Explain why David Hume believes that the self does not really exist.What is Kant’s reply to Hume?

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David Hume on the Soul and Immanuel Kant’s Reply

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For David Hume, there is no self in the way that we traditionally think of a “self”. What he means is that the self is not separate from when it is perceiving reality. Therefore, for Hume, when we dream, we are not ourselves. There is no continuum of reality except for our perception of it. We are the thinkers of our existence, therefore, when we die, and our perceptions cease, so does our soul. For Hume this definition is a naturalist definition. This means that the self is defined naturally, physically, scientifically. There is no “other essence” that goes with our physical being, such as a soul. Although, there is no self, Hume acknowledges that there is a perception of the self. This perception of the self is made from connecting sensory experiences that seem causally related.

Hume sees all constructs, or notions of the soul as accumulative in their nature. What this means is that there are many conceptions that an individual has that make up the conception of the self. There are many building blocks of the overall structure of the self, and there is not one cohesive concept of the self that can be made apart from constructing the conception from a variety of input. This input is completely experiential; so the concept of the self is a string of experiences. We tend to group like objects together, or week out a chain of connection in our causal universe.

Therefore, it is natural that we compile an idea that there is a continuous “self”. Therefore, the “self” does not exist for Hume, because it is only a construct of our natural tendency to group together events and make sense of casual situations. Hume thinks that we make an inductive fallacy when we speak of personal identity. The mind is a recorder of experience, not a predictor. The induction is that because one thing happened in the past, then it is possible to predict that another will follow. “Kant’s model is a response to a purely material based inductive model of the self that is proposed by Hume. Hume’s self is a passive observer similar to watching one’s life pass before as a play or on a screen. Hume is a strict determinist, no free will. The final determination for Hume then is the self is a fleeting linking of objects by our memory to objects.” In the case of the self the induction, for Hume, is that because there seems to be a grouping of our conscious experiences, we define our soul from these groups of experiential senses.

Kant approaches the definition of the self from a metaphysical perspective. Unlike Hume, Kant does want to prove that the self exists and that there is a soul. “Kant wished to justify a conviction in physics as a body of universal truth. The other being to insulate religion, especially a belief in immortality and free will.” (Nollmeyer). Kant must address the metaphysical issues that Hume is able to avoid by not allowing for duality. Hume simply believes that there is no soul that continues after perception ceases, therefore he does not have to address the notion of duality. Kant answers Hume that personal identity is real. “Kant used inner sense to defend the heterogeneity of body and soul… ‘bodies are objects of outer sense; souls are objects of inner sense’” (Nollmeyer). For Kant, then, our body is a solid objet that is confirmed by our outer sense. The soul inhabits and animates it, we are conscious of our body in time and space. This consciousness of our self, in relation to other bodies, is possibly Kant’s answer to Hume. If Hume demands that there needs to be a unified object that is the soul, then that unified conception is the body. Kant separates the soul from the body as being that the soul is of an inner sense. Kant is able to achieve his metaphysical goals of promoting dualism by creating a unified conception of the self, in the unified body. This conception of the self is the soul who is the inner sense. The inner sense is defined by Kant as Transcendental Apperception: “Empirical self-consciousness is the term Kant used to describe the inner self. Transcendental apperception or (TA) is used in two manners by Kant for the term. The first being a synthetic faculty and a second as the “I” as subject.” (Nollmeyer). Like Hume, Kant recognizes that there are many “versions” of the self, but unlike Hume, Kant asserts that the soul is a unity and that transcendental apperception is the manner in which the soul is known in the empirical world.

Therefore, Kant and Hume have completely different approaches to the philosophy of personal identity. Both philosophers have other objectives that they aim to prove by denyng or proving the soul’s existence. There are implications for free will and ethics if there is no soulKant approaches the definition metaphysically. He is able to define the soul and the body by the existence of a unified conception of the self: “Unity of experience and consciousness are integral to the concept of the self. Transcendental apperception has function to unite all appearances into one experience. This is a unity based on causal laws. There is a synthesis according to concepts that subordinates all to transcendental unity. According to Kant the contents of consciousness must have causal connections to be unified.” (Nollmeyer). This conception is also what contributes to the imperative for one to behave morally, consistent with ones’ conception of their identity.

Hume, on the other hand, approaches this issue naturalistically. He correlates the thinking perception that one has with their identity. This identity is simply a series of empirical observations that the observer tries to make sense of by linking these observations into a causal relationship. These observations comprise the idea of the individual. It is not that there is an individual who exists separately from these observations, not for Hume. Once the observations cease, so does the individual who observes. The self is a concoction of empirical experiences grouped together by the tendency to make sense out of what seems to be causally related. It is the natural tendency to make relationships between unrelated events and objects in order to understand them.

The main difference between Hume and Kant is that Hume is a strict determinist and Kant believes in free will. Hume does not believe in free will. There is no soul, or identity with which one could exercise free will. Therefore, Hume is able to support his hard determinism with his naturalistic account of the soul. Free will cannot belong to a soul that does not exist. The implications of Hume’s hard determinism are problematic for Kant, because Kant wants to prove that there is free will. The existence of a soul is necessary in order to support his theory of morality. Additionally, Kant did not uphold Hume’s ideas of empiricism as being the only means to knowledge. Kant combined elements of the scientific and natural world with metaphysics. Kant rests the evidence of metaphysics in the phenomenology of how the natural world interacts with the spiritual world, whereas Hume rejects the notion of phenomenology all together.

  • Nollmeyer, David. Hume and Kant: Contrasting Models. Power Reality, 2007. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.