Section 2

The Origin of Ideas

by David Hume Icon

There is a big difference between the mind’s perceptions:

  • when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth
  • when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination.

These faculties may mimic the perceptions of the senses.

  • But they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment.

They represent their object in so lively a manner, that we could almost say we feel or see it.

But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable.

Poetry can never paint natural objects as to make the description be taken for real.

  • The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

A like distinction runs through all the other perceptions of the mind.

An angry man is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of anger.

The idea of a person being in love is different from actually being in love.

When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror.

  • It copies its objects truly.
  • But the colours which it employs are faint and dull, in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed.

It requires no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.

{{ s v=“12” }} Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into 2 classes:

  • Thoughts or Ideas
    • These are less forcible and lively
  • Impressions
    • These are our more lively perceptions
    • Examples are those that we hear, see, feel, love, hate, desire, or will.

{{ s v=“13” }} Human thoughts are most unbound. They escape all human power and authority and not even restrained within the limits of nature and reality.

We can imagine:

  • monsters
  • join incongruous shapes and appearances

These cost the imagination no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects.

And while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty;

the thought can in an instant transport us into the most distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the unbounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion.

What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.

But though seems to possess this unbounded liberty,

our thought is really

  • confined within very narrow limits

All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience.

When we think of a golden mountain, we join 2 consistent ideas:

  • gold
  • mountain

We have known gold and mountain in the past.

A virtuous horse is made up of:

  • virtue
  • horse

We can know virtue. We can unite it to a horse, which we also know.

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