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Hume’s Functionalism About Mental Kinds (Circulation Draft)


Hume’s Functionalism About Mental Kinds (Circulation Draft)


Jason's Pictures May 2009 - February 2010 283

Jason Zarri


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What follows is the text of my final paper for a class on the philosophy of David Hume that I took in the spring semester of 2013. Due to constraints on length, the paper is much shorter than it needs to be. I would very much like to expand it, and so I would be very grateful for any feedback that could help me to do that. Please keep in mind that the paper is a work in progress, and is still in a fairly rough state.

To read the full draft, which is a PDF file, please click this link:


Hume’s Functionalism About Mental Kinds (Circulation Draft)


A very common view of Hume’s distinction between impressions and ideas is that it is based on their intrinsic properties; specifically, their force and vivacity. Some interpreters have challenged this,one being David Landy (Landy 2006). He argues that for Hume the difference lies instead in the fact that impressions are not copies of anything, while ideas are copies of impressions. I regard this view as unsatisfactory, not because it is fundamentally mistaken but because (to put it in Humean terms) it “…it discovers not all the truth” (Treatise I will argue that Hume was a functionalist about (some)mental kinds, individuating impressions, ideas, and beliefs (and possibly other mental phenomena) in terms of their causal role in our mental economy. The distinction between impressions and ideas involves the fact that ideas are copies and impressions are not, but also more than that. I will also argue that interpreting Hume as a functionalist enables one to make sense of a passage that is impossible to explain on the force-and-vivacity view, and that it does so more readily than Landy’s view.Furthermore, I think this interpretation makes better sense of Hume’s “missing shade of blue” than Landy’s does.

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