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Notes on Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

An Enquiry Concerning Human UnderstandingAn Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
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When I made the final decision to pursue a PhD in Instructional Technology, I read this book in the months before starting as a way of plunging into the study of education. I don’t think I could have chosen any better- excellent!

My book notes:

Section 1: On the different species of philosophy

In this section Hume distinguishes philosophy for the sake of philosophy from applied philosophy. He wishes to argue for a more scientific approach to exploring “human understanding.”

p. 2 If they can discover some hidden truths which may contribute to the instruction of posterity.
p. 5 defines metaphysics as the “absolute rejection of all profound reasonings
p. 6 of any art or profession: “a spirit of accuracy carries all of them nearer their perfection, renders them more subservient to the interests of society”
p. 8 the mind is endowed with several powers and faculties, that these powers are distinct from each other, that what is really distinct to the immediate perception may be distinguished by reflexion: and consequently, that there is a truth and falsehood, which lie not beyond the compass of human understanding. There are many obvious distinctions of this kind, such as those between the will and understanding, the imagination and passions, which fall within the comprehension of every human creature; and the finer and more philosophical distinctions are no less real and certain, though more difficult to be comprehended.

Section 2: Of the origin of ideas

In this section, Hume distinguishes thoughts and ideas from sensory impressions.

p. 13 the less forcible and lively are commonly denominated Thoughts or Ideas— impression- all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.
p. 13-14 creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the sense and experience.
p. 16 When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion.”

Section 3 Of the association of ideas

In this brief section, Hume proposes three categories for defining association between ideas: resemblance, contiguity in time or place and cause or effect– three principles of connexion

p. 18 But that this enumeration is complete and that there are no other principles of association except these, may be difficult to prove to the satisfaction of the reader, or even to a man’s own satisfaction. All we can do, in such cases, is to run over several instances, and examine carefully the principle which binds the different thoughts to each other, never stopping till we render the principal as general as possible

Section 4 Sceptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding

Part 1

Relations of ideas: geometry, algebra, arithmetic

Propositions of this type are discoverable by the mere operation of thoughts, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe

Matters of Fact

p. 20 All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect- near or remote, direct or collateral

What is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory?

p. 20 causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience

p. 24 the utmost effect of human reason is to reduce the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes, by means of reasonings from analogy, experience and observation

Part 2
What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact?
-founded on the relation of cause and effect

What is the foundation of all our reasonings and conclusions concering that relation?
-experience

What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience?
-all influences from experience suppose that the future will resemble the past and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities

Section 5 Sceptical solution of these doubts

Part 1

p. 36 Reason is incapable of such variation. The conclusions which it draws from considering one circle are the same which it would form upon surveying all the circles in the universe.
All inferences from experience are effects of custom, not of reasoning.

Part 2

Belief

p. 39 nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagination alone is ever able to attain
p. 41 customary conjunction of the object with something present ot the memory or senses
p. 42 Sensible objects have always a greater influence on the fancy than any other; and this influence they readily convey to those ideas to they are related, and which they resemble.

Section 6 Of probability

p. 47 There are some causes, which are entirely uniform and constant in producing a particular effect; and no instance has ever yet been found of any failure or irregularity in their operation… but there are other causes which have been found more irregular and uncertain
p. 48 Though we give the preference to that which has been found most usual, and believe that this effect will exist, we must not overlook the other effects, we must not overlook the other effects, but must assign to each of them a particular weight and authority, in proposition as we have found it to be more or less frequent.

Section 7 Of the idea of necessary connexion

p. 50 There are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics, more obscure and uncertain than those of power, force, energy or necessary connexion, of which it is every moment necessary for us to treat in all our disquisitions.
p. 51 all our ideas are nothing but copies of our impressions, or, in other words, that it is impossible for us to think of anything, which we have not antecedntly felt, either by our external or internal senses
p. 52 external objects are they appear to the sense, give us no idea of power or necessary connexion
p. 62 one object connected with another — they have acquired a connexion in our thought and give rise to this influence, by which they become proof of each other’s existence

Section 8 Of liberty & necessity

Part 1

p. 66 the economy of the intellectual system or region of spirits
p. 67 Beyond the constant conjunction of similar objects, and the consequent influence from one to the other, we have no notion of any necessity or connexion
p. 74 It seems almost impossible, therefore, to engage either in science or action of any kind without acknowledging the doctrine of necessity, and this inference from motive to voluntary actions, from characters to conduct.
p. 76 particular objects are constantly conjoined together, and that the mind is carried, by a customary transition, from the appearnce of one to the belief of the other.
p. 78 By liberty… we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will
p. 79 There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blameable, than in philosophical disputes, to endeavor the refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretence of its dangerous consequences to religion or morality.

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By | 2017-03-13T10:19:06+00:00 February 13, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Notes on Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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Instructional Technology and Design consultant and Teacher with 20+ years of teaching, management and design experience in face-to-face and online classrooms.