Hume's Theory of the Self

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1984)
Saul Traiger
Occidental College
The dissertation is a study of Hume's theory of personal identity. In locating Hume's theory within the larger context of his science of human nature, Hume is defended against a family of objections, the most important of which is the charge of circularity, which runs: On Hume's view, A person is a "bundle" of perceptions which are causally related. But for Hume causation is explained in terms of perceptions being constantly conjoined in the same mind. Hume's account of "same mind" presupposes that perceptions are related in the same mind. Such objections rest on thinking that Hume is trying to provide a theory of the ownership of perceptions. The interpretation depends on Hume's allowance of alternative bundlings of perceptions to the ones we actually find. The thesis shows that this interpretation is incompatible with epistemological themes, particularly in Hume's account of belief from testimony, which show that there are no alternative bundlings. It is shown that on Hume's theory of belief, when a person believes something on the basis of testimony, there is no direct causal relation between the testifier's perceptions and those of the receiver of testimony. A detailed study of Hume's views on the independence of perceptions also reveals that Hume has a notion of the independence of our perceptions which is compatible with his epistemological views. Finally, it is argued that in the Appendix Hume is at a loss to account for how reflection on past successions of perceptions induces the idea of the self
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