David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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In this paper, I shall summarise a portion of Hume 's (1748) An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Namely, section two Of the Origin of Ideas, and, section three Of the Association of Ideas, focusing on the text 's key points.

In section two, Hume posits a significant difference between the mind 's perceptions when we originally experience them and when we later recall them from memory. For instance, in a motorcycle accident one will have the painful sensation of breaking their arm, although upon recall, our mind can only offer a close copy of the original perception. For Hume, such copies will never be able to match the original perception, in terms of their strength and vivacity. Bar extreme instances of mental disorders, our
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Hume recognises that prima facie it is easy to believe that our minds lack any limitation. We seem able to envision a boundless array of objects, events, and places, even ones completely removed from our experiences and reality. However, Hume contends that the human mind does, in fact, operate within constraints and that its seemingly unconstrained creative power is actually “no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded to us by the senses and experience.” (11) In other words, although we may initially believe that we are able to conjure new ideas regardless of our impressions, we are, instead, utilising perceptions already known to form a new and novel compositions. For example, the thought of a Pegasus is composed of two parts which we already know – horse and wings. For Hume, all such thoughts are merely some form of composition of weaker copies of our more stronger impressions…show more content…
Hume does, however, present a contradictory example which shows that it may be possible for thoughts to “arise independent of their correspondent impressions” (12). Hume considers the case of different shades of one particular colour. He states that like different colours, shades of the same colour are also different from one another, and cause the production of distinct impressions. Following from this, Hume creates a case whereby a person can conceive the idea of a missing shade of blue upon being presented with an array of blue shades arranged in a continuum, with a single shade missing (13). Hume holds that in such an instance, the person would indeed possess the thought of the missing shade of blue, in spite of lacking the impression. However, Hume goes on to respond, rather briefly, that such a case is so rare that it should essentially be ignored, and that any notion of modifying his position should be rejected.

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