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Theory Of Self: Kant Vs Hume

1922 words - 8 pages

The concept of the ‘self’ is regarded as an “entity which persists through time and change” (Grayling, pg. 540), in spite of other variations, albeit unnecessary ones, that occur in a person. Ones self is alleged to be the backbone of “thinking, perceiving, memory, and the like – the ultimate ‘bearers’ of our psychological properties.” (Grayling, pg. 540) The idea of ‘self’ is a topic of important philosophical debate, and one which Kant and Hume dexterously engage themselves in. This essay will begin by outlining Hume’s philosophical approach and his theory of self. Following that Kant’s theory of self will be looked at.
Hume held the belief that all the contents of the human mind were derived through experience only. He divided the mind’s perceptions into two groups, impressions and ideas. He declared that “the difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind” (Hume, pg. 10). Impressions are those perceptions which are the most strong, “which enter with most force and violence” (Hume, pg. 10), while ideas are their “less forcible and lively” counterpart. Impressions are directly experienced, they result from inward and outward sentiments. Ideas, conversely, are copying mechanisms which reproduce sense data. They are formulated based upon the previously perceived impressions “By ideas, I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning” (Hume, pg. 10).
Hume proposes that the notion of the self has no empirical foundation. He postulates that all ideas are a result of a prior impression. Following this he posits that since the idea of self relies on an impression, this impression must in some way endure throughout a persons whole life, since an idea of self is meant to continue for the duration of someone’s life. Yet, upon introspection, it is clear that there is not one impression that a person consistently retains for the whole of their life. That is to say one’s impressions are continuously fluctuating each moment of the day, from pleasure to pain, “For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call my self, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure, color or sound.” (Hume, pg. 145) Therefore, according to Hume, if the concept of ‘self’ is dependent on a constant, everlasting impression, but there is not a single impression that does persevere over the course of one’s life, there can then be no true idea of self “...I never catch my self, distinct from some such perception.” (Hume, pg. 145)
Fundamentally from this argument, what Hume is stating is that there is not a persevering single thing that one can feasibly claim to be a ‘self’. Hume argues that people are basically an assortment of various perceptions, with each moment bearing a new experience and sensation. Hume actually uses the analogy of the mind as a manner of theatre in which “…several perceptions successively make their...

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