David Hume's Concept of the Self, With Special Reference to "A Treatise of Human Nature" Books I and II

Langer, Thurid (1997) David Hume's Concept of the Self, With Special Reference to "A Treatise of Human Nature" Books I and II. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The thesis investigates David Hume's concept of the self as it is presented in Book One and Two of the Treatise of Human Nature. The center point of the discussion is Hume's understanding of the self as the bundle of perceptions. It will be shown that such an account can maintain identity of the self as an imperfect identity. It will be argued that a distinction must be drawn between self and personhood, both are distinct but interdependent aspects of the individual. These two aspects correspond to the different topics of the two first books of the Treatise and are in accordance with Hume's own division of the subject expressed in Book One. The necessity of the distinction will become apparent through the discussion of the problem of self identity in the light of Hume's epistemology and ontology. Considering Hume's theory of perception and his account of the acquisition of the idea of identity it will be argued that memory has to be a criterion of self- as well as of personal identity. A general discussion of main stream theories of self- and personal identity will provide a contemporary context to which Hume's account of identity can be allocated. It will be shown that Hume's theory of identity can accommodate the combined theory of identity, which maintains mental as well as bodily criteria of self- and personal identity. Therefore it is necessary to establish Hume as a Basic Realist. This can be achieved by firstly, a strict distinction between epistemology and ontology and secondly, by interpreting the first two books of the Treatise as a unity. The Treatise will also be placed within the context of Hume's other philosophical writings, such as the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and the Essays. After establishing Hume's account of self- and personal identity and his Basic Realism the discussion focusses on the principle of unity of perceptions. Several candidates will be investigated, by method of elimination. It will be argued that the body can serve as the principle of unity of perceptions. It will be shown that such an understanding of the body accommodates Hume's epistemology and does not contradict the fundamental claims of Hume's philosophy. The investigation presented in this thesis will show the compatibility of Books One and Two of the Treatise. It will become apparent that the failure of Hume's theory of identity does not result from inconsistencies or contradictions between these two Books, but results from the theory of perception itself, which renders memory, one of the criteria of self- and personal identity, theoretically and practically impossible. The thesis shall contribute to the current debate concerning the philosophy of David Hume. It is its main task to re-direct the criticism of his account which has, so far, concentrated on the problem of the Real Connection or on alleged inconsistencies between Book One and Two of the Treatise. The thesis attempts to show that such criticisms are misplaced and sometimes result from a misinterpretation of Hume's writings. Instead, criticism must be placed on Hume's strict empiricist version of perception which understands perceptions as fleeting existences. The problems resulting from such an understanding are apparent already in Book One and concern not only the concept of the self, they also render the concept of causation, one of the pillars of Hume's system, unaccountable.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Philosophy
Date of Award: 1997
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1997-75903
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 17:38
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 17:38
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/75903

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