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HUME ON CONTINUED EXISTENCE AND THE IDENTITY OF CHANGING THINGS Most discussions of Hume's rather cursory treatment of coherence as a factor in generating belief in what he calls the continu' d existence of objects in Of Scepticism with Regard to the Senses, have taken a common line in interpreting the nature of the problem Hume's treatment is designed to solve. For instance, perhaps the two most ex2 3 tensive discussions, those of Price and Gomberg seem to agree that the problem is: how do we fill in the gaps among our perceptions, complete sequences or series that are incomplete, and come to believe in the existence of a world of unperceived objects. At the same time such discussions have focussed on the issue of whether the inference from the coherence of our perceptions to belief in the continued existence of objects (ICCE) is, as Hume claims, distinguishable from causal inference. Hume is read in such a way that ICCE if not causal is at least quasi-causal; that is, the only difference for Hume between the two sorts of inference has been taken to be one concerning the evidence on which each is based — causal inferences on past constant conjunctions or uniformities, ICCE on something less. I believe that these discussions have invariably omitted a key factor in understanding Hume's treatment of coherence, one that I want to point out and develop in this paper. Hume's discussion of coherence, like his discussion of constancy, is bound up with the concept of identity; for belief in the continued existence of an object, which coherence generates, is a belief about its identity. Hence a causal inference is distinguished from ICCE by Hume as only the latter necessarily involves belief in the identity of an object over time. Once this is recognized, we can view Hume's discussion^of coherence as requiring an answer to the question: "How do we come to believe in the identity of changing things?" I want to consider two interpretations of 106. the exact nature of ICCE for Hume — one suggested by examples offered in his discussion of coherence, the other suggested by remarks about the concept of identity in other sections of Part Four of Book One of the Treatise — and to argue that neither satisfactorily answers this question. This failure raises doubts not only about ICCE but about the tenability of Hume's characterization of the "vulgar" view of perception and his view of identity. When Hume first answers the question, "What qualities of our impressions or perceptions lead us to attribute to them a distinct and continued existence,?" by isolating the qualities of constancy and coherence, I think it is clear that the former is invoked to account for objects which are, at least in a relative sense, unchanging, which have always appear 'd to me in the same order and return upon me without the least alteration (T194), while the latter is invoked especially, if not solely, to account for objects that underto rather large changes over time, things which after a little absence or interruption may become hardly knowable . (T195) Hume's example concerns a fire in his chamber, which undergoes great change from the moment he leaves (or perhaps the moment it is lighted) to the time he returns (or perhaps the time it is a bunch of glowing embers) , but which, nevertheless , compared to other fires undergoes a like alteration a like time. (T195) Whatever more coherence can do, it is required, at least initially, to account for just those cases which cannot be subsumed under constancy, in other words, cases in which changing objects are taken to possess distinct and continued existence. In the famous paragraph following his initial comments on coherence, Hume seemingly proceeds to explain how coherence gives rise to belief in continued existence. The account runs basically as follows. Hume hears a noise, as of a door turning; he sees a porter coming toward him. But, Hume says, I never have observ' d3 that this noise could proceed from anything but the motion of a 107. door; and therefore conclude, that the present phaenomenon is a contradiction to all past experience...


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