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32. HUME ON MODES As thorough a critic as Norman Kemp Smith states in his investigation of the Treatise that "Hume's treatment of... the complex ideas of modes... need not detain us." Whatever is interesting in this brief treatment, Smith suggests, rests on remarkable features of Humean doctrine , elsewhere expounded at length. This is true, I would agree, as a descriptive comment to the following degree. The category of modes is officially regarded by Hume as highly marginal, even dispensible. But it is not in fact the case that, intrasystematically , the work of modes can be duplicated in non-modal materials. In this discussion I will show that Hume mistakes the case, and attempts to diagnose the error's deep sources. To the naked eye, the mistake seems perhaps small and reparable. Placed under the microscope, we find an important philosophical conception is at stake. Our raw material comprises the explanations of modality provided by Locke and Hume. Modes, according to Locke, are complex ideas which, however compounded, contain not in them the supposition of subsisting by themselves, but are considered as dependences on, or affections of, substances; such are the ideas signified by the words, triangle, grati2 tude, murder, etc. (2.12.4). Hume's account is similar in appearance. The idea... of a mode... is nothing but a collection of simple ideas. .. . The simple ideas of which modes are formed, either represent qualities , which are not united by contiguity and causation, but are dispers ' d in different subjects ; or if 33. they be all united together, the uniting principle is not regarded as the foundation of the complex idea. The idea of a dance is an instance of the first kind of modes; that of beauty of the second (I. I. VI) . The appearance of harmony is capped by the uniformity in examples: Locke also mentions 'beauty' (2.12.5) as a modal term, and between his 'murder' and Hume's 'dance' there is nothing to choose. One small difference remains. The idea of dependence, prominent in Locke's sketch, is absent from the Treatise passage quoted. This disparity is eliminated by the following remark, temporarily withheld above: the difference betwixt [substances and modes] consists in this, that the particular qualities, which form a substance, are commonly referr'd to an unknown something, in which they are supposed to inhere (I. I. VI). Superficially then, both Locke and Hume might be thought to subscribe to the following theses. The designata of modal terms, but not of substantial terms, lack independence (I will call this 'the Modal Dependence Thesis' or 'MDT'). Modal terms designate complex ideas in the same way as do those substantial terms which designate complex ideas (this will be referred to as 'the Modal Complexity Thesis' or 1MCT'). But while Locke supports MDT, Hume rejects it, and whereas Hume advocates MCT, Locke — when pressed — will be found to disagree with it. Let us start with MDT. To establish that the category of modes is regarded, intrasystematically , as superfluous by Hume is to confirm the disagreement here between the two theorists. Hume categorically dismisses what Locke describes by the phrase 'a something I know not what' as contributing 34. to any particular idea of a substance. Accordingly, the designata of modal as well as substantial terms resolve identically under analysis, i.e. into combinations of simple ideas. Hume mentions a differentiating factor: the principle of union of simple ideas in the case of a substance scores higher in naturalness than in the case of a mode. The components of a substantial idea are "closely and inseparably connected by the relations of contiguity and causation" (I. I. VI), which are 'natural'. But Hume's own examples expose this as an ineffective device of differentiation , one to which Hume himself attaches little importance. Where is the unnaturalness in the case of the (modal) designata of 'beauty' and 'dance'? How — more pointedly — is the complexity involved in the (substantial) designata of 'dog' and 'table' more natural? Any difference here is one that Hume does well to play down and neutralise of all but sentimental significance. In adducing the idea of naturalness to explain the difference felt by the common...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 32-50
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
N
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