What is it like to be an object? Hume and Maïmon

[cross-posted at Abberant Monism]

Early in his Treatise Hume proposes a simple challenge to anyone who would deal his system a fatal blow: come up with an idea that cannot be traced to a corresponding impression. Hume then offers a possible example, namely the case of the missing shade of blue. If we had experienced all shades of blue except for a single shade, and if all these shades were spread out before us except for the missing shade, would we be able to come up with an idea of this shade despite the fact that we had never had the corresponding impression of it? Hume claims we no doubt could and then quickly dismisses the case as exceptional and of little threat to his system. David Pears, Jonathan Bennett, and others believe Hume was mistaken to dismiss the missing shade as an insignificant exceptional case and argue that it does indeed pose a serious challenge to his system. There has been much ink put to paper to address this issue. Then towards the end of the Treatise, in the Appendix, Hume makes another claim concerning simple ideas that has also caused much consternation. After claiming that ‘simple ideas may have a similarity or resemblance to each other,’ he argues that ‘Blue and green are different simple ideas, but are more resembling than blue and scarlet’; moreover, these comparisons can be made without relying upon or ‘having any common circumstance the same.’ (T 637). As simple ideas, blue, green, and scarlet are qualities that are not composites and yet they may and do vary by degree. As Hume puts it, all the degrees in any quality – degrees of blue, intensity of color, etc., ‘are all resembling’ – they all resemble the simple idea blue – ‘and yet the quality, in any individual, is not distinct from the degree.’ (ibid.). In other words, if we think of the missing shade of blue as one of the qualitative degrees of intensity of the simple idea blue, then the missing shade is not distinct from the qualitative simple idea we do possess, and hence the inseparability of degree from quality enables one to come up with the idea of the missing shade. This is why the Laplander, to refer to another of Hume’s examples from the first Enquiry, is unable to come up with the idea of wine – they had not had a single impression of wine and hence no degrees of quality either. Continue reading

Thresholds of Consciousness: Leibniz-Maimon-Deleuze

I couldn’t agree more with Jon’s claim in his excellent summary of chapter 2 of Maimon’s Essay that “everything follows from the material in chapter 2.” Bringing in the contemporary debates regarding the ‘myth of the given’ and the Kripkenstein paradox was particularly helpful in illuminating the central concerns of Maimon’s chapter. I got a lot out of reading Jon’s post. As I read through chapter 2 I hadn’t thought of the Wittgenstein-Kripke rule-following paradox, but instead kept thinking of Donald Davidson, and for much the same reason Jon turns to the Kripkenstein paradox (assuming I understood Jon correctly). Just as the central problem in the Kripkenstein case is to raise the problem of determining whether or not one is applying a rule correctly, similarly for Davidson it is a question of differentiating between what one takes to be true and what is true. How do we come upon this difference? Davidson’s solution follows a similar path to Wittgenstein and Kripke; namely, one knows they are applying the rules correctly when one does what others expect them to do (“you’ve got it, continue on in the same way,” as Wittgenstein put it), and others similarly do what one would expect them to do in relevantly similar circumstances. What intrigues me about Davidson’s approach, especially as I tend to read it through a lens shaped by Deleuze and Hume, is the emphasis Davidson gives to shared agreement as the basis upon which one can subsequently differentiate between true and false, agreement and disagreement. As Davidson puts it in his essay, “Seeing through Language,” “Before there can be learning there must be unlearned modes of generalization. Before there can be language there must be shared modes of generalization.” In short, before there can be language and before there can be the capacity to differentiate between taking something to be the case and its being the case, there are unlearned and shared ‘modes of generalization.’ Continue reading