, by Theme

[British, 1711 - 1776, Born in Edinburgh. Worked for a while in Paris. Author of famous history of Britain. Died in Edinburgh.]

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 7. Despair over Philosophy
The observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy
1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 1. Analysis
If we suspect that a philosophical term is meaningless, we should ask what impression it derives from
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 1. Aims of Science
All experimental conclusions assume that the future will be like the past
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 7. Status of Reason
Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions
2. Reason / E. Argument / 3. Analogy
All reasoning concerning matters of fact is based on analogy (with similar results of similar causes)
An analogy begins to break down as soon as the two cases differ
6. Mathematics / B. Foundations for Mathematics / 4. Definitions of Number / d. Hume's Principle
Two numbers are equal if all of their units correspond to one another
6. Mathematics / C. Sources of Mathematics / 4. Mathematical Empiricism / a. Mathematical empiricism
Reason assists experience in discovering laws, and in measuring their application
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 5. Abstract Existence
We can't think about the abstract idea of triangles, but only of particular triangles
7. Existence / A. Nature of Existence / 7. Criterion for Existence
Existence can't be proved a priori, because it can't be a contradiction to say something does not exist
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 1. Powers
Power is the possibility of action, as discovered by experience
There may well be powers in things, with which we are quite unacquainted
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 7. Against Powers
We have no idea of powers, because we have no impressions of them
The distinction between a power and its exercise is entirely frivolous
We cannot form an idea of a 'power', and the word is without meaning
8. Modes of Existence / E. Nominalism / 2. Resemblance Nominalism
Momentary impressions are wrongly identified with one another on the basis of resemblance
If we see a resemblance among objects, we apply the same name to them, despite their differences
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 4. Individuation / c. Individuation by location
Things are individuated simply by not changing over time
9. Objects / A. Existence of Objects / 6. Nihilism about Objects
We imagine that time is passing when we view something unchanging, and this gives rise to the idea that it has identity
Experience gives us relations between experiences (e.g. of a plant), but the 'identity' is added by the mind
9. Objects / B. Unity of Objects / 2. Substance / e. Substance critique
The only meaning we have for substance is a collection of qualities
Aristotelians propose accidents supported by substance, but they don't understand either of them
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 1. Objects over Time
If we consider an object at two different times, we attribute identity if we perceive unity between them
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 2. Objects that Change
If a tiny part is added to an object we think identity is retained, but only because the transition is smooth
If identity survives change or interruption, then resemblance, contiguity or causation must unite the parts of it
Identity change in objects is relative to observers, as it depends on proportion and speed of change
If a republic can retain identity through many changes, so can an individual
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 8. Continuity of Rivers
If rivers retain identity when the water slowly changes, this must be because of human expectations
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 13. No Identity over Time
We pretend identity stays the same if purpose and causal interconnection remain the same
If interrupted noises and rebuilt churches are the same, identity must be in the mind of the observer
If a single object cannot reveal identity then nor can several, because they are seen at different times
9. Objects / F. Identity among Objects / 1. Concept of Identity
Both number and unity are incompatible with the relation of identity
Viewing an object at an instant, we can have no conception of its identity, but only of its unity
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 10. Impossibility
Nothing we clearly imagine is absolutely impossible
10. Modality / A. Necessity / 11. Denial of Necessity
Necessity only exists in the mind, and not in objects
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 6. Probability
We transfer the frequency of past observations to our future predictions
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 7. Chance
There is no such thing as chance
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / a. Beliefs
Belief is stronger, clearer and steadier than imagination
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / b. Elements of beliefs
Belief is just a particular feeling attached to ideas of objects
Belief can't be a concept plus an idea, or we could add the idea to fictions
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / d. Cause of beliefs
'Natural beliefs' are unavoidable, whatever our judgements
Beliefs are built up by resemblance, contiguity and causation
Belief is a feeling, independent of the will, which arises from uncontrolled and unknown causes
11. Knowledge Aims / C. Knowing Reality / 1. Perceptual Realism / c. Representative realism
Hume says objects are not a construction, but an imaginative leap
12. Knowledge Sources / A. A Priori Knowledge / 9. A Priori from Concepts
Relations of ideas are known by thought, independently from the world
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 2. Qualities in Perception / e. Primary/secondary critique
If secondary qualities (e.g. hardness) are in the mind, so are primary qualities like extension
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 3. Representation
It never occurs to people that they only experience representations, not the real objects
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 1. Empiricism
Impressions are our livelier perceptions, Ideas the less lively ones
All ideas are copies of impressions
All objects of enquiry are Relations of Ideas, or Matters of Fact
All reasoning about facts is causal; nothing else goes beyond memory and senses
If books don't relate ideas or explain facts, commit them to the flames
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 2. Associationism
Associationism results from having to explain intentionality just with sense-data
All ideas are connected by Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause and Effect
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 4. Pro-Empiricism
We can only invent a golden mountain by combining experiences
When definitions are pushed to the limit, only experience can make them precise
How could Adam predict he would drown in water or burn in fire?
Only madmen dispute the authority of experience
We cannot form the idea of something we haven't experienced
You couldn't reason at all if you lacked experience
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 5. Empiricism Critique
Hume mistakenly lumps sensations and perceptions together as 'impressions'
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 4. Foundationalism / c. Empirical foundations
Reasons for belief must eventually terminate in experience, or they are without foundation
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 4. Foundationalism / f. Foundationalism critique
There is no certain supreme principle, or infallible rule of inference
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 7. Testimony
We think testimony matches reality because of experience, not some a priori connection
Good testimony needs education, integrity, motive and agreement
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 8. Social Justification
Mathematicians only accept their own proofs when everyone confims them
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 1. Scepticism
Reason can never show that experiences are connected to external objects
Mitigated scepticism draws attention to the limitations of human reason, and encourages modesty
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 2. Types of Scepticism
Mitigated scepticism sensibly confines our enquiries to the narrow capacity of human understanding
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 3. Illusion Scepticism
Examples of illusion only show that sense experience needs correction by reason
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 6. Scepticism Critique
It is a very extravagant aim of the sceptics to destroy reason and argument by means of reason and argument
The main objection to scepticism is that no good can come of it
14. Science / C. Induction / 1. Induction
The idea of inductive evidence, around 1660, made Hume's problem possible
14. Science / C. Induction / 2. Aims of Induction
We assume similar secret powers behind similar experiences, such as the nourishment of bread
14. Science / C. Induction / 3. Limits of Induction
All inferences from experience are effects of custom, not reasoning
Reason cannot show why reliable past experience should extend to future times and remote places
Induction can't prove that the future will be like the past, since induction assumes this
If we infer causes from repetition, this explains why we infer from a thousand objects what we couldn't infer from one
Fools, children and animals all learn from experience
14. Science / C. Induction / 4. Reason in Induction
Premises can support an argument without entailing
Hume just shows induction isn't deduction
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 5. Unity of Mind
The unity of consciousness is an illusion
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 7. Seeing Resemblance
General ideas are the connection by resemblance to some particular
A picture of a friend strengthens our idea of him, by resemblance
Hume does not distinguish real resemblances among degrees of resemblance
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 8. Remembering Contiguity
When I am close to (contiguous with) home, I feel its presence more nearly
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 9. Perceiving Causation
Our awareness of patterns of causation is too important to be left to slow and uncertain reasoning
An object made by a saint is the best way to produce thoughts of him
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 3. Self as Non-physical
If self is a substance, what happens when the substance changes?
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 5. Self as Associations
A person is just a fast-moving bundle of perceptions
Personal identity is built up through resemblance and causation
Hume gives us an interesting sketchy causal theory of personal identity
Resemblance forms continuous mental links, so it must be the basis of our identity
The parts of a person are always linked together by causation
Associations are too loose and fading to fix identity, so it is just a linguistic problem
Experiences are logically separate, but factually linked by simultaneity or a feeling of continuousness
My theory that the self is associations won't work; we never see the associations
16. Persons / C. Self-Awareness / 3. Limits of Introspection
If an oyster had one perception, that would be its identity. Why should further perceptions make a difference?
We can't have an impression of the Self, because it is the receiver of impressions
Introspection always discovers perceptions, and never a Self without perceptions
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / a. Memory is Self
Memory only reveals personal identity, by showing cause and effect
We use memory to infer personal actions we have since forgotten
16. Persons / E. Rejecting the Self / 4. Denial of the Self
We invent a 'self' to make a continuous reality out of separate perceptions
We imagine a self, but perceptions seem separate, and no principle connects them
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 5. Against Free Will
The doctrine of free will arises from a false sensation we have of freedom in many actions
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 7. Compatibilism
Liberty is merely acting according to the will, which anyone can do if they are not in chains
Hume makes determinism less rigid by removing the necessity from causation
20. Action / A. Definition of Action / 2. Duration of an Action
If one event cause another, the two events must be wholly distinct
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 2. Willed Action / a. Will to Act
Only experience teaches us about our wills
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / a. Practical reason
For Hume, practical reason has little force, because we can always modify our desires
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / b. Intellectualism
Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 4. Responsibility for Actions
Praise and blame can only be given if an action proceeds from a person's character and disposition
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 2. Aesthetic Attitude
Forget about beauty; just concentrate on the virtues of delicacy and discernment admired in critics
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 3. Taste
Strong sense, delicate sentiment, practice, comparisons, and lack of prejudice, are all needed for good taste
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / b. Fact and value
Modern science has destroyed the Platonic synthesis of scientific explanation and morality
You can't move from 'is' to 'ought' without giving some explanation or reason for the deduction
Virtues and vices are like secondary qualities in perception, found in observers, not objects
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / b. Altruism
The human heart has a natural concern for public good
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / e. Self interest
Total selfishness is not irrational
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / g. Moral responsibility
Repentance gets rid of guilt, which shows that responsibility arose from the criminal principles in the mind
If you deny all necessity and causation, then our character is not responsible for our crime
23. Ethics / A. Egoism / 1. Ethical Egoism
No moral theory is of any use if it doesn't serve the interests of the individual concerned
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 1. Virtue Theory / a. Nature of virtue
Personal Merit is the possession of useful or agreeable mental qualities
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / c. Motivation for virtue
All virtues benefit either the public, or the individual who possesses them
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / c. Justice
Justice only exists to support society
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 4. External Goods / d. Friendship
Friendship without community spirit misses out on the main part of virtue
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 2. Duty
Moral philosophy aims to show us our duty
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 5. Motivation for Duty
Conclusions of reason do not affect our emotions or decisions to act
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 1. Utilitarianism
Virtue just requires careful calculation and a preference for the greater happiness
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 3. Motivation for Altruism
Nature makes private affections come first, because public concerns are spread too thinly
No one would cause casual pain to a complete stranger who happened to be passing
24. Applied Ethics / A. Decision Conflicts / 2. Dilemmas
Moral questions can only be decided by common opinion
24. Applied Ethics / C. Death Issues / 4. Suicide
If suicide is wrong because only God disposes of our lives, it must also be wrong to save lives
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 3. Natural Equality
People must have agreed to authority, because they are naturally equal, prior to education
25. Society / B. The State / 1. Purpose of a State
The safety of the people is the supreme law
The only purpose of government is to administer justice, which brings security
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / d. Social contract
The idea that society rests on consent or promises undermines obedience
We no more give 'tacit assent' to the state than a passenger carried on board a ship while asleep
The people would be amazed to learn that government arises from their consent
25. Society / B. The State / 3. Constitutions
It would be absurd if even a free constitution did not impose restraints, for the public good
25. Society / B. The State / 5. Leaders / b. Monarchy
Modern monarchies are (like republics) rule by law, rather than by men
25. Society / B. The State / 5. Leaders / d. Elites
Nobility either share in the power of the whole, or they compose the power of the whole
25. Society / B. The State / 6. Government / a. Government
Society prefers helpful lies to harmful truth
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 2. Social Freedom / c. Free speech
No government has ever suffered by being too tolerant of philosophy
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 3. Social Equality / d. Economic equality
If you equalise possessions, people's talents will make them unequal again
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 4. Legal Rights / a. Basis of rights
There are two kinds of right - to power, and to property
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 4. Legal Rights / c. Property rights
Hume thought (unlike Locke) that property is a merely conventional relationship
We all know that the history of property is founded on injustices
It is an exaggeration to say that property is the foundation of all government
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 2. Natural Purpose
We can discover some laws of nature, but never its ultimate principles and causes
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 7. Later Matter Theories / a. Early Modern matter
We have no good concept of solidity or matter, because accounts of them are all circular
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 1. Causation
If a singular effect is studied, its cause can only be inferred from the types of events involved
A priori it looks as if a cause could have absolutely any effect
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 3. Final causes
The idea of a final cause is very uncertain and unphilosophical
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 7. Eliminating causation
Hume never even suggests that there is no such thing as causation
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / b. Causal relata
At first Hume said qualities are the causal entities, but later he said events
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / c. Conditions of causation
For Hume a constant conjunction is both necessary and sufficient for causation
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / a. Constant conjunction
Hume says we can only know constant conjunctions, not that that's what causation IS
In both of Hume's definitions, causation is extrinsic to the sequence of events
Hume's definition of cause as constantly joined thoughts can't cover undiscovered laws
It is only when two species of thing are constantly conjoined that we can infer one from the other
A cause is either similar events following one another, or an experience always suggesting a second experience
No causes can be known a priori, but only from experience of constant conjunctions
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / c. Counterfactual causation
Cause is where if the first object had not been, the second had not existed
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / d. Causal necessity
In observing causes we can never observe any necessary connections or binding qualities
Hume never shows how a strong habit could generate the concept of necessity
Hume's regularity theory of causation is epistemological; he believed in some sort of natural necessity
Hume seems to presuppose necessary connections between mental events
That events could be uncaused is absurd; I only say intuition and demonstration don't show this
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 3. Divine Perfections
We can't assume God's perfections are like our ideas or like human attributes
28. God / B. Proving God / 1. Proof of God
The objects of theological reasoning are too big for our minds
28. God / B. Proving God / 2. Proofs of Reason / b. Ontological Proof critique
It can never be a logical contradiction to assert the non-existence of something thought to exist
28. God / B. Proving God / 3. Proofs of Evidence / a. Cosmological Proof
If something must be necessary so that something exists rather than nothing, why can't the universe be necessary?
A chain of events requires a cause for the whole as well as the parts, yet the chain is just a sum of parts
Thought is caused by experience of the world, but the world is only caused by thought if it is linked to it
To claim that motion is derived from intelligence is based on no evidence and explains nothing
28. God / B. Proving God / 3. Proofs of Evidence / b. Teleological Proof
The thing which contains order must be God, so see God where you see order
28. God / B. Proving God / 3. Proofs of Evidence / c. Teleological Proof critique
You can't infer the cause to be any greater than its effect
Judging by the design, God is finite, imperfect, may not be the designer, and may be a team of gods
How can we pronounce on a whole after a brief look at a very small part?
Why would we infer an infinite creator from a finite creation?
If we infer God from an analogy with a watch, he must have human characteristics like sexuality, infancy or senility
Maybe the motions of the world converge on efficient structures, without divine intervention
Patterns in numbers look like divine design, until you discover that they are inevitable
The universe may be the result of trial-and-error
If the world is designed why does it have unnecessary things like our second eye, camels, sheep or magnets?
From our limited view, we cannot tell if the universe is faulty
Analogy suggests that God has a very great human mind
A design argument implies that the cause is like its effect, so God must contain the defects of the world
Order may come from an irrational source as well as a rational one
Creation is more like vegetation than human art, so it won't come from reason
28. God / B. Proving God / 3. Proofs of Evidence / e. Miracles
A miracle violates laws which have been established by continuous unchanging experience, so should be ignored
All experience must be against a supposed miracle, or it wouldn't be called 'a miracle'
To establish a miracle the falseness of the evidence must be a greater miracle than the claimed miraculous event
It can't be more rational to believe in natural laws than miracles if the laws are not rational
28. God / C. Attitudes to God / 4. God Reflects Humanity
The idea of an infinite, intelligent, wise and good God arises from augmenting the best qualities of our own minds