Hume held that all experience and under his empiricism all ideas and meaningful thoughts were reducible to impressions. Thus, for Hume an 'idea' is merely a faint impression. But why should ideas and thought be put into the terms of impressions? Are not sensed ideas just as simple and ontologically important as impressions?

For example, let us say we have the experience of a 'man'. Hume would hold what we truly had the experience of was the skin, the eyes, the hair, which each in turn were experiences of certain colors, certain smells, etc. What we experienced wasn't 'really' a man at all but merely a certain set of distinct impressions. Hume's attitude can thus be shown to be of the opinion that the set should be understood in terms of that which comprises the set. But what is to say that the impressions which composite such a set are anymore simple than the idea 'man' which is the essence that categorizes the set? There is nothing intrinsically in the experience of a basic thing such as 'red' that makes it more simple than the experience of 'James the man' as a whole. Indeed, we only know the ontological difference between the two upon reflection, so there seems little reason to believe one should have ontological precedence over the over. In any case, such a claim requires support that Hume doesn't seem to provide.

Furthermore, if we were to reduce the set to that which comprises it it seems that there is a hole left for Hume to explain. For that there is a set to begin with requires explanation. That there is one out of many, both qualitatively and numerically, is the very thing attempting to be explained by the study itself, and in reducing the set to its supposed 'parts' there seems to not be answered the question that was most relevant to the pursuit.

Are these criticisms correct, and if so, did Hume ever anticipate them? Have his defenders ever given response to them?

  • You have asked many questions on Hume's various epistemological positions and their weaknesses recently. Could you give some context on what motivates your interest in them? Are you working through Hume's writings and wish to clarify things as you go along? Do you have a particular perspective, and find Hume to be a convenient opponent to test it against? Something else? Why Hume? – Conifold Mar 11 '16 at 23:55
  • Hume has a wide influence in modern philosophy and he's interesting to me. His reasons for thinking certain things seems to have carried over in our own assumptions, and so my questioning Hume is both for the sake of understanding his own thought process and subsequently the thought process of the modern world that followed. If Hume got so much (possibly) wrong I'm curious as to why we are so influenced by his methods. – Chosen One Mar 12 '16 at 12:53
  • In that case Kant and Husserl would be better targets. Both named Hume as their primary inspiration, and his influence today such as it is filters through them. But they largely eliminated his psychological naivete that you focus on, and in that regard he is a relic. What they kept was approach, "critical method" and "phenomenology", not his theory of mind. The reason you are getting little traction is that it is obsolete, including the issue in this question. This is not to say that their accounts do not have their weaknesses, but it is new ideas in them that drive modern thought, not Hume. – Conifold Mar 12 '16 at 22:56

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