What is the Association of Ideas, What Does It Mean?June 26, 2021
If ideas generally follow impressions, how can we explain what we call thinking, or the practices that group ideas themselves?
Hume attributes the answer to this question to an associative mechanism that largely governs the functioning of our mind: When the mind receives impressions, they can reappear in two ways; first, they appear in memory through recollection, and secondly, they appear as images in imagination. But in both cases, the impressions are gone and replaced by their dull versions, that is, ideas. Memory preserves not only simple ideas, but also their order and position. The imagination, on the other hand, is not under such a limitation; for example, it can arbitrarily combine simple ideas or resolve complex ideas into simple ideas and then rearrange them. According to Hume, this is a phenomenon frequently encountered in poems and romances. But although the imagination can freely combine thoughts-ideas, it usually performs this act according to some association principles. While there is an inseparable connection between ideas in memory, there is no such connection in imagination. There is, however, a “unifying principle” between ideas, an evocative quality that allows one idea to naturally bring about another. Hume describes it as “a gentle force that usually prevails”; he accepts it as something given in human nature. We can call this the association mechanism: This mechanism generally works in three ways; similarity, contiguity in time and space, and cause-effect link. Imagination easily passes from one idea to another like it: a painting leads us to think of its original.
Again, the mind acquires the habit of combining thoughts that are directly or indirectly adjacent in space and time. When talking about an apartment in a building, we are naturally drawn to the idea of understanding or investigating others. Again, the mind habitually establishes a cause-effect link between successive impressions. For example, if we think about a wound, we inevitably think about whether it will hurt too much; that is, the cause of suffering is wound. However, Hume has studied this last form of association, in other words the principle of causality, with a very special attention to it. Hume states that these association principles are at the basis of all connections of ideas in the mind; there is no mental operation that cannot be explained on the basis of these principles.
According to Hume, the association mechanism of our mind works in three ways: similarity, contiguity in time and space, and cause-effect bond.
Hume deals with the operations of thinking under three headings: These are relations, modes, and substances, more or less similar to Locke’s distinction. Their apprehension involves not only the reception of impressions, but also certain mental operations stimulated by the reception of impressions. All of Hume’s interest here is focused on how we grasp or know these relationships.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook