David Hume.

A treatise on human nature; being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects; and, Dialogues concerning natural religion online

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istences, and appear as such.' Nor does he shirk the conse-
quence, that we have no 'just and consistent idea of body.'
It is true that we cannot avoid a ' belief in its existence ' —
a belief which according to Hume consists in the supposition
of * a continued existence of objects when they no longer
appear to the senses, and of their existence as distinct from
the mind and perceptions ; ' in other words, as ' external to
and independent of us.' This belief, however, as he shows,
is not given by the senses. That we should feel the existence
of an object to be continued when we no longer feel it, is a
contradiction in terms ; nor is it less so, that we should feel
it to be distinct from the feeling. We cannot, then, have an
impression of body; and, since we cannot have an idea which
does not correspond to an impression or collection of impres-
sions, it follows that we can have no idea of it. How the 'belief
in its existence ' is accounted for by Hume in the absence of
any idea of it, is a question to be considered later.' Our
present concern is to know whether the idea of extension
can hold its ground when the idea of body is excluded. Can Spaco

233. ' The first notion of space and extension,' he says, B^'d'T
' is derived solely from the senses of sight and feeling : nor Hume de-
ls there anything but what is coloured or tangible that has ^p^^. '''""■
parts disposed after such a manner as to convey the idea.' sight and
Now, there may be a meaning of ' derivation,' according to f's<'i"'g-
which no one would care to dispute the first clause of this
sentence. Those who hold that really, i.e. for a consciousness
to which the distinction between real and unreal is possible,
there is no feeling except such as is determined by
thought, are yet far from holding that the determination is
arbitrary ; that any and every feeling is potentially any and
every conception. Of the feelings to which the visual and
tactual nerves are organic, as they would be for a merely feel-
ing consciousness, nothing, they hold, can be said ; in that
sense they are an aireipov; but for the thinking conscious-
ness, or (which is the same) as they really are, these feelings
do, while those to which other nerves are organic do not,
form the specific possibility of the conception of space. Ac-

' See bolow, paragraph 303, and foil.



cance with
him of
8uch deri-

It means,
in effect,
that colour
and space
are the

cording to this meaning of the words, all must admit that
' the first notion of space and extension is derived from the
senses of sight and feeling ; ' though it does not follow that
a repeated or continued activity of either sense is necessary
to the continued presence of the notion. With Hume, how-
ever, the derivation spoken of must mean that the notion of
space is, to begin with, simply a visual or tactual feeling,
and that such it remains, though with incEeHnite abatement
and revival in the liveliness of the feeling, according to the
amount of which it is called ' impression ' or * idea.' If we
supposed him to mean, not that the notion of space was
either a visual or tactual feeling indifferently, but that it was
a compound result of both,' we should merely have to meet a
further difficulty as to the possibility of such composition of
feelings when their inward synthesis in a soul, and the out-
ward in a body, have been alike excluded. In the next clause
of the sentence, however, we find that for visual and tactual
feelings there are quietly substituted ' coloured and tangible
objects, having parts so disposed as to convey the idea of
extension.' It is in the light of this latter clause that the
uncritical reader interprets the former. He reads back the
plausibility of the one into the other, and, having done so,
finds the whole plausible. Now this plausibility of the latter
clause arises from its implying a three-fold distinction — a
distinction of colour or tangibility on the one side from the
disposition of the parts on the other ; a distinction of the
colour, tangibility and disposition of parts alike from an
object to which they belong ; and a distinction of this object
from the idea that it conveys. In other words, it supposes
a negative answer to the three following questions : — Is the
idea of extension the same as that of colour or tangibility ?
Is it possible without reference to something other than a
possible impression? Is the idea of extension itself ex-
tended? Yet to the two latter questions, according to
Hume's express statements, the answer must be affirmative ;
nor can he avoid the affirmative answer to the first, to which
he would properly be brought, except by equivocation.

234. The pieces justijicatives for this assertion are not
far to seek. Some of them have been adduced already. The
idea of space, like every other idea, must be a ' copy of an

' It ia not really in this sense that
the impression of space according to

Hnme is a ' compound ' one, as will ap-
pear below.


impression.' ' To speak of a feeliiig iu its fainter stage as an
' image ' of what it was in its livelier stage may, indeed, seem
a curious use of terms ; but in this sense only, according to
Hume's strict doctrine, can the idea of space be spoken of
as an ' image ' of anything at all. The impression from
which it is derived, i.e. the feeling at its liveliest, cannot
properly be so spoken of, for ' no impression is presented by
the senses as the image of anything distinct, or external, or
independent.' ^ If no impression is so presented, neither can
any idea, which copies the impression, be so. It can involve no
reference to anything which does not come and go with the
impression. Accordingly no distinction is possible between
space on the one hand, and either the impression or idea of
it on the other. All impressions and ideas that can be said and that
to be of extension must be themselves extended ; and con- ,^ay°be
versely, as Hume puts it, ' all the qualities of extension are extended,
qualities of a perception.' It should follow that space is
either a colour or feeling of touch. In the terms which
Hume himself uses with reference to ' substance,' ' if it be
perceived by the eyes, it must be colour ; if by the ears, a
sound; and so on, of the other senses.' As be expressly
tells us that it is 'perceived by the eyes,' the conclusion is

235. Hume does not attempt to reject the conclusion di- The pai-ts
rectly. He had too much eye to the appearance of con- °!^/p2™s
sisteney for that. But, in professing to admit it, he wholly of a per-
alters its significance. The passage in question must be "^^P''""-
quoted at length. ' The table, which just now appears to
me, is only a perception, and all its qualities are qualities of a
perception- Now, the most obvious of all its qualities is
extension. The perception consists of parts. These parts
are so situated as to afibrd us the notion of distance and
contiguity, of length, breadth, and thickness. The termina-
tion of these three dimensions is what we call figure. The
figure is moveable, separable, and divisible. Mobility and
separability are the distinguishing properties of extended
objects, ioid, to cut short all disputes, the very idea of
extension is copied from nothing but an impression, and con-
sequently must perfectly agree to it. To say the idea of ex-
tension agrees to anything is to say it is extended.' Thus
' there are impressions and ideas that are really extended.' '

' P. 340. ' P. 479. ' P. 623.

o 2


236. In order to a proper appreciation of this passage it is
essential to bear in mind that Hume, so far as the usages of
language would allow him, ignores all such differences in
modes of consciousness as the Germans indicate by the dis-
tinction between ' Empfindung ' and ' Vorstellung,' and by
that between * Anschauung ' and ' Begriff ; ' or, more properly.
Yet the that he expressly merges them in a mode of consciousness
parts of fQp which, according to the most consistent account that can
co-exiBtent be gathered from him, the most natui'al term would be
notsucces- 'feeling." It is true that Hume himself, admitting a dis-
tinction in the degree of vivacity with which this conscious-
ness is at diiferent times presented, inclines to restrict the
term ' feeling ' to its more vivacious stage, and to use ' per-
ception ' as the more general term, applicable whatever the
degree of vivacity may be.* We must not allow him, how-
ever, in using this term to gain the advantage of a meaning
which popular theory does, but his does not, attach to it.
' Perception ' with him covers ' idea ' as well as ' impression ; '
but nothing can be said of idea that cannot be said of impres-
sion, save that it is less lively, nor of impression that cannot
be said of idea, save that it is more so. It is this explicit
reduction of all consciousness virtually, if not in name, to
feeling that brings to the surface the difl&eulties latent in
Locke's ' idealism.' These we have already traced at large ;
but they may be summed up in the question, How can feelings,
as * particular in time ' or (which is the same) in ' perpetual
flux,' constitute or represent a world of permanent relations ?'
The diflfieulty becomes more obvious, though not more real,
when the relations in question are not merely themselves
permanent, like those between natural phenomena, but are
' relations between permanent parts,' like those of space. It
is for this reason that its doctrine about geometry has always
been found the most easily assailable point of the ' sensa-
tional ' philosophy. Locke distinguishes the ideas of space
and of duration as got, the one ' from the permanent parts of
space,' the other ' from the fleeting and perpetually perishing-
parts of succession.'^ He afterwards prefers the term ' expan-

' As implying no distinction from, or ceive.' P. 371.

reference to, a thing causing and a sub- ' When I shut my eyes and thinU: of

ject experiencing it. See above, para- my chamber, the ideas I form are exact

graphs 185 and 208, and the passages representations of the impressions I

there referred to. felt.' P. 312.

" ' To hate, to love, to think, to feel, ' See above, paragraphs 172 & 176.

to «ee; all this is nothing but to pf-r- ' Essay ii. chap. xiv. sec. 1.


sion ' to space, as the opposite of duration, because it brings
out more clearly the distinction of a relation between perma-
nent parts from that between ' fleeting successive parts which j
never exist together.' How, then, can a consciousness con-
sisting simply of ' fleeting successive parts ' either be or
represent that of which the differentia is that its parts are
permanent and co-exist ?

237. If this crux had been fairly faced by Hume, he must
have seen that the only way in which he could consistently
deal with it was by radically altering, with whatever conse-
quence to the sciences, Locke's account of space. As it was,
he did not face it, but — whether intentionally or only in effect

— disguised it by availing himself of the received usages of Hume can-
language, which roughly represent a theory the exact oppo-v'""^ ™*'"'
site of his own, to cover the incompatibility between the 'peroep-
estabHshed view of the nature of space, and his own reduction . '"<"»' ^'"i-

... out being

of it to feeling. A very little examination of the passage, feiee to
quoted at large above, will show that while in it a profession ^'* "^
is made of identifying extension and a certain sort of per- perception;
ception with each other, its effect is not really to reduce ex-
tension to such a perception as Hume elsewhere explains all
perceptions to be, but to transfer the recognised properties of
extension which with such reduction would disappear, to some-
thing which for the time he chooses to reckon a perception,
but which he can only so reckon at the cost of contradicting
his whole method of dealing with the ideas of God, the soul,
and the world. The passage, in fact, is mei-ely one sample
of the continued shuflle by which Hume on the one hand
ascribes to feeling that intelligible content which it only de-
rives from relation to objects of thought, and on the other
disposes of these objects because they are not feelings.

238. ' The table, which just iiow appears to me, is only a as appears
perception, and all its qualities are qualities of a perception, jl^,^ ^™
Now, the most obvious of all its qualities is extension. The for ' per-
perception consists of parts. These parts are so situated as ^pt'on''"
to afford us the notion of distance and contiguity, of length, sages in
breadth, and thickness,' &c., &c. If, now, throughout this question,
statement (as according to Hume's doctrine we are entitled

to do) we write feeling for 'perception ' and ' notion,' it will
appear that this table is a feeling, which has another feeling,
called extension, as one of its qualities ; and that this latter
feeling consists of parts. These, in turn, must be emselves



To make
sense of
them, we
must take
to mean

feelings, since the parts of which a perception consists must be
themselves perceived, and, being perceived, must, according to
Hume, be themselves perceptions which »= feelings. These
feelings, again, afford us other feelings of certain relations
— distance and contiguity, &c. — feelings which, as Hume's
doctrine allows of no distinction between the feeling and that
of which it is the feeling, must be themselves relations. Thus
it would seem that a feeling may have another feeling as one
of its qualities ; that the feeling, which is thus a quality, has
other feelings as its co-existent parts ; and that the feelings
which are parts ' afford us ' other feelings which are rela.-
tions. Is that sense or nonsense ?

239. To this a follower of Hume, if he could be brought
to admit the legitimacy of depriving his master of the benefit
of synonyms, might probably reply, that the apparent non-
sense only arises from our being unaccustomed to such use
of the terpi 'feeling ;' that the table is a 'bundle of feelings,'
actual and possible, of which the actual one of sight suggests
a lively expectation, easily confused with the presence, of the
otliers belonging to the other senses ; that any one of these
may be considered a quality of the total impression formed
by all ; that the feeling thus considered, if it happens to be
visual, may not improperly be said to consist of other feelings,
as a whole consists of parts, since it is the result of impres-
sions on different parts of the retina, and from a different
point of view even itself to be the relation between the parts,
just as naturally as a mutual feeling of friendship may be said
either to consist of the loves of the two parties to the friend-
ship, or to constitute the relation between them. Such
language represents those modern adaptations of Hume, which
retain his identification of the real with the felt but ignore
his restrictions on the felt. Undoubtedly, if Hume allowed
us to drop the distinction between feeling as it might be for
a merely feeling consciousness, and feeling as it is for a
thinking consciousness, the objection to his speaking of feel-
ing in those terms, in which it must be spoken of if extension
is to be a feeling, would disappear ; but so, likevnse, would
the objection to speaking of thought as constitutive of reality.
To appreciate his view we must take feeling not as we really
know it — for we cannot know it except under those conditions
of self-consciousness, the logical categories, which in his
attempt to get at feeling, pure and simple, Hume is consistent


enough to exclude — ^but as it becomes upon exclusion of all
determination by objects whicli Hume reckons fictitious.
What it would thus become positively we of course cannot
say, for of the xmknowable nothing can be said ; but we can
decide negatively what it cannot be. Can that in any case be
said of it, which must be said of it if a feeling may be ex-
tended, and if extension is a feeling ? Can it be such a quality
of an object, so consisting of parts, and siich a relation, as we
have found that Hume takes it to be in his account of the
perception of this table ?

240. After having taken leave throughout the earlier vhich it
part of the 'Treatise on Human Nature' to speak in the m^n'as
orduiary way of objects and their qualities— and otherwise the result
of course he could not have spoken at all — in the fourth "fictions?
book he seems for the first time to become aware that his
doctrine did not authorise such language. To perceive
qualities of an object is to be conscious of relation between
a subject and object, of which neither perishes with the
moment of perception. Such consciousness is self-con-
sciousness, and cannot be reduced to any natural observ-
able event, since it is consciousness of that of which we
cannot say 'Lo, here,' or 'Lo, there,' ' it is now but was not
then,' or ' it was then but is not now.' It is therefore
something which the spirit of the Lockeian philosophy
cannot assimilate, and which Hume, as the most consistent
exponent of that spirit, most consistently tried to get rid of.
The subject as self, the object as body, he professes to reduce
to figures of speech, to be accounted for as the result of cer-
tain ' propensities to feign : ' nor wiU he allow that any im-
pression or idea (and impressions and ideas with him, be
it remembered, exhaust our consciousness) carries with it
a reference to an object other than itself, any more than do
pleasure or pain to which ' in their nature ' all perceptions
correspond.' He cannot, indeed, avoid speaking of the con-
sciousness thus reduced to the level of simple pain and
pleasure, as beiag that which in fact it can only be when
determined by relation to a self-conscious subject, i.e. as

' ' Every impression, external auJ in- • All sensations are felt by the mind

ternal, passions, affections, sensations, such as they really are ; and, when we

pains, and pleasures, are originally on doubt whether they present themselyes

the same footing; and, whatever other as distinct objects or as mere impres-

differencos we mayobserve among them, sions, the difficulty is not concerning

appear, all of them, in their true colours, their nature, but concerning tJieir rela-

as impressions or perceptions,' P. 480. cions and situation.' P. 480,



more than
how can it
qualities ?

itself an object ; but he is so far faithful in his attempt to
avoid such determination, that he does not reckon the object
more permanent than the impression. It, too, is a * perish-
ing existence.' As the impression disappears with a ' turn
of the eye in its socket,' so does the object, which really is
the impression, and cannot appear other than it is any more
than a feeling can be felt to be what it is not.'
If felt, 241. Such being the only possible object, how can

thing is no qualities of it be perceived? We cannot here find refuge
in any such propensity to feign as that which, according to
Hume, leads us to ' endow objects with a continued exist-
ence, distinct from our perceptions.' If such propensities
can give rise to impressions at all, it can only be to impres-
sions of reflection, and it cannot be in virtue of them that
extension, an impression of sensation, is given as a quality
of an object. Now if there is any meaning in the phrase
' qualities of an object,' it implies that the qualities co-exist
with each other and the object. Feelings, then, which are felt
as qualities of another feeling must co-exist with, i.e. (accord-
ing to Hume) be felt at the same time as, it and each other.
Thus, if an impression of sight be the supposed object, no
feeling that occurs after this impression has disappeared can
be a quality of it. Accordingly, when Hume speaks of ex-
tension being seen as one of the qualities of this table, he is
only entitled to mean that it is one among several feelings,
experienced at one and the same time, which together con-
stitute the table. Whatever is not so experienced, whether
extension or anything else, can be no quality of that ' per-
ception.' How much of the perception, then, will survive ?
Can any feelings, strictly speaking, be cotemporaneous P
Those received through dififerent senses, as Hume is careful
to show, may be ; e.g. the smell, taste, and colour of a
fruit,' In regard to them, therefore, we may waive the
difliculty, How can feelings successive to each other be yet
co-existent qualities ? but only to find ourselves in another
as to what the object may be of which the cotemporaneous
feelings are qualities. It cannot, according to Hume, be

' See above, paragraph 208, with Nor are they only co-existent in general,

the passages there cited. but aleo cotemporary in their appear-

' 'The taste and smell of any fruit are ance in themind.' P. S21. (Contrast

inseparable from its other qualities of p. 370, where existence and appearance

colour and tangibility, and .... are identified.)
'tis certain they are always co-existent.


other than one or all of the cotemporaiieous feelings. Is,
then, the taste of an apple a quality of its colour or of its
smell, or of colour, smell, and taste put together ? It will
not help us to speak of the several feelings as qualities of
the 'total impression;' for the 'total impression' either
merely means the several feelings put together, or else
covertly implies just that reference to an object other than
these, which Hume expressly excludes.

242. In fact, however, when he speaks of the feeling, which TLo thing
is called extension, as a quality of the feeling, which is called ^'^' ^*^®
sight, of the table, he has not even the excuse that he might before the
have had if the feelings in question, being of different senses, quality
might be cotemporary. According to him they are feelings of be.

the same sense. The extension of the table he took to be a
datum of sight just as properly as its colour ; yet he cannot
call it the same as colour, but only ' a quaUty of the coloured
object.' As the ' coloured object,' however, apart from ' pro-
pensities to feign,' can, according to him, be no other than
the feeling of colour, his doctrine can only mean that, colour
and extension being feelings of the same sense, the latter is
a quality of the former. Is this any more possible than
that red should be a quality of blue, or a sour taste of a
bitter one ? Must not the two feelings be successive, how-
ever closely successive, so that the one which is object wiU
have disappeared before the other, which is to be its quality,
will have occurred ? '

243. If we look to the detailed account which Hume gives Hume
of the relation between extension and colour, we find that he eqmvo-
avoids the appearance of making one feeling a quality of putting
another, by in fact substituting for colour a superficies of ' coloured
coloui'ed points, in which it is very easy to find extension as for colour,
a quality because it already is extension as an object. To

speak of extension, though a feeling, as made up of parts is
just as legitimate or illegitimate as to speak of the feeling
of colour being made up of coloured points. The legitimacy
of this once admitted, there remains, indeed, a logical question
as to how it is that a quality should be spoken of in terms
that seem proper to a substance — as is done when it is said

' It should be needless to point out tion as to its relation to such feelings

that by taking extension to be a quality will be simply a repetition of that, put

of ' tangibility ' or muscular rifort we in the text, as to its relation to the

merely change the difficulty. Theques- feeling of colour.


■M consist of parts — and yet, again, should be pronounced a
relation of these parts ; but to one who professed to merge
all logical distinctions in the indifference of simple feeling,
such a question could have no recognised meaning. It is,
then, upon the question whether, according to Hume's doc-
trine of perception, the perception of an object made up of
coloured points may be used interchangeably with the per-
ception of colour, that the consistency of his doctrine of
extension must finally be tried.

Online LibraryDavid HumeA treatise on human nature; being an attempt to introduce the experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects; and, Dialogues concerning natural religion → online text (page 23 of 60)