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For other people named David Hume, see David Hume (disambiguation).
David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS(26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalisticscience of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is ultimately founded solely in experience; Hume thus held that genuine knowledge must either be directly traceable to objects perceived in experience, or result from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are derived from experience, calling the rest "nothing but sophistry and illusion", a dichotomy later given the name Hume's fork.
In what is sometimes referred to as Hume's problem of induction, he argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot ultimately be justified rationally; our trust in causality and induction instead results from custom and mental habit and are attributable to only the experience of "constant conjunction" rather than logic: for we can never, in experience, perceive that one event causes another, but only that the two are always conjoined, and to draw any inductive causal inferences from past experience first requires the presupposition that the future will be like the past, a presupposition which cannot be grounded in prior experience without already being presupposed. Hume's anti-teleological opposition to the argument for God's existence from design is generally regarded as the most intellectually significant such attempt to rebut the teleological argument prior to Charles Darwin.
Hume was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on emotion or sentiment rather than abstract moral principle, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions". Hume's moral theory has been seen as a unique attempt to synthesise the modern sentimentalist moral tradition to which Hume belonged, with the virtue ethics tradition of ancient philosophy, with which Hume concurred in regarding traits of character, rather than acts or their consequences, as ultimately the proper objects of moral evaluation. Hume maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena, and is usually taken to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done. Hume also denied that humans have an actual conception of the self, positing that we experience only a bundle of sensations, and that the self is nothing more than this bundle of causally-connected perceptions. Hume's compatibilist theory of free will takes causal determinism as fully compatible with human freedom.
Hume influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, Immanuel Kant, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and other movements and thinkers. Kant himself credited Hume as the spur to his philosophical thought who had awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers".
Early life and education
David Hume was the second of two sons born to Joseph Home of Ninewells, an advocate, and his wife The Hon. Katherine (née Falconer), daughter of Sir David Falconer. He was born on 26 April 1711 (Old Style) in a tenement on the north side of the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh. Hume's father died when Hume was a child, just after his second birthday, and he was raised by his mother, who never remarried. He changed the spelling of his name in 1734, because of the fact that his surname Home, pronounced Hume, was not known in England. Throughout his life Hume, who never married, spent time occasionally at his family home at Ninewells in Berwickshire, which had belonged to his family since the sixteenth century. His finances as a young man were very "slender". His family was not rich, and, as a younger son, he had little patrimony to live on. He was therefore forced to make a living somehow.
Hume attended the University of Edinburgh at the unusually early age of twelve (possibly as young as ten) at a time when fourteen was normal. At first, because of his family, he considered a career in law, but came to have, in his words, "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of Philosophy and general Learning; and while [my family] fanceyed I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the Authors which I was secretly devouring". He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735 that "there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books". Hume did not graduate.
Aged around 18, he made a philosophical discovery that opened up to him "a new Scene of Thought", which inspired him "to throw up every other Pleasure or Business to apply entirely to it". He did not recount what this scene was, and commentators have offered a variety of speculations. One popular interpretation, prominent in contemporary Hume scholarship, is that the new "scene of thought" was Hume's realization that Francis Hutcheson's "moral sense" theory of morality could be applied to the understanding as well. Due to this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of ten years reading and writing. He soon came to the verge of a mental breakdown, suffering from what a doctor diagnosed as the "Disease of the Learned". Hume wrote that it started with a coldness, which he attributed to a "Laziness of Temper", that lasted about nine months. Later, some scurvy spots broke out on his fingers. This was what persuaded Hume's physician to make his diagnosis. Hume wrote that he "went under a Course of Bitters and Anti-Hysteric Pills", taken along with a pint of claret every day. Hume also decided to have a more active life to better continue his learning. His health improved somewhat, but, in 1731, he was afflicted with a ravenous appetite and palpitations of the heart. After eating well for a time, he went from being "tall, lean and raw-bon'd" to being "sturdy, robust [and] healthful-like". Indeed, Hume would become well known in his time for his "corpulence", and his fondness for good port and cheese.
At 25 years of age, Hume, although of noble ancestry, had no source of income and no learned profession. As was common at his time, he became a merchant's assistant, but he had to leave his native Scotland. He travelled via Bristol to La Flèche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Flèche.
While Hume was derailed in his attempts to start a university career by protests over his "atheism" and bemoaned that his literary debut, A Treatise of Human Nature, 'fell dead-born from the press', he nevertheless found literary success in his lifetime as an essayist, and a career as a librarian at the University of Edinburgh. His tenure there, and the access to research materials it provided, ultimately resulted in Hume's writing the massive six-volume The History of England, which became a bestseller and the standard history of England in its day. Hume described his "love for literary fame" as his "ruling passion" and judged his two late works, the so-called "first" and "second" enquiries, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, respectively, as his greatest literary and philosophical achievements, asking his contemporaries to judge him on the merits of the later texts alone, rather than the more radical formulations of his early, youthful work, dismissing his philosophical debut as juvenilia: "A work which the Author had projected before he left College." Nevertheless, despite Hume's protestations, a general consensus exists today that Hume's strongest and most important arguments, and most philosophically distinctive doctrines, are found in the original form they take in the Treatise, begun when Hume was just 23 years old and now regarded as one of the most important works in the history of Western philosophy.
He worked for four years on his first major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, subtitled "Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects", completing it in 1738 at the age of 28. Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume's most important work and one of the most important books in Western philosophy, the critics in Great Britain at the time did not agree, describing it as "abstract and unintelligible". As Hume had spent most of his savings during those four years, he resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature". Despite the disappointment, Hume later wrote, "Being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country." There, in an attempt to make his larger work better known and more intelligible, he published the An Abstract of a Book lately Published as a summary of the main doctrines of the Treatise, without revealing its authorship. Although there has been some academic speculation as to who actually wrote this pamphlet it is generally regarded as Hume's creation.
After the publication of Essays Moral and Political in 1741, which was included in the later edition called Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, Hume applied for the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. However, the position was given to William Cleghorn after Edinburgh ministers petitioned the town council not to appoint Hume because he was seen as an atheist.
During the 1745 Jacobite rising, Hume tutored the Marquess of Annandale (1720–92), who was "judged to be a lunatic". This engagement ended in disarray after about a year. However, it was then that Hume started his great historical work The History of England. This took him fifteen years and ran to over a million words. During this time he was also involved with the Canongate Theatre through his friend John Home, a preacher.
In this context, he associated with Lord Monboddo and other Scottish Enlightenment luminaries in Edinburgh. From 1746, Hume served for three years as secretary to General James St Clair, who was envoy to the courts of Turin and Vienna. At that time Hume also wrote Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, later published as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Often called the First Enquiry, it proved little more successful than the Treatise, perhaps because of the publishing of his short autobiography, My Own Life, which "made friends difficult for the first Enquiry". In 1749 he went to live with his brother in the countryside.
Hume's religious views were often suspect. It was necessary in the 1750s for his friends to avert a trial against him on the charge of heresy. However, he "would not have come and could not be forced to attend if he said he was not a member of the Established Church". Hume failed to gain the chair of philosophy at the University of Glasgow for his religious views, too. He had published the Philosophical Essays by this time which were decidedly anti-religious. Even Adam Smith, his personal friend who had vacated the Glasgow philosophy chair, was against his appointment out of concern public opinion would be against it.
Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1751. In the following year "the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library". This resource enabled him to continue historical research for The History of England. Hume's volume of Political Discourses, written in 1749 and published by Kincaid & Donaldson in 1752, was the only work he considered successful on first publication.
Eventually, with the publication of his six volume The History of England between 1754 and 1762, Hume achieved the fame that he coveted. The volumes traced events from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, and was a bestseller in its day.
Hume was also a longtime friend of bookseller Andrew Millar, who sold Hume's History (after acquiring the rights from Scottish bookseller Gavin Hamilton), although the relationship was sometimes complicated. Letters between them illuminate both men's interest in the success of the History.
From 1763 to 1765, Hume was invited to attend Lord Hertford in Paris, where he became secretary to the British embassy. Hume was well received in Paris, and while there he met with Isaac de Pinto In 1766, Hume left Paris to accompany Jean-Jacques Rousseau to England. Once in England, Hume and Rousseau fell out. Hume was sufficiently worried about the damage to his reputation from the quarrel with Rousseau (who is generally believed to have suffered from paranoia) to have authored an account of the dispute, which he titled, appropriately enough "A concise and genuine account of the dispute between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau." In 1765, he served as British Chargé d'affaires, writing "despatches to the British Secretary of State". He wrote of his Paris life, "I really wish often for the plain roughness of The Poker Club of Edinburgh ... to correct and qualify so much lusciousness". In 1766, upon returning to Britain, Hume encouraged Lord Hertford to invest in a number of slave plantations, acquired by George Colebrooke and others in the Windward Islands. In 1767, Hume was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department. Here he wrote that he was given "all the secrets of the Kingdom". In 1769 he returned to James' Court in Edinburgh, and then lived, from 1771 until his death in 1776, at the southwest corner of St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh's New Town, at what is now 21 Saint David Street. A popular story, consistent with some historical evidence, suggests the street may have been named after Hume.
In the last year of his life, Hume wrote an extremely brief autobiographical essay titled "My Own Life" which summed up his entire life in "fewer than 5 pages", and notably contains many interesting judgments that have been of enduring interest to subsequent readers of Hume. The scholar of 18th century literature Donald Seibert judged it a "remarkable autobiography, even though it may lack the usual attractions of that genre. Anyone hankering for startling revelations or amusing anecdotes had better look elsewhere." Hume here confesses his belief that the"love of literary fame" had served as his "ruling passion" in life, and claims that this desire "never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments." One such disappointment Hume discusses in the mini-autobiography was his disappointment that with the initial literary reception of the Treatise, which he claims to have overcome by means of the success of the Essays: "the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment". Perhaps most notable is Hume's revelation of his own retrospective judgment that his philosophical debut's apparent failure "had proceeded more from the manner than the matter." Hume thus suggests that "I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early." Hume provides an unambiguous self-assessment of the relative value of his works: "my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject) is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best." Hume also makes a number of self-assessments in the essay, writing of his social relations that "My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary", noting of his complex relation to religion, as well as the state, that "though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury", and professing of his character that "My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct." Hume concludes the essay with the frank admission: " I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained."
Diarist and biographer James Boswell saw Hume a few weeks before his death, which was from some form of abdominal cancer. Hume told him he sincerely believed it a "most unreasonable fancy" that there might be life after death. This meeting was dramatised in semi-fictional form for the BBC by Michael Ignatieff as Dialogue in the Dark. Hume asked that his body be interred in a "simple Roman tomb". In his will he requests that it be inscribed only with his name and the year of his birth and death, "leaving it to Posterity to add the Rest". It stands, as he wished it, on the southwestern slope of Calton Hill, in the Old Calton Cemetery. Adam Smith later recounted Hume's amusing speculation that he might ask Charon to allow him a few more years of life in order to see "the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition." The ferryman replied, "You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years ... Get into the boat this instant".
In the introduction to A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote, "'Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, more or less, to human nature ... Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of Man." He also wrote that the science of man is the "only solid foundation for the other sciences" and that the method for this science requires both experience and observation as the foundations of a logical argument. On this aspect of Hume's thought, philosophical historian Frederick Copleston wrote that it was Hume's aim to apply to the science of man the method of experimental philosophy (the term that was current at the time to imply Natural philosophy), and that "Hume's plan is to extend to philosophy in general the methodological limitations of Newtonian physics".
Until recently, Hume was seen as a forerunner of logical positivism; a form of anti-metaphysical empiricism. According to the logical positivists, unless a statement could be verified by experience, or else was true or false by definition (i.e. either tautological or contradictory), then it was meaningless (this is a summary statement of their verification principle). Hume, on this view, was a proto-positivist, who, in his philosophical writings, attempted to demonstrate how ordinary propositions about objects, causal relations, the self, and so on, are semantically equivalent to propositions about one's experiences.[not in citation given]
Many commentators have since rejected this understanding of Humean empiricism, stressing an epistemological (rather than a semantic) reading of his project. According to this opposing view, Hume's empiricism consisted in the idea that it is our knowledge, and not our ability to conceive, that is restricted to what can be experienced. Hume thought that we can form beliefs about that which extends beyond any possible experience, through the operation of faculties such as custom and the imagination, but he was sceptical about claims to knowledge on this basis.
Impressions and ideas
One of the most central doctrines of Hume's philosophy, stated in the very first lines of the Treatise, is his notion that the mind consists of its mental perceptions, or the mental objects which are present to it, and which divide into two categories: impressions and ideas. Hume's Treatise thus opens with the words: 'All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call IMPRESSIONS and IDEAS." Hume states that "I believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in explaining this distinction" and commentators have generally taken Hume to mean the distinction between feeling and thinking. Controversially, Hume may regard the difference as in some sense a matter of degree, as he takes "impressions" to be distinguished from ideas, on the basis of their force, liveliness, and vivacity, or what Henry Allison calls the "FLV criterion" in his book on Hume. Ideas are therefore "faint" impressions. For example, experiencing the painful sensation of touching the handle of a hot pan is more forceful than simply thinking about touching a hot pan. According to Hume, impressions are meant to be the original form of all our ideas, and Don Garret has thus coined the term "the copy principle" to refer to Hume's doctrine that all ideas are ultimately all copied from some original impression, whether it be a passion or sensation, from which they derive.
After establishing the forcefulness of impressions and ideas, these two categories are further broken down into simple and complex: simple impressions and ideas, and complex impressions and ideas. Hume states that “simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are such as admit of no distinction nor separation,” while “the complex are the contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts.” When looking at an apple, a person experiences a variety of color-sensations, which Hume sees as a complex impression. Similarly, a person experiences a variety of taste-sensations, tactile-sensations, and smell-sensations when biting into an apple, with the overall sensation again being a complex impression. Thinking about an apple allows a person to form complex ideas, which are made of similar parts as the complex impressions they were developed from, but which are also less forceful. Hume believes that complex perceptions can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts until perceptions are reached that have no parts of their own, and these perceptions are thereby referred to as being simple.
A person’s imagination, regardless of how boundless it may seem, is confined to the mind’s ability to recombine the information it has already acquired from the body’s sensory experience (the ideas that have been derived from impressions). In addition, “as our imagination takes our most basic ideas and leads us to form new ones, it is directed by three principles of association, namely, resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect." The principle of resemblance refers to the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent resemble one another. For example, a person looking at an illustration of a flower can conceive of an idea of the physical flower because the idea of the illustrated object is associated with the idea of the physical object. The principle of contiguity describes the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent are near to each other in time or space, such as when the thought of one crayon in a box leads a person to think of the crayon contiguous to it. Finally, the principle of cause and effect refers to the tendency of ideas to become associated if the objects they represent are causally related, which explains how remembering a broken window can make someone think of the baseball that caused the window to shatter.
Hume elaborates more on this last principle of cause and effect. When a person observes that one object or event consistently produces the same object or event, it results in “an expectation that a particular event (a ‘cause’) will be followed by another event (an ‘effect’) previously and constantly associated with it." Hume calls this principle custom, or habit, saying that “custom…renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past." However, even though custom can serve as a guide in life, it still only represents an expectation. In other words, “experience cannot establish a necessary connection between cause and effect, because we can imagine without contradiction a case where the cause does not produce its usual effect…the reason why we mistakenly infer that there is something in the cause that necessarily produces its effect is because our past experiences have habituated us to think in this way." Continuing this idea, Hume argues that “only in the pure realm of ideas, logic, and mathematics, not contingent on the direct sense awareness of reality, [can] causation safely…be applied – all other sciences are reduced to probability." He uses this skepticism to reject metaphysics and many theological views on the basis that they are not grounded in fact and observations, and are therefore beyond the reach of human understanding.
Induction and causation
The cornerstone of Hume's epistemology is the problem of induction. This may be the area of Hume's thought where his scepticism about human powers of reason is most pronounced. The problem revolves around the plausibility of inductive reasoning, that is, reasoning from the observed behaviour of objects to their behaviour when unobserved. As Hume wrote, induction concerns how things behave when they go "beyond the present testimony of the senses, or the records of our memory". Hume argues that we tend to believe that things behave in a regular manner, meaning that patterns in the behaviour of objects seem to persist into the future, and throughout the unobserved present. Hume's argument is that we cannot rationally justify the claim that nature will continue to be uniform, as justification comes in only two varieties—demonstrative reasoning and probable reasoning[note 1]—and both of these are inadequate. With regard to demonstrative reasoning, Hume argues that the uniformity principle cannot be demonstrated, as it is "consistent and conceivable" that nature might stop being regular. Turning to probable reasoning, Hume argues that we cannot hold that nature will continue to be uniform because it has been in the past. As this is using the very sort of reasoning (induction) that is under question, it would be circular reasoning. Thus, no form of justification will rationally warrant our inductive inferences.
Hume's solution to this problem is to argue that, rather than reason, natural instinct explains the human practice of making inductive inferences. He asserts that "Nature, by an absolute and uncontroulable [sic] necessity has determin'd us to judge as well as to breathe and feel." Agreeing, philosopher John D. Kenyon writes: "Reason might manage to raise a doubt about the truth of a conclusion of natural inductive inference just for a moment ... but the sheer agreeableness of animal faith will protect us from excessive caution and sterile suspension of belief." Commentators such as Charles Sanders Peirce have demurred from Hume's solution, while, some, such as Kant and Karl Popper, saw that Hume's analysis "had posed a most fundamental challenge to all human knowledge claims."
The notion of causation is closely linked to the problem of induction. According to Hume, we reason inductively by associating constantly conjoined events. It is the mental act of association that is the basis of our concept of causation. There are at least three interpretations of Hume's theory of causation represented in the literature: (1) the logical positivist; (2) the sceptical realist; and (3) the quasi-realist.
David Hume acknowledged that there are events constantly unfolding, humanity cannot guarantee that these events are caused by events prior or if they are independent instances. Hume opposed the widely accepted theory of Causation that ‘all events have a specific course or reason.’ Therefore Hume crafted his own theory of causation, which he formed through his empiricist and skeptic beliefs. He split Causation, into two realms “All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact”. Relations of Ideas are a priori, and represent universal bonds between ideas that mark the cornerstones of human thought. Matters of Fact are dependent on the observer and experience. They are often not universally held to be true among multiple persons. Hume was an Empiricist, meaning he believed “causes and effects are discoverable not by reason, but by experience”. Hume later goes onto say that even with the perspective of the past, humanity cannot dictate future events because thoughts of the past are limited, compared to the possibilities for the future. Hume’s separation between Matters of Fact and Relations of Ideas is often referred to as “Hume’s Fork”. Hume explains his theory of Causation and causal inference by division into three different parts. In these three branches he explains his ideas, in addition to comparing and contrasting his views to his predecessors. These branches are the Critical Phase, the Constructive Phase, and Belief. In the Critical Phase, Hume denies his predecessors' theories of causation. Next, Hume uses the Constructive Phase to resolve any doubts the reader may have while observing the Critical Phase. “Habit or Custom” mend the gaps in reasoning that occur without the human mind even realizing it. Associating ideas has become second nature to the human mind. It “makes us expect for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past”  However, Hume says that this association cannot be trusted because the span of the human mind to comprehend the past is not necessarily applicable to the wide and distant future. This leads Hume to the third branch of causal inference, Belief. Belief is what drives the human mind to hold that expectancy of the future based on past experience. Throughout his explanation of causal inference, Hume is arguing that the future is not certain to be repetition of the past and the only way to justify induction is through uniformity.
The logical positivist interpretation is that Hume analyses causal propositions, such as "A caused B", in terms of regularities in perception: "A causes B" is equivalent to "Whenever A-type events happen, B-type ones follow", where "whenever" refers to all possible perceptions. In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote:
power and necessity ... are ... qualities of perceptions, not of objects ... felt by the soul and not perceiv'd externally in bodies.
This view is rejected by skeptical realists, who argue that Hume thought that causation amounts to more than just the regular succession of events. Hume said that when two events are causally conjoined, a necessary connection underpins the conjunction:
Shall we rest contented with these two relations of contiguity and succession, as affording a complete idea of causation? By no means ... there is a necessary connexion to be taken into consideration.
Philosopher Angela Coventry writes that, for Hume, "there is nothing in any particular instance of cause and effect involving external objects which suggests the idea of power or necessary connection" and that "we are ignorant of the powers that operate between objects". However, while denying the possibility of knowing the powers between objects, Hume accepted the causal principle, writing, "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause."
It has been argued that, while Hume did not think causation is reducible to pure regularity, he was not a fully fledged realist either. Philosopher Simon Blackburn calls this a quasi-realist reading. Blackburn writes that "Someone talking of cause is voicing a distinct mental set: he is by no means in the same state as someone merely describing regular sequences. In Hume's words, "nothing is more usual than to apply to external bodies every internal sensation, which they occasion".
Empiricist philosophers, such as Hume and Berkeley, favoured the bundle theory of personal identity. In this theory, "the mind itself, far from being an independent power, is simply 'a bundle of perceptions' without unity or cohesive quality". The self is nothing but a bundle of experiences linked by the relations of causation and resemblance; or, more accurately, that the empirically warranted idea of the self is just the idea of such a bundle. This view is forwarded by, for example, positivist interpreters, who saw Hume as suggesting that terms such as "self", "person", or "mind" referred to collections of "sense-contents". A modern-day version of the bundle theory of the mind has been advanced by Derek Parfit in his Reasons and Persons.
However, some philosophers have criticised Hume's bundle-theory interpretation of personal identity. They argue that distinct selves can have perceptions that stand in relations of similarity and causality with one another. Thus, perceptions must already come parcelled into distinct "bundles" before they can be associated according to the relations of similarity and causality. In other words, the mind must already possess a unity that cannot be generated, or constituted, by these relations alone. Since the bundle-theory interpretation portrays Hume as answering an ontological question, philosophers, like Galen Strawson, who see Hume as not very concerned with such questions have queried whether the view is really Hume's. Instead, it is suggested by Strawson that Hume might have been answering an epistemological question about the causal origin of our concept of the self. In the Appendix to the Treatise, Hume declares himself dissatisfied with his earlier account of personal identity in Book 1. Philosopher Corliss Swain notes that "Commentators agree that if Hume did find some new problem" when he reviewed the section on personal identity, "he wasn't forthcoming about its nature in the Appendix." One interpretation of Hume's view of the self has been argued for by philosopher and psychologist James Giles. According to his view, Hume is not arguing for a bundle theory, which is a form of reductionism, but rather for an eliminative view of the self. That is, rather than reducing the self to a bundle of perceptions, Hume is rejecting the idea of the self altogether. On this interpretation, Hume is proposing a "no-self theory" and thus has much in common with Buddhist thought. On this point, psychologist Alison Gopnik has argued that Hume was in a position to learn about Buddhist thought during his time in France in the 1730s.
An essential question of practical reason for Hume was whether or not standards or principles exist (and if they do, what they are) for practical reason, that are also authoritative for all rational beings, dictating people’s intentions and actions. Hume is mainly considered an anti-rationalist, denying the possibility for practical reason as a principle to exist, although other philosophers such as Christine Korsgaard, Jean Hampton, and Elijah Millgram claim that Hume is not so much of an anti-rationalist as he is just a skeptic of practical reason.
Hume denied the existence of practical reason as a principle because he claimed reason does not have any effect on morality, since morality is capable of producing effects in people that reason alone cannot create. As Hume explains in A Treatise of Human Nature (1740): “Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.”
Since practical reason is supposed to regulate our actions (in theory), Hume denied practical reason on the grounds that reason cannot directly oppose passions. As Hume puts it, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Reason is less significant than any passion because reason has no original influence, while "A passion is an original existence, or, if you will, modification of existence".
Practical reason is also concerned with the value of actions rather than the truth of propositions, so Hume believed that reason’s shortcoming of affecting morality proved that practical reason could not be authoritative for all rational beings, since morality was essential for dictating people’s intentions and actions.
See also: is–ought problem
Hume's writings on ethics began in the Treatise and were refined in his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). His views on ethics are that "[m]oral decisions are grounded in moral sentiment." It is not knowing that governs ethical actions, but feelings. Arguing that reason cannot be behind morality, he wrote:
Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.
Hume's sentimentalism about morality was shared by his close friend Adam Smith,[not in citation given] and Hume and Smith were mutually influenced by the moral reflections of their older contemporary Francis Hutcheson.Peter Singer claims that Hume's argument that morals cannot have a rational basis alone "would have been enough to earn him a place in the history of ethics".
Hume also put forward the is–ought problem, later called Hume's Law, denying the possibility of logically deriving what ought to be from what is. He wrote in the Treatise that in every system of morality he has read, the author begins with stating facts about the world, but then suddenly is always referring to what ought to be the case. Hume demands that a reason should be given for inferring what ought to be the case, from what is the case. This because it "seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others".
Hume's theory of ethics has been influential in modern day meta-ethical theory, helping to inspire emotivism, and ethical expressivism and non-cognitivism,[not in citation given] as well as Allan Gibbard's general theory of moral judgment and judgments of rationality.
Hume's ideas about aesthetics and the theory of art are spread throughout his works, but are particularly connected with his ethical writings, and also the essays Of the Standard of Taste and Of Tragedy. His views are rooted in the work of Joseph Addison and Francis Hutcheson. In the Treatise he wrote of the connection between beauty and deformity and vice and virtue, and his later writings on this subject continue to draw parallels of beauty and deformity in art, with conduct and character.
In Of the Standard of Taste, Hume argues that no rules can be drawn up about what is a tasteful object. However, a reliable critic of taste can be recognised as being objective, sensible and unprejudiced, and having extensive experience.Of Tragedy addresses the question of why humans enjoy tragic drama. Hume was concerned with the way spectators find pleasure in the sorrow and anxiety depicted in a tragedy. He argued that this was because the spectator is aware that he is witnessing a dramatic performance. There is pleasure in realising that the terrible events that are being shown are actually fiction. Furthermore, Hume laid down rules for educating people in taste and correct conduct, and his writings in this area have been very influential on English and Anglo-Saxon aesthetics.
Free will, determinism, and responsibility
Hume, along with Thomas Hobbes, is cited as a classical compatibilist about the notions of freedom and determinism. The thesis of compatibilism seeks to reconcile human freedom with the mechanist belief that human beings are part of a deterministic universe, whose happenings are governed by physical laws. Hume, to this end, was influenced greatly by the scientific revolution and by in particular Sir Isaac Newton. Hume argued that the dispute about the compatibility of freedom and determinism has been continued over two thousand years by ambiguous terminology. He wrote: "From this circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot ... we may presume that there is some ambiguity in the expression", and that different disputants use different meanings for the same terms.
Hume defines the concept of necessity as "the uniformity, observable in the operations of nature; where similar objects are constantly conjoined together", and liberty as "a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will". He then argues that, according to these definitions, not only are the two compatible, but liberty requires necessity. For if our actions were not necessitated in the above sense, they would "have so little in connexion with motives, inclinations and circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of uniformity from the other". But if our actions are not thus connected to the will, then our actions can never be free: they would be matters of "chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence". Australian philosopher John Passmore writes that confusion has arisen because "necessity" has been taken to mean "necessary connexion". Once this has been abandoned, Hume argues that "liberty and necessity will be found not to be in conflict one with another".
Moreover, Hume goes on to argue that in order to be held morally responsible, it is required that our behaviour be caused or necessitated, for, as he wrote:
Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil.
Hume describes the link between causality and our capacity to rationally make a decision from this an inference of the mind. Human beings assess a situation based upon certain predetermined events and from that form a choice. Hume believes that this choice is made spontaneously. Hume calls this form of decision making the liberty of spontaneity.
Education writer Richard Wright considers that Hume's position rejects a famous moral puzzle attributed to French philosopher Jean Buridan. The Buridan's ass puzzle describes a donkey that is hungry. This donkey has on both sides of him separate bales of hay, which are of equal distances from him. The problem concerns which bale the donkey chooses. Buridan was said to believe that the donkey would die, because he has no autonomy