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

. (page 58 of 60)
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free-stone, and according to modern architecture. Here
neither the form nor materials are the same, nor is there any
thing common to the two objects, but their relation to the
inhabitants of the parish ; and yet this alone is sufBcient to
make us denominate them the same. But we must observe,
that in these cases the first object is in a manner annihilated
before the second comes into existence ; by which means, we
are never presented in any one point of time with the idea of
difierence and multiplicity ; and for that reason are less scru-
pulous in calling them the same.

Secondly, We may remark, that tho' in a succession of
related objects, it be in a manner requisite, that the change
of parts be not sudden nor entire, in order to preserve the
identity, yet where the objects are in their nature changeable
and inconstant, we admit of a more sudden transition, than
wou'd otherwise be consistent with that relation. Thus as
the nature of a river consists in the motion and change of
parts ; tho' in less than four and twenty hours these be totally
alter'd ; this hinders not the river from continuing the same
during several ages. What is natural and essential to any
thing is, in a manner, expected ; and what is expected makes
less impression, and appears of less moment, than what is
unusual and extraordinary. A considerable change of the
former kind seems really less to the imagination, than the
most trivial alteration of the latter ; and by breaking less the
continuity of the thought, has less influence in destroying
the identity.

We now proceed to explain the nature of personal identity,
which has become so great a question in philosophy, espe-
cially of late years in England, where all the abstruser



Part IV.


Of the

and other
of philo-

sciences are study'd witli a peculiar ardour and application.
And here 'tis evident, the same method of reasoning must
be continu'd, which has so successfully explain'd the identity
of plants, and animals, and ships, and houses, and of all the
compounded and changeable productions either of art or
nature. The identity, which we ascribe to the mind of man,
is only a fictitious one, and of a like kind with that which
we ascribe to vegetables and animal bodies.' It cannot,
therefore, have a different origin, but must proceed from a
like operation of the imagination upon like objects.

But lest this argument shou'd not convince the reader ;
tho' in my opinion perfectly decisive; let him weigh the
following reasoning, which is still closer and more imme-
diate. 'Tis evident, that the identity, which we attribute to
the human mind, however perfect we may imagine it to be,
is not able to run the several different perceptions into one,
and make them lose their characters of distinction and
difference, which are essential to them. 'Tis still true, tha.t
every distinct perception, which enters into the composition
of the mind, is a distinct existence, and is different, and
distinguishable, and separable from every other perception,
either contemporary or successive. But, as, notwithstanding
this distinction and separability, we suppose the whole train
of perceptions to be united by identity, a question naturally
arises concerning this relation of identity ; whether it be
something that really binds our several perceptions together,
or only associates their ideas in the imagination. That is,
rin other words, whether in pronouncing concerning the iden-
tity of a person, we observe some real bond among his per-
ceptions, or only feel^ne among the ideas we form of them.
This question we might easijy decide, if we wou'd recollect
what has been already prov'd at large, that the under-
standing never observes any real connexion among objects,
land that even the union of cause and effect, when strictly
Examin'd, resolves itself into a customary association of

ideas. For from thence it evidently follows, that identity is
lothing really belonging to these different perceptions, and
miting them together; but is merely a quality, which we
/attribute to them, because of the union of their ideas in the
+- imagination, when we reflect upon them. Now the only
qualities, which can give ideas an union in the imagination,
' [Iiitrod. § 345.]


are these three relations above-mention 'd. These are the ] SECT,
uniting principles in the ideal world, and without them ! . ^'
every distinct object is separable by the mind, and maybe ofper-
separately consider'd, and appears not to have any more ?°°''\
connexion with any other object, than if disjoin'd by the I
greatest difference and remoteness. 'Tis, therefore, on some ~^
of these three relations of resemblance, contiguity and
causation, that. identity depends ; and as the very essence of
these relations consists in their producing an easy transition
of ideas ; it follows, that our notions of personal identity,
proceed entirely from the smooth and uninterrupted progress
of the thought along a train of connected ideas, according '
to the principles above-explain'd.'

The only question, therefore, which remains, is, by what
relations this uninterrupted progress of our thought is pi'O-
duc'd, when we consider the successive existence of a mind
or thinking person. And here 'tis evident we must confine
ourselves to resemblance and causation, and must drop
contiguity, which has little or no influence in the present

To begin with resemblance ; suppose we cou'd see clearly
into the breast of another, and observe that succession of
perceptions, which constitutes his mind or thinking principle,
and suppose that he always preserves the memory of a con-
siderable part of past perceptions ; 'tis evident that nothing
cou'd more contribute to the bestowing a relation on this
succession amidst all its variations. Tor what is the memory
but a faculty, by which we raise up the images of past per-
ceptions ? And as an image necessarily resembles its object,
must not the frequent placing of these resembling percep-
tions in the chain of thought, convey the imagination more
easUy from one link to another, and make the whole seem
like the continuance of one object ? In this particular, then,
the memory not only discovers the identity, but also contri-
butes to its production, by producing the relation of resem-
blance among the perceptions. The case is the same whether
we consider ourselves or others.

As to causation ; we may observe, that the true idea of the
human mind, is to consider it as a system of different per-
ceptions or different existences, which are link'd together by
the relation of cause and effect, and mutually produce, de-
' [Sea also Appendix, p. 659. — £d.]



Paet IX.


Of the
and other
of philo-

stroy, influence, and modify each other.' Our impressiojis
, give rise to their correspondent ideas ; and these ideas in
their turn produce other impressions. One thought chaces
another, and draws after it a third, by which it is expell'd
in its turn. In this respect, I cannot compare the soul more
properly to any thing than to a republic or commonwealth,
in which the several members are united bj' the reciprocal
ties of government and subordination, and give rise to other
persons, who propagate the same republic in the incessant
changes of its parts. And as the same individual republic
may not only change its members, but also its laws and con-
stitutions ; in like manner the same person may vary his
character and disposition, as well as his impressions and
ideas, without losing his identity. Whatever changes he
endures, his several jpart^are still connected by the relation
of causation. And in this view our identity with regard to
the passions serves to corroborate that with regard to the
imagination, by the making our distant perceptions influence
each other, and by giving us a present concern for our past
or future pains or pleasures.

' As a niemgry alone acquaints us with the continuance and
extent of this succession of perceptions, 'tis to be considered,
upon that account chiefly, as the source of personal identity.
Had we no memory, we never shou'd have any notion of
causation, nor consequently of that chain of causes and
effects, which constitute our self or person. But having
once acquir'd this notion of causation from the memory, we
can extend the same chain of causes, and consequently the
identity of o\ir persons beyond our memory, and can com-
prehend times, and circumstances, and actions, which we
have entirely forgot, but suppose in general to have existed.
For how few of our past actions are there, of which we have
any memory P Who can tell me, for instance, what were his
thoughts and actions on the 1st of January 1716, the 11th
of March 1719, and the 3rd of August 1733? Or will he
affirm, because he has entirely forgot the incidents of these
days, that the present self is not the same person with the
self of that time ; and by that means overturn all the most
establish'd notions of personal identity ? In this view, there-
fore, memory does not so much produce as discover personal

* [Introd. § 346. Cf. also p. 4.55 — ' No internal impression has an apparent
energy, more than external objects have.']



- / ' '
identity, by shewing us the relation of cause and effect SECT.

among our different perceptions. 'Twill be incumbent on . /
those, who affirm that memory produces entirely our per- of per-
sonal identity, to give a reason why we can thus extend our fonal
identity beyond our memory.

The whole of this doctrine leads us to a conclusion, which
is of great importance in the present affair, viz. that all the
nice and subtile questions concerning personal identity canl
never possibly be decided, and are to be regarded ratheiL as J
grammatical than as philosophical difficulties^ Identity de-
pends on the relations of ideas ; and these relations produce
identity-, by means of that easy transition they occasion.'
But as the relations, and the easiness of the transition may
diminish by insensible degrees, we have no just standard, by
which we can decide any dispute concerning the time, when
rthey acquire or lose a title to the name of identity. All the
disputes concerning the identity of connected objects are
merely verbal, except so far as the relation of parts gives rise
to some fiction or imaginary principle of union, as we have
already observ'd.

What I have said concerning the first origin and uncer-
tainty of our notion of identity, as apply'd to the human
mind, may be extended with little or no variation to that of
simplicity. An object, whose different co-existent parts are
bound together by a close relation, operates upon the imagi-
nation after much the same manner as one perfectly simple
and indivisible, and requires not a much greater stretch of
thought in order to its conception. From this similarity of
operation we attribute a simplicity to it, and feign a prin-
ciple of union as the support of this simplicity, and the
center of all the different parts and qualities of the object.

Thus we have finish'd ox7r examination of the several
systems of philosophy, both of the intellectual and natural
world ; and in our miscellaneous way of reasoning have been
led into several topics ; which will either illustrate and con-
firm some preceding part of this discourse, or prepare the
way for our following opinions. 'Tis now time to return to
a more close examination of our subject, and to proceed in
the accurate anatomy of human nature, having fully ex-
plain'd the nature of our judgment and understanding.'

' [Introd. § 345, note.] the second diyision of the Appendix,

' [This subject is further pursued in p. 648. — Ed.]


Sect. VII. — Gonclusion of this Boole.


Of the

sceptical But before I launch out into those immense depths of

systems philosophy, which lie before me, I find myself inclin'd to
ofphiio- stop a moment in my present station, and to ponder that
^op y- voyage, which I have undertaken, and which undoubtedly

requires the utmost art and industry to be brought to a
happy conclusion. Methinks I am like a man, who having
struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd ship-
wreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put
out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even
carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the
globe under these disadvantageous circumstances. My
memory of past errors and perplexities, makes me diffident
for the future. The wretched condition, weakness, and dis-
order of the faculties, I must employ in my enquiries,
encrease my apprehensions. And the impossibility of
amending or correcting these faculties, reduces me almost to
despair, and makes me resolve to perish on the barren rock,
on which I am at present, rather than venture myself upon
that boundless ocean, which runs out into immensity. This
sudden view of my danger strikes me with melancholy ; and
as 'tis usual for that passion, above all others, to indulge
itself; I cannot forbear feeding my despair, with all those
desponding reflections, which the present subject furnishes
me with in such abundance.

I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn
solitude, in which I am plac'd in my philosophy, and fancy
myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able
to mingle and unite in society, has been expeU'd all human
commerce, and left utterly abandon'd and disconsolate.
Tain wou'd I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth ;
but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity.
I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company
apart ; but no one will hearken to me. E very one keeps at
a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me
from every side. I have expos'd myself to the enmity of all
metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theolo-
gians ; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I
have declar'd my dis-approbation of their systems ; and can
I be surpriz'd, if they shou'd express a hatred of mine and


of my person ? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, SECT,
dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When " ^

I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and igno- Conclusion
ranee. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict of this
me ; tho' such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions
loosen and faU of themselves, when unsupported by the
approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation,
and every new reflection makes me dread an error and
absurdity in my reasoning.

For with what confidence can I venture upon such bold
enterprizes, when beside those numberless infirmities peculiai
to myself, I find so many which are common to human nature ?
Can I be sure, that in leaving all establish'd opinions I am
following truth ; and by what criterion shall I distinguish
her, even if fortune shou'd at last guide me on her foot-steps?
After the most accurate and exact of my reasonings, I can
give no reason why I shou'd assent to it ; and feel nothing
but a strong propensity to consider objects strongly in that
view, under which they appear to me. Experience^is a
principle, which instructs me in the several conjunctions of
objects for the pasb. Habit is another principle, which
determines me to expect the same for the future ; and both ;
of them conspiring to operate upon the imagination, make
me form certain ideas in a more intense and lively manner,
than others, which are not attended with the same advan- '
tages. Without this quality, by which the mind enlivens
some ideas beyond others (which seemingly is so trivial, and
so little founded on reason) we cou'd never assent to any '
argument, nor carry our view beyond those few objects,
which are present to our senses. Nay, even to these objects '
we cou'd never attribute any existence, but what was de-
pendent on the senses ; and must comprehend them entirely
in tiiat^succession of perceptions, which constitutes our self or
person. Nay farther, even with relation to that succession,
we cou'd only admit of those perceptions, which are imme-
diately present to our consciousness, nor cou'd those lively
images, with which the memory presents us, be ever receiv'd I
as true picttires of past perceptions. ' The^memory, senses, ^

and understanding are, therefore, aU of them founded on the ^ y""^
imagination, or the vivacity of our ideas."'

No wonder a principle so inconstant and fallacious shou'd
lead us into errors, when implicitly foUow'd (as it must be)




Pakx rv.


Of the
and other
of philo-

in all its variations. 'Tis this principle, wMcli makes tis
. reason from causes and effects ; aiicl 'tis the same principle,
which convinces us of the continu'd existence of external
objects, when absent from the senses. Bat tho' these two
operations be equally natural and necessary in the human
mind, yet in some circumstances they are ' directly contrary,
nor is it possible for us to reason justly and regularly from
causes and effects, and at the same time believe the continu'd
existence of matter. How then shall we adjust those prin-
ciples together ? Which of them shall we prefer ? Or in
case we prefer neither of them, but successively assent to
both, as is usual among philosophers, with what confidence
can we afterwards usurp that glorious title, when we thus
knowingly embrace a manifest contradiction ?

This^ contradiction wou'd be more excusable, were it com-
pensated by any degree of solidity and satisfaction in the
other parts of our reasoning. But the case is quite contrary.
When we trace up the human understanding to its first
principles, we find it to lead us into such sentiments, as seem
to turn into ridicule all our past pains and industry, and to
discourage us from future enquiries. Nothing is more curi-
ously enquir'd after by the mind of man, than the causes of
every phsenomenon ; nor are we content with knowing the
immediate causes, but push on our enquiries, till we arrive
at the original and ultimate principle. We wou'd not wil-
lingly stop before we are acquainted with that energy in the
cause, by which it operates on its effect ; that tie, which
connects them together; and that efficacious quality, on
which the tie depends. This is our aim in all our studies
and reflections : And how must we be disappointed, when we
! learn, that this connexion, tie, or energy lies merely in our-
selves, and is nothing but that determination of the mind,
which is acquir'd by custom, and causes us to make a transi-
tion from an object to its usual attendant, and from the
impression of one to the lively idea of the other P Such a
discovery not only cuts off all hope of ever attaining satis-
faction, but even prevents our very wishes ; since it appears,
that when we say we desire to know the ultimate and ope-
rating principle, as something, which resides in the external
object, we either contradict ourselves, or talk without a

' Sect. 4.

2 Part III. Sect. U.


This deficiency in our ideas is not, indeed, perceiv'd in SECT.
common life, nor are we sensible, that in the most usual con- "

junctions of cause and effect we are as ignorant of the ulti- Conclusion
mate principle, which binds them together, as in the most ?^'^'^
■unusual and extraordinary. But this proceeds merely' from
an illusion of^the imagination ; and the question is, how far
we ought to yield to these illusions. This question is very
difBcult, and reduces us to a very dangerous dilemma, which-
ever way we answer it. For if we assent to every trivial
suggestion of the fancy ; beside that these suggestions are
often contrary to each other ; they lead us into such errors,
absurdities, and obscurities, that we must at last become
asham'd of our credulity. Nothing is more dangerous to
reason than the flights of the imagination, and nothing has
been the occasion of more mistakes among philosophers.
Men of bright fancies may in this respect be compar'd to
those angels, whom the scripture represents as covering
their eyes with their wings. This has ah'eady appeared in
so many instances, that we may spare ourselves the trouble
of enlarging upon it any farther.

But on the other hand, if the consideration of these in-
stances makes us take a resolution to reject all the trivial
suggestions of the fancy, and adhere to the^understanding,
that is, to the general and more establish'd properties of the ^'
imagination ; even this resolution, if steadily executed,
wou'd be dangerous, and attended with the most fatal conse-
quences. For I have already shewn,' that the understanding,
when it acts alone, and according to its most general prin-
ciples, entirely subverts itself, and leaves not the lowest
degree of evidence in any proposition, either in philosophy '
or common life. We save ourselves from this total scepti-
cism only by means of that singular and seemingly trivial
property of the fancy, by which we enter with difficulty into
remote views of things, and are not able to accompany them
with so sensible an impression, as we do those, which are
more easy and natural. Shall we, then, establish it for a
general maxim, that no refin'd or elaborate reasoning is ever
to be receiv'd ? Consider well the consequences of such a
principle. By this means you cut off entirely all science
and philosophy : You proceed upon one singular quality of
the imagination, and by a parity of reason must embrace all

' SRCt. 1.
N N 2


PART of them : And you expressly contradict yourself; since this
, • '- ■ maxim must be built on the preceding reasoning, which will
Of the ' be allow'd to be sufficiently refin'd and metaphysical. What
sceptical party, then, shall we choose among these difficulties ? If
systems we embrace this principle, and condemn all refin'd reason-
of philo- ing, we run into the most manifest absurdities. If we reject
^ ^' it in favour of these reasonings, we subvert entirely the
human understanding. We have, therefore, no choice left
but betwixt a false reason and none at all. For my part, T
kiiow not what ought to be done in the present case. I can
only observe what is commonly done; which is, that this
difficulty is seldom or never thought of; and even where it
has once been present to the mind, is quickly forgot, and
leaves but a small impression behind it. Very refin'd re-
flections have little or no influence upon us ; and yet we do
not, and cannot establish it for a rule, that they ought not
to have any influence ; which implies a manifest contra-

But what have I here said, that reflections very refin'd
and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This
opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning
from my present feeling and experience. The intense view
^ of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human
reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain,
that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can
look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than
another. Where am I, or what ? From what causes do I
derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return ?
Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I
dread ? What beings surround me ? and on whom have I
any influence, or who have any influence on me ? I am
confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy my-
self in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd
with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of
every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable
of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that
purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and
delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some
avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which oblite-
rate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-
gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends ; and


■when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return SECT.
to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and

ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into Conclusion
them any farther. of this

Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily deter-

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 58 of 60)