Philosophical Doctrine of David Hume

David Hume was born in 1711 in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, in the family of a poor nobleman practicing law. For some time Hume attended Edinburgh University, but due to material difficulties he was forced to leave school. Later, in 1734, he made an educational trip to France for three years, most of which he spent in La Flèche.

During his stay in France, Hume wrote The Treatise on Human Nature in three books, which was published in London in 1737-1740. The work addressed the theory of knowledge, psychology and morality.

In 1741-1742, Hume published a book entitled Moral and Political Essays (Essays). This book brought him considerable popularity at home.

In the mid-1940s, Hume went on a military expedition against French Canada as secretary to General Saint-Clair, and then visited Vienna and Turin as part of military missions. In Italy, he remade the first book of the Treatise into a Study on Human Knowledge.

In 1752, the Law Society chose Hume as its librarian, and he set about creating the six-volume “History of England” – a book that caused an ambiguous attitude.

In 1763-1766, Hume was in the diplomatic service in the French capital. After returning, he served for two years as assistant state secretary. In 1769, he retired and returned to Edinburgh, where he became secretary of the Philosophical Society and engaged in educational activities.

In the early 1970s, Hume repeatedly returned to work on his last major work, Dialogues on Natural Religion, but he never finished it.

Hume died in August 1776.


The main provisions.

Hume redid the teachings of Berkeley and Locke into agnostic manners, smoothing out sharp corners and eliminating extreme positions. Hume sought to create a “common sense” philosophy, a cautious, “restrained” philosophy, alien to both materialism and naive Spiritualism.

The starting point of Hume’s argument is the conviction that there is a fact that we are directly given sensations, and hence our emotional experiences. Hume concluded that, in principle, we do not and cannot know whether the material world exists or does not exist as an external source of sensations. “… Nature keeps us at a respectful distance from her secrets and provides us with only knowledge of a few surface qualities”.

Almost all the subsequent philosophy of Hume is built by him as a theory of knowledge, describing the facts of consciousness. Transforming sensations into an absolute “beginning” of knowledge, he considers the structure of the subject in isolation from its subject-practical activity. This structure, in his opinion, consists of atomic impressions (impressons) and those mental products that are derived from these impressions. Most of all, from among these derivative types of Hume’s mental activity, “ideas” are of interest, by which he means not sensations, as Berkeley had, but something else. Hume calls “impressions” and “ideas” collectively “perceptions”.

“Impressions” are those sensations that a particular subject receives from events and processes that are played out in the field of action of his sense organs. So, “impressions” are the essence of the subject’s sensations. But not only. Often, by “impressions,” Hume understood perceptions in a sense that distinguishes them from sensations (certain properties of things are felt, and things are perceived in their integral form). Thus, the Yumov “impressions” are not only simple sensory experiences, but also complex sensory formations. In addition to sensations, he includes emotions, including stormy (passions) and “calm” emotions of a moral and aesthetic nature.

What did Hume understand by “ideas”? “Ideas” in his theory of knowledge are figurative representations and sensual images of memory, and in addition, the products of imagination, including distorted products, are fantastic. Among the “ideas”, Hume also attributed the concepts, since he was inclined to dissolve theoretical (abstract) thinking in the experiences of empirical (concrete-sensual) images, just like Berkeley did.

So, “ideas” in Hume’s terminology system are approximate, weaker or less vivid (not so “lively”) reproduction of “impressions”, that is, their reflection within the sphere of consciousness. “… All ideas are copied from impressions” . Depending on whether impressions are simple or complex, ideas are also accordingly simple or complex.

“Perceptions” include “impressions” and “ideas.”

For Hume, they are the cognitive objects that await consciousness.

Associations and abstractions.

Man can not be limited only by simple impressions. For the success of his orientation in the environment, he must perceive complex, composite impressions, the structure and grouping of which depend on the structure of the external experience itself. But besides impressions there are more ideas. They are also complex. How are the latter formed? To this question, Hume gives his answer: they are formed by associating simple impressions and ideas.

In associations, Hume sees the main, if not the only way of thinking by means of sensual images, and for him is not only artistic, but all thinking in general. Associations are whimsical and directed by random combinations of elements of experience, and therefore they themselves are random in content, although in form they are consistent with some permanent (and in this sense, necessary) schemes.

Hume singled out and distinguished the following three main types of associative connections: first, by similarity, second, by contiguity in space and time, third, by cause and effect. Within these three types, impressions, impressions and ideas, ideas with each other and with states of predisposition (attitudes) to the continuation of earlier experiences may be associated. “… When any impression is perceived by us, it not only takes the mind to the ideas associated with this impression, but also gives them some of its strength and vitality … after the mind is already excited with the impression that it has, it forms a more lively idea connected with it objects due to the natural switching of the installation (disposition) from the first to the second ”

First, associations occur by similarity, which is not only positive but also negative in nature. The latter means that instead of similarity, there is a contrast: thus, when experiencing emotions, a state of affect often appears opposite to the previous state. “…

The secondary impulse (movement), – writes Hume in the essay “On tragedy”, – is transformed into the dominant one and gives him strength, although of a different, and sometimes of an opposite nature …

However, most associations are similar in positive. Hume considers that associations by similarity play the greatest role in mathematical thinking.

Secondly, the association occurs by contiguity in space and by direct sequence in time, that is, also by contiguity. This most of all happens with the ideas of external impressions, that is, with memories of previous sensations, ordered in a space-time manner, ideas themselves, and even more so, emotions “spatially adjacent” in the literal sense, being in the human psyche, are not Of course, localized in the brain. Most useful cases of association by adjacency, Hume believes, can be indicated from the field of empirical natural science. So “the thought of an object easily brings us to what is adjacent to it, but only the immediate presence of the object does it with the highest vitality” .

Thirdly, associations of cause-and-effect arise – 16 dependencies that are most important in reasoning related to theoretical science. If we believe that A is the cause, and B is the effect, then later, when we get the impression of B, the idea of ​​A pops up in our minds, and it may also be that this association develops in the opposite direction: impressions or ideas. And we have an idea.

It should be borne in mind that, describing associations of cause-and-effect dependence, Hume proceeds from the fact that the “A is a reason, and as a result” scheme has already emerged both in general and in relation to any of the future specific cases and acts as “ready link” mechanism of this association.

The doctrine of associations destroyed the logical interpretation of thought processes, removed its logical basis from thinking. Hume plays the same role in the theory of knowledge by the so-called representative concept of abstraction and generalization. Hume borrowed it from Berkeley and included it in his associative scheme. But this inclusion was due to several changes to this concept.

In itself, a representative understanding of abstraction was as follows. The existence of general concepts is denied, and their function is performed by a sensual image – the representation of one of individual objects. Following Berkeley, Hume often neglects the difference between concepts from ideas (images), and the general from the singular.

What changes did Hume make to this theory, according to which “some ideas are special in nature, but, representing them, are they common” (1, vol. 1, p. 112)?

First, the original class of similar things, from which the representative is then extracted, is formed, according to Hume, spontaneously, under the influence of associations by similarity.

Secondly, unlike Berkeley, Hume believes that the sensual image assumes the role of the representative (the representative of all members of this class of things) temporarily, and then transfers it to the word, by which this image is denoted.

The associative way of forming sensual representatives softens their individual character, which they differed from Berkeley. When a representative is formed through associations, the unique signs of a single sensory image seem to be erased and the distracted idea is freed from the characteristics of individual impressions. The general begins to peep through the single representative as the “side” of all the images associated on the basis of their approximate resemblance to each other.

If Berkeley abstract idea has a real individual “object” (complex of sensations), then Hume distracts her from individuality to the same extent that associations are based not on identity, but on relativity of this identity, that is, on differences between associated ideas. : after all, the association of absolutely identical ideas does not give anything, except for the useless tautologies. With this amendment, the representative concept of abstraction comes in line with the facts of artistic thinking, in which a figurative example, if it is well chosen, replaces a lot of general descriptions and is even more effective.

Those ideas to which Hume gives the status of general, appear to be truncated private ideas, retaining, among their features, only those that exist in other particular ideas of this class. Such truncated partial ideas are a semi-generalized, vague image-concept, the clarity of which is given by the word connected with it, again by association.

On the existence of a substance.

Solving the general problem of substance, Hume took the following position: “it is impossible to prove neither existence nor the non-existence of matter,” that is, he took agnostic positions. His formula is the same with respect to the substantial “higher spirit”, that is, God, although in practical life Hume was an atheist. A similar agnostic position was to be expected from him in relation to the existence of human souls, but in this question Hume is more categorical and completely rejects the view of Berkeley. He is convinced that there are no souls – there are no substances.

Hume denies the existence of the “I” as a subtribest of acts of perception and argues that what is called the individual soul – substance is “a bundle or bundle (budle or collection) of various perceptions, following each other with – 18 inconceivable speed and being in constant flow “.

Hume more broadly than Berkeley, considers the question of the existence of a substance. In a different way than his predecessor, he understands the source of people’s belief in the existence of material substance. Berkeley saw the reason for the appearance in people of the illusory, in his opinion, belief that the material substance exists in the facts of interconnectedness and brightness of a certain kind of sensations.

Their interconnectedness was assumed to be continuous in time, since the presence of discontinuities in the sequence of sensations weakens this illusion. Hume looks at this question differently: breaks in perceptions, on the contrary, turn out to be, in his opinion, a source of faith in their substantive basis, if after breaks the same perceptions appear again and again. For Berkeley, the problem of substance was reduced to somehow interpreting the sustainable coexistence of phenomena, and for Hume it is primarily a problem of interpreting the relationship of phenomena with each other in their temporal sequence.

Therefore, according to Berkeley, the conviction of the existence of a material substance is hampered by the presence of temporary interruptions in sensations, and according to Hume, changes in the nature of interrelated perceptions, that is, changes in the “set” of their combinations, interfere with this conviction.

This means that Hume in this problem shifts the center of gravity to the question of causing our impressions. So, for example, he argues, getting the impression of a lamp standing on a table and occasionally lit by me, I believe on the basis of this that there is a given material object called “lamp”. Thus, the resolution of the problem of substance depends, in Hume’s view, on the more general problem of causality.

Having come to the idea of ​​the dependence of the problem of substance on the problem of causality, Hume defined the substance as the supposed center of associative summation of perceptions in time (as well as with each other) into relatively stable integrity. Associations provide a combination of different combinations of impressions (for example, the appearance of a certain object now and its changed appearance several years later) in the concept of objects outside of human consciousness. These latter objects are thought of as the cause of combinations of impressions in the minds of people.

This whole mechanism can be summarized as follows: first, the imagination combines similar perceptions into one common series. Then people attribute to the perceptions of this series a continuous existence even in those time intervals when no one perceives them. A “fiction of continuous existence” arises, transmitted by our senses to hypothetical things outside of consciousness, after which a stable idea is formed that perceptions are consequences of external things, causally caused by them.

Perceptions are discontinuous and changeable, but the external objects causing them are relatively constant and stable.

Thus, it appears as if the split of reality into two different worlds: the supposed world of substantial things and the sensual world of perceptions. The question is, are there any “bridges” of causation that again connect these worlds with each other?

The problem of causality.

In Hume’s philosophy, the structure of a cause-and-effect relationship can be reduced to a “event-event” scheme, where the arrow means the connection of causation. But Hume understands the “event” not in the sense of an objective-material process, but in the sense of a certain aggregate of sensory experiences in the consciousness of the subject. Thus, this scheme takes the form of “perception-perception”.

Summing up, I want to say the following. Of course, there are many vulnerabilities in the philosophy of George Berkeley and David Hume; one can disagree with many, argue. But, as is known, truth is born in a dispute. And since this work did not pursue the goal of defending the views of philosophers, we will allow them to defend their worldviews with the help of our own arguments, the beauty and non-triviality of which we could already see.

In addition, to deny the enormous importance of these British thinkers for the whole world philosophy is certainly impossible. They left a great creative heritage, which even modern philosophical schools use. And to ignore the philosophical concepts of George Berkeley and David Hume would be a big mistake for a person who is seriously interested in philosophy.

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