The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 35, 1998

Philosophy of Mind

Aaron Preston
Pages 198-204

David Hume’s Treatment of Mind

This paper critically examines Hume’s argument against the knowledge/existence of substantival mind. This denial is rooted in his epistemology which includes a theory of how complex ideas which lack corresponding impressions are manufactured by the imagination, in conjunction with the memory, on the basis of three relations among impressions: resemblance, continuity and constant conjunction. The crux of my critique consists in pointing out that these relations are such that only an enduring, unified agent could interact with them in the way Hume describes. I note that Hume attempts to provide such an agent by invoking the activities of imagination and memory, but that it is unclear where these belong in his system. After discussing the relevant possibilities, I conclude that there is no category within the limits of his system that can accommodate the faculties and allow them to do the work Hume assigned to them. I then note that Hume’s rejection of substantival mind rests upon the assumption that something like substantival mind exists; for the action of the latter is required for the proper functioning of the process of fabrication which creates the fictitious notion of substantival mind. My concluding argument is that if the existence of substantival mind is implicit in Hume’s argument against substantival mind, then his argument resembles an indirect proof, and ought to be considered as evidence for, rather than against, the existence of substantival mind.