Hume on the Self and His ‘Overall Philosophical Scheme’

  • Udo ThielEmail author
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 16)


This paper focuses on the question of how Hume’s analysis of the special issue of personal identity relates to his philosophy as a whole. In order to examine this question the paper looks at two central and much debated issues: Hume’s account of the self as a bundle of perceptions as introduced in Book I of the Treatise and his second thoughts on personal identity in the Appendix to Book III.

These issues relate to the question of what kind of subjectivity we must assume for a ‘science of the mind’ to be possible, a central issue in a major strand of early modern philosophy. As Galen Strawson’s account is the most recent discussion relating Hume’s analysis of personal identity to his philosophy as a whole, the paper engages with Strawson’s reading of Hume in particular. According to Strawson, Hume realizes in the Appendix that his philosophy as a whole requires a notion of the subject that his empiricist principles do not allow. The paper rejects this reading and argues that Hume notes in the Appendix that his psychological account in terms of causal relations is defective and that he is unable to come up with a better one, given the principles of this philosophy. He is not concerned here with a larger metaphysical issue, just as he was not concerned with a metaphysical question in the Book I section on personal identity.

Lastly, the paper argues that it may still be true that Strawson is right about the problem he identifies in Hume, namely that “his philosophy relies essentially on a richer idea of the mind than his empiricist principles allow him”. Assuming that this is a problem in Hume, it is not, however, the problem that Hume noted in the Appendix. If Hume had seen this as the problem, he would have to reject his “overall philosophical scheme”. Hume does no such thing, however. The second thoughts in the Appendix relate, as far as Hume’ self-understanding is concerned, only to the special issue of personal identity.


Personal Identity Metaphysical Question Transcendental Argument Metaphysical Nature Psychological Account 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Karl-Franzens-Universität GrazGrazAustria

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