Philosophy Essays & Paper Examples

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David Hume And The Self Research Paper

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David Hume is an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher who is known for his skeptical theories. One of which pertains to the existence of “self” or personal identity. Using an empiricist approach, Hume comes to a conclusion that the entity we call “self” is actually non-existent. This controversial proposition is, to some extent, believable if one immerses in the same introspective process the famous philosopher put himself into. However, one may also question the very skepticism he presented. By exploring and examining his claims closely, one can conclude that David Hume may have been disproving himself.

Supporting his firm stance about the absence of self, Hume introduces us to his “Bundle Theory of the Self” wherein he suggests that mankind is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions” that occur succeedingly, thus, creating the illusion that experiences are connected made intelligible by imagination. In his book titled “A Treatise of Human Nature,” he also argues that when he examines his mind, he never can catch himself and instead finds particular perceptions; “of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure.” All of these are fleeting sensations of experiences which he labels as impressions and ideas. True enough, if a person tries to investigate the contents of his consciousness, he will see nothing but changing emotions, ideas, sensation, and experiences. Hume banks on this inconsistent series of random impressions to prove his claim and goes on to argue that there is no “constant, invariable and enduring self.” This is where the danger of assigning a passive role on a person’s consciousness lies. It is safe to say that Hume dismisses mankind to nothing but an observant of a spectacle that is life. A couple of questions can be raised in consideration of the points Hume made. Who experiences the complex emotions and impressions? Who involves imagination in order to make something out of the series of random occurrences he is facing?

Another evidence of Hume contradicting himself is his use of the words “I” and “myself” throughout his writings which implies that somehow, he is acknowledging the existence of a “self” engaged in the act of questioning his identity. It is a sign that he indeed has something in himself to refer to when recalling impressions and ideas.

In the middle of his work, Hume says that if a man claims that he can perceive an entity he calls "himself", he is not willing to reason with him and can allow him to assume that he is right as well and will not let it affect his belief that there is no self. This does not offer any aid in invalidating the existence of a “self” no matter what form it may take. This is because all of his arguments stem from his naturalistic attack on anything that may suggest an involvement of metaphysical theories and elements which causes him to shut the door on all possibilities that what we call ourselves might be something else entirely beyond what our impressions, ideas and perceptions can suggest. Evidently, there is a need to fill the gaps that might be seen in his assertions.

At the end of his writings about personal identity, David Hume argues that the discourse about personal identity is a matter of grammatical than philosophical difficulty. However, he did not disprove the possibility of the presence of an identity or a continuing self as shown by the succeeding philosophers of his time. The lack of elaboration of the self that cannot be perceived is where they come into the picture and to this day, still open for interpretation and further discussion. 

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