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Hume & Passions

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Valentina Petrolini

on 9 January 2017

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Transcript of Hume & Passions

Essential Bio
Required Readings (Week 6)
Hume - The Passions
From the
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Section 5
(Sceptical Solution to These Doubts) and
Section 9
(The Reason of Animals)

From the
Treatise of Human Nature - Book II (The Passions)

one section
among the following and read it carefully:

Pride and Humility (pp. 148-150)
Vice and Virtue (pp. 159-161)
Beauty and Ugliness (pp. 161-164)
Love and Hatred (pp. 175-177)
Malice and Envy (pp. 194-199)
Curiosity (pp. 231-233)

[Keep in mind that this week's homework will focus on the section that you select from the list above. Choose wisely!]

Born in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1711.

Studies a variety of subjects from an early age (Latin, Ancient Greek, mathematics, natural philosophy) at Edinburgh University.

Moves to France for a few years, and spends some time in La Flèche (where Descartes had studied).

In 1737, he goes back to England to publish his
Treatise of Human Nature
(which will be partially censored).

In 1748, he elaborates some of his ideas further and publishes the
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Starts working as a librarian and spends a few years working on a massive historical project (
History of England

Spends his last years in Edinburgh and then dies of cancer in 1776.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
begins with Hume making explicit both the goal of his project and the philosophical models that he is taking into consideration.

Create a "mental geography" of the distinct parts and powers of the mind (p. 5).
In Locke's words:
"I hope that this enquiry into the nature of the understanding will enable me to discover what its powers are; how
far they reach, what things they are adequate to deal with, and where they fail us."

(Essay I - Ch. I, IV)
In Section 1 Hume basically offers a paraphrase of the Essay's incipit:

"The only way to free learning from entanglement in these abstruse questions is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and through an exact analysis of its powers and capacity show that it’s utterly unfitted for such remote and abstruse subjects"
(p. 5)

just like Newton had recently investigated the law and forces of the physical world (see
De Gravitatione --
Week 9), Hume wants to explore the human mind in a similar fashion.

"Until at last a scientist, (Isaac Newton), came along and also determined the laws and forces by which the revolutions of the planets are governed and directed. Similar things have been done with regard to other parts of nature.
And there is no reason to despair of equal success in our enquiries into the powers and organisation of the mind, if we carry them out as ably and alertly
(p. 6)
Section 2 - Origins of Ideas
In a very Lockean spirit, Hume divides mental content in two broad categories:

those are our most "lively perceptions" -- e.g. "When we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will" (p. 8).

those are the less lively perceptions coming from reflection or memory -- e.g. Recalling a sensation of warmth that is no longer present (p. 7).
This is very similar to what Locke says, but also importantly different:

: all ideas come from impressions (they are "copies" of them).

impressions are not only sensory but importantly include
feelings and volitions
Emotions and feelings are not hindering our rational capacity of judgment (see Descartes), but rather guiding our actions and reasoning in a very important sense.

We are moved to act and to reason because we feel something:

Desire of power

Desire of justice
Desire of revenge
Desire of love
Many of our reflections do not arise from rational deduction, but rather from
custom or habit

Even something that appears "logically necessary" -- e.g. the idea that effects are produced by causes -- comes from the habit of observing things around us behaving in a certain way over time.
Hume clarifies this point through a
thought experiment

"Suppose that a highly intelligent and thoughtful person were suddenly brought into this world; he would immediately observe one event following another, but that is all he could discover. He wouldn’t be able by any reasoning to reach the idea of cause and effect, because the particular powers by which all natural operations are performed are never perceived through the senses, and there is no reason to conclude that one event causes another merely because it precedes it. Their occurring together may be arbitrary and casual, with no causal connection between them"
(p. 20)

It is only through the habit of observing things behaving in a certain way that we are able to infer regularities and laws of nature. This does not happen by means of rational deduction, but by "repetition of a particular act or operation".
"All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning"
(p. 20)
* The distinction between
fiction and belief
becomes importantly connected with feelings.

In a nutshell, we are free to imagine whatever we want but not to believe whatever we want.

As Hume puts it:
"We can in putting thoughts together join the head of a man to the body of a horse; but we can’t choose to believe that such an animal has ever really existed"
(p. 23).

The "
feeling of certainty
" connected with beliefs comes - again - from our habit of seeing things in a certain way -- e.g. We did see men and horses repeatedly in our experience, but we never encountered a sagittarius.
* Beliefs are not defined by their content but by the characteristic feeling that accompanies them.

In Hume's words:
"Belief doesn’t consists in any special nature or order of ideas, but rather in the manner of their conception and in their feeling to the mind"
(p. 23).

Beliefs are not seen as rational judgements, but as feelings that allow us to distinguish between different mental contents.

"If we tried to define this feeling, we might find that hard if not impossible to do, like the difficulty of defining the feeling of cold or the passion of anger to someone who never had any experience of these sentiments"
(p. 23)

Targeting Descartes
Clearly, many of Hume's view are directly opposing Descartes'.

* Passions need not be subject to reason, but rather
reason is guided by the passions

(as opposed to certainty) is the most we can attain in our quest for knowledge.

are not detached rational judgments but
that make us lean towards some mental contents as opposed to others.

Even more revolutionary...

* Just like animals, we do have
that united to our
experiential knowledge
are responsible for
our behavior.

"But though animals get much of their knowledge from observation, many parts of it were given to them from the outset by nature. These far outstrip the abilities the animals possess on ordinary occasions, and in respect of them the animals make little or no improvement through practice and experience.

We call these instincts, and we are apt to wonder at them as something very extraordinary, something that cannot be explained by anything available to us
(p. 55)
[Roughly a century later, Darwin will push this idea much further by assimilating humans to other animals from a biological and evolutionary perspective]
"An instinct teaches a bird with great exactness how to incubate its eggs and to
manage and organize its nest; an instinct teaches a man to avoid the fire; they are different instincts, but they are equally instincts."
(p. 55)
Before the more fleshed-out theory presented in the
, Hume talked about several emotions in the
In particular,

Check out the Assignment section on BB to see how you can work on your chosen emotion within the Treatise!
Full transcript