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Hume on Force and Vivacity and the Content of Ideas David Banach Department of Philosophy St. Anselm College.

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Presentation on theme: "Hume on Force and Vivacity and the Content of Ideas David Banach Department of Philosophy St. Anselm College."— Presentation transcript:

1 Hume on Force and Vivacity and the Content of Ideas David Banach Department of Philosophy St. Anselm College

2 The everlasting universe of things Flows through the mind, and rolls in rapid waves, Now dark -- now glittering -- now reflecting gloom -- Now lending splendour, where from secret springs The source of human thought its tributes brings P. B. Shelley, Mont Blanc

3 The Theory of Ideas Concepts or Ideas are mental representations entertained in the mind. Thought involves the causal relations of these ideas.

4 Pragmatic or Conceptual Role Theories Concepts do not directly have representational content in themselves but only in the context of a judgment, proposition, or conceptual scheme. Ideas get their meaning in the context of a system of dispositions to classify and act with respect to objects.

5 Ideas Ideas are copies of impressions. They differ only in force and vivacity, not in content. Impressions transmit their force and vivacity (what I call their impetus) to ideas. Quote 2: Impressions and ideas differ not in content but only in impetus The first circumstance, that strikes my eye, is the great resemblance betwixt our impressions and ideas in every other particular, except their degree of force and vivacity.

6 Belief Belief is a habit associated with an idea. This habit is manifested in the force and vivacity with which the idea is held.

7 Quote 3: Belief an impetus Thus it appears, that the belief or assent, which always attends the memory and senses, is nothing but the vivacity of those perceptions they present; and that this alone distinguishes them from the imagination. To believe is in this case to feel an immediate impression of the senses, or a repetition of that impression in the memory. 'Tis merely the force and liveliness of the perception, which constitutes the first act of the judgment, and lays the foundation of that reasoning, which we build upon it, when we trace the relation of cause and effect.

8 Quote 6: Impetus does not change content. Belief an impetus All the perceptions of the mind are of two kinds, viz. impressions and ideas, which differ from each other only in their different degrees of force and vivacity.' Our ideas are copy'd from our impressions, and represent them in all their parts. When you would any way vary the idea of a particular object, you can only increase or diminish its force and vivacity. If you make any other change on it, it represents a different object or impression. The case is the same as in colours. A particular shade of any colour may acquire a new degree of liveliness or brightness without any other variation. But when you produce any other variation, 'tis no longer the same shade or colour. So that as belief does nothing but vary the manner, in which we conceive any object, it can only bestow on our ideas an additional force and vivacity. An opinion, therefore, or belief may be most, accurately defined, A LIVELY IDEA RELATED TO OR ASSOCIATED WITH A PRESENT IMPRESSION.

9 Thought the transmission of impetus. Impressions and ideas convey their impetus according to three basic laws of (human) nature. 1. Resemblance 2. Contiguity 3. Cause and Effect Thought is merely the flow of this force and vivacity as it is carried along the succession of ideas.

10 Quote 7: Impetus something felt but mysterious. An idea assented to feels different from a fictitious idea, that the fancy alone presents to us: And this different feeling I endeavour to explain by calling it a superior force, or vivacity, or solidity, or firmness, or steadiness. This variety of terms, which may seem so unphilosophical, is intended only to express that act of the mind, which renders realities more present to us than fictions, causes them to weigh more in the thought, and gives them a superior influence on the passions and imagination.... I confess, that 'tis impossible to explain perfectly this feeling or manner of conception. We may make use of words, that express something near it. But its true and proper name is belief, which is a term that every one sufficiently understands in common life..

11 Abstract Ideas All ideas are particular and determinate. Ideas became general by bringing to mind an indefinite number of other ideas according to a custom of habit associated with the word or idea.

12 Quote 4: Meaning of general idea a custom A particular idea becomes general by being annex'd to a general term; that is, to a term, which from a customary conjunction has a relation to many other particular ideas, and readily recalls them in the imagination. The only difficulty, that can remain on this subject, must be with regard to that custom, which so readily recalls every particular idea, for which we may have occasion, and is excited by any word or sound, to which we commonly annex it. The most proper method, in my opinion, of giving a satisfactory explication of this act of the mind, is by producing other instances, which are analogous to it, and other principles, which facilitate its operation. To explain the ultimate causes of our mental actions is impossible. 'Tis sufficient, if we can give any satisfactory account of them from experience and analogy.

13 Hume on Distinctions of Reason We have no abstract idea of shape without color. One single colored, shaped idea leads us, according to custom, to other ideas that resemble it with respect to shape, but not color.

14 Distinctions of Reason Nor do we have an idea of color without shape. In this case, the very same single colored idea of the sphere leads us, according to a different custom to other ideas that resemble it with respect to color but not shape.

15 The power of the impetus associated with abstract ideas a. Ideas of large numbers, such as 1000, do not have a clear and determinate image. b. An entire verse of poetry, though we can't recall it at the moment, can be brought back to us in a moment by one word. c. We have no clear image for our complex ideas, such as church, negotiation, or conquest. d. Knowing an idea bestows a marvelous ability to bring up relevant ideas at appropriate times without having a clear idea how we do so.

16 Quote 5: Custom or impetus a mysterious power of the soul The fancy runs from one end of the universe to the other in collecting those ideas, which belong to any subject. One would think the whole intellectual world of ideas was at once subjected to our view, and that we did nothing but pick out such as were most proper for our purpose. There may not, however, be any present, beside those very ideas, that are thus collected by a kind of magical faculty in the soul, which, tho' it be always most perfect in the greatest geniuses, and is properly what we call a genius, is however inexplicable by the utmost efforts of human understanding.

17 Summary 1. Apart from the representational content of an idea there is another component: its force and vivacity, its impetus. 2. The impetus of ideas is felt, part of the phenomenology of the idea, though it is distinct from the content of the idea and is not itself another idea. (Indeed, it would have been more consistent for Hume to consider emotions and sentiments as these types of impetüs than as separate ideas.) 3. The impetus of ideas, as the name suggests, is active, is connected with habit or custom, and directs the production and flow of ideas. 4. The meaning of general ideas is a custom, the un- represented meaning of an idea is its impetus, which is distinct from its definition, or list of instances, or explicit rules for producing these instances.

18 The content of ideas are in the habits that connect them, not their intentional content itself. Once one sees the way ideas actually do their work for Hume, it becomes clear that they are merely tokens, along for the ride in the real business of the transmission of the force or impetus that thought involves. A consideration of Humes view of abstract ideas suggests that the real content of thought lies within the impetus, not the idea.

19 Connectionism and the flow of information

20 Neural Networks in a Laminar Cortex Figure from Paul Churchland, A Neurocomputational Perspective, 1989

21 Quote 8: Impetus transmitted from idea to idea, originates in object. I would willingly establish it as a general maxim in the science of human nature, that when any impression becomes present to us, it not only transports the mind to such ideas as are related to it, but likewise communicates to them a share of its force and vivacity. Now 'tis evident the continuance of the disposition depends entirely on the objects, about which the mind is employ'd; and that any new object naturally gives a new direction to the spirits, and changes the disposition; as on the contrary, when the mind fixes constantly on the same object, or passes easily and insensibly along related objects, the disposition has a much longer duration

22 The Impetus of Ideas. 1. Arises from the object. 2. Is active 2. Is felt. 3. Is formal. It is felt as the form of our impressions of objects as they inform our habits of connection.

23 The Flow of Ideas The secret strength of things Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

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