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The Impossibility of Metaphysics Essay

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In his work An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume outlines the problems inherent to the large body of philosophy he describes as the “accurate and abstract” philosophy, and in particular to metaphysical speculations. Seeing that many of the philosophers who endeavor in this heavy metaphysical speculation (Aristotle, Locke and Malebranche being particular examples) fall into errors that lead to absurd or counter-intuitive conclusions, Hume hopes to limit metaphysical speculation to a realm where it is less prone to such a fate. Hume attempts to reign the difficult kind of philosophy into the service of the body of work he contrasts it with, the “easy and obvious,” by establishing a method and clarity for metaphysics that he hopes will lead to the kind of progress that science has seen. Over the course of his inquiry, though, Hume seems at varying times to need more metaphysics or less, at times denying a rational basis for causation, and at others working from the notion of causation as a necessary premise in his evaluations and arguments. The overall effect this has on his project concerning metaphysics is unclear, and in the course of this paper, I will outline his general argument and commitments, in particular the emphasis he puts on both experience and the scope of human reason, reconstruct his argument from these commitments, and finally evaluate the arguments for Hume’s conclusions about metaphysics.
Hume’s first step in part two of the Inquiry is to draw a line between impressions and ideas, with impressions being the experience of sensory perception, and ideas being recollections of prior impressions, albeit with less vivacity. Immediately this excludes innate ideas from Hume’s model of the mind, and, while th...


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...ed to human reason can be demonstrated adequately against, the only way revisions to Hume’s model of the mind can come about are through experiencing directly the mind’s capability to extend beyond the limitations he ascribes to it; mainly regarding what the mind brings to experience. Even if it is the case that the mind brings a kind of framework or some other content to experience from which it can anticipate the things it can experience a priori, we would have to experience that ability before we could reasonably conclude that the mind is capable of such feats in light of Hume’s arguments. The only real options available for reintroducing the possibility of metaphysics are to either experience a new capability of the mind beyond Hume’s description, or to push Hume’s commitments to a point where they produce an absurdity, and can be rejected by Hume’s own criteria.


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