Hume's Causal Theory of the Mind


        Note that Hume's goal is to give a complete causal theory of the mind. 


Book 1, Part 1:


Why is Book 1 titled  Of the Understanding” rather than “Of Knowledge”?























Section 1:  The Copy Principle


A. Perceptions:  impressions and ideas?

What is the difference between the two kinds of perception?


B.  What is the relation between simple ideas and simple impressions? 


The Copy Principle has three parts:


The first claim:  a one-to-one correspondence.

For every simple impression there is a corresponding simple idea and for every simple idea, there is a corresponding simple impression. 


[What about abstract ideas?  Why does he not consider any?

Does this make the account circular?]


The second claim:  same content.  The pairs of simple impressions and simple ideas have the same content. (They are “exact copies of each other”).


The third claim:  Hume's causal first principle: All simple idea are “derived from” (i.e., causally dependent on) the corresponding simple impression.


Note that Hume uses temporal priority (“the order of their first appearance”) to establish causal dependence.


Combining the three claims:  “All our simple ideas in their first appearance are deriv’d from simple impressions [causal claim], which are correspondent to them [one-to-one correspondence claim], and which they exactly represent [same content claim].” [T]







What is the evidence that impressions cause ideas?

Are there any exceptions?


The exception:  the missing shade of blue. 

What does Hume say about this exception?


What about the idea of a memory?  Where could the idea of a memory come from?  We will later consider the ideas of body and of necessary connection. 

        Others?  What about the idea of possibility?


5.  Important conclusion:  No innate ideas.









Section 2:  Impressions of Sensation and Reflection



Give examples of each.  What is the difference between them?



























Section 3.  Memory and Imagination


What is the difference between sensation, memory, and imagination?


Could we come to have an idea of the past on Hume’s account?

How could we get the idea of a memory?


How could we get the idea that memory repeats impressions? 


        Hume's second causal principle gives the constraints on memory.  What is the principle?


What are the constraints on imagination?  That question is answered in the next section.















Section 4:  The Three Kinds of Association:  The Causal Constraints on Imagination


1.  The third causal principle:  The three kinds of association in imagination:  resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect.


What kind of force is it that constrains the imagination?


Notice how many causal terms Hume uses in describing the relations among ideas.  This will be important when we see what he says about personal identity in Book 1, Part 4.




















Section 5:  The Seven Philosophical Relations


        Resemblance, identity, space and time, quantity or number, quality (in degrees), contrariety, and cause and effect. 


        Are all of these relations?  What do you think?


        How do we acquire the idea for each of these relations?  We return to this after the discussion of abstract objects.





















Section 6:  Substances and Modes


Substances are things; modes are properties.



Why does Hume think we cannot have an idea of substance?


What is his account of the idea we cannot have?

What about his account of the idea of substance that we cannot have?  It is an idea.  How can we have it?


This is our introduction to one of the most difficult issues of Humean interpretation.  How are we to understand fictions?  Hume seems to think that some fictions (e.g., the idea of body [physical object]) are unavoidable elements of thought.  But his own theory seems to imply that we cannot have any such idea.  This is a potential inconsistency that we will need to give serious consideration.












Section 7:  Abstract Objects:  An Empirical Test of Hume's Theory


A.  According to Hume, what are abstract ideas?  Are they just particular ideas?  Some ideas are particular in their nature but general in their representation.  What does this mean?


Hume ultimately explains concepts for abstract objects as having two parts, which I will refer to as a picture (idea) and a rule (power).  An important question will be:  What could Hume possibly mean by a power?  How could we have the concept of a power?


B.  Why does Hume think that it is possible to think of a line of arbitrary length?  Would the argument have worked if he had considered the idea of a circle?


C.  The circularity problem again.   What is the source of Hume’s “chief confidence” in his theory of abstract objects?  Isn’t this circular?


D.  What does Hume mean by a “distinction of reason”?









The Non-Transparent Mind



On Hume's account, what aspects of the mind are transparent (evident to the subject) and what aspects are not?  [Hint:  If Hume must do experiments to enable us to recognize that his theory is true, then the theory must be about aspects of the mind that are not transparent.]


An important question in Hume interpretation is how we could have the concept of something hidden or unobserved or unobservable.  And yet his own theory seems to require us to have such a concept.