Hume's Theory Of Ideas

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Is Hume’s rejection of abstract ideas sound, and is his theory of concepts adequate? The notion of abstract ideas has been used by many philosophers, most notably Locke, to explain concepts/thoughts with general content, i.e. being about a class or set of objects. For example, our grasp of the word “triangle” as being about all triangles can be thought to rely on an abstract idea of triangles. An adequate account of concepts is especially important (and challenging) for Empiricist philosophers (such as Locke, Berkeley and Hume), as they cannot rely on a Rationalist-style belief in ethereal, inbuilt intellectual content . Hume follows Berkeley in his rejection of general abstract ideas – both arguing that concepts are always connected to one…show more content…
It is only the customary usage of the same name linking the particulars that fall under a concept. The particulars are all originally customarily attached to a word due to some sort of resemblance (a problematic notion, as noted by philosophers such as Goodman ), but it’s only the customary usage of the word that allows a Humean subject to hear “triangle”, think of an equilateral triangle, and then decide that not all triangles are equilateral. If left only to resemblance, the subject may well just think all triangles are equilateral, or even think that all two dimensional shapes are triangles. Thus the generally referring object must be the name: a word. It’s unclear how Hume thinks of names, words or language as a whole. According to Hume’s theory, we must at least have impressions (and the corresponding ideas) of the spoken or written manifestations of words. Obviously, something unites these different impressions of manifestations of a word for us to know that they are the same word with the same meaning. But under Hume’s system, we are left with a circular explanation: the concept of the word is defined by the customary application of the word to itself. Under this conception, language is not an adequate tool to determine which particulars belong within a concept. Regardless of this semantic confusion, without a conception of language that is not idea-based, (III) would also seem to rule out a word from mentally representing every possible quality of concept-instances. Thus, without further development of a theory of language, this understanding of Hume’s theory is bizarrely both circular and
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