Hume on the Prospects for a Scientific Psychology


In an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume distinguishes between two approaches to what we might call psychology: first, one that appeals to common sense to make virtue seem attractive and second one that attempts to describe the principles governing the mind. Within the second approach, he distinguishes two parts: first, a descriptive branch he calls ‘mental geography’ and, second, a branch he compares to Newton’s project in astronomy. I explain the Hume’s vision of Newtonian psychology, and then I explain its application to Hume’s psychological theory in the first Enquiry. Hume’s attempt to explain causal inference in Part 2 of Section 5 is shown to be an attempt at Newtonian psychology: it’s speculative, explanatory, and attempts to enunciate a psychological law. The paper closes by asking whether Hume succeeded in his attempt to put psychology on Newtonian foundations.

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Michael Jacovides
Purdue University


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