What Is The Reality Of The Outside World, What Does It Mean?June 26, 2021
Hume’s radical empiricism led him to affirm that there is no way or method to confirm the continuous and independent existence of bodies or objects outside of us.
Our ordinary experience suggests that things exist outside of us, but if we take seriously the idea that all our ideas are copies of impressions, the philosophical consequence of this is that “all we know must be impressions.” Impressions are internal subjective states and cannot be clear evidence of external reality. Of course, we always pretend that things have a real world; Hume was then willing to take our own notions of the existence of objects as correct in his own right, but he set about investigating the reason why we think there is an external world.
Our senses do not tell us that objects exist independently of us, so how do we know that they continue to exist when we stop perceiving them? Even when we perceive something, we never get a dual view, including a view that can distinguish it from the object, from the impression we get from it; we only have the impression. Beyond impressions or ideas there seems to be no way for the mind to reach what makes them possible. We can go deep into the sky or the furthest reaches of the universe through thinking, but we cannot go a step beyond ourselves. Or we cannot conceive of existence of any kind. The belief, then, that there is a world of things outside of us, is a product of our imagination with respect to two particular qualities of our impressions; Our imagination captures two qualities in impressions, constancy and consistency. For example, when I look out the window, I always see the same mountain, house and trees. I stop looking and do other things, then I come back and look out the window again. What is it that I see?
It is the same as what I saw in my previous look. In other words, I see that there is an immutability, a constancy in the arrangement of things. The arrangement of the things I see before me is always the same. This is the constancy-fixity in our impressions. Based on this, imagination makes us think that they will stay in the same order whether we see them or not. Likewise, I know that whenever I throw wood into the fire, the wood will burn to ashes. And that is the consistency in the process of changing things. There is always a consistency in our impressions of fire in terms of the process of change. For these reasons, imagination leads us to believe that objects outside of us continue to have independent existence. But this is a belief, not a rational proof, for the claim that our impressions are related to objects lacks any basis in reason. Hume extends this skepticism to issues of self, substance, and God.
Hume does not admit that we have any concept of self. He argues that this is a paradoxical situation. What do we mean by “I”? From what impression could this idea have been derived? Is there a continuous and identical reality that constitutes our Idea? Do we have any impressions that invariably go with our Idea? When I most sincerely try to make an introduction to what I call myself, I always find myself going to a special perception, such as hot, cold, love, hate, pain, pleasure. At any given moment, outside of a perception, I can never catch up with what I call myself. Consequently, Hume does not accept a permanent self-identity. According to him, what remains when it comes to human is nothing but a collection or bundle of different perceptions. So why do we think it is me, what can be the explanation for this? Hume attributes this to the power of memory, which gives us the impression of perpetual identity: Hume likens the mind to a kind of theater that brings various perceptions into view one after another. “But we are not the closest to the concept of the place where these scenes are presented” (cited in Stumpf, 1994: 285).
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