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Hume’s Passions: System II

In examining those ingredients, which are capable of uniting with love and hatred, I begin to be sensible, in some measure, of a misfortune, that has attended every system of philosophy, with which the world has been yet acquainted. ’Tis commonly found, that in accounting for the operations of nature by any particular hypothesis; among a number of experiments, that quadrate exactly with the principles we wou’d endeavour to establish; there is always some phænomenon, which is more stubborn, and will not so easily bend to our purpose.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, book II, part II, section VI

Is hume conceding flaws in his own system?

…no:

But as the perceptions of the mind are perfectly known, and I have us’d all imaginable caution in forming conclusions concerning them, I have always hop’d to keep clear of those contradictions, which have attended every other system. Accordingly the difficulty, which I have at present in my eye, is no-wise contrary to my system; but only departs a little from that simplicity, which has been hitherto its principal force and beauty.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, book II, part II, section VI

Hume is being vain (literally1): his system is the best, he sustains, because of the certainty of the data given by perception, and because the “laws” he deducts are so simple.

The philosopher does not admit that he was faulty, relying on naturalist arguments to clear the apparent contradictions affecting his system (which are mere variants compatible, even coherent with his system):

As nature has given to the body certain appetites and inclinations, which she encreases, diminishes, or changes according to the situation of the fluids or solids; she has proceeded in the same manner with the mind.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, book II, part II, section VI

But Hume was wrong: his system of four passions was too good (simple2) to be true (complete).


  1. Hume is being vain, literally, in his own words: “.” (#085) ↩︎

  2. Corollary: [simplicity]({< ref simplicity.en >}}) participates in the beauty of something. ↩︎