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381 IMPRESSIONS, IDEAS, AND FICTIONS I. Introduction Under the heading of "fiction," Selby-Bigge's index to Hume's Treatise of Human Nature lists no fewer than seventeen distinct fictions. There is the fiction of perfect equality, of continued and distinct existence, of substance and matter, of substantial forms, accidents, faculties and occult qualities, the fiction of personal identity, and many others. The notion of a fiction is central in Hume's philosophy. As the title of this paper suggests, I believe that fictions are so important that what is commonly called Hume's theory of impressions and ideas ought to be called the theory of impressions, ideas, and fictions. Although fictions are at the heart of a number of Treatise passages, they have 2 generally received very little sustained treatment. This paper is a start at filling a gap in Hume interpretation. I hope to lay the groundwork for a complete study of Hume's fictions. There are some obvious questions to be addressed in such a study: Is there just one type of fiction or are there many? Is there an essential feature or set of features shared by all fictions? Is the characterization of a view as involving a fiction always a criticism of that view? If fictions are in some sense false or wrong, what do they contrast with? What notions are true or correct? Does Hume's account of fictions mesh with an account of truth? If there is no account of truth, how can there be an account of fictions? These questions, by no means the only ones which can be raised, are related. They can be seen as hovering around the issue of whether Hume's notion 382 of a fiction is an ontological notion. Is calling something a fiction denying the existence of that thing? Does believing in fictions (e.g., believing that there are persons) amount to holding a false belief that something exists when in fact it does not? Should we read Hume as claiming, for example, that there are no substances because he calls substance a fiction? Answering 'yes' to these questions has obvious implications for the questions raised in the last paragraph. I believe that while the deflationist reading is not completely wrong, it is wrong enough to account for much confusion in Hume interpretation. Many readers of the Treatise think, for example, that in calling the self a fiction Hume is denying the existence of persons. This makes it completely mysterious why Hume talks about persons throughout the Treatise in a common-sense way, as if they do exist. Though I cannot investigate all the consequences of my interpretation of Hume's fictions for the numerous issues which involve fictions in the Treatise, it is my hope that clarifying Hume's notion of fiction will help shed light on those other notions, such as personal identity, which Hume calls fictions. I will offer an interpretation which attempts to locate some general features of fictions in the Treatise passages where Hume invokes them. Although there are different fictions, Hume has a core notion of fiction which is fundamentally epistemological rather than ontological. There will be space in this paper to look at only a few fictions, those which occur in or before "Of scepticism with regard to the senses." I believe, however, that the interpretation can be generalized. Finally, I will suggest how my interpretation provides answers to the above questions. 383 II. Fiction and Imagination It is tempting to think of Hume's notion of a fiction as an ontological notion because in contemporary usage, the notion of a fiction is ontologically loaded. Fictions are things we construct in our heads; they are the result of concatenating ideas in the imagination. Golden mountains and the Wicked Witch of the East are fictitious; they don't represent anything which exists. If Hume is using this notion of fiction, then he must be doing deflationary ontology. On this view, to call something a fiction is to demote it to the status of something thought up in one's imagination; it is to accord it the rank of something whose existence is not to be accepted. There is some support...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 381-399
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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