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\ ~" HUME'S THEORY OF ""IMAGINATION HAROLD TAYLOR EARLY in the present century Professor Norman Kemp Smith developed the idea that the "establishment of a purely naturalistic conception of human nature by the thorough subordin,ation of reason to feeling and'instinct, is the determining factor of Hume's philosophy." Since then several more studies of Hume have revealed a growing emphasis on positive elements in his naturalism, in correction of the traditional view of Hume as primarily a phenomenalist and self-defeating sceptic.1 In this paper, I propose to accept Professor Smith's interpretation of Burne, and to show that the key to Burne's naturalism lies in his theory of the imagination; that when the faith in imagination as a genuine creative faculty breaks down, his naturalism disintegrates; that the breakdown of Hume's faith in imagination is a result of the influence on him of contemporary rationalistic dogma. I It is a common historical fact that the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers retained most of the traditional Aristotelian psychology, and considered the faculty of imagination to be the source of error, the creator of illusion, and" the opponent" of clear reasoning.2, Its sterility was emphasized while its positive IN. K. Smith, "The Naturalism of Hume" (Mind, n.s., 14,1905,149-73,33547 ). Among later studies! C. W. Hendel, Studies in the Philosophy oj David Hume (1925); Hugh Miller; "The Naturalism of Hume" (Philosophical Review, XXXVIII, 1929,469-82); R. E. Hobart, "Hume without Scepticism" (Mind, n.S. XXXIX, 1930, 273-301,409-25); J. Laird, "Hume's Account of Sensitive Belief" (ibid., n.S. XLVIII, 1939, 427-45); N. K. Smith, "David Hume, 17391939 " (Proceedings oj the Aris/otelian Society, supplement to vol. XVIII, 1939, i-xxxiv). 2Malebranche: " ... there are few more general causes of error among men than this dangerous reporting of the imagination" (trans. from CEuDres, Paris, 1842, II, 176); Spinoza: " ... how easily men may fall into grave errors through not distinguishing between the imagination and the understanding" (see Works, trans. Elwes, II, 33); Hobbes: "Imagination, therefore, is nothing but decayed sense" (Leoiathan, chap. II). See D. F. Bond, "The Neo~classical Psychology of Imagination" (E. L. H., IV, 1937, 245~63), and M. W. Bundy, The Thc9ry of Imagination in Classical and Mediaeval Thought (University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, 1927). 180 HUME'S THEORY ,OF IM_AGINATION 181 value as a means of providing the reason with alternative con~epts and ideas in the process of thought was left unheeded. In the convenient classification of the faculties of min'd, reason was conceived to work most accurately in isolation from the imagination . It is admitted that occasionally one can refer to some pattern of ideas which the imagination picks out of the mass of material retained in the memory, but one can never be certain that the concept so produced is an accurate and true datum for reality. Its departmental task among the faculties was to produce objects like the head of a man on the body of a horse. For Hume, however, the function of imagination is to give real images of past perceptions which we can relate to present ones. Instead of the wild product of dreams) deliriums~ deceptions, and hallucinations, the imagination in Burne's conception normally has an issue of real ideas, true perceptions, and natural beliefs. The mistake which Burne saw in his contemporaries, lay in believing that the faculty functions independently of custom, habit, and detelominate forces in its environment. Though the lmagination, considered as a kind of fancy, may seem free to juggle ideas in a variety of ways, Hume discovered that actually it operates in, a reg·ular manner, according to certain conditions of human nature and natural instinct. Seventeenth-century philosoph~rs, critics, and essayists emphasized the arbitrary, or abnormal function of imagining; Burne·considered it a natural ftinction-of the mind, ,· and the most important faculty which man possesses. In most cases, he refers to the arbitrary imagination as the fancy. 3 The imagination, according to Burne, is nothing but a nat~ral instinct by means of which certain true ideas are rendered lively and intense. These qualities in true...


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