By D. G. C. Macnabb
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Extra info for David Hume: His Theory of Knowledge and Morality
He puts the matter most succinctly in Treatise Book I, Part II, Sect. VI. "To reflect on anything simply, and to reflect on it as existent, are nothing different from each other. . Whatever we conceive, we conceive to be existent. Any idea we please to form is the idea of a being; and the idea of a being is any idea we please to form". It is, therefore, logically necessary, when we conceive of anything, to conceive it as existing. But this is just what the defenders of the ontological argument said was a peculiarity of the conception of God.
It becomes increasingly clear as Hume's -77- argument goes on that it is the "firmness" and "steadiness", characteristic of habitual assent, rather than the brightness of the image or the degree of felt conviction, which is the essential characteristic of a genuine belief, and which only constant conjunction in experience can produce. Turning to the relations of resemblance and contiguity, he points out that these may operate in two ways. First, an impression, for instance the sight of a portrait of my friend, or of the last milestone on the road home, may evoke and enliven the ideas of my friend, or of my home.
There is no object which implies the existence of any other, if we consider these objects in themselves, and never look beyond the ideas which we form of them. , demonstrative or intuitive knowledge like that of mathematics) and would imply the absolute contradiction and impossibility of conceiving anything different. But as all distinct ideas are separable, it is evident there can be no impossibility of that kind. When we pass from a present impression to the idea of any object, we might possibly -60- have separated the idea from the impression, and have substituted any other idea in its room".