Personal Identity in Hume: An Epistemological Approach

Document Type : Scientific-research


Assistant Professor in Islamic Theology and Philosophy, Ilam University


Hume’s view of spiritual substance and personal identity follows from his empiricist thesis concerning dependence of ideas on impressions, and his bundle theory of mind. Accordingly, he casts doubt upon the existence of mind or soul, traditionally regarded as the substratum or the bearer of perceptions; and consequently he faces with the problem of personal identity. He draws criticism at the criterion of the continuity of consciousness and the consciousness of the past based on belief in spiritual substance as inadequate in producing the concept of personal identity. Yet, he maintains that the consciousness of the past and memory as the faculty of preserving the past perceptions facilitates the action of imagination to assume, perceive and discover the personal identity through relations of resemblance and causality. In the same vein, he claims that the personal identity is nothing more than the fiction of imagination, it is indemonstrable and has no criteria. What is significant about Hume’s approach to the problem of personal identity is that the approach is mainly epistemological rather than metaphysical. With respect to his empiricist approach and some of his assertions, this seems to be clear; however, it often remains unnoticed. This paper is an attempt to look at Hume’s view of personal identity from an epistemological viewpoint and show that he cannot be regarded as denying personal identity in the ontological terms; because according to his fundamental ideas, there are no possibilities for ontological discussion about personal identity.


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