Hume's Treatment of Denial in the Treatise

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David Hume fancied himself the Newton of the mind, aiming to reinvent the study of human mental life in the same way that Newton had revolutionized physics. And it was his view that the novel account of belief he proposed in his Treatise of Human Nature was one of that work’s central philosophical contributions. From the earliest responses to the Treatise forward, however, there was deep pessimism about the prospects for his account. It is easy to understand the source of this pessimism: The constraints he employed in theorizing stem from his Newtonian ambitions. Constraints such as his copy principle and his decision to rely only on variations in “force and vivacity” for differentiating types of mental states severely limit his available explanatory resources. However, it is one thing to regard an account as untenable, and quite another to understand where it fails. In this paper, I focus on one long-standing objection to Hume’s account — the objection that Hume cannot offer an account of negative belief or denial — as presented by Hume’s contemporary Thomas Reid, as well as more recently by Barry Stroud, and defend Hume from this objection. I argue that Hume both should and does endorse an account of negative belief based in relations of contrariety between contents, rather than between mental activities, and survey the different options available to Hume for spelling out an account of contrary contents
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Archival date: 2020-05-18
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