self" is difficult to define but usually involves the inner life of the individual, the psychological dimension of human existence as opposed to the outward, physical form. The self is conceived as a creature of consciousness, a mind capable of thought and able to engage in deliberate action. A self is capable of self-consciousness, which means it recognizes its own ability to think and to contain first-person thoughts. The question is, however, is there a Self or not, and if there is, what is its nature? This has been argued in philosophy since the time of the Greeks and has been answered differently by philosophers, religious leaders, and psychologists at different times in history. Leslie Stevenson notes that the "question of the ultimate nature of such mental states is a philosophical problem which is left open by our everyday language about them" (Stevenson 74). This common language is often challenged by philosophers. David Hume offered an answer which countered the often accepted idea of the self as an enduring entity with experiences and thoughts and a separate existence.
In doing so, Hume challenged the view put forth by Rene Descartes. Descartes began his investigation into the nature of the self with his method of doubt, undertaken because he had reached an age where he now believed that he would be able to remove all of his earlier beliefs and begin with a clean slate. He says that everything he knew or thought he knew in the past was based on sense perception, and the senses can lie (a view in agreement with that of Plato). Because of this, Descartes must prove everything to himself through the application of reason. Descartes cites a number of reasons why we have to doubt our senses. For one thing, the senses sometimes deceive us with regard to minute objects or objects that are at a great distance from us. Our senses have limitations when it comes to things that are too small or too far away. Descartes finally determines that all senses should be eliminated from consideration so that pure reason is brought to bear on philosophical questions (Lavine 111-112).
Hume, on the other hand, follows Locke by determining that all the contents of the mind, all ideas, derive from human experience and thus represent impressions. Hume uses different terminology than Locke, however. He says that "perception" is a term covering all of the contents of the mind in general. He divides perceptions into ideas and impressions. Impressions are described by Hume as the immediate data of experience, such as sensations. Ideas are the copies or faint images of impressions in thinking and reasoning. Impressions come by sensory observation, and ideas come as we recall those impressions. "Idea" in this regard signifies image. Hume derives all human knowledge ultimately from impressions, or from the immediate data of experience. Hume thus holds that all knowledge derives from the senses (Lavine 151-152).
Hume differentiates between impressions and ideas on the basis of their vividness. The impressions include all human sensations, passions, and emotions, and they are strong and vivid. Ideas are the faint images of these impressions in thinking and reasoning. Ideas may reach the level of impressions in sleep, in a fever, or in madness. While it may seem that ideas and impressions always correspond to one another, they do not. Hume makes the distinction between simple and complex perceptions both in terms of impressions and ideas. Hume finds that our impressions come before our corresponding ideas (Lavine 152-154).
The very idea that there is a self is challenged by Hume as a term that is literally meaningless because the idea of the self cannot be traced back to experience. Hume says that "It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea" (Lesson 7 Handout), but the self is not one impression but in some sense a series of impressions. A second objection is that any impression that would give rise to the idea of the self would have to be "constant and invariable" because that is how the self is conceived (Lesson 7 Handout).
In rejecting the idea of the soul, Hume first demolished Descartes' argument known as the Cogito, the fact that the existence of the soul is demonstrated by the fact of human thought, that the fact that I think proves that…