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Hume Studies Volume 33, Number 2, November 2007, pp. 352-357 Donald L. M. Baxter. Hume's Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise. London: Routledge, 2007. Pp. χ + 129. ISBN 9780415955942, Cloth, $95.00. In this densely argued study of Hume on the problem of identity through time, Donald L. M. Baxter spotlights two relatively neglected independent problems concerning identity in Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature. These are the challenges of understanding Hume on (1) the persistence of individuals over time, in a metaphysics according to which only individuals as indivisible entities exist; and (2) the possibility of conceiving that identical ob j ects might possibly be non-identical, or conversely. Baxter implies that Hume's greatest contribution in this area may have been to remark a difficulty that has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, but which the metaphysics of individuals needs in some way to accommodate. The book is divided into an introduction, six chapters, and conclusion, followed by notes, bibliography and combined name and subject index. The chapters discuss: 1. Interpreting Hume as metaphysician and skeptic; 2. Moments and durations; 3. Steadfast objects; 4. Identity; 5. Representing personal identity; 6. Systematic exposition of Hume's difficulty. In a remarkably compact presentation , Baxter goes a great distance toward explaining the relation between Hume's treatment of identity and his theory of time as an abstraction from successions of experienced events, and of moments understood as indivisible temporal units. I think that in arriving at his final conclusions Baxter is entirely on the right track when he argues that Hume's discussion of self and the problem of self identity in the Treatise Appendix is a direct outcome of what he describes as Hume's difficulty concerning the problem of intelligibly imagining that an object or several objects are both possibly identical and possibly distinct. Hume himself despairs of resolving the problem, and Baxter also seems satisfied to recognize its insuperability. Perhaps, however, as I later suggest, Hume and Baxter both fail to see a perfectly adequate solution right before their eyes, by drawing a distinction to which Baxter calls attention and for which he provides a useful terminology. I am very much at home with Baxter's characterization of Hume as a kind of metaphysician, despite the book-burning polemics oÃ- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (EHU 12.3.11; SBN 165). I never thought Hume really meant to advocate destroying these kinds of texts anyway, but was indulging in a bit of exaggeration for rhetorical effect. I agree entirely with Baxter that Hume in the inflammatory passage is attacking a certain kind of objectionable Scholastic metaphysics. I note with Baxter that Hume himself develops and defends an extensive network of empirically-grounded metaphysical commitments in both the Treatise and the first Enquiry. I am also on the same page with Baxter's portrait of Hume Studies Book Reviews 353 Hume as primarily concerned with the origin of ideas rather than the definition or analysis of concepts, and, in short, with Baxter's useful description of Hume as a Pyrhhonian skeptical empiricist. This is certainly the Hume I know, though I thought it useful to have Baxter's own interpretative assumptions laid out clearly and argued for persuasively in the book's first chapter. Despite admiring Baxter's ambitious project and overall agreement with his methodology and certain aspects of his conclusions, I found myself dissatisfied with many of his key arguments. Here is what I see as some of the main difficulties, beginning first with the problem of understanding Hume on genidentity in the sense of the persistence of things through time. Baxter sympathetically defends Hume's commitment to Nicolas de Malezieu's reasoning concerning the nonexistence of divisible things against an uncharitable barrage of criticisms raised, among others, by Antony Flew. After quoting T 1.2.2.4 (SBN 31), Baxter concludes that, "as seen in the Malezieu argument, anything divisible is really many things. So durations and successions are really many things. The things in time are either temporal simples or temporal complexes. Only the former are single things; only the latter have duration" (Baxter, 29). I have no quarrel with Baxter's interpretation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 352-357
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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