Hume's Analysis of "Cause" and the "Two-Definitions" Dispute,'

Journal of the History of Philosophy 11 (3):387-392 (1973)
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Abstract

In his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume offers two definitions of ‘cause’. The first is framed in terms of the precedence and contiguity of objects. The second also mentions precedence and contiguity of objects but speaks also of the mind’s tendency on the appearance of the first object to form the idea of the second. Scholars disagree as to which constitutes Hume’s definition of cause properly speaking. Some hold that the ‘constant conjunction of objects’ version is Hume’s real definition, while others opt for the second, psychological version. I argue that Hume’s method of analysis holds that we explicate the meaning of words by tracing ideas back to their antecedent impressions. Since there are two different sets of antecedent impressions, one consisting of preceding and continuous objects and the other of such objects plus psychological determination, we must attribute to Hume the existence of two non-equivalent definitions of the term.

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