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Hume’s Conception of Proper Reflection

From: Hume Studies
Volume 38, Number 2, November 2012
pp. 129-155 | 10.1353/hms.2012.0013



The concept of reflection plays an equivocal role in the Treatise. It is identified as both the key to the formation of more accurate beliefs and the means to the destruction of belief altogether. I attempt to resolve this apparent paradox by showing that there are two distinct kinds of reflection in Book 1: legitimate, or “proper,” reflection and illegitimate reflection. Despite evidence to the contrary—including Hume’s own claim that he cannot establish that excessive reflections (one variant of illegitimate reflection) should not affect our beliefs—I argue that Hume can justifiably draw a distinction between proper and illegitimate reflection based on epistemological grounds available to him that he does not recognize.

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