chapter  2
18 Pages

Hume and the idea of self

So far I have been concerned mainly to describe and explain Hume’s position in regard to the mental aspect of the self. As we have seen, Hume’s principal concern is to account for the idea of the self as something which is both simple and identical. In attempting to do so he rejects a certain kind of philosophical account of the self and also indicates that the ordinary (‘vulgar’) belief about personal identity involves a fiction. This represents the negative side of Hume’s discussion in T, 1.4.6. But there is also the positive side to be considered: Hume’s explanation of how we come to ascribe an identity to the mind, and his own account of the mind as a system of perceptions. In what follows I begin by addressing issues concerning Hume’s explanation of our belief in the mind’s identity – and, in particular, the part played here by memory. I then turn to some of the difficulties apparently encountered by Hume’s bundle or system view of the self, and I look in more detail at the implications of this view for the problems of the synchronic and diachronic identity of the mind or self. I am concerned here to show how Hume may be defended against a variety of objections to be found in the secondary literature, including those directed to Hume’s account of the relation of perceptions to the mind they supposedly constitute. I conclude with some remarks about Hume’s position in relation to the existence of the self.