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  • Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy
  • Timothy M. Costelloe
Don Garrett . Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 270. Cloth, $49.95

Given that the Hume literature abounds in interpretive disagreements, it is striking to read of Don Garrett's aim "to solve ... to be the last word about ... [a] set of problems that have long stood in the way of understanding Hume's philosophy" (10); and, as if that were not enough, to see him defining success in terms of grasping Hume's aims, understanding his arguments, and explicating conclusions and interrelations between them (8-9). Somewhere between honesty and hubris, Garrett then investigates various "puzzles" within Hume scholarship. The first three chapters undertake work of clarification. The first addresses "imagination" and "understanding," emphasizing Hume's "rejection of the intellect" within rationalist and empiricist thought, before raising difficulties with and offering solutions to Hume's use of the terms. Garrett then distinguishes five types of empiricism which "produce and reinforce" Hume's status as a cognitive psychologist developing a "theory of representational faculties" (39). Chapters two and three examine Hume's "fundamental principles" (Copy Principle and Separablity Principle) leading Garrett into informative discussions of various doctrines—space and time (152ff), the missing shade of blue (50-53, 73), and "distinctions of reason" (59ff)—arguing that none contradict the principles in question. At the end of the chapter, Garrett concludes Hume's interest in both principles lies less in doctrines each "forbids" than in "investigations ... [each] motivates" (75).

Armed with a battery of distinctions, the remaining chapters focus on seven such "investigations," each situating the problem, reconstructing Hume's arguments, considering extant interpretations, and offering original solutions to the puzzles posed. In chapter five, for example, Garrett argues that Hume endorses two definitions of "cause," which, neither logically equivalent nor co-extensive, involves Hume in contradiction. Having considered and rejected interpretations by other commentators, Garrett proposes a solution: Since Hume holds both that a "relation" exists only where two or more relations are compared (102-4); and that necessary connection involves "pairs of objects" and "ideas of pairs" (105-6), cause and effect can be defined either as constant conjunction or association. The "contradiction" thus removed, Garrett supports [End Page 441] his case by arguing that since Hume accepts two definitions of "virtue" (107ff.), he can do the same with causality. Finally, Garrett raises four objections to his conclusion and, responding to each, completes his solution to the Humean puzzle.

As scholarly and engaging as Garrett's book is, however, the spirit of Hume is often missing from its pages. Although important, an approach which focuses on discrete fundamental principles, sets and solves puzzles, and transforms philosophical prose into lists of numbered propositions, belies Hume as a thinker obsessed with the medium of his message. Philosophy, in Hume's view, is also a matter of taste and character; a way of being and thinking which, as Garrett acknowledges, is integral to the "conduct of...[Hume's] life" (241).

No single study can capture Hume's philosophy in its entirety. Yet a book claiming the "last word" might acknowledge the necessary partiality of its approach especially when it affects its own conclusions. First, with few exceptions, Garrett makes almost perfect sense of everything Hume says; and even when found wanting, it is "less philosophically vitiating that one might expect" (39). Charitable readings and Hume's greatness, notwithstanding, for his work to be free of all contradiction would be extraordinary. Second, Garrett's "puzzles" are not always genuine. Emphasizing, for example, how Hume's definitions of cause are the same thing viewed from different perspectives might prevent such a puzzle arising at all; and the evidence for Hume's putative "propositional theory of moral evaluation" is so thin (191) that one suspects Garrett's method to have a hand in generating the alleged contradiction.

The same is true of the concluding chapter. Presenting the "puzzle" as a contradiction between skepticism and science, and looking to "human reason" for solace (207), it comes as no surprise that Hume's skepticism should ground and reconfirm "our commitment to reason and its products" (208). Hume's...


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