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Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment$
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Ryu Susato

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748699803

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748699803.001.0001

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‘The Empire of the Imagination’: The Association of Ideas in Hume’s Social Philosophy

‘The Empire of the Imagination’: The Association of Ideas in Hume’s Social Philosophy

(p.27) 2 ‘The Empire of the Imagination’: The Association of Ideas in Hume’s Social Philosophy
Hume's Sceptical Enlightenment

Ryu Susato

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter deals with the philosophical foundations of Hume’s social and political philosophy. Hume scholars have discussed his theory of association of ideas as a purely philosophical one. As many eighteenth-century critics were acutely aware, however, this theory must been considered an aspect of Epicureanism; one which allegedly undermines the spiritual aspect of human reason and virtues by transforming them into the mere consequences of habit and custom. What differentiates Hume’s associationist theory from more materialistic versions lies in the former’s emphasis on the psychological (not physiological) explanation of the workings of imagination. This is closely related to his defence of moral causes and his criticism of natural causes in the essay ‘Of National Characters’, which was to influence William Godwin. Although Duncan Forbes claims that Hume lost interest in his associationist theory after the Treatise, Hume in fact maintained a strong interest in this theory throughout his writings because the workings of imagination were the keystone for Hume in his continual investigations of the cultural diversity of human institutions.

Keywords:   Associationism, association of ideas, imagination, moral causes, Godwin, Epicureanism, materialism

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