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183, IMPRESSIONS AND EXPERIENCES: PUBLIC OR PRIVATE? In his 'Perceptions and Persons' William Davie aims "to determine what perceptions are for Hume." He challenges what I trust that he is right in labelling "The Standard View." His statement of this view is quoted from my Hume's Philosophy of Belief: . . . Impressions are defined as constituting with ideas the class of 'perceptions of the mind. ' While wine must be (logically) public, the impression of wine like the idea of wine must be (logically) private. Whereas the presence of wine tautologically guarantees the presence of wine, the occurrence of an impression of wine is by no means a sufficient condition of the presence of wine — because an impression of wine, but not of course real wine, may be hallucinatory. Impressions belong to the category of experiences: wine2is cellared in that of physical things. My own purpose now is to defend, against attacks recently launched not only by Davie but also by Donald Livingston, this standard view. Davie contrasts it with "my own view, which is that perceptions are the things that we know, both private and public" (p. 130). He shows no signs of recognizing either how revolutionary his present suggestion is, or how revolutionary Hume himself would have been were any such suggested interpretation correct. For this particular "Standard View" is not one first introduced by me a couple of decades ago, and later misguiding even such usually sound scholars as Terence Penelhum. Instead it seems to have been accepted by almost if not absolutely all earlier writers discussing this part of Hume's philosophy. For instance: if Davie is right, then Thomas Reid must have devoted most of his professional life to the dismembering of a straw man. "Reid," as Livingston remarked in his Introduction to Hume: A Re- 184. evaluation, "took Hume's work to be a reduction to absurdity of a philosophical hypothesis which began in modern times with Descartes.... 'The hypothesis I mean is, that nothing is perceived but what is in the mind which perceives it....'" Again: if Davie is right, then Hume is here breaking from all his immediate predecessors in a revolutionary way, and in a direction which ought to have made the revolution welcome to Reid. Yet Hume himself gives no hint of this radical new beginning. Instead he goes out of his way to note a merely verbal innovation: by his introduction of a new use for the term 'impression' the word 'idea' is restored "to its original sense, from which Mr. Locke had perverted it, in making it stand for all our perceptions" (T2 fn.). The class of Lockean ideas, the class which Hume is thus studiously subdividing into the subclasses of Humean ideas and Humean impressions, contains, surely, nothing but what is logically private? Certainly no other interpretation of Locke's words would seem to be possible. He scarcely could have put the point more clearly or more emphatically than he does in the introductory first chapter of An Essay concerning Human Understanding. He says there that he is going to investigate "those Ideas, Notions, or whatever else you please to call them, which a Man observes, and is conscious to himself he has in his Mind...." Locke also apologizes for his frequent employment of "the Word Idea, " excusing it as necessary "to express whatever is meant by Phantasm, Notion, Species, or whatever it is, which the Mind can be 4 employ'd about in thinking...." Only and precisely in this understanding of the nature of ideas was it possible for Berkeley to open The Principles of Human Knowledge with a single sentence asserting everything which Reid was so correctly concerned to deny: 185, It is evident to any one who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses, or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind, or lastly ideas formed by help of memory and imagination, either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways. In face of all this, how is it possible to maintain that, for Hume, "perceptions are the things that we know...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 183-191
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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