Notes by Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Hume - Enquiry concerning Human Understanding - section I
 


 


Notes on SECTION I: Of the different species of philosophy.

Note 1: Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different manners; each of which has its peculiar merit, and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind.

Let us start with noting - as Hume says himself, but as may be less clear in the present day and age - that Hume meant 'science' by his term  'philosophy', indeed just as Newton did, and that one of the things Hume makes clear by this first sentence is that this text, like its predecessor the 'Treatise of Human Nature' concerns human nature.

Next, for later use and reference, it makes sense to note immediately at the beginning that Hume presupposes - it would seem - that there is such a thing as human nature, that you and I, and every human child, man or woman, have in common, in some sense, and indeed use or presuppose as the basis for our mutual understanding.

And finally, as regards the present quotation, it should be clear that 'moral philosophy', especially if this is taken to include religion and politics, is not merely a source of 'entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind' but also the basis of much misery, persecution, murder or human stultification in the name of philosophy, religion, ideology or politics.


Note 2: The one considers man chiefly as born for action; and as influenced in his measures by taste and sentiment; pursuing one object, and avoiding another, according to the value which these objects seem to possess, and according to the light in which they present themselves.

In fact, Hume introduces a contrast and opposition between two modes of moral philosophy that I like to draw in somewhat other terms, and in not quite the same way, namely as follows.

The price human beings have to pay for having a larger intelligence than other animals and thereby being less prey to the dictates of instinct, is that they have to articulate and invent themselves at least some of the principles on the basis of which they want to live, socialize, and cooperate, and that tell them what human beings and the world are, and how the world could be made and human beings should behave.

In general, such principles are philosophical in a broad sense, and contain both a metaphysics, that asserts what reality is supposed to be like, and an ethics, that asserts what ends human beings should adopt and how they should behave to each other.

And in general, the statements of such metaphysical and ethical principles tends to be abstruse, abstract, difficult to follow, and to be much concerned with defending the philosophical positions taken against other positions, or with attacking these.

Hence the usual course is that, for such philosophies or religions that find any manner of popularity, in fact two systems are developed: First, the original one, usually atttributed to some original thinker or religious prophet, that contains the philosophical teachings as they were originally made public, and second, derived ones, that contain versions or interpretations of the original system for popular consumption.

It makes a lot of sense to refer to the latter by the term 'ideology', which accordingly is and will be used in these notes in the sense of 'version of a philosophy or religion as prepared for ordinary men and women'.

And it should be clear that the vast majority of what is known as philosophy or religion among human beings is ideological in the present sense: It does not consist of the original ideas of the founders of doctrines, but rather of later expositions, clarifications, restatements, simplifications, cathechisms, summaries, reworkings or interpretations, usually prepared for wider consumption and with some practical intent, namely as propaganda for a certain point of view, party, religion, or as a philosophical conviction, and it is not meant to be studied and discussed objectively in a scholarly way, but is meant to carry emotional and intellectual conviction and to motivate public action or support.

The distinction Hume had in mind that he draws in this and the following sections is similar and overlaps with my distinction but does not completely coincide with it.


Note 3: As virtue, of all objects, is allowed to be the most valuable, this species of philosophers paint her in the most amiable colours; borrowing all helps from poetry and eloquence, and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner, and such as is best fitted to please the imagination, and engage the affections.

This conforms to the usage I proposed in the previous note. To reiterate: Most philosophy - and this includes the basic notions of politics and religion - that the vast majority of human beings come into contact with is in the nature of ideological propaganda, that was intended to carry conviction and to motivate men, but that does itself not belong to serious scholarship.


Note 4: The other species of philosophers consider man in the light of a reasonable rather than an active being, and endeavour to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard human nature as a subject of speculation; and with a narrow scrutiny examine it, in order to find those principles, which regulate our understanding, excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, action, or behaviour.

This likewise conforms to the usage I proposed in Note 3, and it may be well to add here the basic distinction between - let us say - the intellectual and the ideological modes of doing philosophy:

In the former case, whatever the beliefs and intentions of the writers, the predominant concern is with the truth or falsity, or if this is inachievable, the plausibility of and support and evidence for the philosophies discussed, in the light of all possible intellectual objections and all available evidence.

In the latter case, the predominant concern is to present a philosophy or religion as if it is true or tenable, and to derive intellectual and moral lessons from it, that may motivate men's actions and help their reasoning.

Now one of Hume's own convictions was in fact that both of these approaches are mistaken - the former, because there is no provable truth or falsity in most matters of philosophy, and the latter, because it follows that the lessons derived from - dogmatic, non-sceptical - philosophy of any kind must be mistaken even if they are well-intended.


Note 5: They think it a reproach to all literature, that philosophy should not yet have fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism; and should for ever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being able to determine the source of these distinctions.

As I explained in my previous note, in fact Hume believed that the sceptics were right about "the source of these distinctions" concerning "the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism": Either there is no such rational foundation, or else it is beyond the capacity of human beings.


Note 6: It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference above the accurate and abstruse; and by many will be recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life; moulds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of perfection which it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily retain any influence over our conduct and behaviour. The feelings of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosopher to a mere plebeian.

The reasons for this - from my own point of view - have been given in Notes 2, 3 and 4.

However, it should be noted that a considerable part - indeed, the majority -  of the so called 'abstruse philosophy', whatever the pretences or genuine beliefs of the intellectuals and academics who tend to be concerned with them, also are ideologically motivated rather than a mere consequence of objective scholarship.

In brief, human beings are almost always concerned with philosophy and ideology because they have some interest in it, and base some hopes on it, and rarely because they are motivated by the beauty of it, as men may study mathematics, or practice music. And by far the greatest part of the human interest in philosophy, politics and religion is in the nature of wishful thinking: Men in search of arguments, terms and slogans that support their interests, as they conceive of them, and that satisfy their emotional needs  for conclusions that satisfy their prejudices, concerns and interests, rather than in conclusions that they can defend intellectually against the most able and best informed opposition, and that are only supported by incontroversial facts and logical argumentation.


Note 7: This also must be confessed, that the most durable, as well as justest fame, has been acquired by the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners seem hitherto to have enjoyed only a momentary reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but have not been able to support their renown with more equitable posterity.

As I used words above this is not so. Briefly, and with reference to two examples: Few have read Aquinas or Marx, but many hundreds of millions have read - indeed: have been forced to read in childhood or puberty - popular expositions of parts of the philosophical systems of these men.

Even so, it tends to be the founders of doctrines that become and remain (in)famous, and not the later popularizers of these doctrines, although they may be, in their own times, well known, and may make more money and draw more local and temporal fame from their popularizations then did the originators in their own times from their own ideas.


Note 8: It is easy for a profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his subtile reasonings; and one mistake is the necessary parent of another, while he pushes on his consequences, and is not deterred from embracing any conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its contradiction to popular opinion. But a philosopher, who purposes only to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colours, if by accident he falls into error, goes no farther; but renewing his appeal to common sense, and the natural sentiments of the mind, returns into the right path, and secures himself from any dangerous illusions.

That it is easy to commit mistakes in philosophical arguments is or should be obvious, and that the more common run of mankind is more interested in conclusions that please them; that seem to serve their own interests; and that articulate or support their own prejudices likewise is or should likewise be evident.

Even so, evident mistakes in reasonings have rarely or never been an important barrier to philosophical importance, for this tends to be based on originality, style or pretensions of human or intellectual importance much rather than on logically provable truth or widely admitted objective fact. Also, some philosophies and religious ideas are important simply because they have many - would-be or real - followers.


Note 9: The fame of Cicero flourishes at present; but that of Aristotle is utterly decayed. La Bruyere passes the seas, and still maintains his reputation: But the glory of Malebranche is confined to his own nation, and to his own age. And Addison, perhaps, will be read with pleasure, when Locke shall be entirely forgotten.

Hume's 'at present' may be taken to be the England of 1750 or thereabouts, when educated men still read and wrote Latin as a matter of course. At present, in 2005, few read Cicero, fewer La Bruyère, and I, who studied philosophy, have never met a man who had seriously read Malebranche, while Addison is only read, if at all, by those who want to take a university degree in English literature.

But Locke is still rather famous, at least among those who attended a university, even if he is hardly read, and paperback editions of his Essay are easily available.


Note 10: The mere philosopher is a character, which is commonly but little acceptable in the world, as being supposed to contribute nothing either to the advantage or pleasure of society; while he lives remote from communication with mankind, and is wrapped up in principles and notions equally remote from their comprehension.

This may be so, and is in line with what I said in Note 7. Indeed, it is an interesting fact about the founders of philosophies and religions that they tend to be much more famous and influential long after they are dead than while they were alive, when they often were persecuted and considered more or less mad. Also, and as I indicated in Note 6 and earlier, what these founders tend to be famous for among their would-be followers is rarely their original work, but is usually a more modern restatement of it by some more recent follower.


Note 11: The most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philosophy.

Actually, that the 'most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes' is Aristotle's doctrine of the mean. It may be adequate in many applications, but seems to be mostly not so in philosophy and religion, where most desire to believe and indulge their wishes (whatever their own beliefs and pretenses), and like to consume as philosophy or religion what they believe already, and dislike a serious rational study of their own beliefs.


Note 12: Man is a reasonable being; and as such, receives from science his proper food and nourishment: But so narrow are the bounds of human understanding, that little satisfaction can be hoped for in this particular, either from the extent of security or his acquisitions.

That 'Man is a reasonable being' is, in the case of most men at least, more of a desire than a fact: Men are capable of reasoning, but such reasoning as they are capable of and practice tends to serve their own interests, prejudices and desires.

And indeed, part of Hume's sceptical conclusions about human beings is that 'so narrow are the bounds of human understanding' that a true philosophy, other than the sceptical philosophy that there is no true philosophy, is a chimera.


Note 13: Man is a sociable, no less than a reasonable being: But neither can he always enjoy company agreeable and amusing, or preserve the proper relish for them.

In fact, often the demands of society and the demands of reason are difficult or impossible to combine consistently, because much of society is based on wishful thinking, on pretense, on illusion, on lies, on deception, or on prejudice - all of which may be defended as true, noble, evident and desirable by most ordinary men and most leaders of society, and may be maintained by an inquisition or a secret police, as all of it may be promulgated by priests or by schools and universities as if it is good and true.

And apart from inquisition, secret police, force, propaganda, and education based on prejudice, it is a fact that human society and the talents of the vast majority of human beings are not based on provable truth or reason, but on local prejudice, on proven practices, on transmitted traditions, and on feelings, on wishful thinking, and on what seems fair and credible to the majority of men, who tend to follow local authorities in most respects, and tend to believe what these tell them without subjecting these beliefs to a critical and rational test.


Note 14: Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit, and will severely punish, by the pensive melancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception which your pretended discoveries shall meet with, when communicated. Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

Here Nature is supposedly speaking, in Hume's rendition. No doubt, Hume  spoke from experience. It may be objected to the famous line 'Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man' that no man can fail to be a philosopher, for reasons outlined in Note 1, and more seriously, that, even so, most men would be wise if they would mostly abstain from philosophy, both because it tends to be either fruitless or dangerous and because their talents or character are not fit for it. 

And since the rise of real science, which may be dated from Galileo, anybody doing philosophy should have a real understanding of some real science at university level.


Note 15: All polite letters are nothing but pictures of human life in various attitudes and situations; and inspire us with different sentiments, of praise or blame, admiration or ridicule, according to the qualities of the object, which they set before us. An artist must be better qualified to succeed in this undertaking, who, besides a delicate taste and a quick apprehension, possesses an accurate knowledge of the internal fabric, the operations of the understanding, the workings of the passions, and the various species of sentiment which discriminate vice and virtue. How painful soever this inward search or enquiry may appear, it becomes, in some measure, requisite to those, who would describe with success the obvious and outward appearances of life and manners.

This may be so, but there are at least two intermediate - or more general -positions, one sceptical and another realistic.

The sceptical position is that, in spite of some 25 centuries of documented human searching concerned with 'the operations of the understanding, the workings of the passions, and the various species of sentiment' there is singularly little knowledge about these matters on which all thinking men agree. This may suggest, and at least does support, the notion that if there is such knowledge about human understanding, human passion, and human philosophy, that men, as they are and have been so far on average, are not fit for it.

The realistic position starts from the same premise that there is little proved and provable knowledge about the workings of the human mind and the nature of reality, and insists that there is much to be found that future science may find, but that is not available here and now, and that, although human beings are capable of finding the truth about many things, this tends to require many generations of dedicated research and discussion of the most intelligent individuals.


Note 16: Besides, we may observe, in every art or profession, even those which most concern life or action, that a spirit of accuracy, however acquired, carries all of them nearer their perfection, and renders them more subservient to the interests of society. And though a philosopher may live remote from business, the genius of philosophy, if carefully cultivated by several, must gradually diffuse itself throughout the whole society, and bestow a similar correctness on every art and calling. The politician will acquire greater foresight and subtility, in the subdividing and balancing of power; the lawyer more method and finer principles in his reasonings; and the general more regularity in his discipline, and more caution in his plans and operations. The stability of modern governments above the ancient, and the accuracy of modern philosophy, have improved, and probably will still improve, by similar gradations.

So far, this has not been so. Indeed, quite the contrary may be observed, when one considers e.g. the histories of Marxism - socialism, communism - and fascism and national socialism over the last two centuries, or the French Revolution in Hume's own 18th Century.

The general lesson is that man is, by and large, in the mass and in majority, and with very few exceptions, not a rational but a rationalizing animal, an ideological ape rather than a reasoning angel, and a willfully torturing and persecuting animal rather than a peaceful or saintly godlike being.

And one summary of the awful force, influence and implications of philosophies in their ideological or religious everyday form is the following table compiled by Mr. Randolph J. Rummel, who has taken the trouble of finding out how many civilian persons have been murdered in the 20th Century apart from the many soldiers that were killed on battle-fields.

He wrote a book about it called Death by Government, in which one can find, among other things, the following table - that lists only civilian deaths and no military deaths in wartime - and which, upon the whole, is a remarkable illustration of the human efficacy and consequences of human philosophy:

Dictator Ideology Country Years Deaths
Joseph Stalin Communist Soviet Union 1929-1953 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung Communist China 1923-1976 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler Fascist Germany 1933-1945 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek Militarist/Fascist China 1921-1948 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin Communist Soviet Union 1917-1924 4,017,000
Tojo Hideki Militarist/Fascist Japan 1941-1945 3,990,000
Pol Pot Communist Cambodia 1968-1987 2,397,000
Yahya Khan Militarist Pakistan 1971 1,500,000
Josip Broz Tito Communist Yugoslavia 1941-1987 1,172,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

For most of these murders - over 200 million of them - were justfied in terms of some philosophy, and committed in the name of philosophy, morals, and humanity.


Note 17: Were there no advantage to be reaped from these studies, beyond the gratification of an innocent curiosity, yet ought not even this to be despised; as being one accession to those few safe and harmless pleasures, which are bestowed on human race.

As my previous note should make clear, philosophy not only may be 'the gratification of an innocent curiosity' or a source of the 'few safe and harmless pleasures, which are bestowed on human race' but also is and has been the foundation of all societies, the justification of its moral practices whatever these were, and all too often the intellectual foundation of mass murder. As Voltaire remarked: 'If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.'


Note 18: But this obscurity in the profound and abstract philosophy, is objected to, not only as painful and fatiguing, but as the inevitable source of uncertainty and error. Here indeed lies the justest and most plausible objection against a considerable part of metaphysics, that they are not properly a science; but arise either from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these intangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness.

Here Hume undoubtedly indicates a considerable part of his own motivation to write and publish about philosophy. And he is right that 'a considerable part of metaphysics (..) are not properly a science' and also right that part of 'craft of popular superstitions' is to 'raise these intangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness'.

Even so, each of these - let us say, with considerable justification - intellectual perversions is not based on metaphysics nor on superstition, but is due to the average human inclinations for wishful thinking and violence: To believe that whatever one desires to be true is true, and to uphold those beliefs with violence against those who are not of one's own faith or ideological conviction. Or so was at least often the case in human history:

"History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind" (Gibbon)

In brief: Not only are human beings rationalizing ideological apes: They are  also totalitarian, torturing and murderous animals - or at least, such evidence as there is strongly supports this contention, bitter as it is, and counter to much of teachings of philosophy, ethics or religion as it is also. (Compare Mark Twain's "The War Prayer".)


Note 19: Chaced from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind, and overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices. The stoutest antagonist, if he remit his watch a moment, is oppressed. And many, through cowardice and folly, open the gates to the enemies, and willingly receive them with reverence and submission, as their legal sovereigns.

This states more of Hume's motives to write philosophy and take a sceptical position. I agree, but it makes sense to repeat here what I said before: 'religious' and ideological 'fears and prejudices' are not the only and perhaps not the main source of the philosophical and moral confusions of mankind, which are due, rather, to (1) the combination of sufficient intelligence to need some philosophy, ideology or religion to coordinate a human society by providing it with a common view of the world and with shared ends and values; (2) insufficient intelligence of the majority to think clearly about abstruse philosophical subjects; and (3) an apparently native human inclination for totalitarian feelings and ideas, of the kind 'Our Group and Our Leaders are Best, and whoever disagrees is evil or at least not properly human'. It is these three points that seem to be at the foundation of much philosophical, religious and ideological 'folly'.


Note 20: In vain do we hope, that men, from frequent disappointment, will at last abandon such airy sciences, and discover the proper province of human reason. For, besides, that many persons find too sensible an interest in perpetually recalling such topics; besides this, I say, the motive of blind despair can never reasonably have place in the sciences; since, however unsuccessful former attempts may have proved, there is still room to hope, that the industry, good fortune, or improved sagacity of succeeding generations may reach discoveries unknown to former ages. Each adventurous genius will still leap at the arduous prize, and find himself stimulated, rather that discouraged, by the failures of his predecessors; while he hopes that the glory of achieving so hard an adventure is reserved for him alone.

This also was part of Hume's motivation, and it is in line with the realist position I indicated in Note 15.

Even so, the problem for rational and reasonable philosophy, apart from the fact that the intellectual and moral talents with which most men are born are not by far as great as the talents of the great philosophers or prophets they follow, is that part of the task of philosophy and religion is to articulate the intellectual and moral foundations of human society: What is the reality a human society exists in, and what are the ends and values a human society should try to realize, and that these attempted intellectual and moral foundations for human society criss-cross, as it were, with an also inborn pronounced totalitarian tendency in the vast majority of human beings, that tends to show itself in the prejudices that Our Group and Our Leader are and know best, and that everybody who does not belong to Our Group is not properly human, and has less or no human rights.


Note 21: The only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions, is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at ease ever after: And must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate. Indolence, which, to some persons, affords a safeguard against this deceitful philosophy, is, with others, overbalanced by curiosity; and despair, which, at some moments, prevails, may give place afterwards to sanguine hopes and expectations.

And here Hume states his own sceptical solution in principle: 'human understanding' (..) 'is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects' such as dogmatical philosophy or religion.

There are, at least, two problems with this proposed solution.

First, it does not seem to be true, at least in the sense that some philosophical approaches, including modern science, that started with the speculations of Democritus and Leucipus some 500 years B.C., are much more sensible or much less mistaken than other aproaches.

Hence, even if the sceptics are mostly right in believing few human beings are fit for philosophy, they forget all human society requires it, and tend to obscure the fact that even if there are no true philosophies, there certainly are both false philosophies and more and less nonsensical, useful or dangerous philosophies.

Second, and apart from the truth of a sceptical position: The human animal needs some form of philosophy, some view of the world, some ends, and some values, to take the place that instinct plays in other animals, and human society, likewise, is only possible if many men come to agree, however fallaciously, on what the world is like, and what human beings should and should not do in it.


Note 22: Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all dispositions; and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which, being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom.

Actually, this sounds plausible but is false. A 'remedy' that works at least as well, and often better than 'accurate and just reasoning', which is beyond the capacities of most men anyway, is ridicule: Satire, humour and literature tend to be far better popularizers and criticisms of philosophy and religion, and also far better inflators of philosophical and religious presumptions and pretences, than is 'accurate and just reasoning', since for every one that is capable of correct reasoning there are thousands who are capable of laughter.


 Note 23: It is remarkable concerning the operations of the mind, that, though most intimately present to us, yet, whenever they become the object of reflexion, they seem involved in obscurity; nor can the eye readily find those lines and boundaries, which discriminate and distinguish them.

Some 250 years after Hume wrote these lines, the situation is not much better, in spite of great advances in mathematics, computing, physiology and biochemistry.

It still is not known, in the same sense as, say, elementary physics is known, what are the foundations of the human mind; what generates the qualia of experience; what are the foundations of the self; whether humans have a free will; where is the soul, if it exists; what is consciousness, and indeed why we have it; and how people reason, feel and choose.


Note 24: Nor can there remain any suspicion, that this science is uncertain and chimerical; unless we should entertain such a scepticism as is entirely subversive of all speculation, and even action. It cannot be doubted, that 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 in all propositions on this subject, and a truth and falsehood, which lie not beyond the compass of human understanding.

Even so, and even while very much has been found in connection with the workings of the human brain that was wholly unknown to Hume and his contemporaries, the piecing together of what is known into a viable and sensible explanation of human experience that includes consciousness, free will, the qualia of experience, and the actual processes by which men reason and feel, so far has not succeeded, except very partially and incompletely.

There also is another problem here, that was not as clear to Hume as one would desire, namely that there seems to be a vast difference between (1) what is given in human consciousness, which is 'the mind' that Hume was concerned with, and which he believed he could clarify and at least in part explain on the basis of a careful analysis of his experiences, and (2) whatever produces human consciousness without being given in it, which is, in terms of science and not religion, best conceived as the human brain.


Note 25: 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. Some instances, especially late ones, of success in these enquiries, may give us a juster notion of the certainty and solidity of this branch of learning.

Hume believed himself to have made a number of these distinctions that his predecessors missed, and he certainly is right in assuming that such distinctions as he draws are sensible, and may be made verbally with more or less precision and aptness.

But as I indicated in my previous note, the scientific explanation of the human mind is not predominantly to be found in the analysis of its conscious experiences, but in the hitherto not existing explanation of how and why the brain produces the experiences we have.


Note 26: And shall we esteem it worthy the labour of a philosopher to give us a true system of the planets, and adjust the position and order of those remote bodies; while we affect to overlook those, who, with so much success, delineate the parts of the mind, in which we are so intimately concerned?

Hume refers here to Newton, who had died not long before Hume wrote this, and who had achieved what seemed then 'a true system of the planets' and what seems now an almost true approximation of that system.

And it should be mentioned also that what Newton reasoned about so succesfully were, in fact, the simplest properties and relations of the simplest natural things, whereas the human brain is by far the most complicated natural organ known to man.


Note 27: But may we not hope, that philosophy, if cultivated with care, and encouraged by the attention of the public, may carry its researches still farther, and discover, at least in some degree, the secret springs and principles, by which the human mind is actuated in its operations?

Of course, we may hope so - but so far there has been not much success in explaining human experience in general and in principle, especially not if we demand that such an explanation be given in terms of the actual processes that go on in a living human brain while it is thinking and feeling.

However, as I indicated in Notes 20 and 21, part of the problems of philosophy is that philosophy in its everyday garb of ideology and superstition is at the foundation of any and every human society, and indeed it is not impossible that 'true philosophy', if it exists, is placed much like pure mathematics is in the minds of most men: It may be true, but it also is incomprehensible and seems irrelevant for everyday practices and the superstitions and prejudices that are at the foundation of these practices.


Note 28: And nothing can be more requisite than to enter upon the enterprize with thorough care and attention; that, if it lie within the compass of human understanding, it may at last be happily achieved; if not, it may, however, be rejected with some confidence and security. This last conclusion, surely, is not desirable; nor ought it to be embraced too rashly. For how much must we diminish from the beauty and value of this species of philosophy, upon such a supposition?

In fact, Hume's position is sceptical, and to the effect that there are many riddles that human capacities are not fit to unriddle.

My problem, apart from the fact that I don't believe much of Hume's scepticism, for reasons I will make clear in further notes to the rest of the text, is that a sceptical solution to these difficulties does not work in practice either - and human beings need some philosophy or ideology to coordinate their beliefs and actions, and keep their societies together, even if the philosophies and ideologies they use for these ends are, from the point of view of the few truly gifted, obviously false and pernicious.


Note 29: we have, in the following enquiry, attempted to throw some light upon subjects, from which uncertainty has hitherto deterred the wise, and obscurity the ignorant. Happy, if we can unite the boundaries of the different species of philosophy, by reconciling profound enquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty! And still more happy, if, reasoning in this easy manner, we can undermine the foundations of an abstruse philosophy, which seems to have hitherto served only as a shelter to superstition, and a cover to absurdity and error!

Here we have again a statement of Hume's motives for writing philosophy: On the one hand, a desire for personal fame by propounding philosophical 'truth with novelty' and, on the other hand, a desire 'undermine the foundations of an abstruse philosophy' and especially religion.