Hobbes and Hume

Class notes for 7 February

Main points

I pointed out parallels between the first three chapters of Hobbes’s Leviathan and the second and third sections of Hume’s Enquiry. Each distinguishes between sensory experiences and the thoughts or ideas that are derived from them. And each then turns to how our thoughts seem to be connected to one another.

Hume announced that he would explain the major ways that our thoughts follow after one another using only three relations among ideas. He also claimed that he could use putative fact that all ideas are copies of impressions to settle philosophical disputes.

In the next section, Hume will turn to the topic of causation. He will try to argue that we have no better understanding of the relationship between cause and effect than the people Hobbes described as prudent (or superstitious).


If you flip through the Confessions, you’ll see that Augustine regards curiosity with horror. Here’s an example, from Book 3, §5.

How great were the sins on which I spent all my strength, as I followed my impious curiosity! It led me to abandon you and plunge into treacherous abysses, into depths of unbelief and a delusive allegiance to demons, to whom I was offering my evil deeds in sacrifice. And in all these sins your scourges beat upon me. Even within the walls of your church, during the celebration of your sacred mysteries, I once made bold to indulge in carnal desire and conduct that could yield only a harvest of death; and for this you struck me with severe punishments, though none that matched my guilt. O my God, you were immensely merciful to me, and were my refuge from the terrible dangers amid which I wandered, head held high. I withdrew further and further from you, loving my own ways and not yours, relishing the freedom of a runaway slave.

That’s right. In a church.

To find more, go to the InteLex PastMasters database (campus internet connections only), select “Augustine: Works” and search for “curiosity.”

The Missing Shade of Blue

The missing shade of blue poses a problem for any attempt to dismiss putative ideas, such as Descartes’s idea of God or the idea that one thing can have more objective reality than another, on the grounds that they are not derived from sensory experience (“impressions,” in Hume’s lingo).

We spent most of our time debating a solution that Emily proposed. Her idea was that Hume could say that the missing shade of blue is constructed from our experiences of the other shades. If so, perhaps it’s different from the ideas that Hume wished to dismiss on the grounds that they are not appropriately derived from impressions.