David Hume & the Lack of Self

David Hume & the Lack of Self
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  • 0:01 David Hume
  • 0:47 Impressions & Ideas
  • 1:44 Bundle Theory
  • 2:59 Lack of Self
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will discuss David Hume's lack of self concept. In doing this, it will explore his assertions about impressions versus ideas as well as his famous bundle theory.

David Hume

If you open a junior high magazine, I'm guessing you'll only flip a few pages before you read something like 'Improve your self-esteem' or 'Respect yourself.' Yes, the message might be worded a bit differently, but the topic will have something to do with your sense of self. For this reason, I'm guessing the works of David Hume will never get published in today's teen periodicals. To explain what I mean, let's spend today looking at David Hume's theories on lack of self.

For starters, let's get to know David Hume.

David Hume is a renowned 18th-century Scottish empiricist. Breaking him down a bit more, empiricism is the theory that all knowledge is derived from human senses. Stated simply, we only know what we know through our physical experiences - things like sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Impressions & Ideas

Giving us our first clues into his lack of self beliefs, Hume made a distinction between impressions and ideas. This topic is covered in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. According to its pages, impressions are everything that originate from our senses. For instance, our sense of touch tells us a porcupine is sharp. This is an impression. However, many philosophers assert that impressions are the actual physical objects themselves.

On the other hand, ideas are just feeble images of thinking and reasoning based on our impressions. Going back to our porcupine, our impressions tell us it's sharp. From this impression, we form the idea that it's dangerous to the touch.

However, since the concept of 'dangerous' can't necessarily be defined precisely, nor can it be seen, touched, or tasted, it's just an idea, which can't be rationally proven. Using this sort of argument, Hume argues that ideas are always inferior to impressions.

Bundle Theory

Keeping his notions of impressions versus ideas in mind, let's get to his views on lack of self. For this we turn to his bundle theory. In this rather esoteric assertion, Hume argued that properties we can sense are the only real parts of an object. To illustrate this, the physical properties of an apple are often used, or in Hume's words, we'll use the impressions that make up the idea of an apple.

Here we go.

picture of outside and inside of an apple

Without over-thinking things, if this were a real apple, we'd say its properties were red, smooth skin, hard, softer inside, stem, little smooth seeds, etc. All of these impressions give us the idea of an apple.

Now, suppose we removed each of these properties. We take away its stem, we take away its color. We take away its smooth skin, we take away its soft inside. We even take away its seeds. With all this removed, we're left with nothing. Without its physical properties, we have absolutely nothing left to give us the idea of an apple. As the bundle theory states, the properties or impressions of our apple were the only real things we could experience about the apple! Without them, we have nothing to prove there ever was an apple!

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