Hume's Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise (Paperback) book cover

Hume's Difficulty

Time and Identity in the Treatise

By Donald L.M. Baxter

© 2008 – Routledge

130 pages

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Paperback: 9780415804776
pub: 2009-03-06
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pub: 2007-08-29
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About the Book

In this volume--the first, focused study of Hume on time and identity--Baxter focuses on Hume’s treatment of the concept of numerical identity, which is central to Hume's famous discussions of the external world and personal identity. Hume raises a long unappreciated, and still unresolved, difficulty with the concept of identity: how to represent something as "a medium betwixt unity and number." Superficial resemblance to Frege’s famous puzzle has kept the difficulty in the shadows. Hume’s way of addressing it makes sense only in the context of his unorthodox theory of time. Baxter shows the defensibility of that theory against past dismissive interpretations, especially of Hume’s stance on infinite divisibility. Later the author shows how the difficulty underlies Hume’s later worries about his theory of personal identity, in a new reading motivated by Hume’s important appeals to consciousness. Baxter casts Hume throughout as an acute metaphysician, and reconciles this side of Hume with his overarching Pyrrhonian skepticism.


"It is no wonder that the main approaches to so many central philosophical topics—from causation to motivation, from concepts to morals—include one often dubbed "Humeanism" about the topic; for Hume brought both originality and penetration to almost every philosophical issue he addressed. Until the work of Donald Baxter, however, the originality and penetration of Hume’s accounts of time and identity were rarely appreciated. Indeed, as Hume’s Difficulty: Time and Identity in the Treatise makes clear, a long line of distinguished commentators has systemically misunderstood them." --Don Garrett (New York University)

"Clearly and cogently reasoned, every chapter contains a challenging treatment of often neglected doctrines of Treatise, Book I. Above all, the book offers what is, to my mind, the best available interpretation of Hume’s perplexing theory of the structure of time. Moreover, the work clearly shows that this notion of time is inseparable from Hume’s account of the genesis of the idea of identity, and through that, belief in the continued existence of body, material and immaterial substances, and personal identity. The book also proposes an innovative and attractive interpretation of the flaw in the account of belief in personal identity recorded in the Appendix. It has made me rethink all of these topics and changed my mind on more than one of them." --Martha Brandt Bolton (Rutgers University)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Interpreting Hume as Metaphysician and Sceptic 2. Moments and Durations 3. Steadfast Objects 4. Identity 5. Representing Personal Identity 6. Hume’ Difficulty about Identity

About the Author

Donald L. M. Baxter is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Philosophy

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Free Will & Determinism
PHILOSOPHY / History & Surveys / General