Hume Workshop (Apr 30)

Hume Workshop Poster

“Bradley, Hume, and Identity-in-Difference” by Donald L. M. Baxter (2.00-3.15pm)

In Appearance and Reality Bradley refers to what he calls “the old dilemma”: that attributions of identity are either so tautologous as to fail to be judgments, or are contradictions. Bradley’s approach is to appeal to identity-in-difference. “It takes two to make the same.” We nowadays will hear such claims in a Fregean way and will hear Bradley as failing to distinguish the truth of an identity statement from its informativeness. I suggest rather that we hear Bradley’s claim in a Humean way. Hume gave a compelling argument for identity-in-difference, though not in those terms. He raises a problem that cannot be understood nor addressed in the Fregean way, that is very like Bradley’s old dilemma. I’ve called it “Hume’s Difficulty concerning Identity.” How can we conceive there to be a single thing, on the one hand, and several distinct things, on the other, that are somehow identical? In a previous discussion of Bradley, I’ve called this same problem the “Problem of Complex-Unities.” Both Bradley and Hume thought a solution that did not conceal some contradiction was impossible. I myself think that Hume’s presentation of the problem suggests a genuine solution along the lines of my theories of Many-One Identity and of Aspects. For now, though, I just want us to hear Bradley’s old dilemma in a Humean way.

“Why Distinctions of Reason are a Real Problem for Hume’s Separability Principle” by Hsueh Ming Qu (3.30-4.45pm)

Commentators such as Kemp Smith (1941, p.256), Mendelbaum (1974, p.246), and Bricke (1980, p.71) have taken the distinctions of reason to pose either a counterexample to or a limitation of scope on the Separability Principle, a suggestion that has been convincingly addressed by various accounts such as Garrett (1997), Hoffman (2011), and Baxter (2011). However, I argue in this paper that there are two notions of ‘distinction of reason’, one between particular instantiations (token distinctions of reason) and one between general ideas (type distinctions of reason). Discussion of the distinctions of reason in the secondary literature has without fail focused on token distinctions of reason, but I will argue that type distinctions of reason prove problematic for Hume’s Separability Principle. In the end, I find a way around this problem that is consonant with Hume’s account of general ideas, but which can hardly be said to be an account which he explicitly or even implicitly endorsed.

“The Concealed Operations of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From The Inside Out” by Jay Garfield (5.00-5.45pm)

I am about to start work on a book of this title. I want to share with you the guiding principles that motivate my reading of Hume in that book and the way they will inform my interpretation of Hume’s project. This is not even work-in-progress; it is work-in-imagination.  So, I am looking for advice.

About the Speakers:

BaxterDonald L. M. Baxter
is Professor and Department Head in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984. He works in Metaphysics and Early Modern Western Philosophy. His monograph is Hume’s Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise (Routledge 2008). He recently co-edited with Aaron J. Cotnoir an anthology on the metaphysics of parts and wholes entitled Composition as Identity (Oxford University Press 2014).

Hsueh QuHsueh Qu joined the Philosophy Department at NUS in 2015. Previously, he received his Ph.D. from New York University, and completed his undergraduate and B.Phil. at Oxford University. He is originally from Malaysia. His research interest is Early Modern, primarily the scholarship of David Hume; he also has interests in Kant, Ethics, and Metaphysics. In this, as in all his other endeavors, he asks you to forgive him his failings, for he is only Humean after all.

Jay GarfieldJay L Garfield is Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Professor of Humanities and Head of Studies in Philosophy at Yale-NUS College, Professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore, Recurrent Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Smith College, Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central University of Tibetan Studies.  He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. Garfield’s most recent books are Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy (2015), Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals (with Jan Westerhoff 2015), The Moon Points Back: Buddhism, Logic and Analytic Philosophy (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest and Koji Tanaka 2015), Moonpaths: Ethics in the Context of Conventional Truth (with the Cowherds 2015) and Western Idealism and its Critics  (2011). His book Examination of the Percept: Dignāga’s Alaṃbanāparikṣā and its Commentaries (with Douglas Duckworth M David Eckel, Yeshes Thabkhas and Sonam Thakchöe) is under review and his book with Nalini Bhushan on Minds Without Fear: Philosophy in the Indian Renaissance is under contract. His next big project is a book on Hume’s Treatise to be called The Concealed Operations of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From The Inside Out.



Hume Workshop (21 Feb)

The Philosophy Department will be organising a one-day workshop on David Hume:

[Talk 1. 2.00 – 3.10pm]

Ideas and Impressions Revisited by Tamás Demeter (Hungarian Academy of the Sciences), Isaac Manasseh Meyer Fellow, 11-25 Feb 2013

It is probably the first textbook wisdom on Hume’s philosophy that impressions and ideas are not different qualitatively but only in degree, i.e. in their force, liveliness and vivacity. Based on textual evidence, I am going to argue that there is a crucial qualitative distinction to be drawn between the two groups of perceptions: ideas, but not impressions, are distinct and atomistic. In my talk I will illustrate the significance of this difference in relation to the example of the ‘missing shade of blue’, arguing that the example itself presupposes this qualitative distinction. Then I will generalize the consequences of this insight and argue that it has implications fundamental to our understanding of Hume’s psychology as it drives toward a reading of Hume as a faculty psychologist rather than the arch-associationist he is frequently taken to be.

About the speaker: Tamás Demeter is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Philosophical Research, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Previously, he taught at the Universities of Miskolc, Budapest (Eötvös University), Cambridge, and Pécs, and has held research fellowships at the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh (as a Mellon Visiting Fellow), Helsinki, and Wassenaar. In 2008-2010 he was the Lorenz Krüger Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. He has written extensively on early modern philosophy and science, the philosophy of psychology, and Central European intellectual history.

[Talk 2. 3.15 – 4.20pm]

Hume’s Doxastic Involuntarism by Hsueh Qu (New York University)

In this talk, I examine three mutually inconsistent claims that are commonly attributed to Hume: (a) that all beliefs are involuntary; (b) that some beliefs are subject to normative appraisal; and (c) that ‘ought implies can’. I examine the textual support for such ascription, and the options for dealing with the puzzle posed by their inconsistency. First, I will put forward some evidence that Hume maintains each of the three positions outlined above. I then examine what I call the ‘prior voluntary action’ solution (henceforth PVA) endorsed by Passmore (1980), Norton (1982, 1994, 2002), Falkenstein (1997), Owen (1999), Williams (2004), and McCormick (2005), among others. I argue that PVA in any form fails to account for synchronic rationality. I then raise more specific objections depending on how we disambiguate PVA. PVA can be read as either granting beliefs derivative voluntariness, or as denying their normative significance; the former version fails to satisfactorily accommodate even diachronic evaluations of beliefs, while the latter falls to a regress given Hume’s thesis regarding the inability of actions and passions to possess epistemic normativity. I then briefly propose to reject (c) instead for three reasons: first, the weakness of textual support for such an ascription; secondly, the implications of Hume’s is/ought distinction; and thirdly, Hume’s explicit recognition of the irrelevance of involuntariness to normative evaluation in the moral case.

About the speaker: Hsueh Qu is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at New York University. He previously completed the BPhil and PPE degrees at the University of Oxford. He is currently working on a PhD dissertation on normativity in Hume’s philosophy.

[Talk 3. 4.30 – 5.30pm]

‘No species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life…’: Recent Work on Hume’s Epistemology of Testimony by Axel Gelfert (National University of Singapore)

Recent years have witnessed a thorough reassessment of Hume’s views concerning one of the most pervasive sources of knowledge: the testimony of others. Traditionally, Hume had been cast in the role of ‘global reductionist’, who demands that each of us must have first-hand, non-testimonial evidence of the reliability of (relevant reference classes of) testimony, before accepting any new instance of it. Indeed, most contemporary epistemologists of testimony –reductionists and anti-reductionists alike – still take it for granted that this is Hume’s position. However, a number of scholars have recently disputed the accuracy of this interpretation of Hume on testimony. The upshot of these new interpretations is that Hume is not nearly as ‘individualistic’ about what constitutes good grounds for empirical knowledge as has traditionally been thought; rather, he is willing to regard testimonial acceptance as a natural (default) response to testimony – given certain general constraints (e.g., exclusion of ‘miraculous’ testimony, prevalence of favourable social conditions, etc.). Support for this reassessment comes from textual evidence (especially if one looks beyond Hume’s Enquiry), Hume’s account of the role of sympathy in belief formation, his take on curiosity as the love of knowledge, and recent attempts to interpret Hume as a virtue epistemologist.

About the speaker: Axel Gelfert is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at NUS. He received his PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge in 2006, and has held visiting research fellowships at Collegium Budapest (Institute of Advanced Study) and the University of Edinburgh (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities). His main areas of research are historical and social epistemology and the philosophy of science and technology.