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Hume Variations$
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Jerry A. Fodor

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199287338

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199287338.001.0001

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(p.28) 2 Impressions
Hume Variations

Jerry A. Fodor

Oxford University Press

Hume thinks that there are two kinds of mental particulars, ‘impressions’ (roughly = sensations) and ‘ideas’ (roughly = concepts). This sensation/concept distinction does a lot of work for Hume. It both explicates and underwrites his empiricism. Hume holds that simple ideas come from impressions, and that complex ideas reduce without residue to the simple ones that are their constituents. The claim that the concept/impression distinction is exhaustive thus implies that there is nothing at all in the (cognitive) mind except sensations and what is ‘derived’ from them. The empiricist consequences of these assumptions for both epistemology and semantics have, of course, been widely remarked; not least by Hume himself. This chapter focuses on how the derivation of concepts from impressions is supposed to work. All concepts have contents; complex concepts also have structures. So Hume needs a story about what the structure and content of concepts consists in, and about where the structure and content of concepts comes from. In particular, he needs a story about how they could be ‘copied’ from the structure and content of impressions.

Keywords:   Hume, complex concepts, impressions, ideas, sensations, concepts

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