chapter  5
Hume on character and the self
Pages 18

The concept of character provides a connecting link between the mental and the agency aspects of the self (‘personal identity, as it regards our thought or imagination, and as it regards our passions or the concern we take in ourselves’ – T, 1.4.6.5). Character has to do with our possession of certain kinds of mental quality for which a place must be found in the account of the mind or self provided in T, 1.4.6; but it also has a crucial part to play both in the explanations we provide of people’s actions and also our evaluations of those actions. What Hume has to say about character bears directly upon issues with which we are concerned in Chapters 6-8: the relation between human and animal nature; the nature of agency; and our knowledge or awareness of the mental states of others. The notion of character is also central to Hume’s position on the familiar philosophical problem of freedom (‘liberty’) and determinism (‘necessity’) as well as to his account of virtue and vice. It will therefore be important to show that his account of this concept is consistent with what he has said about the mental aspect of personal identity: the topic of my discussion in the previous four chapters. I shall also be concerned with the implications of Hume’s account of character, and the related conception of persons as narrative existences, for his position on moral responsibility. Since, however, Hume fails to provide a systematic account of the concept of character, in spite of its importance for his philosophical position generally, I shall have to review the scattered remarks that Hume does make about character in order to see what sort of account he wishes to provide of this notion.1