Hume's Empiricism

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  • Hume's Empiricism
    • Perceptions: Impressions and Ideas
      • Impressions - Ones that you can't choose, vivid and can be inward Ideas: Memories and/or imagination of experiences
      • Everyone will freely admit that the perceptions of the mind when a man feels the pain of excessive heat or the pleasure of moderate warmth are considerably unlike what he feels when he later remembers this sensation or earlier looks forward to it in his imagination.
        • Memory and imagination may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses, but they can't create a perception that has as much force and liveliness as the one they are copying.
          • Even when they operate with the greatest vigour, the most we will say is that they represent their object so vividly that we could almost say we feel or see it. Except when the mind is out of order because of disease or madness, memory and imagination can never be so lively as to create perceptions that are indistinguishable from the ones we have in seeing or feeling. The most lively thought is still dimmer than the dullest sensation.
      • Analysis
        • Impressions always precede ideas
        • The difference between memory and imagination is that in memory our ideas come in a fixed order while with imagination they come in any order we like.
        • Ideas are faint copies of prior impressions
      • Evaluation
        • Not all ideas are faint: Hume admits that in fever, madness or dreams our ideas can be as vivid as our impressions
        • Not all impressions are vivid - when drunk or sleepy our impressions can be dulled
        • In practise, we could never distinguish impressions and ideas by comparing their vivacity - whenever we think about an impression it becomes an idea hence we can only ever compare ideas with other ideas.
    • The Missing Shade of Blue
      • Not impossible for an idea to occur without a corresponding impression. It will be granted that various distinct ideas of colour enter the mind through the eye (or those of sound, which come in through ears) really are different from each other, though they do resemble each other in certain respects.
        • If that holds for different colours, it must hold equally for the different shades of a single colour; so each shade produces a distinct idea, independent of the rest.
          • We can create a continuous gradation of shades, running from red at one end to green at the other, with each member of the series shading imperceptibly into its neighbour. If the immediate neighbours in the sequence aren't different from one another, then red is not different from green, which is absurd.
            • Now, suppose that a sighted person has become perfectly familiar with colours of all kinds, except for one particular shade of blue for instance, which he happens never to have encountered. Let all the other shades of blue be placed before him, descending gradually from the deepest to the lightest.
              • It is obvious that he will notice a blank in the place where the missing shade should go. That is, he will be aware that there is a greater quality distance between the pair of neighbouring shades than between any other neighbouring pair in the series.
      • Analysis
        • Undermines Hume's Empiricism
        • If the idea isn't empirically based then it must be innate - opening the door to rationalism
      • Evaluation
        • Can we ever conceive of simple ideas?
    • Simple and Complex Ideas
      • Simple ideas admit of no division - homogeneous and cannot be broken down into smaller component parts such as thinking about the colour red
        • Complex ideas contain more than one element and can be broken down into simpler ideas: such as thinking about a red car.
          • We generate complex ideas by compounding (taking two ideas and creating a new one from them), augmenting (increasing), diminishing (decreasing), or transposing (changing position of a thing) simpler ideas gained from experience
            • The theory of simple and complex ideas explains how it is possible to have ideas of things we have never encountered
              • Golden Mountain: we can imagine it even though we have probably never even seen one before, likewise with a virtuous horse
      • Analysis
        • Without the prior impressions we couldn't have any ideas at all
      • Evaluation
        • Hence all our ideas are based on empirical experience
    • The Copy Principle
      • A proposition that not only seems to be simple and intelligible in itself, but could, if properly used to make every dispute equally intelligible by banishing all that nonsensical jargon that has so long dominated metaphysical reasoning's.
        • Those reasoning's are beset by three troubles
          • 1. All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and obscure, so that the mind only has a weak hold on them.
            • 2. Ideas are apt to be mixed up with other ideas that resemble them.
              • 3. We tend to assume that a given word is associated with a determinate idea just because we have used it so often, even if in using it we have not had any distinct meaning for it.
      • Analysis
        • All our impressions, that is, all our outward or inward sensations are strong and vivid.
          • The boundaries between them are more exactly placed
            • It is harder to make mistakes about them
      • Evaluation
        • From what impression is that supposed idea derived?
          • By bringing ideas into this clear light we may reasonably hope to settle any disputes that arise about whether they exist and what they are like.


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