For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about the first three sections of Hume’s “Enquiry.” The following is my submission:
The purpose of the first section in Hume’s Enquiry is to recommend that philosophers “unite the boundaries of the different species of philosophy” – by which he means aesthetics, ethics, reason, &c. – “…by reconciling profound enquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty,” to the purpose of undermining “…the foundations of an abstruse philosophy, which seems to have hitherto served only as a shelter to superstition, and a cover to absurdity and error.”
Interestingly, Hume seemed to have been as concerned with one’s mental and physical welfare as with his philosophical contributions. He noted that man too often considers himself solely as a being born to fulfill his desires in his experience or solely as a being who should be interested in discerning the origins and soundness of abstract concepts by means of reason. A balance between each is preferable, as it is often the case that the intentions of each “species” can be met with greater satisfaction when actuated relatively equally. Abstruse philosophy, for example, may inspire better technologies or the like and thereby excite heightened experiences; on the other hand, relaxation and society may provide the occasion for one’s thoughts to be solidified in posterity.
Hume warned, however, that one must recognize his cognitive limitations, especially reflexive reflection. It may be that successive generations will succeed to breach points at which one may presently fail, but it is noble to admit such is the case while at the same time strive to overcome his barriers. Thus, said Hume, his epistemic position was not skeptical – or, at least, he does not believe skepticism is necessary – rather, he believed one should be pragmatic, weighing realism with optimism. Whether or not this first section was written in false modesty or sincerity cannot be immediately determined.
In sections two and three, the origin and correlation between ideas predominates Hume’s writing. Although section three consists simply in Hume’s listing a variety of association between ideas – resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect – and admitting that his list may be incomplete, section two contains much more controversial assertions.
Hume began section two by distinguishing between sensation and memory of sensation and using this as an example of the difference “impressions” and “thoughts,” respectively. Briefly expounding upon each, Hume noted that while one’s thoughts or imagination may superficially seem to be virtually unbounded – which would contradict what he had stated in his first section – it is actually the case that the imagination is simply an appropriation of one’s sensations; that is, thought originates due to sensation. This becomes Hume’s thesis in this section.
Hume believed “innateness” to be an ambiguous term, but he did write that impressions, unlike ideas, may be “original or copied from no precedent perception.” Using an example to clarify his position, Hume argued that the concept of “God” is merely an augmentation of anthropomorphic qualities. Those who disagree bear the burden of explaining what alternate source (aside from sensation) has provided one with his thoughts about God. Hume further argued that thoughts logically depend upon sensation because it is evident that persons who exist without various senses (e.g. sight, hearing) are without corresponding ideas which are garnered from those senses.
Not only does Hume beg the question – as he obviously did not observe all the blind or deaf, let alone know what they thought – Hume himself confessed a perception which does not fit his basic, general assumption that all thoughts are inspired by sensation, viz. it is possible that one may conceptualize distinct shades of colors without having experienced them, per se. Contradictorily, Hume said this one instance is not enough to overthrow common experience, a precursor to Hume’s faith in the fallacy of induction.