Dog Days of Summer

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Aug 12 21:31:48 PDT 2000

>Identity is not even in question in Hume; the veil of "tradition"
>tactfully intervenes.
>-- Dennis

Identity (both the principle of identity _in general_ & personal identity in particular) is in question _for Hume_ (though Hume says that not just "vulgar" views but also "philosophical" views fail to question it properly). The specific question of personal identity is discussed in _A Treatise of Human Nature_. For instance, Hume argues:

***** In order to justify to ourselves this absurdity [that is, the ascription of identity to distinct perceptions], we often feign some new and unintelligible principle, that connects the objects together, and prevents their interruption or variation. Thus we feign the continued existence of the perceptions of our senses to remove the interruption; and run into the notion of a _soul_, and _self_ and _substance_, to disguise the variation, we may farther observe, that where we do not give rise to such a fiction, our propensity to confound identity with relation is so great, that we are apt to imagine something unknown and mysterious, connecting the parts, besides their relation; and this I take to be the case with regard to the identity we ascribe to plants and vegetables. And even when this does not take place, we will feel a propensity to confound these ideas, tho' we are not fully able to satisfy ourselves in that particular, nor find anything invariable and uninterrupted to justify our notion of identity. (_A Treatise of Human Nature_, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge and P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2nd edn., pp. 254-5) *****

According to Harold W. Noonan, however, even aside from Hume's view on the propensity to cover over gaps through notions such as soul, self, & substance & to create a fiction of personal identity, _identity in general_ has to be defined away for Hume from the get-go: "As we observed here, given the account of the genesis of the idea of identity that Hume gives, it cannot just be to _variable_ or _interrupted_ objects, in his view, that identity fails to apply. The same must also be true of invariable and uninterrupted objects [if such things can be said to exist]. The idea of identity, to be distinct from that of unity, must imply duration, but duration implies change. Thus nothing _could_ answer to Hume's notion of identity, not even a constant and uninterrupted series of perceptions and not even 'a _soul_, and _self_ and _substance_" (Noonan, _Hume on Knowledge_, New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 192).

Hume is _not_ interested in pursuing the logic of his argument to radical scepticism of the Pyrrhonian kind (and its recommended attitudes of epoche & ataraxia -- suspending judgement for the Pyrrhonian sceptics meant living without belief [dogma]). "Thus the sceptic still continues to reason and believe, even tho' he asserts that he cannot defend his reason by reason; and by the same rule he must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, tho' he cannot pretend by any arguments of philosophy to maintain its veracity. Nature has not left this to his choice..." (_Treatise_, p. 187). What Hume _is_ interested in is the causes of our _belief_ in an external world, causal necessity (as opposed to merely contingent experiences of constant conjunctions), identity, etc. that (for him) cannot be _known_ philosophically (Hume insists on distinction between belief & knowledge).

As for the veil of custom, tradition, etc., Butler wouldn't be happy with such old-fashioned terms, to be sure. She'd like us to use new terms (like discourse, the symbolic, performance, and so forth), instead of old ones. As if to say, "Now, something completely different!" Is Butler less conservative than Hume, however? Hume (rightly) doesn't think that our belief in causal necessity can be abolished (even though he [wrongly] thinks it cannot be justified by reason); Butler (wrongly) doesn't think that gender can be abolished. Her philosophy _conserves_ gender. Instead of arguing for the abolition of gender through political struggles, she advocates -- to the extent that her theory can be said to advocate anything -- mobilization, subversion, and proliferation of genders. Gender-bending, instead of abolitionism. For me, gender is primarily an effect of oppression, and if we can make the oppression that causes genders disappear, we can make genders disappear as well (and we'll arrive at a more useful, humane, & interesting theory of human biology with an X-sex model). To come back to the article Kelley posted (at 2.htm), while I don't begrudge Gungirl her pleasure in bending gender her way in her free time, I don't think gunplay in sex, however exciting it may be for some, will help us abolish gender oppression (much less capitalism). The same goes for Butler's performance theory.


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