Volume 40, Issue 1, April 2014
Personal Identity, Passions, and “The True Idea of the Human Mind”
This paper explores some strands of the new science of man proposed in Hume’s Treatise, focusing on the role given to the passions in Hume’s account of personal identity. How is the view of the self with regard to the passions examined in Book 2 supposed to complement, as Hume suggests, that with regard to thought and imagination discussed in Book 1 (T 18.104.22.168; SBN 261)? How should the nature and object of the account there proposed be understood? While it is clear that Hume rejects a metaphysical thesis of the mind as a unitary, simple thinking substance, it is less clear whether he also gives an alternative metaphysical theory of the mind as consisting in a mere succession of discrete impressions and ideas or more modestly offers a description of what we actually observe when inspecting our idea of self. I favor the latter view and argue that Hume’s best and most interesting characterization of the mind is the political analogy of the self as a republic or commonwealth that Hume calls a “true idea of the human mind.” The mind in this metaphor is compared to a dynamic political system of changing members driven by common or shared goals and interacting in determinate ways regulated by its constitution. This system of interconnected ideas already comes with all the elements that a broader, embodied and social self presupposes. It is thus because the idea of mind or self as sketched in the Section “Of Personal Identity” in Book 1 is grounded in the passions that the examination of their nature and mechanisms in Book 2 can be seen by Hume as actually “corroborating” it.