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David Hume’s Rejection of The Enduring Self

David Hume believes that every person is just their own collection of perceptions acquired throughout their lives and constantly in a state of flux. To Hume, the idea of self is a falsity that permeates philosophy.

     David Hume disagrees with most philosophers on the idea of an enduring self.  Hume believes that every person is just their own collection of perceptions acquired throughout their lives and constantly in a state of flux.  To Hume, the idea of self is a falsity that permeates philosophy.

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Hume insists that no impression can possibly endure forever, “Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time” (Velasquez 98).  Hume argues that since these impressions cannot exist at the same time in the same person, the person cannot be the same when experiencing one impression and the other.  The concept of the enduring self maintains that throughout our lives, from infancy to death, we remain the same person. 

Hume contends that from each and every moment to the next, we are constantly changing.  According to Hume, we are never the same person year to year, month to month, week to week, day to day, or minute to minute.  This state of constant and unhalted flux makes it impossible for anyone to be the same self for any given period of time. 

Hume believes that the self cannot exist because it cannot be experienced alone, without any perceptions invading the self.  Hume states his own experience with trying to ponder his own self,

“For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure.  I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception…”  (Velasquez 98). 

Hume reasons that since the self is always pervaded by perceptions, perceptions are the self.  Hume explains that since the self cannot be isolated from the perceptions of an individual, the self must not exist.  All that exists is what can be perceived by the person, and since the self cannot be perceived, it cannot possibly exist.

            In my own experience, I feel that I have not remained the same self throughout my life.  The book gives a good analogy about how different parts changing slowly at different times are hard to recognize in a small frame of time,

“Our body is like a ship sailing on the ocean, a ship made up of hundreds of wooden boards.  If each day we remove one or two of the boards and replace them with new ones, eventually we will change all of the boards that make up the ship.  Still, because most of the boards remain the same from one day to the next, we say it is the same ship from the beginning to the end of its voyage” (Velasquez 92).

The ship changes drastically from the beginning of its voyage to the end, but it changes at such a slow rate that the changes are not regarded as such.  I believe it is the same in most people’s lives; different parts of the person constantly change, but huge amounts of change happen over long periods of time and are not noticeable as they happen. 

            I agree with Hume that there is not a constant, enduring self, but I do still believe there is a self.  Just because the self changes over time does not mean it does not exist.  I believe the self is a combination of perceptions, memories, and soul. The self cannot be defined by one aspect alone, as it is an all-encompassing entity.  In my opinion, trying to describe the self does it a disservice because it is impossible to define with words.  A combination of many philosopher’s ideas on the self is our best attempt at defining the self.

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