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On the Compatibility between Euclidean Geometry and Hume's Denial of Infinite Divisibility

From: Hume Studies
Volume 34, Number 2, November 2008
pp. 231-244 | 10.1353/hms.0.0022



It has been argued that Hume's denial of infinite divisibility entails the falsity of most of the familiar theorems of Euclidean geometry, including the Pythagorean theorem and the bisection theorem. I argue that Hume's thesis that there are indivisibles is not incompatible with the Pythagorean theorem and other central theorems of Euclidean geometry, but only with those theorems that deal with matters of minuteness. The key to understanding Hume's view of geometry is the distinction he draws between a precise and an imprecise standard of equality in extension. Hume's project is different from the attempt made by Berkeley in some of his later writings to save Euclidean geometry. Unlike Berkeley, who interprets the theorems of Euclidean geometry as false albeit useful approximations of geometrical facts, Hume is able to save most of the central theorems as true.