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Hume Studies Volume XXV, Numbers 1 and 2, April/November 1999, pp. 250-255 GEORGES DICKER. Hume's Epistemology and Metaphysics: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. xii + 216. ISBN 0-415-16318-8, $75, cloth. ISBN 0-415-16319-6, $24.99, paper. The Preface's first sentence sketches an ambitious agenda: "The purpose of this book is to present and assess David Hume's most influential contributions to epistemology and metaphysics in a manner that does not presuppose familiarity with Hume on the reader's part and yet is sufficiently deep and rigorous to interest more advanced students" (ix). Although it is difficult to achieve such lofty aims, Dicker accomplishes the task he sets for himself in this exceptional book. In what follows, I will first selectively summarize the book before evaluating (i) its appropriateness for beginners and advanced students, (ii) its interpretation of Hume, and (iii) its assessments of Hume's claims. In the first chapter, Dicker tackles "Hume's Theory of Meaning and its Implications." He begins by explaining Hume's "principle of empiricism" that states, roughly, that every idea is ultimately derived or copied from some corresponding impression. To avoid the notorious missing-shade-of-blue example , Dicker contends that it is helpful to understand Hume's principle of empiricism as a theory about the meaning of terms and not as a psychological theory about how we acquire our ideas. He then proceeds to show how this principle of "meaning-empiricism" rules out talk of both material substance and mental substance (self) as meaningless. Dicker himself defends Hume's assault on substance ontologies, at least for material objects; on the other hand, he draws on Kant and Charles Campbell to contend that Hume's bundle theory of the self cannot account for the awareness of the passage of time. Such an awareness requires that the same conscious subject, and not just a bundle of different subjects, exist throughout the perceived interval of time. Nevertheless, Dicker argues that the term "conscious subjects" can be meaningful for an empiricist if we modify meaning-empiricism "to allow also that any term designating something which is a logically necessary condition of the sorts of experience that we have, is meaningful" (34). Dicker takes up "Hume's Theory of Knowledge" in the next two chapters. In chapter 2, he explains "Hume's Fork," while he tackles "Causal Reasoning and the Problem of Induction" in the third chapter. Hume famously divides knowable propositions into those expressing relations of ideas and those expressing matters of fact. The former are, in Hume's terms, self-evident or demonstrable and yet do not imply the existence of anything, while the latter are neither self-evident nor demonstrable and yet do assert or imply the existence of something. According to Dicker, the key implication of "Hume's Fork" is that it destroys the rationalist dream of demonstrating by reason that anything (e.g., God, the material world) exists simply because matters of fact canHume Studies Book Reviews 251 not be demonstrated. Before elaborating on Hume's rationale for this claim, Dicker offers a modernized version (MV) of the Fork: "All knowable propositions are either analytic a priori or synthetic a posteriori" (41). In discussing the MV, he contends roughly that rationalists are different from empiricists because they maintain that synthetic propositions can be known a priori. Dicker then argues that just as the logical positivists' "verifiability theory of meaning" was self-refuting, so too the MV is hoist on its own petard, and is thus unknowable because it is neither analytic a priori nor synthetic a posteriori . Nevertheless, he contends that Hume's (original) Fork is not self-refuting because, to put it in more Kantian terms, it "leaves open the possibility that some . . . synthetic propositions may be knowable a priori" (54). If I understand Dicker correctly, his interpretation leaves open the possibility that Hume is, in some sense, a rationalist! Dicker broaches Hume's thoughts on induction in the third chapter. After revealing the plausibility of Hume's claim that knowledge of matters of fact is based on causal relations, he explains and defends Hume's view that we obtain our knowledge...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 250-255
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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