‘Hume on the Imagination’ (2015)

Lausanne: Rero Doc Digital Library, 2015, pp. 1-28.

Published Version | Final Draft | PhilPapers


This is the original, longer draft for my entry on Hume in the ‘The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Imagination’, edited by Amy Kind and published by Routledge in 2016. Please always cite the Routledge version, unless there are passages concerned that did not make it into the Handbook for reasons of length.

This article overviews Hume’s thoughts on the nature and the role of imagining, with an almost exclusive focus on the first book of his Treatise of Human Nature. Over the course of this text, Hume draws and discusses three important distinctions among our conscious mental episodes (or what he calls ‘perceptions’): (i) between impressions (including perceptual experiences) and ideas (including recollections, imaginings and occurrent beliefs); (ii) between ideas of the memory and ideas of the imagination; and (iii), among the ideas of the imagination, between ideas of the judgement (i.e. occurrent beliefs) and ideas of the fancy (i.e. imaginings). I discuss each distinction in turn, also in connection to contemporary views on imagining. In addition, I briefly consider Hume’s views on the imagination as a faculty aimed at the production of ideas, as well as on the role that imagining plays in the wider context of our mental lives, notably in the acquisition of modal knowledge and in the comprehension of stories and opinions that we take to be false or fictional.