David Hume

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David Hume (1711-1776)


    The Philosophical Dictionary.

Hume: Empiricist Naturalism




David Hume


Key Concepts

    David Hume believed that all human knowledge is gained through the senses. We develop two types of perceptions from what we experience through our senses: impressions and ideas. Impressions are our direct experiences: what we see, feel, love, hate, or desire. Ideas are our perceptions as we reflect upon our direct experiences. Hume's separation of impressions from ideas formed the basis of his "skepticism," meaning that we cannot believe that a certain thing exists (such as an idea) unless we can point to the impression (i.e., direct experience) from which that idea is derived.
    See also: Empiricism, John Locke.

problem of causation

    refers to the inability to conclusively state that one event causes another. If one observes, for example, that the greater the formal education the greater the income, one might infer that a causal relationship exists between these two variables. Not necessarily, argues the skeptic Hume, who states that we have observed no necessary connection between the two events. Thus, what justifies our belief in causation?


    According to Hume, we know nothing except through experience. We cannot infer, for example, that the fire will burn our skin unless we have experienced such an event. Scientific theories, therefore, must be based upon direct experiences. It is the purpose of scientific theories, however, to raise the level of abstraction so as to predict similar events (e.g., that a hot iron also will burn our skin). The

problem of induction

    is that we can never be certain that we have induced the correct abstract theory based upon our direct experiences. It might be that some other theory can be induced from our observations.