Sunday, May 10, 2009

39b David Hume

Ok, my friends, I have got things under controle again more or less, so let's resume our Enquiry concerning the Human Understanding, guided by David Hume.

As we saw in the former lecture Hume follows the same analysis of mind as John Locke: primary sensations and then ideas derived from these sensations, either by fantacy and imagination or by thinking and reasoning using our understanding.

The empiricist is philosophically in a more difficult position to make his point than the rationalist. let alone the religious rationalist. For that philosopher there is always the all explaining factor, which he calls God.

Rationalists believe in innate ideas, even that much that some claim that our ideas are in fact ideas in God's mind. And then there is that reasoning about causality. For Aristoteles it was an intrinsic attribute of the substance. Others asked the question, who set it all in motion and then they come up with an uncaused cause: God.

All these philosophical goodies arent available for the empiricist. He has got nothing but the input of the senses to work with. Locke went even that far, that he said that we were born with a completely empty mind, a tabula rasa.

Well, I can imagine that he might have picked up this idea from sense perception in his daily encounter with some people, but it has its difficulties to hold this position. So let's see what Hume has to offer in these matters.

First thing we have to take notice of is, that tho Locke spoke of a Tabula Rasa, the mind isnt completely empty as such. Hume, like Locke, concluded that the mind has faculties like reasoning, comparing, willing, imagination, fantacy.

This is not a way of postulating innate ideas. These are faculties of the mind, but if the mind isnt filled with sensations, these faculties are out of use. And what we are investigating is primarily the philosophical question: what can I know for certain. Which means in this empiricist context: how are our faculties of the mind applied to sensations to obtain certain knowledge.

The first problem we run into is that of Abstract Ideas. A number of philosophers abscribed them real existence, but an empiricist cant do that. Yet he too has abstract ideas like red, man, triangle, motion.

But all we see are particular instances, particular men, triangles and so on. So what is an abstract idea? Lock held the view that we have the faculty of abstraction. We manifacture general ideas, which represent only the features common to all individuals of the same sort and omit what is peculiar to each.

Here we have a problem, for when I look at a person and leave out all that is particular to him, I have no person left at all. But you would that is not the case...hasnt he eyes, legs, arms in common with other men?

Helas, this reasoning doesnt work, for in refering to the eye, the arm, the leg, I am using abstract ideas and that is just the very issue I am questioning now: what are abstract ideas. At least we can conclude that it cant be the result of a simple proces of omitting all particular features of a sensation.

The solution of this problem is that we maintain that the idea in the mind answering to a general term is always particular and specific but that the use made of it is general.

It is used to stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort or similar to it in some respect. What does this mean? Suppose we are talking about horses and use general statements like 'A horse is a reliable animal'.

Everyone of us has by hearing the word horse a particular horse in mind, brown, black, tall, small and so on. But asked, we would say..hmmm... no not a particular horse, I mean brown, black, white, whatever.....

So Hume concluded that we could speak of association of ideas. Ideas whose impressions are alike and contigious in space and time become associated in the mind; that is to say the mind has the tendency to pass from one to another.

Now an abstract idea stands for the tendency of the mind to evoke by association particular members of a family of ideas associated by resemblance and unlimited in number.

Thence an abstract idea doesnt stand for something it mirrors from innate ideas, or for an echo of the idea in the mind of God. It is simply the result of the working of human understanding and the way it handles sense perception. So abstract ideas refer to families of particularsm, which come to our mind when we think of a horse in general.

Maybe your heads may glow a little or gotten overheated by so much abstraction, but I hope to have shown you a fine example of philosophical discourse on this subject. It shows how brilliant Hume analysed human understanding without all neurological knowledge we have nowadays.

In the next lecture we will continue with Hume's ideas about induction, causality and we should not leave out the question, what consequences his philosophy had for moral understanding.

So I look forward to present you with a number of interesting subjects in the next lecture.

The Discussion

[13:24] Herman Bergson: There,,,,we lost caileach..:-)
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: ys
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: a crash
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: i think
[13:24] Cailleach Shan: I'm still here..
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: ohno
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: she is here
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:24] herman Bergson smiles
[13:25] AristotleVon Doobie: Your analogy Herman of the horse is a fine one because I saw in my mind a particulr horse from my expieriences
[13:25] Osrum Sands: ones sences are playing tricks !
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: you mean lost as in the subject matter?
[13:25] hope63 Shepherd: would you agree that the nomalist have paved the way for thoughts like locke and hume?
[13:26] Herman Bergson: the matter of abstract ideas is fundamental in epistemology
[13:26] Herman Bergson: Like the debate on universals in the Middle Ages
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: the matter of abstract ideas was fundamentol to platon too..
[13:26] Herman Bergson: Yes, but there is a change now....
[13:27] hope63 Shepherd: with a different approach of course..
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie: I see where, based on this idea of a horse and the experience of one slighty different my mind will organize another comples idea of this new horse
[13:27] Herman Bergson: science is developing general theories about nature
[13:27] itsme Frederix: so an abstract idea does not "self" exist, its always a result off particular ideas based on sensations?
[13:27] Herman Bergson: yes itsme
[13:28] itsme Frederix: what about math ... are mathematical rules not self-existing
[13:28] Herman Bergson: In modern analytical philosophy this discussion will move to subjects as meaning and reference
[13:28] itsme Frederix: i mean in trigonyometry the angles count up to 180 degree, even when there is no figure at all
[13:29] Herman Bergson: yes......but the main issue is: what is the reference of math....I think it even doesnt need one
[13:29] Herman Bergson: all is deduced based on the meanings of the concepts
[13:30] Herman Bergson: it is not knowledge about reality
[13:30] itsme Frederix: what do you mean with ... reference of math?
[13:30] hope63 Shepherd: deduce the concept of an angle.. a cirle?
[13:30] Herman Bergson: well...take the word horse...
[13:30] Herman Bergson: I can describe it...its meaning..
[13:31] Herman Bergson: then we can go outsid e and I point at some animal....that is the reference...
[13:31] Herman Bergson: Mathematical concepts are related by there meanings/definitions..
[13:31] Herman Bergson: and from their meanings I can deduce things
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: isnt math a description or language itself?
[13:32] itsme Frederix: oke I understand ... still if I say circle it is much more defined and less abstract than "horse", even your horse
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: i think with hume we are leaving the area of the mathematicians.. leibniz-descartes and all the others before were great in math.. locke and hume had a completely new approach..
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: and they were no mathematicians..
[13:32] Herman Bergson: You have a point there is also closely related with rationalism...
[13:33] Herman Bergson: The rationalists were fascinated by the structure of mathematics...
[13:33] Herman Bergson: Spinoza wanted to develop an ethics more geometrico...according to the rules of mathematics..
[13:34] Herman Bergson: deductive approach of reality
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: the rationalist seem cold and the empirists warm
[13:34] Herman Bergson: That is not a philosophical argument, Aristotle but I know what you mean
[13:34] itsme Frederix: I think you refer to the emotional temperature, not the games how far from truth you are Aristotle
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: yes but the movement seems to be more towaard the individual and the rights of man
[13:35] hope63 Shepherd: ari.. rights of man is a cultural problem.. not a ophilosophical one..
[13:35] itsme Frederix: mmm it's a movement which certainly leaves more open for man
[13:35] Herman Bergson: You should phrase that in an other way Aristotle and you are right..
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: yes hope but we all know th these things go hand in hand
[13:37] Herman Bergson: The rationalist aera had a structure given (by god) of the world and we have to obtain clear and specific ideas about this structure by contemplating our ideas....
[13:37] itsme Frederix: by looking to the outsied (empirical) social structures became important and were certainly not based on perfect idea's which could exist sololy
[13:38] Herman Bergson: The empirists have to put first all pieces of the puzzle together before they can conclude to what structure there is
[13:38] hope63 Shepherd: ari one thing i will agree with is that the individual becomes more the center of the reflexions..
[13:38] itsme Frederix: yep thats nice siad, and we all know some pieces are missing ;)
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: yes my point hope
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Most of the thinking till this time was foundd on the fact that the world is a creation of God.
[13:39] itsme Frederix: which was perfect
[13:39] Herman Bergson: The natural sciences show that we need to understand laws of nature, not read the truth about nature in the bible, to say it in a simple way
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: and Hume was the first naturlist?
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: not as much the creation querion but the fact that god influences our ideas and acts..
[13:40] Herman Bergson: Yes and a skeptic in regard to religion based explanations
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: so the dawn breaks
[13:41] Herman Bergson: it is interessting to see how the mind develops through the centuries...
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: lets not forget though that religion was not an invention of the christians nor the jews.. and not even of the old egytians..
[13:41] itsme Frederix: weren't there natursalist in Greek times, I mean not liked the abstract perfect idea off Plato
[13:42] Herman Bergson: that is not the point isnt about a specific religion...
[13:42] Herman Bergson: it is about the emancipation of the mind as such
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: no.. the general idea which is underlying religion herman..
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: and the influence or lack thereof of the supernatural
[13:42] Herman Bergson: right
[13:43] Herman Bergson: So in Hume we meet one of the first philosophers who freed himself from arguments based on religion to answer epistemological questions.
[13:43] Herman Bergson: The clergy hated him..
[13:43] Herman Bergson: He was depicted as an infidel
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: yes he was a brave man
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: just one more to
[13:44] Herman Bergson: It was not just him...
[13:44] Herman Bergson: it was his time....
[13:44] Herman Bergson: Men like Bacon, Newton, Bayle, Locke...they all added to this development..
[13:44] Cailleach Shan: It would be very difficult to be a naturalist and follow emperical philosophy in Scotland.... even today...
[13:45] Herman Bergson: Hume is just a brilliant mind that picks up the right vibrations and develops them further
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: cal.. that's why your parents emigrated to nz?
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: I wonder Herman did he seek refuge in Holland?
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: :-))
[13:45] Herman Bergson: Locke did..
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: True.
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: It seems Hume would be a prime candidate
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: the calvinists would have accepted him?
[13:46] Herman Bergson: Well he travelled a lot and a number of his publications were anonymous..
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: yes I think Treatise almost on his deathbed
[13:47] Herman Bergson: dont forget...only 50 years earlier it still happened that a student was hanged because he said that religion was nonsense...and that was in Oxford
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd:
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: Yes Thomas Aikenhead
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: the last in Britain
[13:48] Herman Bergson: You could say Thomas Alken, for he lost his head..:-)
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: oh oh
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: yes I tthought the same thing :)
[13:48] hope63 Shepherd: macabre.. but
[13:48] Herman Bergson: so....these were days living on the edge for Hume...
[13:48] Herman Bergson: The clergy was still powerful
[13:49] Herman Bergson: He almost was accused of infidelity..
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: wait herman.. we have three main or four christian the time..
[13:49] Herman Bergson: Didnt get jobs because of his opinions
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: for all of them?
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: ant this still happens today
[13:50] Herman Bergson: Well it must have been the church of Scottland
[13:50] Cailleach Shan: I read about Hume and 'the problem of miracles'.... can you comment on this Herman...
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: it is said that no atheist will ever be US Pres
[13:50] Herman Bergson: I will get to that in the next lecture Cailleach..:-)
[13:51] Cailleach Shan: ok
[13:51] Herman Bergson: But Hume was tricky in those matters....referring to superstition in relation to things like that....dangerous
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: I think this boldness was being evolutionary
[13:52] Herman Bergson: But he survived all and died of old age..:-)
[13:52] Herman Bergson: Yes almost can speak of the evolution of mind..
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: and the tolerance affiorded to variant ideas
[13:53] Herman Bergson: yes...we all have to learn..:-)
[13:53] hope63 Shepherd: evolution of the mind.. a bold comparison..
[13:54] Herman Bergson: Well let me summarize....
[13:54] Herman Bergson: this is an important moment in the history of the mind...
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: yes and i am afraid I do too
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: so sorry
[13:55] Cailleach Shan: lol great timing Rodney..
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: i will catch it
[13:55] Herman Bergson: I hope you now see how the abstract idea as element of our knowledge is defined in two ways...rationalistic and empiricistic..
[13:55] Herman Bergson: and I hope that you can see the backgrounds behind these two ways of approaching this problem
[13:56] Qwark Allen: thx herman, i must go!
[13:56] Qwark Allen: cta all later
[13:56] Qwark Allen: cya
[13:56] Qwark Allen: ;-D
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: yes on Tueday
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: back to back commitments
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: here
[13:56] Herman Bergson: class dismissed..:-)
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you Herman

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-01-27 17:58:59

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