In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

69 HUME, DEMONSTRATIVES, AND SELF-ASCRIPTIONS OF IDENTITY I. In his A Treatise of Human Nature1(hereafter referred to as the Treatise and, for purposes of citation, abbreviated as 'T'), Hume says that "[T]he identity, which we ascribe to the mind of man, is only a fictitious one..." (T 259) Although some commentators read this as tantamount to the claim that we can have no idea of a mind, this seems too strong. To see what Hume is getting at, we need to return to the beginning of the section entitled "Of Personal Identity" where he says: There are some philosophers, who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our SELF; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity. (T 251, my emphasis) "Unluckily", he continues, we do not have "any idea of self, after the manner it is here explain'd." (T 251, my emphasis) What this suggests, I think, is that it is only the idea of a simple, changeless mind that ought to be called fictitious. With respect to the question "What kind of an idea of mind à o we have?", Hume suggests what has come to be called the "Bundle Theory of Mind". According to the bundle theory, every object of awareness is an individual perception and "what we call a mind, is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, united together by certain relations..." (T 207) In other words, Hume is saying that what we are aware of is a stream of perceptions, none of whose members is a perception of a simple, changeless mind. However, given Hume's account of (strict/perfect) identity, an acceptance of the bundle theory seems to entail the rejection of the 70 continuous existence of any mind. Put differently, if true the theory seems to require that the very idea of a mind continuous through time is a fiction. This raises the following problem which Hume must address: Since the ordinary (vulgar) person has a great propensity to ascribe identity through time to minds (T 253), then, from the point of view of a study of human nature, it is important to provide an answer to the question: "why do the vulgar have such a propensity?" Understanding Hume's answer to this question is, I believe, dependent upon the recognition that it is only the idea of a simple, changeless mind that Hume believes is fictitious. Once this is seen, it follows that the ascription of strict identity through time to a mind must, on Hume's account, be a result of the activity of the imagination (see T 209). As Hume says: ...identity is nothing really belonging to these different perceptions, and uniting them together; but is merely a quality, which we attribute to them, because of the union of their ideas in the imagination, when we reflect upon them (T 260). Although the qualities that unite ideas typically include causation, resemblance and contiguity, Hume excludes contiguity as a factor in the case of ascriptions of strict identity through time to minds (T 260) and restricts his attention to the relations of resemblance and causation. Of these two relations, a 2 number of commentators have found the relation of resemblance especially problematic. Accordingly, in what follows I will consider whether Hume's explanation of the role of resemblance is sufficient to account for and justify self-ascriptions of strict identity through time. Contrary to the judgement that Hume's explanation of the role of resemblance fails as an account of self-ascriptions of strict identity through time, I will suggest that by recognizing a primitive 71 theory of demonstrative content in Hume's explanation of the role of resemblance many of the problems that the explanation seems to give rise to can be avoided. II. I begin with Hume's description of the role of resemblance: To begin with resemblance; suppose we cou'd see clearly into the breast of another, and observe that succession of perceptions, which constitutes his mind or thinking principle, and suppose that he always preserves the memory of...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 69-93
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.