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The Connection Between Impressions and Ideas*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Jane L. McIntyre*
Affiliation:
Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH 44115, U.S.A.
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Extract

Hume contributed to the theory of ideas by distinguishing impressions from ideas. This refinement of Locke's theory is usually held to be a clarification of Locke's broad use of the term ‘idea,’ and yet the distinction has remained problematic. The bifurcation of the Lockean realm of ideas necessitated an explanation of the relations between the newly named entities. The most basic aspects of this relationship, as presented in the Treatise, are that impressions cause ideas and that ideas represent impressions. In this paper I will argue that Hume's theory cannot accommodate the claim that impressions cause ideas, and that this fundamental inability to trace the causal history of an idea is the source of several other problems in Hume's philosophy of mind.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 1985

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Footnotes

*

A version of this paper was read at the Eleventh Hume Congress, Toronto, Canada, August 1982.

References

1 Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by Selby-Bigge; second edition edited by Nidditch, P.H. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1978).Google Scholar All references to the Treatise are to this edition, and will be given in the body of the paper.

2 Noxon argues that Hume has a double standard for distinguishing the ideas of memory from those of the imagination. See Noxon, James, ‘Remembering and Imagining the Past,’ in Livingston, D.W. and King, J.T. (eds.), Hume: A Reevaluation (New York: Fordham University Press 1976), 270–95.Google Scholar

3 Stroud, Barry, Hume (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977). 131CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Bricke, John, ‘Hume on Self Identity, Memory and Causality,’ in Morice, G.P. (ed.). David Hume: Bicentenary Papers (Austin: University of Texas Press 1977). 172Google Scholar

5 Garrett, Don, ‘Hume's Self-Doubts About Personal Identity,’ The Philosophical Review, XC, No. 3 (1981), 337–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Locke, John, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Nidditch, P.H. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1975).Google Scholar All references to Locke are to this edition, and will be given in the body of the paper.

7 The quotation from page 153 shows that Locke also sometimes used the term ‘impression’ in a sense superficially like that of Hume. There are references throughout Book II, Chapter I of the Essay to ideas being imprinted, and to ‘Impressions.’ But in Locke, the term ‘impression’ usually signifies the way in which an idea is received, and not merely a forceful perception. See especially Essay 117.

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