The Anatomy and Physiology of Mind: Hume's Vitalistic Account

In H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, H. King & C. Zittel (eds.), Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe. Brill (2012)
In this paper I challenge the widely held view which associates Hume’s philosophy with mechanical philosophies of nature and particularly with Newton. This view presents Hume’s account of the human mind as passive receiver of impressions which bring into motion, from the outside, a mental machinery whose functioning is described in terms of mechanical causal principles. Instead, I propose an interpretation which suggests that for Hume the human mind is composed of faculties that can be characterized by their active contribution which frequently results in qualitative change. This anatomy of the mind is explored from a physiological perspective focused on the normal functioning and interaction of the mind’s various organs. While pursuing this enterprise, I suggest that Hume’s outlook is closer to eighteenth-century “philosophical chemistry” and vitalistic physiology than to the heritage of mechanical philosophies.
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