Philosopher David Hume on Sceptical Solutions of these Doubts Summary

SECTION V: Sceptical Solution of these Doubts

34. One's passion for philosophy, as for religion, can bring an assumption that one is aiming at virtue when all he is doing is using the bias of his natural nature. Like a Stoic we may obtain merely a more refined system of selfishness and use reason to make us less virtuous and receive less social enjoyment. We may study the nature of riches and honour; but we may find ourselves doing so not as a sign of our disdain for the bustling of a world and the drudgery of business, but to find a rational pretense to gain such riches and honours without such bustle and drudgery. One philosophy which lacks disorderly passion and enthusiasm is the Academic or Sceptical. Such philosophers talk of doubt and the withholding of judgment and of the danger of making hasty decisions by fixing narrow boundaries on enquiries concerning our understanding. Their philosophy is in contrast to that which is arrogant, pretentious, and superstitious. It controls all passions except the love of truth, which can never be in excess. This philosophy is given such groundless reproach by public hatred and resentment. It gains few partisans by flattering no irregular passions; it gains many enemies who stigmatise it as libertine and irreligious because it opposes so many follies.

35-36. Merely because one event precedes another should not lead to the conclusion that the one is the cause and the other the effect. It is custom or habit that leads to conclusions when a person observes that one object or event is constantly conjoined to another. It is custom alone which causes us to draw from a thousand instances an inference that we are not able to draw from one. All inferences from experience are effects not of reasoning, but of custom. It is custom that makes experience useful as we expect for the future similar outcomes from the past. Without custom there is no speculation of anticipation, and without that there would be no action.

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37-38. Without the finding of remains of pompous buildings in a desert country there would be no conclusion that the country had once had civilised inhabitants. If I ask why you believe any matter of fact you must give me a reason, and to that reason you must give another reason. But at some point you will not be able to proceed back in infinitum. If you receive benefits, you will feel the passion of love. If you meet with injuries, you will feel the passion of hatred. Reason can neither produce nor prevent this.

Part II

39-40. Nothing is more free than human imagination. Without limit it can mix, compound, separate and divide ideas. Fiction is different from belief in that it lacks sentiment or feeling. Belief is, then, a more vivid, lively, and firm conception of an object than imagination can ever attain. The faculty of imagination lacks the manner of the conception of ideas and their feeling to the mind. The fictions of the imagination lack the customary conjunction of an object to the memory or senses that belief in matters of fact has.

41-45. The principles of connection can be reduced to three: Resemblance, Contiguity and Causation. These are the only bonds that bring our thoughts together for reflection or discourse. We see a picture of an absent friend and the resemblance produces the effect on our passions. We see the son of a friend who has been long dead, and resemblance revives correlative ideas and our thoughts go back to past events with our friend. The ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion enliven the ideas through the senses in motions, postures, and actions. Devotion, which otherwise might decay, is enlivened. After being two hundred miles from our home, we travel towards it and when a few miles away our reflections produce ideas that the greater distance did not offer. This is why superstitious people want to be near the relics of the saints. When a sword is pointed at me, the idea of wound comes to me through the connections of causation which are absent when a glass of wine is offered to me. We infer like effects from like causes and like causes from like effects. These influences occur not from the slow operations of reason that would not appear to any degree in childhood. These transitions of thought do not proceed by reason, but by custom and experience, just as nature taught us the use of our limbs without the need for knowledge of our muscles and nerves by which they move.

The distinction between reason and experience, however, is superficial if not erroneous. Observation must be established by some process of thought and reflection in order to distinguish its circumstances and trace its consequences. But experience is ultimately the foundation of our conclusions. It is the history of Nero which makes us dread a like tyranny. Maxims of justice require experience to show their proper use. A little experience (in youth) begins the journey to which a lot of experience (through age) takes one a long way towards proper application.

Philosopher David Hume on Sceptical Solutions of these Doubts Summary

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