Notes on Hume - A Treatise of Human Nature, I.I.IV
OK. This one was a little tougher to diagram (in fact, the further I go and the more abstract Hume gets the more unlikely it seems that I’ll be able to do the entire book, but I digress).
This section, along with the next one (I.I.V) are kind of the heart of Hume’s epistemology. It’s absolutely crucial to understanding his system. The first few sections explored the “contents” of the mind: the ideas that it organizes and contains. In this section, Hume goes one step further to ask what principle is responsible for this organization. As he says, “Were ideas entirely loose and unconnected, chance alone wou’d join them; and ‘tis impossible the same simple ideas should fall regularly into complex ones…without some bond of union among them, some associating quality, by which one idea naturally introduces another.”
Hume argues that ideas are connected by “relations,” which are outside or between the entities they relate. But what determines which idea is related to which? The answer is principles, most importantly the three Principles of Association: resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect.
As before, we have to think of all Hume’s distinctions collectively as a single plane of immanence, rather than applying or rejecting each qualifier individually to a single idea; hence the somewhat obscure diagram above, which, like the previous ones, moves by degrees from one state to another. Direct or simple impressions are taken up by the senses; these produce sensations in the mind (ideas of impressions), which in turn produce complex ideas and reflections. We saw previously that the more constrained the order and organization of simple ideas that make up a complex idea, the more firmly it belongs in the domain of memory, moving gradually to the domain of imagination or fancy the more loose the organization. We also noted in the very first diagram that the difference between impressions and ideas is their intensity or strength.
The three principles of association differ by degree in correspondence with the mind’s ideas. Just as imagination is unconstrained and free, so too is resemblance, the weakest form of association. Basically, a resemblance mightbe “actual,” but it could just as easily be entirely in your mind. Contiguity, meanwhile, is harder to just randomly imagine, because the senses are more reliable here; if two things are next to each other, you kind of notice. But this is not a fool-proof association, because perspective and proportion can interfere with it: it may look to you like the sun and that cloud are right next to each other, but they’re not. Finally, cause & effect relations are the most constrained and thus most likely to be memoriesrather than fancies.
To use classical philosophical terminology, we can say that the difference between relations and principles is that the former are particular and the latter universal. A relation always obtains between two or more particular ideas, while a principle is the tendency to form a certain relation. We can think of it quantitatively as the statistical likelihood of a given relation’s production.
Finally, it’s worth noting that while we might expect them to generallycorrespond, we can imagine an idea falling differently on the scale of intensity and the scale of consistency: in other words, we can imagine an idea that is extremely intense but confused or blurry, and, conversely, an idea that is extremely organized and constrained by which carries little or no emotional charge. Rote memorization is an example of the latter; post-traumatic stress might be an example of the former.