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Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 2, November 1995, pp. 344-350 Critical Study Wayne Waxman's Hume's Theory of Consciousness JOHN P. WRIGHT WAYNE WAXMAN. Hume's Theory of Consciousness. London: Cambridge University Press, 1994. xvi + 347. $54.95. In Hume's Theory of Consciousness Wayne Waxman sees himself as recovering the orthodox interpretation of Hume's epistemology and metaphysics which has been subverted to a greater or lesser extent by many contemporary Hume scholars. Fortunately, according to Waxman, "Hume's contemporaries, nearly every major thinker since, and most philosophers today" have recognized that Hume is merely a "negative and destructive thinker" and a subjectivist. The scholars who, following the lead of Norman Kemp Smith, treat Hume as a positive thinker, have a number of motivations—foremost among them the "desire to reexamine orthodoxy and be original." In this book Waxman proposes to save us from their "new revisionism" through "new work to probe Hume's basic concepts and to take the analysis deeper than before"(xiii). Orthodoxy in the history of philosophy, as in religion, often leads its adherents back into some strange doctrines. Oddly enough, at least one of Waxman's favourite ones—that which appears to have led to the book's title—derives from Kemp Smith himself. According to Kemp Smith, there are two strands in Hume's philosophy—a Newtonian strand which stresses a mechanistic associationism, and a Hutchesonian one which "rests on a fundamental distinction between mind in its character as observer, and the John P. Wright is at the Philosophy Department, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4 e-mail: wright@server.uwindsor.ca Book Reviews 345 items observed" (cited by Waxman on p. 14). This latter doctrine, which is more obviously derived from Husserl rather than Hutcheson,1 is fully embraced by Waxman and his disagreement with Kemp Smith lies in his assertion that association, far from being a "blind sheerly reactive mechanism," is really "a phenomenological operation...essentially comprised of feeling-data immanent to consciousness"(15). These data of consciousness itself are neither impressions nor ideas. Rather, on Waxman's account, they are "various attitudes" which the mind adopts in confronting these perceptions (18). Thus, according to Waxman, the vivacity which, on Hume's analysis, constitutes belief in reality is a phenomenological attitude, not a quality of perceptions. Similarly, the feeling we have when we observe a causal sequence on a number of occasions is not itself an impression but "merely the verisimilitude instinctively attached to customary transitions of thought" (187). Both of these interpretations fly in the face of strong textual evidence.2 Indeed, Waxman's very attempt to detach consciousness from perceptions seems to go against Hume's own claim that "consciousness is nothing but a reflected thought or perception" (T 625). In the final analysis Waxman himself admits that "Hume's theory of consciousness is sketchy and obscure" and that we "may suspect him of intentionally ignoring" (41) the distinction later developed by Husserl. Needless to say, this is a strange attribution of authorial intention. Waxman rejects the objective validity of what Kemp Smith called "natural beliefs"—that is, the beliefs in an independent objective reality which result from the operations of the imagination. Waxman justifies this by giving precedence to what he calls "immediate consciousness." According to him, the natural beliefs of imagination are shown to be false by the natural beliefs of immediate consciousness. This latter is quite a remarkable faculty, available to ordinary people and philosophers alike, which shows us that "imaginative feeling is constitutive of everything that enters into objective conception," and that such feeling "can have neither sense nor significance outside and independently of the imagination." This immediate consciousness detaches itself from feelings engendered by imagination which "muddle our apprehension of the reality actually before us," and leaves us with a "truer" picture of that reality. Most importantly, it convinces us that "our natures condemn us, without possibility of reprieve, to know the falsehood of that which we are powerless to disbelieve" (273, 274, 268). It is difficult to see why, on Waxman's view, Hume should have given precedence to natural beliefs engendered by immediate consciousness. The only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 344-350
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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