PHL220: Hume's Enquiry, sections I and II
Hume's Enquiry, sections I and II
Hume, Section I
This section is largely an apology by Hume for doing the kind of
philosophy he is about to do.
- Hume identifies two kinds of moral philosophy (note here that
"moral philosophy" means something like, practical philosophy)
- "Easy philosophy" (mostly what today we might call
moral philosophy): considers humans as active agents,
and aims to encourage us to have the right sentiments
- "Abstract philosophy" or "metaphysics" (in this
treatise, this will be what today we might consider a
combination of epistemology and psychology): considers
humans as reasoning agents, and aims to find the
principles which "regulate our understanding"
- The first kind of philosophy is easy, famous, less likely
to lead to errors.
- The second kind of philosophy is hard, abstract, easily
leads to errors.
- Philosophy is seen by most to be of little value,
although important to character, and so a little easy
philosophy is tolerated in our time.
- the easy philosophy requires the hard philosophy
to become exact
- Precision in the hard philosophy may even
help other areas of endeavor (e.g., politics)
- Some are curious about these abstract issues
- Although these questions easily lead to error, we
can only avoid error in the end by getting them right
- Like astronomy, if we work at this long enough, we
may finally have great breakthroughs
Hume's Enquiry, Section II
A note about Skepticism
- There is a difference between perceptions and
recollections of perceptions; such as the feeling of a burn
and the memory of being burn.
- The same is true of emotions: having the emotion is
different than recalling it.
- Two kinds of perceptions of the mind
- Weak perceptions are thoughts or ideas;
examples include memories.
- Stronger perceptions are impressions;
examples include sense experiences and emotions.
- But isn't thought "unbounded"? Why call it weak? Hume
responds thought is bounded - creative thought is a
compounding of sense impressions.
- Analyze any ideas, and you will get simples
impressions that are combined somehow (E.g. God is an
extrapolation from our own abilities)
- If you lack a sensation, you cannot imagine it as
part of something. (E.g., a blind person cannot
imagine a gold colored mountain.)
- Impressions are the first source of all perceptions:
....all the materials of thinking are derived either from
our outward or inward sentiment: The mixture and
composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will.
Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our
ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our
impressions or more lively ones. (11)
- There is an exception: in cases of a continuum of some
kind of experience, like colors, we may be able to fill in
- Hume's challenge: try to come up with an impression that
is not made up of other impressions.
- Hume ends with his first statement of empiricist principle:
he argues that issues are as clear as they can be related to
impressions, and so if we cannot derive them from impressions
we should suspect that they are confused or even meaningless.
Hume is seen as a quintessential skeptic, and is also notable for
his use of skeptical solutions.
- We can define skepticism: skepticism about x
=defdoubt that we have knowledge about x.
- More important than the definition is the recognition
that skepticism arises from two other (sets of) beliefs
- A high standard about what constitutes knowledge
- Doubt that we can meet that standard
- A skeptical challenge or skeptical problem is a puzzle
that seems to indicate that skepticism is the correct response
to some kind of claims to knowledge.
- A skeptical solution to a skeptical problem is to accept
that skepticism is correct in this case, but that we just in
some way live with that skepticism.
- Hume will raise skeptical challenges about (and give us
skeptical solutions for)
- Causation and Induction
- Existence of Material Objects