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

Rousseau vs. Hume: Hilarity In Action.

UPDATE: The book mentioned below is now available as a torrent on The Pirate Bay.

I believe this is my very favorite philosophical beef of all time, if you haven’t had a chance to read wonderfully entertaining and accessible Rousseau’s Dog you must do it this summer or die.  This story has so many cool twists and turns and almost none of them are philosophical. There’s a new book on the subject – The Philosophers’ Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding – and I am hoping to read it very soon: Continue reading

New Book: Allison on Kant and Hume

Review of Henry E. Allison’s new book on Kantian reading of Hume – Custom and Reason in Hume: A Kantian Reading of the First Book of the Treatise – is found here.

Few historical figures have as many contemporary philosophical proponents as do Hume and Kant. Contemporary Humeans and Kantians can be found in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, metaethics, and normative ethics proper. And in many of these cases, it is possible to see central elements of the contemporary debate as an extension of differences in opinion between Hume and Kant themselves.

[h/t Self and World]

Antinomie and Anomie.

Kant’s 1798 letter to Grave is often cited as evidence for Kant’s own explanation for what encouraged him to initiate his “critique of pure reason”:

Nicht die Untersuchung vom Daseyn Gottes, der Unsterblichkeit etc. ist der Punct gewesen von dem ich ausgegangen bin, sondern die Antinomie der r. V.: “Die Welt hat einen Anfang -: sie hat keinen Anfang etc. bis zur vierten : Es ist Freyheit im Menschen, – gegen den: es ist keine Freyheit, sondern alles ist in ihm Naturnothwendigkeit”; diese war es welche mich aus dem dogmatischen Schlummer zuerst aufweckte und zur Critik der Vernunft selbst hintrieb, um das Scandal des scheinbaren Wiederspruchs der Vernunft mit ihr selbst zu heben. (12:256-8, Brief 820)

It was not the investigation of the existence of God, immortality, and so on but rather the antinomy of pure reason – “the world has a beginning; it has no beginning, and so on,” right up to the fourth: “There is freedom in man, versus there is no freedom, only the necessity of nature” – that is what first aroused me from my dogmatic slumber and drove me to the critique of reason itself, in order to resolve the scandal of ostensible contradiction of reason with itself.

This “dogmatic slumber” image is very often the first thing one hears in a Kant class. Continue reading