Hume’s Copy Principle

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Hume’s Copy Principle

“All our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones.” The above assertion by Hume is representative of the foundational concept of causation. Hume belongs to the empirical school of thought that presupposes that behavior is a consequence of experience. For this reason, the dullest perception an individual experiences is the strongest memory of that sensation. Impressions are collected through the sensory faculties whereas an idea is a reflection of the perception felt during the experience. Barring any damage to the mind, an individual remembering the pain of burning should not suffer the same sensation in its fullness as when they were experiencing it. The sense of touch is the faculty that is utilized to collect the empirical data from the environment. Hume claimed that ideas do not matter how great have constituent elements founded on experience.

Ideas are a result of creating relations among experience through causation. A green monkey is not a new phenomenon as the impression of the color green experienced from nature is related to the animal that a person or individuals in the vicinity have experienced and ascertained of his existence. Ortí and Nadal (78) assert that the two perceptions are merged to create a new idea subscribing to one of Hume’s major propositions the copy principle. The greatest evidence to the copy principle is the vivid landscape of utopian or dystopian landscape in imaginary worlds that feature in films. These environments comprise of modification of the earth’s environment to conform to the creator’s impression of a fallen civilization and a mysterious land. Similarly, poetry with a vivid description of a passionate encounter does not match the intensity of the actual experience. The close examination of the creative power of the mind reveals that it is founded on compounded experiences. Furthermore, for the imagination to conceive a monster it leverages the familiar impressions. As a result, the conception of a monster by a child may equate his abusive father-in-law. Millican (259) reiterates that despite the liberal nature of the mind and its accompanying ideas, it remains grounded in reality. The impressions are not necessarily collected by the individual’s senses, as authenticated experiences of another person communicated to them will suffice. Regardless, the complexity of the foundation of any idea is an experience. Given technological advancements, the world has a database of collective experiences that facilities the emergence of intricate ideas formed by a network of relations between perceptions. While the copy principle may have been perceived as rigid, utilizing modern analogies has revealed its versatility.

Hume highlights that the mind creates associates between ideas through the natural and philosophical relations. The mind utilizes connections that provide the least resistance hence the utility of natural relations. There are three types of natural relations ranging from contiguity, resemblance to cause and effect. Causation is the type that the mind utilizes with the highest frequency. Schafer (986) posits that natural relations entail the artificial juxtaposition of sensations that are constant conjunctions. However, the two types of connections usually overlap. For instance, apart from contrariety, resemblance and cause-effect also count as philosophical relations where the perceptions are associated with an underlying principle outside of artificial juxtaposition. The natural relations premise being raw sensation makes their ideas and secondary perceptions more vivid. The relations of cause and effect are instrumental in reasoning as it identifies relations that exist between objects of comparison. In this instance, objects references to perceptions of the mind, sensations, and ideas. Given the absence of a standard quality common to all mental events or objects, cause and effects hinge on relations. The reasoning is founded on philosophical relations as it attempts to reveal impressions beyond the primary demonstrative knowledge.

Individuals with a deficiency in their perceptive capabilities can acquaint themselves with sensations through ideas. While a blind man is inept in perceiving color the concept of brown can be introduced to their faculty through an idea and corroborated by the other senses. He may begin to acknowledge that blue is rougher or smells different from other colors in the spectrum. Authentic ideas can be broken down into their constituent experiences. The copy principle argues that conception is hinged on access to the mind as explained by Landy (89). A person cannot have an idea of an experience that is foreign to him in terms of exposure to through experience, information of the character. For instance, selfish individuals cannot conceptualize the height of generosity, as it is an unfamiliar sensation. It follows that creating natural or philosophical relations is problematic given the experiential vacuum. The more susceptible to the senses an encounter the stronger the idea of a similar situation after the fact.

            The causation approach has come under criticism for its over-dependence on experience to approximate the future. The inductive method favored by Hume proved to have several limitations that he himself acknowledged existed. For this reason, he encountered the problem of induction where though relations between mental events present themselves they may not always manifest. Wright (181) asserts that the foundation of all rock being solid may be challenged when a liquid one exists. According to the copy principle, a cause can never predict an effect when an experience is absent. A constant conjunction of experiences is not necessary once a principle is established. For instance, a child’s fear of flame will persist in Humean account even without establishing the constant relation of fire to pain. Despite this shortcoming, Hume did not start exploring other sources of knowledge such as intuition.

While causation skeptics attempt to map the limitations of this school of thought, the causation reductions attempt to validate Hume’s assertion. For instance, they assert that they are connections to material experiences even in the subatomic levels yet to be discovered. Hume’s rationale is consistent with the extent of man’s interaction with the environment. Consequently, it can be argued that a newborn’s inherent compassion for their mother is a result of the previous experience of care in the womb. This line of thought implies that a child that was nearly aborted will despise their mother from the outset. The criticism of the copy principle has helped to strengthen it. The mind of an individual has little grasp of abstract ideas as opposed to the more vivid concepts gotten through perception.

Aside from this, it is possible to note that the evidence used by Hume to support his idea constitutes the argument that an individual has previously experienced a specific impression with a definite content, despite the fact that impressions tend to be infamously transitory. Memory, in accordance to Hume’s suppositions, generates ideas only; however, it fails to create past impressions that can be applied for direct comparisons. As such, trying to determine whether a specific idea was duplicated exactly as it is from an impression or not is a form of intangible irrationality. Possibly, it is agreeable that Hume’s form of memory utilizes ideas in an effort to represent specific objects, including impressions that possess certain filling, as having existed at one point. Nonetheless, using any rational premise of memory, it is clear that memories depict how objects were earlier at a later point not co-present with those recollections for comparison.

Work Cited

Landy, David. “A Puzzle about Hume’s Theory of General Representation.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol.54, no. 2, 2016, pp. 257-282.

Millican, Peter. “Hume’s Chief Argument.” The Oxford Handbook of Hume. 2016.

Ortí, Anna, and N. Nadal. “Hume, The Problem Of Content, And The Idea Of The Identical Self.” Societate si Politica, vol. 10, no. 2, 2016.

Schafer, Karl. “Hume’s Unified Theory of Mental Representation.” European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 23, no. 4, 2015, pp. 978-1005.

Wright, Crispin. “Abstraction and Epistemic Entitlement: On the Epistemological Status of Hume’s Principle.” 2017, pp. 161-185.

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