Section 9

The Effects of Other Relations and Other Habits

by David Hume Icon

We must turn the subject of belief on every side to find some new points of view from which we may illustrate such fundamental principles.

Philosophers are correct in having a scrupulous hesitation to receive any new hypothesis.

This hesitation is so necessary to the examination of truth.

It deserves to be complied with.

It requires that:

  • every argument be produced to satisfy that hesitation, and
  • every objection removed, which may stop them in their reasoning.


  • deserves to be complied with, and
  • requires that every:
    • argument be produced to satisfy them, and
    • objection be removed which may stop them in their reasoning.

Besides cause and effect, the two relations of resemblance and contiguity are often considered as:

  • associating principles of thought, and
  • capable of conveying the imagination from one idea to another.

When of one of two objects, connected together by these relations, is immediately presented to the memory or senses, the mind:

  • is conveyed to its co-relative through the associating principle, and
  • conceives it with an additional force and vigour through the united operation of the associating principle and the present impression.

All this I have observed to confirm by analogy, my explanation of our judgments on cause and effect.

But this very argument can be turned against me.

It can be used to object to my hypothesis.

For if all the parts of that hypothesis were true, that these three species of relations are derived from the same principles, then:

  • their effects in informing and enlivening our ideas are the same, and
  • belief is nothing but a more forcible and vivid conception of an idea.

It follows that that action of the mind may not only be derived from the relation of cause and effect, but also from those of contiguity and resemblance.

There is some error in that reasoning which leads us into such difficulties because we find by experience that:

  • belief arises only from causation, and
  • we can draw no inference from one object to another, except those connected by this relation.

My solution to this objection is that whatever is presented to the memory that:

  • strikes the mind with vivacity, and
  • resembles an immediate impression must:
  • become of considerable moment in all the operations of the mind, and
  • easily distinguish itself above the mere fictions of the imagination.

We create a system of these impressions or ideas of the memory, comprehending whatever we remember.

Every part of that system, joined to the present impressions, we call a ‘reality’.

But the mind does not stop not here.

The mind finds that there is another system of perceptions connected by custom, or by the relation of cause or effect, with this system of perceptions.

The mind proceeds to consider the ideas of this other system.

It feels determined to view these ideas.

It creates them into a new system since the custom or relation that determines it does not allow change.

It likewise calls them as ‘realities’.

  • The first of these systems is the object of the memory and senses.
  • The second is of the judgment.


  • peoples the world, and
  • makes us acquainted with existences beyond the reach of the senses and memory, as they are removed in time and place.

Through judgment, I:

  • paint the universe in my imagination, and
  • fix my attention on any part of it I please.

I form an idea of Rome, which I do not see nor remember.

But this idea is connected with such impressions which I remember from the books of travelers and historians.

I place this idea of Rome in a certain situation on the idea of the globe.

I join to it the conception of a government, religion, and manners.

I look back and consider its first foundation, revolutions, successes, and misfortunes.

All this which I believe, are nothing but ideas.

Their force and settled order arises from custom and the relation of cause and effect.

These distinguish themselves from the other ideas, which are merely the offspring of the imagination.

As to the influence of contiguity and resemblance:

  • if the contiguous and resembling object is comprehended in this system of realities, these two relations will:
  • assist cause and effect, and
  • infix the related idea with more force in the imagination.

I shall carry my observation a step farther.

I will assert that even where the related object is feigned, the relation will:

  • enliven the idea, and
  • increase its influence.

A poet can form a stronger description of the Elysian fields if he views a beautiful meadow or garden.

In other times, he can imagine himself in these fabulous regions, so that he may enliven his imagination by the feigned contiguity.

I cannot exclude the relations of resemblance and contiguity from operating on the fancy in this way.

But when single, their influence is very feeble and uncertain.

The relation of cause and effect is needed to persuade us of any real existence.

This persuasion is also needed to give force to these other relations.

There is only a small effect on the mind when, upon the appearance of an impression, we:

  • feign another object arbitrarily, and
  • give it a relation to the impression by our mere goodwill and pleasure.

There no reason why, on the return of the same impression, we should place the same object in the same relation to it.

The mind does not need to feign any resembling and contiguous objects.

If it does, there little need for it to always confine itself to the objects without any variation.

Such a fiction is founded on so little reason, that nothing but pure caprice can determine the mind to form it.

That principle is fluctuating and uncertain.

Thus, it is impossible that it can ever operate with any degree of force and constancy.

The mind foresees and anticipates the change.

It feels:

  • the looseness of its actions from the very first instant, and
  • its weak hold of its objects.

This imperfection is very sensible in every instance.

It further increases by experience and observation, when we:

  • compare the several instances we may remember, and
  • form a general rule against the reposing any assurance in those momentary glimpses of light, which arise in the imagination from a feigned resemblance and contiguity.

The relation of cause and effect has all the opposite advantages.

The objects it presents are fixed and unalterable.

The impressions of the memory never change in any considerable degree.

Each impression draws along with it a precise idea, which takes its place in the imagination as something solid and real, certain and invariable.

The thought is always determined to pass from the impression to the idea, and from that particular impression to that particular idea, without any choice or hesitation.

I am not content with removing this objection

I shall try to extract from it a proof of the present doctrine.

The effect of contiguity and resemblance are much inferior to causation.

But it still has some effect.

It adds to:

  • the conviction of any opinion, and
  • the vivacity of any conception.

If this can be proven in several new instances, then it follows that belief is nothing but a lively idea related to a present impression. According to Muslims and Christians, the pilgrims who have seen Mecca or the Holy Land are ever after more faithful and zealous believers, than those who have never seen them.

A man who sees a lively image of the Red Sea, the Desert, Jerusalem, and Galilee, can never doubt any miraculous events related by Moses or the Evangelists.

The lively idea of those places:

  • passes by an easy transition to the facts related to them by contiguity, and
  • increases the belief by increasing the vivacity of the conception.

The remembrance of these fields and rivers has the same influence on the vulgar as a new argument, and from the same causes.

We may form a like observation concerning resemblance.

The conclusion we draw from a present object to its absent cause or effect, is never founded on any qualities in that object itself. In other words, it is impossible to determine what will result from any phenomenon, or what has preceded it, other than by experience.

This does not seem to require any proof.

Yet some philosophers imagined that:

  • there is a cause for the communication of motion, and
  • a reasonable man might immediately infer the motion of one body from the impulse of another, without having recourse to any past observation.

It easy to prove this opinion as false.

For if such an inference may be drawn merely from the ideas of body, motion, and impulse, it must amount to a demonstration.

It must imply the absolute impossibility of any contrary supposition.

Every effect, then, beside the communication of motion, implies a formal contradiction.

It is impossible not only that it can exist, but also that it can be conceived.

We can satisfy ourselves of the contrary, by forming a clear and consistent idea of:

  • one body’s moving on another,
  • its rest immediately on the contact, or
  • its returning back in the same line in which it came, or
  • its annihilation, or
  • its circular or elliptical motion.

In short, of an infinite number of other changes, which we may suppose it to undergo.

These suppositions are all consistent and natural.

We imagine the communication of motion to be more consistent and natural than those suppositions and also than any other natural effect because of the relation of resemblance between the cause and effect.

This relation is united to experience.

This relation binds the objects in the closest and most intimate manner to each other, to make us imagine them inseparable.

Resemblance, then, has the same or a parallel influence with experience.

The only immediate effect of experience is to associate our ideas together.

It follows, that all belief arises from the association of ideas, according to my hypothesis.

At all times, the eye sees an equal number of physical points.

A man on the top of a mountain has the same image presented to his senses as when he is in the narrowest room.

It is only by experience that he infers the greatness of the object from some peculiar qualities of the image.

He commonly confounds this inference of the judgment with sensation.

The inference of the judgment is here much more lively than what is usual in our common reasonings.

A man has a more vivid conception of the ocean’s vastness by seeing it from the top of a cliff than merely from hearing the roaring waters.

He feels more pleasure from its magnificence, which is a proof of a more lively idea.

He confounds his judgment with sensation, which is another proof of it.

The inference is equally certain and immediate in both cases.

Thus, our conception’s superior vivacity in one case comes only from the resemblance between the image and the object we infer, when we draw an inference from sight beside the habitual conjunction.

This relation:

  • strengthens the relation, and
  • conveys the impression’s vivacity to the related idea with an easier and more natural movement.

Credulity is Based on Resemblance

Credulity is the too easy faith in the testimony of others.

This weakness of human nature is most universal and conspicuous.

It is also very naturally accounted for from the influence of resemblance.

When we receive any fact on human testimony, our faith arises from the very same origin as our inferences from causes to effects, and from effects to causes.

Only our experience of the governing principles of human nature can give us any assurance of the veracity of men.

Experience is the true standard of this and other judgments.

But we seldom regulate ourselves entirely by it.

We have a remarkable propensity to believe whatever is reported, even concerning apparitions, enchantments, and prodigies, however contrary to daily experience.

The words or discourses of others are intimately connected with certain ideas in their mind.

These ideas are also connected with the facts or objects they represent.

This latter connection is generally much overrated.

It commands our assent beyond what experience will justify.

This proceeds only from the resemblance between the ideas and the facts.

Other effects only point out their causes in an oblique manner.

But men’s testimony does it directly.

It is considered as an image and as an effect.

No wonder, we are:

  • so rash in drawing our inferences from it, and
  • less guided by experience in our judgments concerning it, than in those upon any other subject.

Many eminent theologians have reasonably not scrupled to affirm that:

  • the vulgar have no formal principles of infidelity,
  • but they are really infidels in their hearts, and
  • they do not have a belief of the eternal duration of their souls.

Mankind’s negligence on their approaching condition brings:

  • wonder to the studious, and
  • regret to the pious man.

A remarkable example is the universal carelessness and stupidity of men about the future which they are incredulous about, just as they have blind credulity on other occasions.

When conjoined with causation, resemblance fortifies our reasonings.

The lack of resemblance in any great degree can almost entirely destroy our reasonings.

Let us reflect:

  • on the importance of eternity as displayed by the divines, and
  • that though matters of rhetoric are exaggerated, its strongest figures are infinitely inferior to the subject.

Let us then view, the prodigious security of men in this.

Do these people really believe:

  • what is inculcated on them, and
  • what they pretend to affirm?

Their answer is obviously negative.

Belief is an act of the mind arising from custom.

It is not strange the lack of resemblance should:

  • overthrow what custom has established, and
  • reduce the force of the idea, as much as that latter principle increases it.

A future state is so far removed from our comprehension.

We have so obscure an idea of how we shall exist after we die

All the reasons we can invent can never:

  • surmount this difficulty, or
  • bestow authority and force on the idea, no matter how:
    • strong in themselves
    • assisted by education.

I rather ascribe this incredulity to our faint idea of our future condition derived from:

  • its lack of resemblance to the present, than from
  • its remoteness.

Men are everywhere concerned about what may happen after their death.

The lack of resemblance in this case so entirely destroys belief.

Very few people truly believe in the soul’s immortality in the same way as travelers and historians believe their own testimonies.

Exceptions are people who have repeatedly meditated to imprint in their minds the arguments for a future state, upon cool reflection on the importance of the soul’s immortality.

This appears very conspicuously wherever men compare the pleasures and pains, the rewards and punishments of this life with those of a future, even though:

  • the case does not concern themselves, and
  • there is no violent passion to disturb their judgment.

The Roman Catholics are certainly the most zealous Christian sect.

Yet you’ll find few sensible Catholics who do not regard, as cruel and barbarous:

  • the Gunpowder-treason, and
  • the massacre of St. Bartholomew

Those acts were executed against Catholics who were condemned to eternal and infinite punishments without any scruple.

All we can say in excuse for this inconsistency is that they really do not believe what they affirm concerning a future state.

This is the best proof of that inconsistency or their lack of belief in their own beliefs of the future state.

In matters of religion:

  • men take a pleasure in being terrified, and
  • the most popular preachers are those who excite the most dismal and gloomy passions.

In the common affairs of life, where we feel and are penetrated with the solidity of the subject, nothing can be more disagreeable than fear and terror.

Only in dramatic performances and religious discourses can fear and terror ever give pleasure.

In these latter cases, the imagination rests itself indolently on the idea.

The passion is softened by the want of belief in the subject.

It enlivens the mind and fixes its attention.

The present hypothesis will be confirmed further if we examine the effects of other kinds of custom and relations.

To understand this, we must consider that custom, to which I attribute all belief and reasoning, may invigorate an idea in two ways.

If we have found two objects always conjoined together in all past experience, that on the appearance of one, we easily transition to the idea of its connected object, we conceive the idea of that object in a stronger and more lively way than any loose floating image of the imagination.

Let us next suppose, that a mere idea alone, without any of this curious and almost artificial preparation, should frequently appear in the mind.

This idea must:

  • acquire a facility by degrees,
  • force by its firm hold and easy introduction, and
  • distinguish itself from any new and unusual idea.

This is the only part in which these two kinds of custom agree.

If it appears that their effects on the judgment are similar and proportional, we may conclude that the foregoing explanation of judgement is satisfactory.

But can we doubt of this agreement in their influence on the judgment, when we consider the nature and effects of education?

All those opinions and notions of things we have been use to since infancy take such deep root.

It is impossible for us to eradicate them by all the powers of reason and experience.

This habit approaches in its influence and even on many occasions prevails over that which arises from the constant and inseparable union of causes and effects.

Here we must not be content with saying that the idea’s vividness produces the belief.

We must maintain that they are individually the same.

The frequent repetition of any idea fixes it in the imagination.

But repetition could never possibly produce belief by itself, if it was annexed only to a reasoning and comparison of ideas, by the original constitution of our natures.

Custom may lead us into some false comparison of ideas.

This is the utmost effect we can conceive of it.

But it is certain it could never:

  • supply the place of that comparison, nor
  • produce any act of the mind which naturally belonged to that principle.

A person that has lost a leg or an arm by amputation, tries for a long time to serve himself with them.

After the death of any one, the whole family, especially the servants, commonly remark that they cannot believe him to be dead.

They still imagine him to be in his room or any place where they used to find him.

A man might say about a famous person whom he has never met: ‘I have never seen that famous person, but I feel as though I have met him because I have heard much talk about him.’

All these are parallel instances.

If we consider this argument from education in a proper light, it will appear very convincing, especially since it is founded on the most common phenomena.

We shall find that more than half of mankind’s opinions are owing to education.

The principles implicitly embraced, overbalance those which are owing to abstract reasoning or experience.

This is the same way that liars come to believe in their lies through frequent repetition of their lies

Likewise, the imagination might have ideas so strongly imprinted on it that they operate on the mind in the same way as those with those, which the senses, memory, or reason present to us.

Education is never recognized by philosophers:

  • because education is an artificial cause, not a natural one, and
  • because its maxims are frequently contrary to even to themselves in different times and places.

Though in reality, education is built almost on the same foundation of habit and repetition as our reasonings from causes and effects.

Footnote 7

In general, our belief on all probable reasonings is founded on the vivacity of ideas.

It resembles many of those whims and prejudices which are rejected as the offspring of the imagination.

The word ‘imagination’ is commonly used in two ways.

When I oppose the imagination to the memory, I mean the imagination which we use to form our fainter ideas.

When I oppose it to reason, I mean imagination excluding only our demonstrative and probable reasonings.

When I oppose it to neither, it is indifferent whether it is taken in the larger or more limited sense, or at least the context will sufficiently explain the meaning.

This inaccuracy is the most contrary to true philosophy.

Yet in the following reasonings, I have been obliged to fall into it.


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