The mind and its faculties
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The mind and its faculties book
Hume criticizes earlier philosophers for their abuse of the term ‘faculty’: “They need only say, that any phaenomenon, which puzzles them, arises from a faculty or an occult quality, and there is an end of all dispute and enquiry upon the matter” (THN 22.214.171.124/ 224). In such cases, he thinks, philosophers have had no speciﬁc idea of what it is that causes the phenomenon in question but at most a relative one [2.3], and so they have really given no eﬀective causal explanation of it at all. This criticism does not prevent him from frequently employing the term ‘faculty’ himself in his account of the mind. On the contrary, he never hesitates to infer from the fact that the mind regularly does something of a particular recognizable kind that it has a power to do it and a faculty by which it does it. Hume does not rest content with such superﬁcial inferences,
however. Instead, he aims to conduct “an accurate scrutiny into the powers and faculties of human nature” (EHU 1.13/13). This scrutiny involves two stages or levels. First, it requires what he calls “mental geography”: the classiﬁcation of faculties of the mind in accordance with clear and perspicuous distinctions. The faculties he seeks to distinguish in this way include “the imagination,” “memory,” “reason” (both “demonstrative” and “probable”) or “the understanding,” “the senses,” “the passions,” “taste,” and “the will.” The boundaries he draws among them and the relations he proposes between them are often original. Second, it requires, to the extent possible, well-supported causal explanations of the nature, origin, and characteristic manners of operation of the
faculties so distinguished-that is, explanations of what he calls “their secret springs and principles,” which often involve multiple sub-processes and are often subject to multiple inﬂuences. These explanations, too, are often highly original. Ultimately, he subjects the deliverances of these faculties to normative evaluations in light of those classiﬁcations and explanations. In order to understand his conception of the mental faculties, however, it is useful to understand his conceptions of mind and consciousness themselves.