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25. HUME'S ANTINOMIES I There are many contradictions in Hume. So much is readily admitted by all Hume scholars. But there is little agreement on what these contradictions show about Hume's thought in general. Many interpretations are based upon the view that Hume's contradictions are signs of his carelessness or lack of thoroughness. He is seen either as having lost all interest in giving a comprehensive or consistent account of human nature or as not having pushed far enough his analysis of the philosophical problems facing him. Other interpretations suggest that Hume, the "skeptic," has recklessly introduced these contradictions in order to confuse us. He is perhaps not altogether serious and is laughing at those who take too serious a view of the "science" of metaphysics and his own contribution 2 to it. Others again argue that the contradictions (or some fundamental class of them) are the consequence of Hume's philosophical presuppositions or his psychological method. Given his particular beliefs and his method, these contradictions had to arise with logical necessity. However, the general opinion seems to be that, if Hume is not to be dismissed as a merely negative skeptic whose philosophy is of no great consequence, he needs to be excused or defended, i.e. his contradictions, which are 4 seen as "inconsistencies," have to be explained away. His discussions of the self, causality, substance, or the relationship of reason and the passions must be, and — it is believed — can be shown not to be contradictory, if all the relevant factors are considered. However, reconstructions of Hume's analysis of the self or causality, for instance, which involve the explaining away of contradictions soon find themselves in a rather peculiar quandary, since they also have to show that Hume's own admissions of the contradictory nature of his analysis is mistaken. Such "defenses" issue only in other 26. accusations, namely that Hume, in addition to not having expressed himself very clearly in his writings, failed to understand them himself when he referred back to them. If only for this reason, I think that interpretations which involve an explaining away or minimizing of the contradictions in Hume are suspect. It is my opinion that Hume needs no such defenses or excuses -- at least not in so far as the most important contradictions are concerned. On the contrary, I believe that Hume can be understood properly, only if we take full account of them. I want in this paper to argue that there is in Hume a fundamental class of contradictions which he believed were neither accidental nor created by his analysis, but were essential characteristics of the human mind. The contradictions uncovered by his analysis can be understood only if they are recognised as one aspect of a more complex problematic. They must have a "deeper" significance for Hume because they are the symptoms of the infirmities . . . which are common to human nature (T265) . These are 'Hume's 7 "antinomies. " In this analysis I have allowed myself to be guided by a more or less Kantian conception of "antinomy" and "antinomical." In fact, I believe that there is a definite similarity between Kant's doctrine of the "Antinomy of Pure Reason" and Hume's "operations" which are equally natural and necessary in the human mind, yet in some circumstances ... directly contrary (T266). But the present paper is not so much a sustained comparison of Hume and Kant in this regard as it is an attempt to elucidate the g peculiar nature of several contradictions in Hume. For I believe that, if we have a better understanding of the nature of these contradictions, we will also be able to say something more definite about Hume's theory of mental activity and certain aspects of the relationship of skepticism and naturalism (or: Pyrrhonism and Newtonianism, destructive and constructive side, negative and positive phase, etc.) in his thought. To this end, I shall first 27. explain what I mean by "antinomy" here. Secondly, I shall show in what sense Hume was aware of having discovered something very much like an antinomical dimension in human nature, and, finally, I shall offer some suggestions as to the relevance of this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 25-45
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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