chapter  7
19 Pages

Hume and agency

I now come to the topic with which I am directly concerned in this second part of my discussion of Hume on the self: Hume’s view of the self as an agent. We encounter here a number of issues that relate to the topics of previous chapters as well as some important new issues concerning Hume’s view of the person or self. I shall be discussing these various issues as follows. First, against the background of Hume’s reference to personal identity ‘as it regards our passions’ (T, 1.4.6.5; cf. 1.4.6.19), I wish to look more closely at Hume’s account of the passions themselves in Book 2 of the Treatise. Apart from considering how this bears on Hume’s view of the self and its identity, we will also be able to look in more detail at the relation of the passions to action. These different aspects of Hume’s discussion are in fact related to the extent that they have to do with the important issue of what might be described as action-appropriation. It is sometimes thought that the agent emerges as a kind of fiction on Hume’s account, but I shall argue that there is nothing fictitious about the Humean agent. I then go on to examine Hume’s view of the nature of action itself where the passions have such an important role to play; in doing so, I engage with an historically and philosophically important critique of Hume’s account of action. Finally, I consider how far Hume is able to allow for the possibility of rational agency and I conclude with some remarks about his position in regard to the ideas of responsibility and moral agency. In this way my discussion broadly follows the structure of Book 2 of the Treatise though I can obviously do no more than consider just some of the many issues of importance and interest with which Hume is concerned there.1