Wednesday, July 20, 2005

32nd International Hume Conference: Day Two

Continuing the notes on the Hume Conference:

* The first paper I went to was Stefanie Rocknak's "The Vulgar Conception of Objects in 'Of Skepticism with Regard to the Senses'". Part of me wanted to go to the concurrent session, Kenneth Sheppard's "Politics, Moderation, and the Hanoverian régime: The Revolution of 1688-1689 in David Hume's Essays," but since I officially do work on the theory of the external world, I went to Rocknak's paper. It gave an interesting proposal, but I'll have to think a bit more about how far I agree; that part of Treatise 1.4.2 is an immensely complicated tangle.

* I presented my paper in the next session. I don't recall if I already posted my abstract; here it is:

In 1916, Carll Whitman Doxsee published a paper in The Philosophical Review arguing that Hume was influenced by Malebranche. He identified three areas of possible influence: causation, self-knowledge, and natural belief. Study of this subject has progressed since then, but the lines of influence that are usually identified have remained surprisingly close to Doxsee’s original pioneering work. My intention here is to break new ground by showing some of the evidence for seeing a connection between Malebranche’s view of material bodies and Hume’s discussion of the idea of external existence in 1.2.6. To do this I will discuss some of the elements of Malebranche’s account of our knowledge of material bodies, then look at aspects of Hume’s discussion that suggest he may have this view in mind. I will end with some brief remarks about how this conclusion, if true, would affect interpretation of the passage.

A modest argument, although it seems to be completely original. In light of the questions, it's clear that I need to re-work and expand the section mentioned in the last sentence: a few "brief remarks" aren't really adequate -- there needs to be more than just a gesture. But people seemed to like it (although the Locke people wanted more Locke); and Terence Penelhum approached me at lunch, saying that on the evidence given I had to be right. That's an ego boost if ever there was one!

* I unfortunately had to miss the next session in order to buy more boxes, and to do a number of visa-related things.

* There was then a presentation in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library on the Walsh Philosophy Collection (scroll down) of rare books related to Hume and early modern philosophy. The two coolest things: (1) Discussion of the mezzotints of the Ramsay portraits of Hume and Rousseau (the Ramsay paintings can be seen online at the National Gallery of Scotland). I hadn't realized that the famous portrait of Rousseau was owned by Hume. The closely associated Ramsay portrait of Hume shows Hume in the formal courtwear of an Embassy secretary, which had been in Paris just a year before the portrait was painted. (2) David Norton and Peter Millican talking about a canceled page in the first edition of Hume's Treatise. The relevant page is at the very end of Treatise 1.3.9. When the third volume of the Treatise went to press, Hume had a page printed at the very end of the volume that was intended to replace the original page in the first volume; what was added was a very important footnote on the meaning of 'imagination' -- so important, apparently, that it was added to the first edition even as it was still coming off the presses. This is one of the things I really love about History of Philosophy: even something as apparently innocuous as a canceled page in the physical production of a book can be an intriguing clue to philosophically important matters. I almost missed this, and I'm glad I managed not to do so.

* The day ended with an excellent and beautiful paper by Michel Malherbe, "La réception des Philosophical Essays en France: Métaphysique, science et méthode."

* Now I'm off to continue packing, and then to bed.

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