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Philosophies of Hume

Hume accepts that the problems of philosophy are those Descartes isolates; he rejects all of Descartes’s solutions. Hume asks the question how does the mind work? What are the principles that the mind follows when it thinks? These questions are answered in Hume’s “ Enquiry concerning Human understanding” section II. -Of the Origin of Ideas.

There is a great difference between the perceptions of the mind. When a man feels the pain of a wound or the pleasure of comfort, when he remembers this sensation or anticipates it by his imagination, these memories may be copied by the perceptions of the senses. The memories will never fully reach the same feeling as the original. Sometimes there is an object, which is so lively, one should say they almost feel or see it. But the mind disordered by disease or madness, which would make all these perceptions undistinguishable.

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The most well-written poetry that illustrates our minds with beautiful images, can never illustrate natural objects to be taken as real. “The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.” (10) Our minds memories and thoughts are mirrors of situations from our past. These images are faint and dull in comparison to those in which our original perceptions are derived.

Therefore we can divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species. The classes are distinguishable by their different variations of force and vivacity. “The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated thoughts or ideas.”(10) Other species want recognition, they do not want to be ranked under general terms or labels, and rather they would like individuality. Hume uses a little “freedom” to give distinction by calling them impressions, meaning that the world impression is different from usual. By the term impression, Hume means that all our more lively perceptions such as when we hear, see, free, love, hate, desire and will. Impressions are distinguishable from ideas because impressions are less lively perceptions of which we are conscious of their presence. When we reflect on any sensations or movements that we have felt the feeling is not as “real” as the original.

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Nothing at first glance may seem more unrealistic than the idea of a man, who managed to escape all human power and authority. Yet is not restrained within the limits of nature and reality. For the mind to create monsters and other fictitious characters, shapes and ideas, is no more trouble for the mind to conceive than for it to imagine familiar objects. Although the body is confined to one planet where it dwells with pain and difference, our thoughts can take us anywhere in the universe or beyond which we desire to go, we will be there in an instant. “ Into the unbounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion.” (11) Our thoughts seem to have endless possibilities and boundaries. When one examines it closer, our thought is really confined within narrow limits. “All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmentation, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the sense and experience.” (11)

For example, when we think of a golden mountain, we join two consistent ideas, gold and mountain (which the mind already knew.) A virtuoso horse one is able to conceive because we can conceive virtue. The mind combines the figure and the shape of a horse, which is a familiar animal. In short, all the materialists our mind uses for thinking are derived from either outward or inward sentiment. The mixture and composition of these belong alone to the minds and will. As Hume expresses himself in philosophy language, all our ideas or perceptions are imitations of our impressions.

In order to prove this, Hume came up with two arguments. The first argument is that when we analyze our thoughts or ideas, no matter how simple or compound we always reach the conclusion that all ideas become simple ideas. These ideas are copies of other precious feelings or sentiments. The idea of g-d, as an infinitely intelligent, wise and good being, comes from reflecting operations of our own mind and augmenting without limit those qualities of goodness and wisdom. We can question and argue as long as we please, where we shall always find, that every thought or idea, which we examine, is copied from a similar experience.

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Those who argue, that this view is not universally true or without exception, have only one argument that is easy to refute. The idea that they produced, which they state is not derived from this source. “It will then be incumbent on us, if we would maintain our doctrine, to produce the impression or lively perception, which corresponds to it.”(12) The second argument is if a defect of the organ that a man is not able to attain any species of sensation, we always find that the man is as vulnerable of the correspondent ideas.

A blind man cannot from the idea of colours, just as a deaf man cannot from the idea of sounds. Restore either the blind of deaf man that sense, which he lacks, a new inlet for his sensations is created. Also, an inlet for ideas opens and he finds no trouble in conceiving these objects. There are no instances of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is fully incapable of achieving a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species. Yet we find the same observation to happen to a less degree. A man with a selfish heart cannot easily conceive the heights of friendship. It is not often allowed; that another being may have perceptions which he has no conception of because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us. The only possible way the mind is able to have access to its ideas is through feeling and sensation.

There is a contradictory phenomenon, which may prove that it isn’t entirely impossible for ideas to come independently without the impression. The idea of colour comes from all different perceptions, which give different impressions to the mind. All these perceptions relay a similar impression. It is true for different colours; it must be the same for colours of the different shades. This idea should be denied “it is possible, by the continual gradation of shades, to run a colour insensibly into what is most remote from it: and if you will not allow any of the means to be different, you cannot, without absurdity, deny the extremes to be the same.”(12)

For example, a man is used to seeing all sorts of colours and shades of blue, the man encounters one particular shade of blue, which he has never seen. If all the colours are put in order from darkest to lightest the man will not see that shade of blue. Is it possible for that man’s imagination to fill in the lacking information so that he will be able to have an idea of that particular shade? This idea proves that not even simple ideas are derived from correspondent impressions.

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All ideas, especially abstract one is naturally faint and obscure. The mind has a slight memory of these ideas. They are suitable to be combined with other similar ideas. On the contrary, all sensations and impressions, either outward and inward are strong and vibrant. The limits between them are more clearly distinct. If one is having trouble determining whether an idea is obtained from the impression, then bring this or any question into clear light. This way it is possible to eliminate the dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality.

Hume’s arguments are logical and coherent. His arguments do not contradict one another and are easy to follow. The method he uses to answer his questions is simple; the method gives clear accurate answers. I agree with Hume’s argument of the man who sees a particular shade of blue for the first time and his mind fills in the information that he does not encompass. The argument makes sense and the answer does not contradict another answer or information that Hume has stated. I have nothing negative to write about Hume. I enjoy his arguments and his easy-to-follow writings. Although some statements were difficult to understand, the overall understanding is straightforward and effortless to follow. I prefer Hume to Descartes.

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