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Being Sure of One's Self: Hume on Personal Identity1 Corliss Gayda Swain A number of papers recently published on Hume's theory of personal identityhavebeen devoted to the question: Whyin the Appendix to the Treatise did Hume express complete or acute dissatisfaction with his account of personal identity in book 1 of that work?2 In this paper I shall argue that no adequate answer can be given to this question because its presupposition—namely, that Hume discovered some reason to be dissatisfied with his account—is false. My thesis is that Hume did not write the section ofthe Appendix dealing with personal identity in order to raise new questions about the adequacy ofhisbook 1 account of the mind; he wrote it in order to defend that account by showing that alternative explanations of personal identity are incoherent.3 Very briefly, this defense is as follows. In the Appendix Hume considers two hypotheses concerning the nature of the human mind: the first is the hypothesis accepted by many of the modern philosophers, namely, that the mind is a thinking substance which is both unitary and simple; the secondis Hume's own account ofpersonal identity, according to which "the true idea of the human mind, is to consider it as a system ofdifferent perceptions or different existences, which are link'd togetherby the relation ofcause and effect."4 Drawing on arguments he had developed in Treatise 1.4.5 and 6, Hume shows in the Appendix that the first hypothesis, while pretending to account for the identityand simplicityofthe selfin terms ofamental substance and to offer a new foundation for knowledge, actually leads us into the same labyrinth of obscurities and contradictions in which the ancient philosophy was involved when it tried to account for the identity and simplicity of material objects in terms of material substances. The modern philosophy tried to solve the same kind of problem as did the ancients, using the same kind of resources as the ancients used, and for this reason it is involved in the same contradictions and obscurities when it tries to explain the nature of the mind as the ancients were when they tried to explain the nature of matter. Hume's response to this situationisnotmerelytorejectbothmetaphysical systemsbutalso to reject their formulation of the problems ofidentity through change and unity in diversity and thè attendant criterion ofadequacy for the solution. Hume is sceptical that the problem which both the ancient Volume XVII Number 2 107 CORLISS GAYDA SWAIN andthemodernmetaphysicians setthemselves canbe solved,5but this does not mean that he is sceptical about personal identity or his own account ofit. In book 1 Hume had argued that a proper understanding ofthe real problem of personal identity leads to a real solution. In the Appendix he is concerned to show that this solution is not a solution to the (insoluble) problem that so preoccupied the metaphysicians. It is Hume's insistence that the metaphysicians' problem is insoluble that seems to have led commentators to think that Hume was dissatisfied with his own solution to the problem ofpersonal identity. On this view, the labyrinth ofcontradictions in which Hume finds himselfin the Appendix is not a labyrinth he gets into upon accepting his own account of personal identity, but rather a labyrinth he finds himself in without that account. What the Appendix adds to Hume's positive account of personal identity is a clear statement of the destructive argument againstmetaphysical systems that try to have it both ways. Thus, the Appendix should be read not as a renunciation but as a defense. I. Hume's "Renunciation" Commentators who hold that Hume found a new problem that was connected with his book 1 account of personal identity seem to have some strong textual support for their view.6 In the introductory paragraph of the section in the Appendix dealing with personal identity, Hume says, "But upon a more strict review of the section concerningpersonal identity, I find myselfinvoWd in such a labyrinth, that, I must confess, I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor how to render them consistent" (T 633).7 He confesses that his account ofpersonal identity is "very defective" (T 635) and claims that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 107-124
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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