According to Hume, what are the two kinds of ideas? What are their sources? What are the two kinds of associations of ideas in the mind?

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Chapter 8
Excerpts from Equiry Concerning
Human Understanding by David
Hume
Contents
8.1 Of the Origin of Ideas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
8.2 Of the Association of Ideas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
8.3 Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations . . . . . . . 101
8.4 Of Probability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
8.5 Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
8.1 Of the Origin of Ideas
11. Everyone will readily allow, that there is a considerable difference between
The perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive
Heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls
To his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These
Faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never
Can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The
Utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigour, is,
That they represent their object in so lively a manner that we could almost
Say we feel or see it: But, except the mind be disordered by disease
Or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render
Page 97
these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colours of poetry,
however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to
make the description be taken for a real landskip. The most lively thought
is still inferior to the dullest sensation.
We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions
of the mind. A man in a fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner
from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me, that any person
is in love, I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of
his situation; but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders
and agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and
affections, our thought is a faithful mirror, and copies its objects truly;
but the colours which it employs are faint and dull, in comparison of
those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice
discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.
12. Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two
classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of
force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated
Thoughts or Ideas. The other species want a name in our language,
and in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but
philosophical purposes, to rank them under a general term or appellation.
Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them Impressions;
employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By
the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when
we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions
are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions,
of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or
movements above mentioned.
13. Nothing, at first view, may seem more unbounded than the thought of
man, which not only escapes all human power and authority, but is not
even restrained within the limits of nature and reality. To form monsters,
and join incongruous shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no
more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects. And
while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain
and difficulty; the thought can in an instant transport us into the most
distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the unbounded
chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion. What
never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is anything bePage 98
yond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.
But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall
find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow
limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no
more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing
the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When
we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold,
and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted. A virtuous
horse we can conceive; because, from our own feeling, we can conceive
virtue; and this we may unite to the figure and shape of a horse, which is
an animal familiar to us. In short, all the materials of thinking are derived
either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition
of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself
in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are
copies of our impressions or more lively ones.
14. To prove this, the two following arguments will, I hope, be sufficient.
First, when we analyze our thoughts or ideas, however compounded or
sublime, we always find that they resolve themselves into such simple
ideas as were copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment. Even those
ideas, which, at first view, seem the most wide of this origin, are found,
upon a nearer scrutiny, to be derived from it. The idea of God, as meaning
an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on
the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those
qualities of goodness and wisdom. We may prosecute this enquiry to
what length we please; where we shall always find, that every idea which
we examine is copied from a similar impression. Those who would assert
that this position is not universally true nor without exception, have only
one, and that an easy method of refuting it; by producing that idea, which,
in their opinion, is not derived from this source. It will then be incumbent
on us, if we would maintain our doctrine, to produce the impression, or
lively perception, which corresponds to it.
15. Secondly. If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not
susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find that he is as little
susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion
of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense in
which he is deficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you
also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds no difficulty in conceiving
Page 99
these objects. The case is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any
sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A Laplander or Negro
has no notion of the relish of wine. And though there are few or no instances
of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or
is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species;
yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree. A man of
mild manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can
a selfish heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It
is readily allowed, that other beings may possess many senses of which
we can have no conception; because the ideas of them have never been
introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to
the mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation.
16. There is, however, one contradictory phenomenon, which may prove
that it is not absolutely impossible for ideas to arise, independent of their
correspondent impressions. I believe it will readily be allowed, that the
several distinct ideas of colour, which enter by the eye, or those of sound,
which are conveyed by the ear, are really different from each other; though,
at the same time, resembling. Now if this be true of different colours, it
must be no less so of the different shades of the same colour; and each
shade produces a distinct idea, independent of the rest. For if this should
be denied, it is possible, by the continual gradation of shades, to run a
colour insensibly into what is most remote from it; and if you will not allow
any of the means to be different, you cannot, without absurdity, deny
the extremes to be the same. Suppose, therefore, a person to have enjoyed
his sight for thirty years, and to have become perfectly acquainted
with colours of all kinds except one particular shade of blue, for instance,
which it never has been his fortune to meet with. Let all the different
shades of that colour, except that single one, be placed before him, descending
gradually from the deepest to the lightest; it is plain that he will
perceive a blank, where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible that
there is a greater distance in that place between the contiguous colours
than in any other. Now I ask, whether it be possible for him, from his
own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up to himself the
idea of that particular shade, though it had never been conveyed to him
by his senses? I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can:
and this may serve as a proof that the simple ideas are not always, in
every instance, derived from the correspondent impressions; though this
instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth our observing, and does
not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.
Page 100
17. Here, therefore, is a proposition, which not only seems, in itself, simple
and intelligible; but, if a proper use were made of it, might render every
dispute equally intelligible, and banish all that jargon, which has so
long taken possession of metaphysical reasonings, and drawn disgrace
upon them. All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and
obscure: the mind has but a slender hold of them: they are apt to be confounded
with other resembling ideas; and when we have often employed
any term, though without a distinct meaning, we are apt to imagine it has
a determinate idea annexed to it. On the contrary, all impressions, that is,
all sensations, either outward or inward, are strong and vivid: the limits
between them are more exactly determined: nor is it easy to fall into any
error or mistake with regard to them. When we entertain, therefore, any
suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning
or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression
is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any,
this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear
a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise,
concerning their nature and reality.1
1It
is probable that no more was meant by those, who denied innate ideas, than that all
ideas were copies of our impressions; though it must be confessed, that the terms, which
they employed, were not chosen with such caution, nor so exactly defined, as to prevent
all mistakes about their doctrine. For what is meant by innate? If innate be equivalent
to natural, then all the perceptions and ideas of the mind must be allowed to be innate
or natural, in whatever sense we take the latter word, whether in opposition to what is
uncommon, artificial, or miraculous. If by innate be meant, contemporary to our birth, the
dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it worth while to enquire at what time thinking begins,
whether before, at, or after our birth. Again, the word idea, seems to be commonly taken
in a very loose sense, by LOCKE and others; as standing for any of our perceptions, our
sensations and passions, as well as thoughts. Now in this sense, I should desire to know,
what can be meant by asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the passion
between the sexes is not innate?
But admitting these terms, impressions and ideas, in the sense above explained, and understanding
by innate, what is original or copied from no precedent perception, then may
we assert that all our impressions are innate, and our ideas not innate.
To be ingenuous, I must own it to be my opinion, that Locke was betrayed into this question
by the schoolmen, who, making use of undefined terms, draw out their disputes to a
tedious length, without ever touching the point in question. A like ambiguity and circumlocution
seem to run through that philosopher’s reasonings on this as well as most other
subjects.
Page 101
8.2 Of the Association of Ideas
18. It is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the different
thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that, in their appearance to the
memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree
of method and regularity. In our more serious thinking or discourse
this is so observable that any particular thought, which breaks
in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is immediately remarked
and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries,
nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imagination
ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion
upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other.
Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would
immediately be observed something which connected it in all its transitions.
Or where this is wanting, the person who broke the thread of
discourse might still inform you, that there had secretly revolved in his
mind a succession of thought, which had gradually led him from the
subject of conversation. Among different languages, even where we
cannot suspect the least connexion or communication, it is found, that
the words, expressive of ideas, the most compounded, do yet nearly
correspond to each other: a certain proof that the simple ideas, comprehended
in the compound ones, were bound together by some universal
principle, which had an equal influence on all mankind.
19. Though it be too obvious to escape observation, that different ideas are
connected together; I do not find that any philosopher has attempted
to enumerate or class all the principles of association; a subject, however,
that seems worthy of curiosity. To me, there appear to be only
three principles of connexion among ideas, namely, Resemblance, Contiguity
in time or place, and Cause or Effect.
That these principles serve to connect ideas will not, I believe, be much
doubted. A picture naturally leads our thoughts to the original:2 the
mention of one apartment in a building naturally introduces an enquiry
or discourse concerning the others:3 and if we think of a wound,
we can scarcely forbear reflecting on the pain which follows it.4 But
that this enumeration is complete, and that there are no other principles
of association except these, may be difficult to prove to the satis2Resemblance
3Contiguity
4Cause
and Effect.
Page 102
faction of the reader, or even to a man’s own satisfaction. All we can
do, in such cases, is to run over several instances, and examine carefully
the principle which binds the different thoughts to each other,
never stopping till we render the principle as general as possible.5 The
more instances we examine, and the more care we employ, the more
assurance shall we acquire, that the enumeration, which we form from
the whole, is complete and entire.
8.3 Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations
of the Understanding
Part I
20. All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided
into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact. Of the first
kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in
short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively
certain. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the square of the two
sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures.
That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between
these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the
mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere
existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in
nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their
certainty and evidence.
21. Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not
ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth,
however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of
every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction,
and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and
distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. 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. We should in
5For
instance, Contrast or Contrariety is also a connexion among Ideas: but it may, perhaps,
be considered as a mixture of Causation and Resemblance. Where two objects are
contrary, the one destroys the other; that is, the cause of its annihilation, and the idea of the
annihilation of an object, implies the idea of its former existence.
Page 103
vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively
false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be
distinctly conceived by the mind.
It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, to enquire what
is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence
and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the
records of our memory. This part of philosophy, it is observable, has
been little cultivated, either by the ancients or moderns; and therefore
our doubts and errors, in the prosecution of so important an enquiry,
may be the more excusable; while we march through such difficult
paths without any guide or direction. They may even prove useful,
by exciting curiosity, and destroying that implicit faith and security,
which is the bane of all reasoning and free enquiry. The discovery of
defects in the common philosophy, if any such there be, will not, I presume,
be a discouragement, but rather an incitement, as is usual, to
attempt something more full and satisfactory than has yet been proposed
to the public.
22. All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation
of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone we can go
beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to ask a
man, why he believes any matter of fact, which is absent; for instance,
that his friend is in the country, or in France; he would give you a
reason; and this reason would be some other fact; as a letter received
from him, or the knowledge of his former resolutions and promises.
A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would
conclude that there had once been men in that island. All our reasonings
concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it is constantly
supposed that there is a connexion between the present fact and that
which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them together,
the inference would be entirely precarious. The hearing of an articulate
voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence
of some person: Why? because these are the effects of the human make
and fabric, and closely connected with it. If we anatomize all the other
reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the
relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote,
direct or collateral. Heat and light are collateral effects of fire,
and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other.
Page 104
23. If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concerning the nature of that
evidence, which assures us of matters of fact, we must enquire how
we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect.
I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no
exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance,
attained by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from experience,
when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with
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