Hume’s Individual: Agent or Billiard Ball?


Hannah DAWSON*

Abstract. It is hard to make out the agent in Hume’s science of man. For the most part, human beings appear operated on passively by the association and attraction of ideas, creatures of custom rather than creators of the future, more predictable even than the rising of the sun. However, by inserting Hume’s theory of the artificial virtues into his science of man, an inventive, calculating agent strides into view. The paper does not conclude, though, that this anomalous figure represents a contradiction in Hume’s philosophy, but rather that Hume’s individual is a far complex character than might appear if one simply read, for example, about Hume’s theory of induction – as one might spend a lifetime doing.
Hume’s individual is not only a rich mixture of reason and sentiment, artifice and nature, action and passion, but these dichotomies, that organise so much of Hume’s polemic, evaporate. The result is that a rich, holistic picture of agency emerges, together with a view of ‘the mind’ that is not static, but rather evolves through time.

Keywords: Hume, agency, time, artificial virtues, false dichotomies

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