Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This is an essay written by Keiichi Takaya
(IERG/Tokyo Women’s Medical University)

1. Imagination is usually mentioned, particularly in the context of education, as an active and creative capacity of the mind (or the person). So, when we read David Hume’s account of imagination – because he is one of the very few philosophers who dealt extensively with the concept—, we tend to be disappointed; his conception of the mind in general and of imagination in particular lacks the kind of significations we tend to associate with imagination.
However, I occasionally find in Hume some perspectives that make me critically reflect on the characteristics and tendencies of today’s concept of imagination, and, therefore, I like to sketch his general view on the concept and a few interesting points he made concerning imagination.

"The mind is like a kind of theatre, where several perceptions
successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and
mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations."
(Treatise, Book I, Part IV, Section VI)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century.

A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow real poverty.

A purpose, an intention, a design, strikes everywhere even the careless, the most stupid thinker.

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

Accuracy is, in every case, advantageous to beauty, and just reasoning to delicate sentiment. In vain would we exalt the one by depreciating the other.

And what is the greatest number? Number one.

Any person seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity.

Avarice, the spur of industry.

Be a philosopher but, amid all your philosophy be still a man.

Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.

Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.

Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more properly than perceived.

Belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagination alone is ever able to attain.

Character is the result of a system of stereotyped principals.

Custom is the great guide to human life.

Eloquence, at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection, but addresses itself entirely to the desires and affections, captivating the willing hearers, and subduing their understanding.

Every wise, just, and mild government, by rendering the condition of its subjects easy and secure, will always abound most in people, as well as in commodities and riches.

Everything in the world is purchased by labor.

Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper; but he Is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance.

Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue.

Human Nature is the only science of man; and yet has been hitherto the most neglected.

I have written on all sorts of subjects... yet I have no enemies; except indeed all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.

It is a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave.

It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.

It is not reason which is the guide of life, but custom.

It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.

It's when we start working together that the real healing takes place... it's when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.

Men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions.

Men often act knowingly against their interest.

No advantages in this world are pure and unmixed.

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

Nothing endears so much a friend as sorrow for his death. The pleasure of his company has not so powerful an influence.

Nothing is more surprising than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few.

Philosophy would render us entirely Pyrrhonian, were not nature too strong for it.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

Scholastic learning and polemical divinity retarded the growth of all true knowledge.

That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise.

The advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds, as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the understanding, and as it strengthens virtue.

The chief benefit, which results from philosophy, arises in an indirect manner, and proceeds more from its secret, insensible influence, than from its immediate application.

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.

The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

The heights of popularity and patriotism are still the beaten road to power and tyranny.

The law always limits every power it gives.

The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.

The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason.

There is a very remarkable inclination in human nature to bestow on external objects the same emotions which it observes in itself, and to find every where those ideas which are most present to it.

There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.

This avidity alone, of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends, is insatiable, perpetual, universal, and directly destructive of society.

To be a philosophical sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential to being a sound, believing Christian.

To hate, to love, to think, to feel, to see; all this is nothing but to perceive.

Truth springs from argument amongst friends.

What a peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we call 'thought'.
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Patricia Ávila

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An essay of mind and numbers

One of David Hume’s most notable ideas was his theory of causation, which he explored in his first novel, the Treatise of Human Nature, first published anonymously in 1739[i]. Hume re-explored the idea in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which was published in Edinburgh amongst a various number of his works in 1777[ii], one year after his death[iii]. In section IV of the Enquiry, Hume summarizes the modern empirical version of causation of his time[iv]. Aptly known as ‘Hume’s Fork’[v], the famed philosopher divides the human ideas of causality into two separate parts: the first are those ideas of the human race that can be proven by experimentation without exception.

Concepts, such as mathematics, which cannot be proven wrong when questioned. The second groups of “objects of human reason or enquiry,”[vi] are facts. They are separated by the simple idea that the mind can conceive a contradictory statement, which can be conceived by the mind based on a priori[vii], a prior experience. Hume uses the example of a billiard ball,[viii] where the movement can be predicted based on prior experience (it is here that I argue that the billiard ball can be grouped into the former category as well, based on the mathematics of angles to help predict where the ball goes; although it is quite unlikely for one to pull out a protractor during a simple game of billiards) Some are simply easy assurances.

One example of this is the fact that the sun will come up in the morning. In Hume’s day, the idea in which every cause has an effect is crucial, so as in education, and in this case there is no known cause and effect. For example, the sun goes down, and then, in the morning it comes up. However, when one is arguing the fact that the sun will come up, is the cause that the sun went down? Thus, in this case, the reasoning of causality of the sun going down at night can’t be described by a priori, unlike the billiard ball, where the outcome can be predicted by a cause and effect statement. We know now the reason of the sun appearing to rise and set as the day goes on, but then it Hume’s time it was not common knowledge.

However, Hume believes that our inferences based on experience do not come from reasoning, because there is no “medium”[ix] from which it can be drawn. Hume wonders, “what is our idea of necessity, when we say that two objects are necessarily connected together…”[x] In the case of sunrise, it can be induced that because we have seen the sun rise after it sets several times, then it is “evidently going in a circle.”[xi]

Thus, it is assumed that the future will be like that past, and it is not induced or experimental, yet it is still a fact based on an easy assurance. One of the most crucial points Hume has is that “There are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics, more obscure and uncertain than those of power, force, energy, or necessary connection, of which it is every moment necessary for us to treat in all our disquisitions.”[xii] Things we do not entirely understand. So how does everyone in the human race learn to infer events from the past to the future without logic to validate it?
It is a commonly known cliché that ‘everything has a cause and an effect’. This statement is generally used to argue the effects, in an a priori way, looking backwards from the effect to find its cause. As humans, it can be argued that we are all born as in a tabula rasa[xiii] or blank slates for brains, and that all learning comes from sensory perception and experiences. As we grow, our curiosity gets the better of us, and we test various theories. For example, watch a child; he will test something once (the cause), and then test it again and again, before forming the conclusion that the object will continue to create an effect until the circumstances surrounding it change, that is a main concern for education. However, I believe that when a person gets older, he merely assumes that his prediction will be correct because of the prior experience. As a race, become more educated, learned how to use mathematics (which are extraordinarily present in physics, chemistry and biology) to make explain phenomenon’s that we once just assumed. As we get accustomed to a certain cause leading to an effect, triggering a chain of causes and effects leading to the main event, we no longer need to associate each event repetitively, as it merely becomes knowledge in our minds.

Another argument that can be made is that perhaps the innate ability to make that necessary connection is embedded into our minds before we are born, that we perhaps were not tabula rasa, and that in our evolution through time we came equipped with this intuitive mind, and curiosity befell us naturally. However this "equipment" is related with education. This natural evolution has allowed us to create ideas, such as math, which do not evolve the world, but allow the human race control it, to survive. In recent years this instinctive curiosity has allowed mankind to discover why the sun rises in the morning, and sets in the fall. It allows us to find the patterns occurring in everyday lives that many humans just assume will continue into the future, but now know why.

I believe that the curiosity of the human race, the mind, and as our society continues to progress learning more, and becoming more knowledgeable, we will be able to explain considerable amounts more. But then, as circumstances change so do we. Is there any answer to Hume’s skepticism? Until causation can be grouped into the ideas of the human race that can be proven by experimentation without exception, we will never know.

[i] Steve Thomas, “A Treatise of Human Nature: By David Hume”, ebooks@adelaide, 02/07/2006, 04/15/2009,
[ii] Steve Thomas, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: By David Hume”, ebooks@adelaide, 02/07/2006, 04/15/2009,
[iii] “David Hume” Wikipedia, 04/16/2009,
[iv] Terrence Penelhum, David Hume: an introduction to his philosophical system (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1992), 99
[v] Ibid
[vi] Penelhum, 64
[vii] James H. Noxon, Hume’s Philosophical Development (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 59
[viii] Penelhum, 101
[ix] Penelhum, 102
[x] Rupert Read and Kenneth A. Richman, The New Hume Debate: Revised Edition (New York: Routledge, 2007), 215
[xi] Ibid
[xii] Ibid
[xiii] “Tabula Rasa”, Wikipedia, 04/20/2009,


Thomas, Steve. “A Treatise of Human Nature: By David Hume. ebooks@adelaide. 07 February 2006. 15 April 2009 , <>
Thomas, Steve. “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. ebooks@adelaide. 07 February 2006. 15 April 2009 , <>
“David Hume” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 16 April 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume
“Tabula Rasa” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 20 April 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabula_Rasa
Penelhum, Terrence. David Hume: an introduction to his philosophical system. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1992
Noxon, James H. Hume’s Philosophical Development. London: Oxford University Press, 1973
Read, Rupert and Kenneth A. Richman. The New Hume Debate: Revised Edition. New York: Routledge, 2007

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Patricia Ávila

Monday, April 6, 2009

David Hume

This classic historian and philosopher of the eighteenth century, was born in Edinburgh the 26th of April in the year of 1711. Son of Mr. Joseph Home of Ninewells and Katherine Falconer. His philosophical thoughts are considered an important part of the Scottish Enlightenment.

At the age of 23, in March of 1734, Hume left Scotland for Bristol visiting London on the way. He had determined to attach himself to a merchant located at Bristol and to learn something of the business world. This venture, did not work out, so David Hume left Bristol and traveled to France. He was to stay three years in France, during which time he was to work on his first book, "A treatise of Human Nature".

During September of 1737, David Hume returned from France and passed 16 months at London polishing and publishing his work. In 1752, after a failed attempt to gain a university position (A place in Logic at Glasgow) Hume was appointed the Keeper of the advocates' library in Edinburgh.

In 1763 he went to the embassy at Paris as Lord Hertford's secretary, a place at which Hume as "Chargé d'affaires" stayed after Hertford went off to govern Ireland in 1765. On his return to England, in 1766, Hume was appointed by Lord Hertford's brother, General Conway, as an Under-Secretary of State, a position in the Home Office.

On account of failing health, Hume was obliged to give up his Home Office position after about a year. After a short stay at Bath, in order to take of its healing waters, he returned to Edinburgh to spend his last few years, he died there on the 25th of August of the year 1776 and he was buried in the Calton Hill cemetery, David hume never married.



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Patricia Ávila