Hume’s Argument


The Section II of Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding the origin or ideas is dealt with. In this section, Hume dealt with the differences between impressions and ideas. To him impressions are sensations as well as vivid and lively perceptions adopted by human beings while ideas encompass imaginings and memory, which makes them less vivid and lively. He posits that impressions comprehend hence anger and color red can be attributed to impressions (Hume 20). To him ideas culminate from the reflection on the impressions such that the memory of the thought of anger or color red is perceived as ideas. In accordance to his stipulations, the only difference between ideas and impressions is the fact when impressions and ideas are compared; ideas are seen as more vivacious. Essentially, to him ideas culminate from sensations or in retroscope from imaginations that are working together with the sensations. This culminates into the argument that ideas are copies of impressions.


In support of his argument, Hume asserts that human imagination consists of various complex ideas. To support this notion, he suggests that the compounding of complex ideas can be attributed to simple ideas that are extracted from simple impressions. In this case, ideas are copied from sentiments or precedent feelings that translate to impressions (Hume 21). Under this perception, he provides the example of the human idea of God in terms of his supreme intelligence and good. Humans extract this idea from the considerations of the simple ideas of human intelligence and goodness thus elevating them beyond the normal human limit. An idea cannot be formed susceptibly in the human mind without the reference to certain sensation or impressions that had been made prior to the formation of the idea. Additionally, he posits that the human imagination is only limited to the ideas that were made from certain impressions. In this case, a blind man cannot be able to imagine colors, a deaf man cannot imagine sound while a mild mannered man cannot have an imagination towards cruelty. Inherently, ideas can only be formed from impressions and if the impressions are missing, then no ideas can be formed.

Hume admits to an objection towards his argument that ideas are copied from impressions. He asserts that some of the ideas that might arise in life might not be dependent on consecutive impressions. He depicts that the different colors perceived by the human eye might be very diverse from each other but at the same time, they might resemble each other. If this precept is true of different colors, then it should be true about different shades of a similar color. To support this objection an example is provided of a person with good sight who has been acquainted with different shades of the blue color but has never perceived of a certain shade of that color (Hume 22). If that person encounters that shade which is lacking in accordance to the attributes of the other shades, he might be able to use his imagination to form the idea that the color is lacking in some way. This formation of the idea might not be based on any prior impression because he has never had any contact with that shade of the color and hence he cannot form any idea based on the impressions he had before. This clearly indicates that it is possible for ideas to be formed without forming their basis on impressions.

To counter this objection, Hume asserts this is an isolated case, which cannot be explained in terms of an empirical account. The fact that the person did not have an impression of that additional color but he formed the idea that the color was lacking does not clearly indicate the fact that this case happens often. The impressions formed from the other shades might make a contributing factor to the conclusive idea that he forms. Additionally, he asserts that as per nature all ideas are obscure and faint in regards to the mind that forms them. This is because the ideas culminate from resembling ideas that were formed due to certain impressions. While ideas are obscure, all outwards or inward impressions are very vivid and strong such that their limits can be distinctly formed eliminating any chances of committing errors where they are concerned (Hume 23). For this reason, all philosophical ideas should be based on meaning derived from impressions. Any philosophical idea that is not extracted from impressions should not be postulated by a philosopher because all other philosophers will question from what impression the idea was formed. Hume depicts the fact that the perceptions and ideas of the mind cannot be equated to innate ideas because they lack the reference to impressions. This means that ideas can only be extracted from impressions and no philosophically correct idea can be formed without prior reference to impressions.


An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding is a book in which Hume tries to explore the origins of ideas in Section II. In this section Hume, forms the argument that ideas are copied from impressions. To ascertain his argument he asserts that all ideas formed from the human imagination are based on some prior impression. Additionally, complex ideas are formed from simple ideas that can be attributed to certain impressions. Though an objection exists to this argument, the objection does not give a solid stand (Hume 24). This is because it basis its argument on an isolate case that cannot be applied to different aspects of a philosophical life. For this reason, Hume provides a valuable clearance of the philosophical vocabulary in which he asserts that for any idea formed in philosophy, philosophers have to inquire from which impression it was established. In conclusion, although an objection might exist against Hume’s argument, the argument still holds as the objection is based on one isolated situation that cannot be applied to other situations.

Works Cited:

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. New York, NY: Cosimo, Inc. 1952. Print.

Still stressed from student homework?
Get quality assistance from academic writers!

WELCOME TO OUR NEW SITE. We Have Redesigned Our Website With You In Mind. Enjoy The New Experience With 15% OFF