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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 154-156 H. O. MOUNCE. Hume's Naturalism. New York and London: Routledge, 1999. Pp. 160. ISBN 0415191246, cloth $85.00; ISBN 0415191254, paper $27.95. Mounce presents this book as a general introduction to Hume, not as a scholarly interpretation of Hume that is intended to engage other scholars in interpretive debate. He does, nonetheless, bring an interpretation to bear on Hume's writings. Mounce's focus is not limited to Hume's naturalism, as his title suggests; it is rather the relationship between Hume's naturalism and his empiricism. His claim is that Hume is both a naturalist and an empiricist, and that these two positions cannot sit easily with each other. Mounce does not present Hume as attempting to reconcile the two positions. Instead, he sees Hume as saddled with internal tensions of which he is often unaware. This, at least, is where Mounce begins, but he also goes further. After some introductory moves, he focuses each chapter on a particular issue in Hume, exposing the naturalist and the empiricist interpretations. He consistently decides that the naturalist Hume is entirely correct and the empiricist Hume is entirely wrong. Ultimately, the book fails to find its place as an introduction to Hume. The first problem for an introduction focused on the unseen tension but ultimate triumph of naturalism over empiricism is that we are never given a very clear definition of naturalism. Empiricism is presented straightforwardly as the idea that "our knowledge has its source in sense experience," (2) and at some points Mounce discusses naturalism in direct contrast to this definition , e.g., "our knowledge depends on what is given us by nature" (11). Elsewhere, however, Mounce defines naturalism as the notion that "our knowledge has its source not in our experience or reasoning but in our relations to a world which transcends both our knowledge and ourselves" (2). Given that this is an introductory work, we should expect more in the way of explanation as to whether these two definitions are really the same (they clearly seem not to be), and if they are not, then how they are related. The first topic to which Mounce brings his interpretation is Hume's account of causality. He begins with the problem of induction, and then moves to Hume's positive analysis of belief formation, in particular the formation of the belief in causality. Mounce has little good to say about Hume's account of belief, largely because it is entirely empirical. Although he admits that Hume's account of the difference between sensation and belief as a difference in vivacity is clever, he claims that "this analysis depends for its plausibility on our tacitly translating it into ordinary terms" (37)—that is, into the terms of external sensation and internal belief, terms that are only available to the naturalist who Hume Studies Book Reviews 155 sees our knowledge as the result of an organic interaction with the world. Hume's discussion of association between ideas occasioned by repeated experience is then criticized as not conforming to "ordinary circumstances" (37)—these being the circumstances of someone responding to an entirely novel sensation by associating it with something not yet experienced. In neither case do we see much of an argument in support of Mounce's assertion. Mounce then moves on to Hume's positive analysis of how we come by our idea of causality. Here Mounce essentially holds to the same line: Hume was correct when he makes the naturalist claim that our idea of causality is essentially instinctive and so not arrived at by experiencing causes in the world, but wrong in his empirical account of how we arrive at the idea by noticing the instinctive reaction to the experience of constant conjunction. Mounce defends the second point this way: "when we speak of events as causally related we are really speaking about what passes through our minds when we observe them. The trouble with this is that it is absurd and it requires little charity to restate Hume's views in terms which are not only acceptable in themselves but are faithful to his fundamental insight" (40...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 154-156
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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