Theory of Self: Kant vs Hume

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The concept of the ‘self’ is regarded as an “entity which persists through time and change” (Grayling, pg. 540), in spite of other variations, albeit unnecessary ones, that occur in a person. Ones self is alleged to be the backbone of “thinking, perceiving, memory, and the like – the ultimate ‘bearers’ of our psychological properties.” (Grayling, pg. 540) The idea of ‘self’ is a topic of important philosophical debate, and one which Kant and Hume dexterously engage themselves in. This essay will begin by outlining Hume’s philosophical approach and his theory of self. Following that Kant’s theory of self will be looked at.

Hume held the belief that all the contents of the human mind were derived through experience only. He divided the mind’s perceptions into two groups, impressions and ideas. He declared that “the difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind” (Hume, pg. 10). Impressions are those perceptions which are the most strong, “which enter with most force and violence” (Hume, pg. 10), while ideas are their “less forcible and lively” counterpart. Impressions are directly experienced, they result from inward and outward sentiments. Ideas, conversely, are copying mechanisms which reproduce sense data. They are formulated based upon the previously perceived impressions “By ideas, I mean the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning” (Hume, pg. 10).

Hume proposes that the notion of the self has no empirical foundation. He postulates that all ideas are a result of a prior impression. Following this he posits that since the idea of self relies on an impression, this impression must in some way endure throughout a persons whole life, since an idea of self is...

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...integrated experiencing subject. In Hume’s appendix to his Treatise of Human Nature, he admits the limitations of his stringently empirical style. He acknowledges “I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor how to render them consistent” (Hume, pg. 341), and follows with the statement “If perceptions are distinct existences, they form a whole only by being connected together. But no connexions among distinct existences are ever discoverable by human understanding.” (Hume, pg. 341)

Hume’s theory of self does work as a firmly empirical viewpoint of self, however he admits himself that it is flawed. Therefore it appears that Kant’s view of the self is the better, as it stems from Hume’s and makes two further necessary points. For experience to occur it has to be synthesized, and these experiences must be collected and unified as those of a single subject.

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