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Perceptions and Objects: Hume's Radical Empiricism

From: Hume Studies
Volume 37, Number 2, November 2011
pp. 189-210 | 10.1353/hms.2011.0654



In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume seems to use the term "object" to refer to different things in different contexts, including impressions, ideas, perceptions, and bodies. Does he ever use the term "external bodies" to refer to things in the extra-mental world? I argue that what Hume means by external bodies when he affirms their existence is not externally existing, material objects that are somehow presented to the mind or presented in impressions. Rather, the bodies that Hume affirms are, at bottom, no different from perceptions, but they can be distinguished from merely internal perceptions like pain or pleasure in terms of their "different relations, connexions, and durations" (T; SBN 68). I conclude that in order to be consistent, given the various statements he makes throughout Book One of the Treatise, Hume must reject the philosopher's doctrine of double existence of perceptions and objects and affirm only the existence of perceptions, sometimes conceived as internally existing and mind-dependent and sometimes conceived as existing outside and independent of the mind.

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