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Belief and Introspective Knowledge in Treatise 1.3.7

From: Hume Studies
Volume 37, Number 1, April 2011
pp. 99-122 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0645



Hume argues that the difference between belief and mere conception consists in a difference in the manner of conception. His argument assumes that the difference between belief and mere conception must be a function of either the content conceived or of the manner of conception; however, it is unclear what justifies this assumption. I argue that the assumption depends on Hume’s confidence that we can know immediately that we believe when we believe, and that we can only have such knowledge of intrinsic features of our perceptions. I then claim that Hume’s argument against the view that the difference between belief and mere conception is a function of the content conceived faces a difficulty, because it relies on an apparently implausible view about mental representation. I propose an interpretation of the argument that avoids the difficulty and explains Hume’s puzzling claim that his account of belief answers “a new question unthought of by philosophers.”

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