Hume on Space and Time

In Paul Russell (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of David Hume. Oxford University Press USA (2014)
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Abstract

Understanding Hume’s theory of space and time requires suspending our own. When theorizing, we think of space as one huge array of locations, which external objects might or might not occupy. Time adds another dimension to this vast array. For Hume, in contrast, space is extension in general, where being extended is having parts arranged one right next to the other like the pearls on a necklace. Time is duration in general, where having duration is having parts occurring one aft er another like the notes of a song. Hume’s diff erent view stems from his empiricism, his reliance on experience and observation as the foundation of our concepts. Nothing in our experience suggests a single vast array of locations. Rather, we simply notice that bodies are similar insofar as they have lengths that can be compared. Likewise, nothing in our experience suggests a single dimension of time. Rather, we simply notice that diff erent successions are similar insofar as they have durations that can be compared. Th eorizing that these observations show there to be a single multidimensional array goes well beyond the evidence for Hume. As a skeptic, he fi nds himself unable to assent to theories that stray too far beyond the deliverances of the senses. For Hume, the ideas of space and time are each a general idea of simple—partless— objects arrayed in a certain manner. He argues that the structures of the ideas of space and time refl ect the structures of space and time. Th erefore, space and time are not infi - nitely divisible, and they are ways simple objects are arrayed. Consequently, there is no such thing as empty space nor time without change.

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Donald L. M. Baxter
University of Connecticut

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