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43. HUME AND THE THREE VIEWS OF THE SELF It is commonly acknowledged that Hume's discussion of our beliefs about the self parallels his earlier discussion of our beliefs about material objects in a number of important respects. Yet while he clearly distinguishes a vulgar, a false philosophical, and a true philosophical view of material objects, a corresponding set of distinctions is not explicitly drawn in the case of the self. But although Hume is not as clear on the matter as we might wish, I shall try to show that he is committed to the existence of three similar views of the self and that an examination of their relationships illuminates several important aspects of his thought . I shall begin by outlining Hume's treatment of the three views of material objects. I then argue that he is likewise committed to three quite distinct views of the self and sketch their general features. In the third section some implications of this reading are examined; in particular we will find that it casts light on Hume's perplexing notion of fictitious identity, the general pattern of argument running through his discussion of personal identity, and the extent of his skepticism with respect to the self. Although my aims are not primarily critical, my discussion clearly bears on the growing tendency among commentators to deny that Hume has any quarrel with the common man's ascriptions of identity to the self or that he means to distinguish the vulgar or everyday conception of the self from the true philosophical view of it.2¿. According to Hume's basic philosophical tenets, the only things with which we are truly acquainted are perceptions, i.e. , impressions and ideas, there are no real or intrinsic connections between these, and each of our simple ideas is a copy of, and causally dependent upon, an earlier simple impression. These principles lead Hume to conclude that the only idea of a material object or substance we could have is 44. nothing but a collection of simple ideas, that are united by the imagination (T16; cf. T219, 635). The collections of impressions that make up such objects sometimes contain temporal gaps, their successive members often display a qualitative diversity, and they will usually contain a numbe: of simple impressions at any given moment; hence, they are rarely uninterrupted, invariable, or simple. Nevertheless, both the common man and the traditional philosopher attribute all three features to material objects, and Hume is concerned to explain why this is so. Hume discusses uninterruptedness in the course of his attempt to explain why the vulgar—all of us, most of the time--fail to realize that they are acquainted only with internal perceptions and instead believe that they are directly aware of material bodies that enjoy a continued existence outside the mind even when not perceived. This can happen only if they mistake perceptions for external objects, and such errors are likely to occur when the members of a sequence of perceptions display either coherence or constancy. Since coherence plays little role in Hume's later discussions, however, I shall consider only constancy here. A series of perceptions exhibits constancy just in case its members resemble each other. When the imagination (the mind's associative faculty) views such a series, it typically associates its members. But it does not stop with this, for the mind's disposition when it surveys the series is much like that when it considers a single, uninterrupted perception. So, because of the resemblance between the perceptions in the series, as well as that between the mental acts by which they are surveyed, the imagination is likely to go on to take the perceptions to be strictly or numerically identical (T61, 202/04). And since Hume thinks that our idea of strict identity demands the uninterruptedness and invariability through a suppos ' d variation of time (T201) of the object to which it is ascribed, this identification 45. requires that we mistake the several perceptions for a 3 single uninterrupted thing (T202/03) . Such mistakes are exposed by nearly every shift in our gaze. Yet they spring from a tendency so ingrained in the imagination that, rather than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 43-61
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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