David Hume

David Hume (1711-1776):
Empiricism - The Next Generation

  1. Intellectual Background:

    1. John Locke -

      1. no innate ideas,

      2. ideas derived from sensation,

      3. distinction between primary and secondary qualities,

      4. existence of matter

    2. George Berkley -

      1. no distinction between primary and secondary qualities,
      2. esse est percepi - immaterialism

  2. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

    1. Hume's Distinction between the things in the mind

      1. Impressions (i.e., sensations) - lively, immediate, strong

        1. sensory data
        2. emotions
        3. desires/will

      2. Thoughts (ideas) - less forceful, mediated, dependent

        1. compounds
        2. abstractions
        3. imagination

      3. Two Arguments for this distinction:

        1. The atomic nature of Ideas - copies of, or a composite of copies of sensations (e.g., God)
        2. The necessity of impressions for ideas

    2. The Shperes of Human Reason (i.e., knowledge)

      1. The Relations between Ideas - the logical organization of ideas in the mind

        1. Evidence - pure reason (logical relations)
        2. demonstrable and certain
        3. Examples: Geometry, Arithmetic, Algebra, tautologies, analytic propositions


        Note: These are 'certain' in that it is impossible even to conceive the contrary of the propositions (e.g., 'square circles').

      2. Matters of Fact - everything that does not fall into the previous category (the contrary of every factual proposition is logically possible)

        1. What counts as evidence? - Cause and Effect
        2. The Problem of Induction - How do we determine causation?

          1. not a priori - Billiard Ball (every effect is distinct from its cause)
          2. not a posteriori - past effects do not determine future effects (the same phenomena may give rise to different consequences in the future)

        3. There exists no idea of causation, only the mental habit of expecting the Constant Conjunction of Phenomena in the mind.

    3. The Consequences of Hume's View: Skepticism

      1. We can 'know' only those things which can be demonstrated.

      2. Matters of fact are only believed because of our experience with constant conjunction

      3. We have no 'knowledge' of matters of fact.

If you would like to read more about Hume click here.

Return to Notes Index
Return to Barry's HP