Analysis of David Hume’s Theory and His Beliefs Regarding Reason

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Published: Oct 17, 2018

Words: 1313|Page: 1|7 min read

Published: Oct 17, 2018

This essay will briefly analyse David Hume’s theory and his beliefs regarding reason, and mostly his rejection of it; and imagination, which he sees as ‘the source of our belief in the continued and distinct existence of objects’.

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David Hume is one of the most influential philosophers of the Modern period. He belongs to the tradition of British empiricism that also includes George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and John Locke, with who he shares the belief that knowledge is founded upon sense-perception. Nevertheless, contrary to Locke and Berkeley, Hume thinks that our knowledge is limited to sense-experience, and so offers a more consistent empiricism than those of his predecessors. Furthermore, David Hume believes that moral distinctions are derived from feelings of pleasure and special sort of pain, and not from reason. He argues, in fact, that reason by itself cannot produce any action or keep it from happening.

His thought, born in the light of the Enlightenment currents of the eighteenth century, aimed to achieve a 'science of human nature', endowed with the same certainty and mathematical organization that Newton had used for physics, in which it makes a systematic analysis of the various dimensions of human nature, considered the basis of other sciences. With Hume, the critical review of traditional systems of ideas reaches a radical turning point. He outlines an 'empirical model of knowledge' that will be critical of the Enlightenment’s belief in reason. It follows that Hume is today considered one of the most important theorists of modern liberalism.

The fundamental thesis of Hume is that the relationship between cause and effect can never be known a priori, that is, with pure reasoning, but only by experience: given a fact, no one can know what it will achieve before having actually experienced it. The connection between cause and effect is not based on any objectivity, but is subjective and arbitrary and always concerns what happened, without I being possible to deduce in a necessary way what will happen in the future: the relationship of cause and effect. In other words, it is a relationship between two facts that have already occurred and are empirically established, but there is no guarantee that this report will also apply to the future, because in matters of fact the opposite is always possible and only experience can tell us whether it is also real or not.

Eventually, what Hume mainly does is lead empiricism to a sceptical conclusion: basing itself on experience, which has limits, knowledge cannot be certain, but only probable. Hume sees in the perceptions the only basis of our knowledge.

What Hume mainly talks about is sceptical empiricism. He mostly exhibits this theory in his writing about the theory of knowledge. Hume says that human knowledge can neither be considered universal (or valid for all) nor necessary (or valid forever); therefore it destroys at its root the attempt to construct a metaphysics but at the same time it undermines the very validity of the scientific knowledge of nature.

Hume arrives at the sceptical conclusions starting from the attempt to build a human science always on experimental bases; it is not by chance, besides talking about gnoseology, he has also dealt in-depth with politics, aesthetics, religion and touched many other important spheres of human knowledge: in fact, it was also a great historical.

One of the main discoveries that Hume claims to make, as a ‘scientist of man’, is that men are forcefully governed by their imagination. He thinks that the capability of imagination is responsible for significant characteristics both of every individual person’s mind and of the social dispositions that people form collectively. Concerning every individual person’s mind, Hume believes that the imagination clarifies how we can form ‘abstract’ or ‘general’ ideas.

Besides, the most influential of his philosophical arguments is his analysis of causation, where he treats probable reasoning. Hume recognizes two sections or sub-faculties inside the imagination: the exclusive imagination and reason. The distinction between these sub-faculties can be explained in two different ways. To start with, these sub-faculties vary with respect to their function, or what they do. By 'reason,' Hume implies the sub-faculty by which we make decisive and probable thoughts. In contrast, the exclusive imagination is the sub-faculty by which we form non-rational impulsive notions and prejudices, and various imaginative 'fictions'. Second, these sub-faculties contrast with respect to the permanence, overpowering quality and all-inclusiveness of their activities. Tasks of reason, such as deriving causes from their effects, are lasting, irresistible and universal features of human minds. Conversely, the whimsies and prejudices because of the exclusive imagination happen just at specific occasions and in specific places, and they can be avoided with adequate strength of mind.

In any case, perhaps Hume believes that some activities of the exclusive imagination are similarly as changeless, powerful, and universal as those of reason. He says that probable reasoning and our belief that sensible objects keep on existing, on occasion when no one sees them, are 'equally natural and necessary in the human mind'. However, he also says that our belief in the continued, unperceived presence of sensible objects is a fiction due to the exclusive imagination. Therefore, he appears to hold that at least one activity of the exclusive imagination is similarly as permanent, overwhelming, and universal as the tasks of reason.

Hume's ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, sporadically shows scepticism, empiricism, and naturalism in epistemology. These obviously clashing signs can be disclosed by following them to a solitary basic epistemology of knowledge and probability quietly at work in the text. Hume embraces Locke's division among knowledge and probability and reassigns causal surmising from its conventional place in knowledge to the area of probability — his most huge departure from prior records of cognizance. To help this move, he utilises an epistemic status shared by knowledge-producing demonstration and causal deduction — the status of justified belief. On the interpretation developed here, he distinguishes knowledge with infallible belief and supported belief with reliable belief. For example, belief created by truth-conducive, belief-forming operations. Since infallibility suggests reliable belief, knowledge infers justified belief. This common status bears an ideal correlation of casual inference and demonstration, which Hume needs to defend his associationism, since he assumes such an examination in arguing for it. However, associationism supports encourages some doubts about causal induction.

In the third section of this Treatise, Hume says:

The fables we meet with in poems and romances put this entirely out of question. Nature there is totally confounded, and nothing mentioned but winged horses, fiery dragons, and monstrous giants. Nor will this liberty of the fancy appear strange, when we consider, that all our ideas are copy’d from our impressions, and that there are not any two impressions which are perfectly inseparable. Not to mention, that this is an evident consequence of the division of ideas into simple and complex. Where-ever the imagination perceives a difference among ideas, it can easily produce a separation.

The ideas, in fact, produce impressions corresponding to them through two ways: memory, which preserves the impressions in their original form, and the imagination that mixes and composes them by performing an activity of analysis and synthesis. (An example of a mode of synthesis is when we think of a mountain of gold; a union of the idea of the mountain and the idea of gold).

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All things considered, the conclusions to which Hume arrives can be clearly defined sceptical: if man has no other knowledge beyond his perceptions and the sciences do not lead to probable generalisations then all convictions rooted in our “common sense” are considered to be without rational justification. But Hume’s philosophy should not be understood as a destructive scepticism; on the contrary, he is convinced that the impossibility of proving our beliefs should not make us reject them. Man must only abandon the claim to possess absolute truth. Therefore, Hume’s scepticism is a moderate scepticism.

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The Views and Ideology of Personality of David Hume. (2022, December 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
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