Hume's treatise and the theory of ideas Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Kelahan, Emily M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • Hume's Treatise of Human Nature has long been evaluated in terms of the skepticism-naturalism interpretive dichotomy. According to this interpretation, there are two distinct and often diametrically opposed Humes: a skeptic concerned to eradicate dubious metaphysical views and a naturalist concerned to develop a science of human nature. The skeptical Hume applies the theory of ideas developed in Book I of the Treatise to the phenomena he seeks to explain and nearly obliterates them. That leaves the science of human nature weak and without phenomena to explain in Books II and III. The naturalistic Hume, in contrast, is able to develop a robust science of human nature in Books II and III of the Treatise, but does so at the expense of completely abandoning the theory of ideas developed in Book I. In short, the familiar skepticism-naturalism interpretive dichotomy has it that Hume either successfully developed a science of human nature without the theory of ideas or else stubbornly held on to his theory of ideas at the cost of a robust science of human nature. This is a false dichotomy. There is one Hume, not two, who both adheres to the theory of ideas throughout the Treatise and develops a robust science of human nature. Hume accomplished much with little in his Treatise. Most importantly, he demolished extravagant metaphysical theories of various types and developed a robust science of human nature. Both feats were accomplished via his oft criticized, but little understood theory of ideas. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the theory of ideas stands not in opposition to Hume's naturalistic project of developing a science of human nature, but rather is the foundation of that very project. I develop and defend an interpretation of Hume's theory of ideas according to which it succeeds in eradicating dubious metaphysical views, but also supports, rather than undermines his science of human nature.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy."
  • Nelson, Alan Jean
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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