Of the influence of belief

"But tho' education be disclaim'd by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.

Look-a-here: I do not exist! Or more accurately (& more boringly non-provocative): the 'I' does not exist. This claim would be the closest to summing up my system, if there were such a thing as philosophical 'systems' remaining after Hume & Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume's system in Hume's day as "This world does not exist" in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I'm sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thotoughly individualistic thought.

If we have been educated in one thing throughout our life (and, indeed, throughout the history of women & men) it is that the self is the cornerstone of everything (like the family is the cornerstone of the state). It is the Cartesian premise that survived despite all attacks. A dogma deeper than any other. The last stronghold of religion, because what to do with a self that is the center of everything, and can disappear in an instant? Modernity has not created the self but it has enforced the myth of souls and their immateriality; an immaterality that's fully focused on the material. This is the time of character, personality, ethos, passion, ... anything dispassionate is of a suspect nature (even altruism, not being self-centered, is only acceptable if done in an all-consuming personal passion and with unbeatable commitment).

Hume came close (not very many pages after the page from which the above quote is taken) but could not completely give up the self after giving up the certainty, and the necessities, of the external world. The personal was primary. It's the most basic dogma of empricism that everything starts from what we perceive, from sensations - up to and including Carnap (see post on Eigenpsychisches & Fremdpsychisches) the subjective was solidified as the primary from which to construct all the rest.

It is a fallacy. You do not exist. If you think you're sure you exist 'because you feel things', think again! How could you express feeling something if there was not prior to that feeling the notion of what it is to feel something. The self (in any commonly meaningful sense) comes after the linguification of the species denoted 'humans' - linguification of the species is only possible based on complex social interaction and complex social interaction is only possible based on, many, non-verbalized concepts & instincts that are highly standardized by the commonality of a species living in the highly uniform conditions that we call the visible (tactible, audible, edible) world. It's nature that was first and Hume was wrong that we can't conclude anything on it with certainty because of the falibility of our senses and our understanding. We can't but avoid concluding that it was there first and that our notion of selves (&, further than that, our notion of perception) is but an unintended effect of that Cause of which it is impossible for us to ever determine a first cause. 

Common sense has it right therefore: the objective is primary, & the subjective only derivative, even if a derivative with its own direct interests. As we make plastics from crude oil that can be used for things crude oil as such can never be used; words and thoughts & selves & personalities &c & so on create their own applications that are in a way independent on the original principles that have formed their substratum. But one restriction will always apply - the word will cease to exist if one denies this basis on which it has been formed (& our personalities will dissolve if there are no words to share with other instances of a 'word-species').

That's morality, the whole of it. Not that it's impossible to destroy any previous step that was necessary to get to this level of civilization; all of that is possible to various extents as, alas, demonstrated repeatedly and as we speak. But there are things, if destroyed, cannot but destroy this shaky, derived but magnificent notion of the self; or diminish the potential for further evolution, further expressiveness of individuals - which is the same. Morality is unavoidable, not as mere codex or dogma but, as our common sense always had it, as an integral part of what we are. Maybe it's too little for the moralizers that want to control other individuals - but it's invariably too much for the same moralizers when they need to restrain themselves, in their control over their neighbours.

Education is what drives us forward as mankind; it is also what holds us back as the creative individuals that we, essentially, are. But that conclusion will have to wait for yet another time.

There's more to this than the above quasi-poetry. You'll find an early & amateuristic attempt at a reasoned underpinning of the above here:


Unfortunately at that time I didn't have the benefit of Davidson, Quine, Carnap, and Huma to name just a few. Tthe basis is there but the conclusions are foggy at best - which is one of the reasons outside of pedantry to write this.

As you were!

Whilst writing this I was listening to The Klezmatics, Rhythm & Jews, from iTunes.

21:55 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (2) | Tags: self, hume, tones, boldness, learning, mind-mind dualism |  Facebook |


It's nature that was first and Hume was wrong that we can't conclude anything on it with certainty because of the falibility of our senses and our understanding. We can't but avoid concluding that it was there first and that our notion of selves (&, further than that, our notion of perception) is but an unintended effect of that Cause of which it is impossible for us to ever determine a first cause.

I agree that Hume attacks certainty, but I don't think he was an anti-realist; really he may be better classified as stoical than skeptic. Reality does present us with uncertainties, and probability is generally always an issue--even at the ordinary level (what led to this crime reported in the daily newspaper, etc).

There's a naive reading of Hume--even Russell and Popper may have been guilty of that (ie claiming Hume was an ultra-skeptic and denier of all knowledge, including science)-- and a more mature reading, which would make us aware of uncertainty, fallibility, and, contingency. Obviously much "research" presents this problem. Economic or sociological data from 10 years ago may be completely worthless now.

His criticism of the Cartesian self does seem a bit counter-intuitive, however. Yet I don't think we can prove some continuity of self to the degree Descartes believed. We insist on a self, perhaps create one--but the person "you" does not exist as mathematical relationships do.

Hume may be wrong in some respects--I object to his points contra-ethics, and his early version of RealPolitik--but pointing out his errors and refuting him is another matter.

Gepost door: Perezoso | 25-08-09

Hello again, correction needed: I wasn't out to refute Hume (although that would've been in style - I guess - his style). I was piggy-backing (trying, you know, it's always just trying) on his scepticism (yes, rather fallibilism) extending it to something he didn't extend it to (enough imho): the self.

For all his criticism of Descartes, the 'I' of Hume has still center stage. In fact, most of the follow-on was strictly subjectivistic. But: see Kant (if I ever get to his refutation of idealism, not soon methinks)

I hope this exhonorates me of attacking what really I set out to defend ;-)

Gepost door: despreker | 26-08-09

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