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The Concept of the Copy Principle in David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature

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Argument Analysis III

The concept of the copy principle is prevalent in David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature. The idea of the copy principle is that simple ideas stem from simple impressions. Hume defines impression as “sensations, passions and emotions” while ideas are “the faint images of the others in thinking and reasoning” (Hume 208). Empiricism is best understood as humans gaining knowledge through experience (via the senses). I agree with Hume’s argument for empiricism, throughout history it has been show that humans learn best from trial and error and through experience.

Hume presents a series of cases to back up his claim and his first one begins by stating that the simple ideas and impressions are in a cycle wherein every idea has a corresponding impression that resembles it and every impression has an idea to back it up. The ideas and impressions are supposed to be similar as they represent each other. Another case Hume discusses is where ideas and impressions come from and identifies which one is the cause and the effect. He states that the impressions always come first and that an idea doesn’t correspond perfectly to an impression. He says that we “don’t see any colour or feel any sensation merely by thinking of them” and that while these two notions do relate, ideas lack the “force and liveliness” that impressions have (Hume 210). This leads into a third case where Hume outlines how ideas and impressions, while quite similar, are not identical. We can have an idea of something while never actually encountering it as we use imagination and fuse together pre-existing ideas. Hume wraps up his argument by delving into human actions. Humans are prone to acting on impressions as most humans are creatures of impulse. We use impressions to carry out ideas and this goes back to the copy principle being a cycle. Impressions provide a backdrop for our ideas that we end up carrying out.

I agree with Hume’s theory of the copy principle because it is logical that for a human to carry out an idea, an impression lies underneath it. This idea directly contributes to empiricism because it is through experience that humans gain impression and form ideas. This is how inventions and advancements are made. Humans take separate ideas they already know about and can merge them together to create a new idea or they can think of new inventions to solve a problem. The impression is human emotion and with that comes a need to create and this leads to the formulation and invention of an idea. The copy principle can be viewed throughout time, it is how we are here today.

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