Identity, Continued Existence, and the External World

In Saul Traiger (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Hume's Treatise. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. pp. 114–132 (2006)
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To the question whether Hume believed in mind-independent physical objects (or as he would put it, bodies), the answer is Yes and No. It is Yes when Hume writes “We may well ask, What causes induce us to believe in the existence of body? but ’tis in vain to ask, Whether there be body or not? That is a point, which we must take for granted in all our reasonings.” However the answer is No after inquiring into the causes of that belief, when he writes, “What then can we look for from this confusion of groundless and extraordinary opinions but error and falsehood? And how can we justify to ourselves any belief we repose in them?” My view is that Hume’s Yes and No answers can best be accounted for by seeing him as a Pyrrhonian skeptic in the tradition of Sextus Empiricus. This interpretation, while finding considerable truth in the various positions canvassed, is closest to those of Norton, Fogelin, and especially Popkin.

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Donald L. M. Baxter
University of Connecticut


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