James A. Harris
University of St. Andrews
A prominent trend in recent work on Hume’s epistemology has it that the concerns of Part Three of Book One of the Treatise, ‘Of knowledge and probability’, are purely descriptive and explanatory. Don Garrett and David Owen have argued that Hume’s primary interest lies in showing that it is not reason but rather the imagination that enables us to use experience to form beliefs about the future. Reason cannot be responsible for such beliefs; for if it were, it would have to proceed by means of the principle ‘that those instances of which we have had no experience, resemble those, of which we have had experience’; and there is no source for that principle in either experience or reason itself. Of course, no belief is shown to be unjustified simply by the fact that it is produced by the imagination and not by reasoning. For Hume’s reasons for scepticism about the trustworthiness of the imagination, the reader has to wait until Part Four, and its claim that ‘there is a direct and total opposition…betwixt those conclusions we form from cause and effect, and those that persuade us of the continu’d and independent existence of body’. Louis Loeb agrees that Book One of the Treatise demands to be read as having two stages, the first constructive, the second destructive. But he has an intriguing and unusual take on the first stage. He believes that there is more to Part Three than mere description and explanation. There is in addition a theory of justification. In this part of the Treatise Hume shows himself to have a ‘pre-theoretical’ commitment to the view that, all things being equal, beliefs produced by certain belief-forming mechanisms within the faculty of imagination count as knowledge; and also seeks to give this commitment a theoretical rationale. If Loeb is right, the old view of Hume as a sceptic about induction needs to be revised even more radically than Garrett and Owen would have us believe.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  Philosophy of Mind
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ISBN(s) 0031-8205
DOI ppr20067219
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