Tag Archives: David

David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature: Origin of our Ideas

2 Nov

I’m treading ground that I have not yet treaded as a thinker and philosopher. I normally have sided and defended Kant in all situations, without having read his empiricist enemies like Locke, Hume or Berkeley. I purchased David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature this weekend and have been reading it. I want to talk today about the very beginning of it in Of the Origin of our Ideas. I have a problem or two concerning the things he says in this section, but I shall address it all here.

Hume states that all ideas originally come from perceptions. He divides perceptions into impressions and ideas. Impressions: “Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions, and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul. By ideas I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning; such as, for instance, are all the perceptions excited  by the present discourse, excepting only, those which arise from the sight and touch, and excepting the immediate pleasure or uneasiness it may occasion” (Hume).  This distinction between impressions and ideas of our perceptions easily makes us understand what Hume means. Perceptions are things we sense, feel, and understand. An impression, I see it, are obvious things that are made apparent to us, that immediately impresses upon our soul. Ideas are things we achieve through reasoning, logic, and forced understanding. I think about impressions and ideas, and am brought back to Kant’s analytic and synthetic. This connection can help one understand Hume and Kant together even if they both opposed each other in other ways. The impressions immediately impressing upon our souls, need no further understanding or logical processes to ‘get’ them, just like Kant’s analytic. The ideas, needing much reasoning and logical processes, are just like Kant’s synthetic for this reason. The synthetic is like the ideas for another reason I shall explain later that is the dominating thing to understand when reading Hume’s Of the Origin of Our Ideas in the Treatise of Human Nature.

Hume makes a second distinction of perceptions (again just like Kant does) where he divides them into simple and complex. Simple perceptions “…admit of no distinction nor separation.” Simple perceptions do not divide because of how abstract they are.  Complex perceptions may be “….distinguished into parts.” I really like how Hume exemplifies this: ” Tho’ a particular color, taste, and smell are qualities all united together in this apple, ’tis easy to perceive they are not the same, but are at least distinguishable from each other” (Hume). When I first read this, I got an apple out of my fridge, and looked at it and understood what a complex perception is. The entire perception of one logically constructed object, has many perceptions, so I can understand why the whole perception is complex.

Looking further, I can understand and even exemplify a complex idea or complex impression. A complex impression could be, for example, the result perception if you found your significant other with another person, feeling sadness and anger at the same time, and also, having another anger just for the person your significant other is with. That can be broken down to at least 3 simple impressions. I can think of a complex idea also. Such as,  if I was trying to understand sense data, the sense data is making its presence by size, shape, and color before me, and I have to figure out how much it represents a material object, and I would list reasons why it does or does not.

One big claim Hume makes overall in Of the Origin of Our Ideas is: “That all our simple ideas in their first appearance are derived from simple impressions, which are correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent.” More simply, our ideas are derived from our impressions. Impressions intrude our senses, and I think that ideas follow because we always want to make sense of them. Referring back to the complex impression where one finds their significant other with another person, and feeling sadness and anger for the significant other, and anger for the person with the significant other,  ideas will certainly follow from this. Reasoning and logical processes are used to create ideas to fathom what happened. I totally agree with the main drive this section of Treatise of Human Nature has.

I have one issue with it that occurs in the beginning of the section, which I purposely neglected until now. Once Hume distinguished perceptions into impressions and ideas, stating that impressions enter our senses with ultimate force and violence causing X, Y, and Z effects, and stating that ideas are faint perceptions from reason and logical processes of understanding, he made a disclaimer that nullified everything he just said:

” As on the other hand it sometimes happens, that our impressions are so faint and low, that we cannot distinguish them from our ideas.”

Not only does the above nullify his distinction between impressions and ideas, but it nullifies what he states later when he says that ideas are derived from impressions. This statement that he says nonchalantly in the beginning of the section just nullifies everything. If any perception is faint and low, it is probably an idea. I cannot understand why Hume would make this statement because that would blend ideas with impressions and vice versa. Furthermore, since impressions and ideas cannot be distinguished from each other, how can an idea come from an impression. It is my opinion that in the event of an impression, if it is like the analytic (using Kant’s term), it is immediately understood, and any perception beyond that instance, is just idea.  This is a way to distinguish them.

There is no impression that is so faint that it can be blended with ideas. I think Hume made a confusion here. I do not know why, but I prefer Kant’s definition of ideas because of that one sentence that nullifies everything. Because of that one sentence is one reason I felt I should talk about Hume’s division of perceptions anyway.

Thanks for the support, More on Hume’s Treatise of Human nature to come….


David Lewis’s On the Plurality of Worlds: A Modal Realism

26 Oct

A huge thing that philosophy is occupied by is sense data. Sense data (by Royce, Moore and Russell at first) has its characteristics and are data that come from our perceptive senses. The real question is, concerning sense data: Are the sense data representatives of material objects in reality,  or are sense data just images our minds produce with no relation to reality, therefore sense data having no connection to material reality? When I look at a blue cup,  is there really a blue cup there made of plastic particles fusing together to make a good device to carry a drink of choice, or is the blue cup just something that my mind is telling me is there? Many philosophies advocate one or the other, in different variations, such as solipsists believing that if a blue cup is seen, its existence is not known, extremes are taken, when at the same time, philosophies are less extreme. Considering Descartes, an evil deceiver distorts our visual world deceiving us of certain existences, which is another theory on the matter. Realism theories advocate that what we see pertains to real material existences. David Lewis proposing a thesis for the plurality of worlds advocated a modal realism.

Lewis, a philosopher I have only recently encountered the writing of, begins On the Plurality of Worlds by stating his thesis of plurality. He introduces a modal realism stating that all things perceived and sensed are existent and real in some way. The world I see right now with a computer, a blue cup, an iPod touch, my phone, a bunch of books, the blue sky, and everything else is one specific world. If one were to perceive a world where all life has been demolished except that person, that is yet another world. Some people humorously talk about parallel universes, like if I have blonde hair, blue eyes and am white, my parallel universe world would involve me with black hair, brown eyes, and black, and where everything else is opposite the way things are in the first world.

If one can perceive it, it is a possible world. Lewis puts it very well: “The worlds are many and varied. There are enough of them to afford worlds where (roughly speaking) I finish on schedule [his book], or I write on behalf of impossibilia, or I do not exist, or there are no people at all, or the physical constants do not permit life, or totally different laws govern the doings of alien particles with alien properties. There are so many other worlds, in fact, that absolutely every way that a world could possibly be is a way that some world is” (Lewis). He discusses in the beginning writing his book on time, and refers that to a certain possible world. Also, he states that he writes on the possibilities, not the impossibilities (impossibilia), but in some world he may be writing about the impossibilia. The bold writing says it all.

Lewis also adds that possible worlds perceived do not include worlds we make up. We may make worlds up in sleep, insomniac hallucinations, or narcotic hallucinations, and those are not the possible worlds because those are exaggerations and digressions of ideas of actual material things.

What do these possible worlds mean? To one that believes in this modal realism, it means (in my opinion, and others’) that sense data, or perceptions, denote material objects and/or reality in one way or another. Seeing the regular world one always sees, and then immediately seeing a world where all civilizations are wiped out, are both different worlds, meaning both are reality in one way or another. This is one answer for the argument stated at the very beginning ( are sense data representations of reality, or are sense data just images of the mind not connected to any reality). Modal realism states that all perceptions (not dreamed or hallucinated) are reality and can be of material objects.

So, one might ask, if I am perceiving one world (where monkeys run the world, and humans are the pets), how is the opposite world (where humans are the runners of the world, and monkeys are wild animals or pets) a real world at all? What we are perceiving at one instance is the only world actualized ( the succeeded form of a potential world). Another person besides me might be perceiving the same world, and maybe that person is perceiving a world not actualized to me. Because our perceptions are so different each person’s world is one world actualized while all the other possible worlds are, yet are in a potential state. The actualized potentialized understanding of all the possible worlds was kind of my understanding of all of this. It is also important to note that all possible worlds are not spatio-temporally connected. One world does not appear at one time, and another at a later time. One world does not exist in one space, and another world 6999 light years away. Spatio-temporal connections of the possible worlds are not existent.

To sum up the possible worlds in  modal realism:

  • Worlds are not created by people- As in, one dreaming or hallucinating a round square (how that would be I have not a clue) is not of a possible world because this thing is not at all possible in any world.
  • Worlds are not spatio-temporally connected-  Worlds are not spaced out in time, and are not located individually in space
  • To conclude from the above, worlds appearing to each person (not dreamed or hallucinated) are worlds that happen to be actualized. All  other possible worlds not appearing to a person are potential, and still are.

To discuss more the argument that all perceptions are perceptions of reality, if one saw any blue animal ( a lion for instance)  in one world appearing to him, what that person is seeing would be real. This is because an animal can become blue if it needed to be (not in this case by itself, specifically if this was a weird world where people soaked animals in pools full of blue dye), and this is a possible world. Because of how this is incredibly possible, it is real.  If we try to take something incredibly outrageous and crazy from a dream or hallucination, like seeing a round square, a round square is not real or possible. A round square could not appear in a possible world, and is therefore not real or material in any way (something being real usually denotes it being a material object of some sort). A round square is just an example for outrageous crazy things that we make up sometimes that are not real even in the huge possible worlds of modal realism.

Look around. If you see something that cannot be logically possible then question the reality of your perceptions. But if you look around and cannot find one impossibility to be questioned, then your perceptions are real and material in the best sense of the words.

Thanks for the support, once again.