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Hume Studies Volume 30, Number 2, November 2004, pp. 297-327 A Symposium on Louis E. Loeb, Stability and Justification in Hume's Treatise Loeb on Stability and Justification in Hume's Treatise FREDERICK F. SCHMITT In Stability and Justification in Hume's Treatise,1 Louis Loeb ascribes to Hume a naturalistic account of justified belief, one on which Hume is fundamentally concerned with the question whether stable belief can be achieved. Loeb's interpretation is systematic, richly explanatory, and powerfully argued. He makes a compelling case that stability plays a central role in Hume's epistemology. Loeb's case is so compelling indeed that anyone who wants to defend an alternative interpretation will now have to assimilate or deflect the massive textual evidence in favor of the stability interpretation. I will argue here that, for some passages Loeb cites in favor of the stability interpretation, a veritistic interpretation explains the text at least as well as the stability interpretation does. 1. The Stability Account of Belief and the Aim of Truth On Loeb's interpretation, a belief is by its nature a steady or infixed disposition to thought, will, passion, and action—i.e., a disposition steady in its influence on thought, will, etc. (SJ 65-74). The nature of belief derives from its natural function, described by Hume at T 1.3.10.2 (SBN 119):2 Did impressions alone influence the will, we shou'd every moment of our lives be subject to the greatest calamities; because, tho' we foresaw their approach, we shou'd not be provided by nature with any principle of action , which might impel us to avoid them. On the other hand, did every Frederick F. Schmitt is Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University, Sycamore Hall 026,1033 E. Third St., Bloomington, IN 47405-7005, USA. e-mail: fschmitt@indiana.edu 298 Frederick F. Schmitt idea influence our actions, our condition wou'd not be much mended. For such is the unsteadiness and activity of thought, that the images of every thing, especially of goods and evils, are always wandering in the mind; and were it mov'd by every idle conception of this kind, it wou'd never enjoy a moment's peace and tranquillity. If impressions but not ideas influenced the will, our ideas of the future would provide no guidance in avoiding calamities or evils (or, I take it from the third sentence quoted, in achieving goods). But if every idea influenced the will, then, since ideas of all kinds of objects wander in the mind, the mind would enjoy no rest. Nature accordingly deprives "images" of a significant or regular influence on the will and reserves that influence for impressions and ideas of a special kind, so that we tend to act only when guided either by impressions or by such ideas. These ideas of a special kind must not waver and thereby deprive us of rest. The passage suggests that there is a natural kind of idea that serves the desired natural function. I take it that, on Loeb's interpretation, the kind belief is simply identified with this special kind of idea (or more accurately, disposition). That is, beliefs are, by nature, ideas that serve this natural function. To serve this function, beliefs must have a steady influence on thought and the will. A belief, then, is a disposition steady in its influence on thought and the will (with a qualification for countervailing influences to be mentioned below). Loeb argues persuasively that this stability interpretation of belief makes sense of a range of textual phenomena in Book 1. While Loeb convinces me that for Hume steady influence is part of the natural function and nature of belief, I find less plausible his assumption that it is the whole story. In interpreting Hume's account of belief, Loeb focuses exclusively on the point that beliefs differ from images in their function of a steady influence on will, allowing the mind a "peace and tranquillity" that would be disrupted by the influence of inconstant ideas on the will.3 If every image had a motivating effect, our will would turn every which way, with an attendant mental agitation. This is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 297-327
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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