Hume's Functionalistic Theory of the Self

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Title: Hume's Functionalistic Theory of the Self
Authors: Hosseini, Sardar
Date: 2013
Abstract: The main claim of this dissertation is that Hume’s theory of the self can be interpreted in terms of a causal or functional theory of mind. It is a thesis about Hume’s identification of mental particulars―impressions and ideas―in terms of the kind of roles that each plays in the cognitive system that it is a member of. The true Humean idea of the human mind is to understand it as a system of different mental states and processes, which are linked together by the relation of cause and effect. Functionalism as such can be construed as both teleo-functionalism and psycho-functionalism. The former is rooted in his teleological characterization of the mind according to which the bundle of perceptions persists over time by maintaining functional continuity, whereas the main source of Hume’s psycho-functionalism lies in his Representational Theory of Mind. Hume, however, Hume expresses his strong dissatisfaction with his earlier treatment of the topic, and confesses that he now finds an inconsistency in his original account. He does not make clear in his recantation what he finds problematic in his earlier account. And although more than a dozen interpretations have been suggested, no consensus as to what Hume’s worry is has emerged. I claim that Hume’s functionalism, as presented in the main body of the Treatise, stores a problem for him and when he arrives at the Appendix he realises the problem and confesses that he is unable to resolve it. The problem that leads to the inconsistency has two main possible sources: First, the principles of constancy and coherence may successfully account for the arising belief in the idea of the continued and distinct existence of external objects and the idea of personal identity, but they fail to explain our belief in other minds (selves). Second, Hume’s functionalism is circular because it presupposes personal identity. The central idea is that if Hume is right to say that something like functional continuity would suffice for persons to persist through time, then he must show that we can have a complete account of how one’s mental states produce the idea of a persisting self without making assumption about the identity condition of their subject or bearer. And of course, psycho-functionalism, including Hume’s, identifies a mental state in terms of its functional relations to other mental states that are the states of the same person. This is straightforwardly circular.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/24927
http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-3139
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -
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