Superphysics Superphysics
Section 4

The Relations Of Impressions And Ideas

by David Hume Icon
4 minutes  • 696 words

We have established 2 truths easily:

  1. The various causes which excite pride and humility come from natural principles
  2. Each different cause is adapted to its passion by a similar principle

How can we:

  • make these principles fewer
  • find among the causes some common origin of their influence

To do this, we must reflect on certain properties of human nature which have a mighty influence on every operation of the understanding and passions.

  • However, these properties are not commonly insisted on by philosophers.

The first of these is the association of ideas. ◦ It is impossible for the mind to fix itself steadily on one idea for any considerable time. ◦ It cannot by its utmost efforts ever arrive at such a constancy.

But however changeable our thoughts may be, they are not entirely without rule and method in their changes. ◦ This rule is to pass from one object to what is resembling, contiguous to, or produced by it.

When one idea is present to the imagination, any other idea, united by these relations, naturally: ◦ follows it ◦ enters with more facility by means of that introduction. • The second property I shall observe in the human mind is a like association of impressions. ◦ All resembling impressions are connected together. ▪ No sooner one arises than the rest immediately follow.

• Grief and disappointment give rise to anger, anger to envy, envy to malice, and malice to grief again, until the whole circle be completed.
    ◦ In like manner our temper, when elevated with joy, naturally throws itself into love, generosity, pity, courage, pride, and the other resembling affections.

• When actuated by any passion, the mind finds it difficult to confine itself to that passion alone, without any change or variation.

• Human nature is too inconstant to have such regularity.
    ◦ Changeableness is essential to it.
• And to what can it so naturally change as to affections or emotions, which are suitable to the temper, and agree with that set of passions, which then prevail?
• There is an attraction or association among impressions and ideas.
    ◦ Though with this remarkable difference, that ideas are associated by resemblance, contiguity, and causation; and impressions only by resemblance.
• In the third place, we can observer that:
    ◦ these two kinds of association very much assist and forward each other
    ◦ the transition is more easily made where they both concur in the same object.
• A man, who is very much discomposed and ruffled by an injury from another, is apt to find 100 subjects of discontent, impatience, fear, and other uneasy passions, especially if he can discover these subjects in the person who injured him.
    ◦ Those principles which forward the transition of ideas concur here with those principles which operate on the passions.
        ▪ Both unite in one action and bestow on the mind a double impulse.
• Therefore, the new passion must arise with so much greater violence.
    ◦ The transition to it must be rendered so much more easy and natural.
• According to Addison, an elegant writer:
• “The fancy:
    ◦ delights in everything that is great, strange, or beautiful
    ◦ is more pleased the more it finds of these perfections in the same object
        ▪ The fancy can receive a new satisfaction with the help of another sense.
• Any continued sound, as the music of birds, or a fall of waters:
    ◦ awakens every moment the mind of the beholder
    ◦ makes him more attentive to the several beauties of the place, that lie before him.
• If a fragrancy of perfumes arises, they:
    ◦ heighten the imagination’s pleasure
    ◦ make the colours and verdure of the landschape appear more agreeable
        ▪ The ideas of both senses:
            • recommend each other
            • are pleasanter together than when they enter the mind separately.
• The different colours of a picture, when they are well disposed:
    ◦ set off one another
    ◦ receive an additional beauty from the advantage of the situation.”
        ▪ (Addison, Spectator 412, final paragraph)
• This phenomenon shows the:
    ◦ association of impressions and ideas
    ◦ the mutual assistance they lend each other.

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