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Notes on Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

PHIL 202: Modern Philosophy / Tim Black / Fall 2008

California State University, Northridge

Section 1

1.Man is an active being; the “easy and obvious manner” of doing philosophy

appeals to this aspect of humankind.  Man is also a reasonable being; the “accurate and abstruse” style of philosophy appeals to this aspect of humankind.  

2.Hume recommends a mixed kind of life.

3.Hume here suggests that the truth of a philosophical claim involves its being

useful and its being acceptable by society.

Section 2

1.Ideas and Impressions

A.Impressions: “[A]ll our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or

feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will.”

B.Ideas:“[T]he less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when

we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above-mentioned.”

2.The Copy Principle: “[A]ll our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our

impressions or more lively ones.”

3.Hume’s Method: When we think that “ a philosophical term is employed

without any meaning or idea,” we should try to trace that term (idea) back to an impression, to determine whether it is a copy of an impression.  If we cannot do this, then we can be sure that the term is employed without a meaning.

Section 3

1.Principles of Connection Among Ideas


B.Contiguity in time or place

C.Cause and Effect

Section 4

1.Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact

A.Relations of Ideas are “discoverable by the mere operation of thought”

and are “either demonstratively or intuitively certain.”

B.Matters of Fact are not discoverable by the mere operation of thought,

and are neither demonstratively nor intuitively certain.

i.“All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on

the relation of Cause and Effect.

ii.What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience?

a.Demonstrative Reasoning (i.e., “that concerning

relations of ideas”) is not the foundation of our conclusions from experience.

1.The negation of a conclusion from experience—e.g.,

that the course of nature may change, and that an object, seemingly like those which we have experienced, may be attended with different or

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