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Hume Studies

Volume 39, Issue 1, April 2013

Tony Pitson
Pages 37-59

Skeptical Realism and Hume on the Self

The skeptical realist interpretation of Hume has in recent years become the focus of considerable debate. Many of the arguments both for and against this approach to Hume—in particular, regarding his view of causal power and also the continued and distinct existence of body—have been well rehearsed and explored in the literature. So far, however, the possibility of applying the skeptical realist approach to Hume’s discussion of the self in “Of Personal Identity” (T 1.4.6) has not received the same critical attention. In light of the distinctive issues that arise in this context, I shall, in the following, address the skeptical realist interpretation of Hume on the self provided by recent commentators like Edward Craig and Galen Strawson. I attempt to show that there are particular problems with this approach to Hume on the self, and I defend the alternative rejected by it, namely, that Hume presents his bundle or system view in Treatise 1.4.6 as an ontological claim about the nature of the mind or self. I further place this understanding of Hume within the wider context of his views about the different aspects of personal identity and the nature of the mind’s relation to body.

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