“Hume's analysis of human belief begins with a careful distinction among our

mental contents:impressions are the direct, vivid, and forceful products of immediate experience; ideas are merely feeble copies of these original impressions. (Enquiry II) Thus, for example, the background color of the screen at which I am now looking is an impression, while my memory of the color of my mother's hair is merely an idea. Since every idea must be derived from an antecedent impression, Hume supposed, it always makes sense to inquire into the origins of our ideas by asking from which impressions they are derived.”

“To this beginning, add the fact that each of our ideas and impressions is entirely separable from every other, on Hume's view. The apparent connection of one idea to another is invariably the result of an association that we manufacture ourselves. (Enquiry III) We use our mental operations to link ideas to each other in one of three ways: resemblance, contiguity, or cause and effect. (This animal looks like that animal; this book is on that table; moving this switch turns off the light, for example.) Experience provides us with both the ideas themselves and our awareness of their association. All human beliefs (including those we regard as cases of knowledge) result from repeated applications of these simple associations.”

“Hume further distinguished between two sorts of belief. (Enquiry IV i) Relations of ideas are beliefs grounded wholly on associations formed within the mind; they are capable of demonstration because they have no external referent. Matters of fact are beliefs that claim to report the nature of existing things; they are always contingent. (This is Hume's version of the a priori / a posteriori distinction.) Mathematical and logical knowledge relies upon relations of ideas; it is uncontroversial but uninformative. The interesting but problematic propositions of natural science depend upon matters of fact. Abstract metaphysics mistakenly (and fruitlessly) tries to achieve the certainty of the former with the content of the latter.”

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