Essay on David Hume’s Treatment of Mind

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This paper critically examines Hume’s argument against the knowledge/existence of substantival mind. This denial is rooted in his epistemology which includes a theory of how complex ideas which lack corresponding impressions are manufactured by the imagination, in conjunction with the memory, on the basis of three relations among impressions: resemblance, continuity and constant conjunction. The crux of my critique consists in pointing out that these relations are such that only an enduring, unified agent could interact with them in the way Hume describes. I note that Hume attempts to provide such an agent by invoking the activities of imagination and memory, but that it is unclear where these belong in his system. After discussing the…show more content…
To demonstrate this, I will give first a brief rehearsal of Hume’s epistemology in general, then as it is applied specifically to the mind.

Hume’s Epistemology

The great project of Empiricism, in its incipience, was to discover, in Locke's words, "...the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge..." (1) In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume is intent upon developing a "science of Man" (2) which would acquaint us with "the extent and force of human understanding, and [which] could explain the nature of the ideas we employ, and of the operations we perform in our reasonings." (3) Hume hoped that this 'Science of Man' would serve as a solid foundation for all other sciences, both natural and philosophical, and that it would ultimately eradicate conflicting theories in all fields by defining the limits of human knowledge.

For Hume, all knowledge originates with experience, and all experience is of one’s own perceptions. We have direct knowledge only of perceptions, not of what the perceptions are of (if, indeed, they may be counted as of anything); for the perception stands between the perceiving mind and its supposed real-world object. Hume says,

...'tis impossible for us so much as to conceive or form an idea of any thing specifically different from [our perceptions]. Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible: Let us chase our imaginations to the heavens, or
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