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Where Terence Penelhum sees a deep continuity between John Locke's theory of ideas and David Hume's theory of perceptions, I argue that the two philosophers disagree over some fundamental issues in the philosophy of mind. While Locke treats ideas as imagistic objects that we recognize as such by a special kind of inner consciousness, Hume thinks that we do not normally recognize the imagistic content of our perceptions, and instead unselfconsciously take ourselves to sense a shared public world. My disagreement with Penelhum over Hume's debt to Locke helps to explain our disagreement over the nature of Hume's scepticism.
Revered for his contributions to empiricism, skepticism and ethics, David Hume remains one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy. His first and broadest work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), comprises three volumes, concerning the understanding, the passions and morals. He develops a naturalist and empiricist program, illustrating that the mind operates through the association of impressions and ideas. This Companion features essays by leading scholars that evaluate the philosophical content of the arguments in Hume's Treatise while considering their historical context. The authors examine Hume's distinctive views on causation, motivation, free will, moral evaluation and the origins of justice, which continue to influence present-day philosophical debate. This collection will prove a valuable resource for students and scholars exploring Hume, British empiricism and modern philosophy.
While all of Hume's readers agree that he is a sceptic – he calls himself a “true” sceptic in the “Conclusion” to Book I of the Treatise and a “mitigated” sceptic in the final Section of the first Enquiry – there is almost no agreement on what this kind of scepticism amounts to. I will limit my contribution to this controversy here to an examination of Hume's first engagement with scepticism, his exploration in “Of scepticism with regard to reason” (T.I.iv. 1; hereafter SwR) of the argument that we should not accept the verdicts of our reasoning; I reconstruct this sceptical argument in Section 1. What Hume wants us to learn from this exploration has also been the focus of much debate amongst his recent readers. There are three main interpretive positions, none of which to me seems satisfactory, but each of which I will suggest contains a germ of truth.
First, some have suggested that Hume's argument against our believing the verdicts of our reasoning is meant to be entirely ad hominem. For, after he has presented it, he says:
My intention then in displaying so carefully the arguments of that fantastic sect, is only to make the reader sensible of the truth of my hypothesis, that all our reasonings concerning causes and effects are deriv'd from nothing but custom; and that belief is more properly an act of the sensitive, than of the cogitative part of our natures. …If belief … were a simple act of the thought, without any peculiar manner of conception, or the addition of a force and vivacity, it must infallibly destroy itself, and in every case terminate in a total suspense of judgment.
The state that we inhabit plays a significant role in shaping
our lives. For not only do its institutions constrain the kinds
of lives we can lead, but it also claims the right to punish
us if our choices take us beyond what it deems to be appropriate
limits. Political philosophers have traditionally tried to justify
the state's power by appealing to their preferred theories
of justice, as articulated in complex and wide-ranging moral
theories—utilitarianism, Kantianism, and the like. One
of John Rawls's greatest contributions to political philosophy
has been his recognition that this is the wrong way for this
field to approach its task. He points to what he calls “the
fact of reasonable pluralism,” which is the incontestable
fact that in a free society people striving to lead their lives
ethically will subscribe to conflicting moral and religious
doctrines, many of which will be “reasonable” in
the special sense of leaving their adherents willing to cooperate
with those with whom they have moral disagreements. And this means
that political philosophers can no longer rely on any particular
“comprehensive” doctrine in their attempts to justify
the state. For doing so would be unfair to those who subscribe
to a conflicting reasonable doctrine; it would mean that the
coercive power of the state would not be justified to them
in terms they can accept, even while they were forced
to abide by its terms.
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