SECT. I. OF THE ORIGIN OF
1: All the perceptions of the
human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall
call IMPRESSIONS and IDEAS.
No, I don't think so, especially not because the ideas are taken to be
mostly faint impressions, and impressions again comprise sensations,
emotions and passions.
First, here is another
division of "the perceptions of the human mind":
but without implying these must be images),
where the Fantasies would comprise the emotions and passions,
example because these seem to be all appreciations of real or
fantastical events or things, and thus tend to accompany other
things (whether sensed, remembered or imagined).
Next, the reason why I
prefer my division is that it seems we can all distinguish
between what we sense and what we remember, and we know
we think or feel that is not merely sensed nor merely
be a fantasy of some kind, which means it must embody something we put
ourselves, even if this is a very small change,
subtraction, and also even if the fantasy happens to be real
(which we again
may not know, at any specific point in time).
However, there is another
category of impressions that Hume entirely misses while they are
Symbols, such as
written or spoken words that, when looked upon and understood, remind
us of the things they stand for, much rather than what the symbols themselves
look like, which is all that non-symbols - like our ordinary ideas and
- make us think of: The very things themselves or, at least,
things themselves. (We get there as well via
symbols, but we first need to understand them, and at least
part of the language they are in.)
Note 2: By
ideas I mean the faint images
of these in thinking and reasoning;
such as, for instance, are all the perceptions excited by the present
discourse, excepting only those which arise from the sight and touch,
and excepting the immediate pleasure or uneasiness it may occasion.
One problem I have
with this is that while I agree many of my ideas are derived from
and in that case often are like faint (and
also regularly: partial) images, sometimes my ideas may be
lively, and also more
lively than my current sensations - "Don't disturb me: I'm thinking!" -
yet they still are easily distinguished ny me from any and all
sensations or memories.
This means that mere faintness is not the mark of
another problem here, of which Hume seems not to have been aware: Some
men - like myself - are good visualisers, whereas others are bad
visualisers, or indeed have no visual recollections of things they do
quite well remember. Also, this has nothing to do with intelligence
(and some very bright men were extremely bad at visualising).
This again means that mere faintness is not the mark of ideas: Some have -
perfectly correct, quite distinct, and clearly articulated - ideas of
things they have seen, without having any visual recollections.
3 : I
believe it will not be very necessary to employ many words in
explaining this distinction. Every one of himself will readily perceive
the difference betwixt feeling and thinking.
Well... perhaps, but this
does seem to me to be another distinction. Besides, feelings tend to be
about something other than feelings, while this is much less so in
4 : Thus
in sleep, in a fever, in madness, or in any very violent emotions of
soul, our ideas may approach to our impressions: As on the other hand
it sometimes happens, that our impressions are so faint and low, that
we cannot distinguish them from our ideas. But notwithstanding this
near resemblance in a few instances, they are in general so very
different, that no-one can make a scruple to rank them under distinct
heads, and assign to each a peculiar name to mark the difference.
This is close enough if
you grant there are only impressions and ideas, but (1) the distinction
between these is not merely or only a matter of liveliness (for ideas
tend to add or subtract things to or from sensations: they are
rarely merely faint copies) while (2) Hume really missed Symbols
(words and statements, especially), for these are specifically human.
Indeed, this is also how I
distinguish ideas from sensations: They tend
to be fainter, and they
differ from real sensations in not being localized in time and
place (as sensations are, at least originally: that sensation at that
time and that place); in not being delivered through one of the
sense-organs (but by memory);
and in adding or subtracting
things from their original source, which is memory.
5: There is another division
our perceptions, which it will be convenient to observe, and which
extends itself both to our impressions and ideas. This division is into
SIMPLE and COMPLEX. Simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are
such as admit of no distinction nor separation. The complex are the
contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts.
This may hold for sensations - say: a specific color, taste or smell -
and for ideas that
are mostly copies of sensations, but even in the case of admittedly
simple sensations, such as a specific view of a specific tint of red,
(1) there tend to be aspects (such as: brightness, size, tint) that can
be distinguished in these simple parts, and (2) apart from these, the
mind tends to associate some specific other things or feelings
with the sensations it has or memorized.
Therefore, while I agree to the distinction, it seems to me to be
6: The one seem to
be in a manner the reflexion of the other; so that all the perceptions
of the mind are double, and appear both as impressions and ideas. When
I shut my eyes and think of my chamber, the ideas I form are exact
representations of the impressions I felt; nor is there any
circumstance of the one, which is not to be found in the other. In
running over my other perceptions, I find still the same resemblance
and representation. Ideas and impressions appear always to correspond
to each other. This circumstance seems to me remarkable, and engages my
attention for a moment.
I doubt it, though I again
also agree that many ideas
resemble perceptions, for example, because
they are memories of
But the resemblance between a memory and what is remembered tends not
to be "exact
representations of the impressions"
that started them, and indeed when I "shut my eyes and think
of my chamber" my ideas
will resemble it, but very probably not exactly and
also not in all details, while I know bad visualisers may have
no or only very faint and quite partial visual ideas.
But I agree with this
thought: That some actual perceptions, that are impressions in Hume's
terms, and the ideas that are derived from them, are such that the one
and the other correspond in various details to such an extent
one (perception or idea) may be said to represent the
(perception or idea) precisely because of the many resemblances (while
still the idea may be vaguer and less detailed, and usually but not
invariably is, than the actual impression that seems to have caused
Next, here is a qualification by Hume:
7 : I observe, that many of our complex
never had impressions, that corresponded to them, and that many of our
complex impressions never are exactly copied in ideas.
Yes, precisely - and this
is again an argument that (at least) suggests that ideas and
impressions are less alike than originally said, and should be
compared on one or more other dimensions than liveliness (for ideas
also tend to add or subtract things, and also tend to
be based on one's wishes and feelings about the things they are
8 : I perceive, therefore,
though there is in general a great resemblance betwixt our complex
impressions and ideas, yet the rule is not universally true, that they
are exact copies of each other.
Well...let's say there is a
resemblance, without committing ourselves to "great". The reason is that - to take but one
example - people may find their way to places they have never been
before on the basis of very crude maps, that scarcely resemble
what they map, except in a very few points that do help one
finding one's way.
Therefore neither is the rule "universally true" nor does the "resemblance"
need to be more than minimal to work quite well.
9 : After the most accurate
examination, of which I am capable, I venture to affirm, that the rule
here holds without any exception, and that every simple idea has a
simple impression, which resembles it, and every simple impression a
The problems here are mainly with the meaning(s) of "simple" especially when attached to "idea". But let me accept it for the moment, with
And let me add to this that I think there are both impressions
(at least in the form of sensations) and ideas (at least in the form of
that may be quite crude or quite exact) and that these two are distinct
even if they resemble a lot, for impressions tend do be dated
(one had that impression then and there, and remembers a then and there
for them) whereas ideas
tend to be undated,
precisely because we compare impressions by
their ideas ((the
idea of) that
impression and (the idea of) this impression are quite alike, except for
Here is a sum-up of Hume:
10 : The full examination of
question is the subject of the present treatise; and therefore we shall
here content ourselves with establishing one general proposition, THAT
ALL OUR SIMPLE IDEAS IN THEIR FIRST APPEARANCE ARE DERIVED FROM SIMPLE
IMPRESSIONS, WHICH ARE CORRESPONDENT TO THEM, AND WHICH THEY EXACTLY
In fact, I have accepted
that under Note 9, with a qualification about "simple".
But Hume is argueing it again, and part of his argument is this:
11 : From this constant
conjunction of resembling perceptions I immediately conclude, that
there is a great connexion betwixt our correspondent impressions and
ideas, and that the existence of the one has a considerable influence
upon that of the other.
In fact, this is much
as Hume will argue about causes and effects: All there is to be found
in experience is a
constant conjunction of what are deemed to be causes
and said to be effects, but apart from temporal differences, this is
all that can be discovered, just as there is nothing
else to be discovered except a sequence of constant conjunctions of
similars. (More on this later.)
Then there is this:
12 : To
give a child an idea of scarlet or orange, of sweet or bitter, I
present the objects, or in other words, convey to him these
impressions; but proceed not so absurdly, as to endeavour to produce
the impressions by exciting the ideas. Our ideas upon their appearance
produce not their correspondent impressions, nor do we perceive any
colour, or feel any sensation merely upon thinking of them.
This is another difference
between ideas and impressions: Simple ideas depend on simple
impressions, and are quite similar to them - but even simple ideas when
merely thought do not give us the impressions that gave rise to
(but something a lot vaguer).
Again I must say that Hume
and I seem to differ somewhat in our powers of visualizing: I can choose
to imagine what
things seem like and what many statements mean, and I
can also choose to do so without imagining these things. It is
the same with words for colors:
Saying or reading "Red" or "Blue" I tend to have some imagination
of some tint of these colors, though not if I don't want to.
Also, there are even better
visualisers than I am, while many men are worse.
13 : On the
other hand we find, that any impression either of the mind or body is
constantly followed by an idea, which resembles it, and is only
different in the degrees of force and liveliness.
Well... with two provisos:
First, to have an idea we
need to understand something. We usually do,
at least for ordinary impressions of ordinary things, but sometimes we
don't. Second, it is certainly not true that the "only" difference between "any impression" and the idea conjoined to it "is only
different in the degrees of force and liveliness" - unless this is understood in an extremely
wide sense, that allows nearly any degree of resemblance (as between a
very crudely and sketchily drawn map, and the territory in
has to find one's way).
14 : The constant
conjunction of our resembling perceptions, is a convincing proof, that
the one are the causes of the other; and this priority of the
impressions is an equal proof, that our impressions are the causes of
our ideas, not our ideas of our impressions.
Well... yes and no, for
Hume is going to argue that these "convincing proof"s are not convincing when one speaks of causes and
effects (that are respectively, in Hume's opinion, merely the first and the
second in a considerable series of such conjunctions).
15 : To confirm this I consider
another plain and convincing phaenomenon; which is, that, where-ever by
any accident the faculties, which give rise to any impressions, are
obstructed in their operations, as when one is born blind or deaf; not
only the impressions are lost, but also their correspondent ideas; so
that there never appear in the mind the least traces of either of them.
Again yes and no: Hume is
quite right that in a man born blind there will be no ideas of colors
nor of straightness, angles, lines, planes etc. But it is also true
that those born blind may have quite good ideas of
lines, planes etc. and be quite good at geometry,
because they succeeded in deriving these ideas from their sense of
16 : I believe there are few but will be of
opinion that he
can; and this may serve as a proof, that the simple ideas are not
always derived from the correspondent impressions; though the instance
is so particular and singular, that it is scarce worth our observing,
and does not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.
This is the end of a fairly
long argument that tries to prove that someone with thirty years of
good sight can develop an idea of a particular shade of blue
that he has never seen.
I accept the argument, but
observe that this does go counter to the general proposition laid down
under Note 10, and I also am more doubtful of
maxim" (under Note
10) than he is, mostly
he and I don't quite agree on ideas.
Next, there is this:
17 : But besides this
it may not be amiss to remark on this head, that the principle of the
priority of impressions to ideas must be understood with another
limitation, viz., that as our ideas are images of our impressions, so
we can form secondary ideas, which are images of the primary; as
appears from this very reasoning concerning them.
I have several remarks. First, it seems that non-visualisers will be
less prone to accept that their ideas are (like) "images". But this is less important. More important
is that, supposing we adopt the term "images" at least metaphorically,
we can say that it is rather obvious that the resemblance between an
whatever it represents,
whether another idea or an impression, may be very vague,
and partial, while at the same time being a quite adequate
representation for a given purpose (as again may be shown by the
scant resemblance between a territory and a map of it).
18: To prove the ideas of passion and desire
be innate, they observe that we have a preceding experience of these
emotions in ourselves.
They may, but that
does not prove anything. Hume seems to have not believed in innate
ideas, and he may be right that such specific ideas as we call "our
passions" or "our desires" are not innate but the outcomes of long
processes of learning. But this does not prove that one's brain is
empty nor does it prove the impossibility of some innate notions,
though I agree it is difficult to say which.
First: February 11,
February 17, 2015.