Hume Studies 34 (1):43-59 (2008)

Katharina Paxman
Brigham Young University
Hume is famous for the view that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” His claim that “we are no sooner acquainted with the impossibility of satisfying any desire, than the desire itself vanishes” is less well known. Each seems, in opposite ways, shocking to common sense. This paper explores the latter claim, looking for its source in Hume’s account of the passions and exploring its compatibility with his associationist psychology. We are led to the conclusion that this view—that desires vanish when fulfilment is deemed impossible—endows reason with a power over the passions that is at odds with its role as slave, and ultimately incompatible with a proper understanding of emotions such as grief. Such emotions involve continuing to want what one believes to be impossible. The human imagination can sustain desires without the belief that fulfilment is possible.
Keywords History of Philosophy  Major Philosophers
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ISBN(s) 0319-7336
DOI hume20083413
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