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Hume on will and causation

  1. Nov 13, 2004 #1


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    "Some have asserted, that we feel an energy, or power, in our own mind; and that having in this manner acquir'd the idea of power, we transfer that quality to matter, where we are not able immediately to discover it. The motions of our body, and the thoughts and sentiments of our mind, (say they) obey the will; nor do we seek any farther to acquire a just notion of force or power. But to convince us how fallacious this reasoning is, we need only consider, that the will being here consider'd as a cause, has no more a discoverable connexion with its effects, than any material cause has with its proper effect. So far from perceiving the connexion betwixt an act of volition, and a motion of the body; 'tis allow'd that no effect is more inexplicable from the powers and essence of thought and matter. Nor is the empire of the will over our mind more intelligible. The effect is there distinguishable and separable from the cause, and cou'd not be foreseen without the experience of their constant conjunction. We have command over our mind to a certain degree, but beyond that, lose all empire over it"

    from a Treatise of Human Nature Book 1, by David Hume

    Doesn't the last sentence in the above paragraph, go against the entire argument Hume is trying to make? If we do have ANY command over our mind, doesn't that mean that the will is a real cause? Perhaps Hume just made an error including this last sentence, or perhaps an error in translation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2004 #2
    Does he go on to talk about what shape this command takes? I agree it does seem counter to the rest of the paragraph.
  4. Nov 13, 2004 #3


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    Here's a link to the entire text: http://cspar181.uah.edu/RbS/JOB/hume00.html [Broken]

    I think I might just be misunderstanding what he meant.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  5. Nov 13, 2004 #4


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    Well it's certainly not an error of translation, since Hume, a Scot, wrote in English.

    He means we have the feeble power to switch our minds from one thought to another, but no power to make anything happen in the outside world, not even to move our hands. What he is emphasizing is this disconnect between what we think and what we experience.
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