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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (1748)

Sect. III. Of the Association of Ideas

David Hume.

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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

David Hume.

Sect. III. Of the Association of Ideas

  18. IT is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the
different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that, in their appearance
to the memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain
degree of method and regularity. In our more serious thinking or
discourse this is so observable that any particular thought, which
breaks in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is immediately
remarked and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering
reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that
the imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was
still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded
each other. Were the loosest and freest conversation to be
transcribed, there would immediately be observed something which
connected it in all its transitions. Or where this is wanting, the
person who broke the thread of discourse might still inform you,
that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of
thought, which had gradually led him from the subject of conversation.
Among different languages, even where we cannot suspect the least
connexion or communication, it is found, that the words, expressive of
ideas, the most compounded, do yet nearly correspond to each other:
a certain proof that the simple ideas, comprehended in the compound
ones, were bound together by some universal principle, which had an
equal influence on all mankind.

  19. Though it be too obvious to escape observation, that different
ideas are connected together; I do not find that any philosopher has
attempted to enumerate or class all the principles of association; a
subject, however, that seems worthy of curiosity. To me, there
appear to be only three principles of connexion among ideas, namely,
Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause or Effect.

  That these principles serve to connect ideas will not, I believe, be
much doubted. A picture naturally leads our thoughts to the original:*
the mention of one apartment in a building naturally introduces an
enquiry or discourse concerning the others:*(2) and if we think of a
wound, we can scarcely forbear reflecting on the pain which follows
it.*(3) But that this enumeration is complete, and that there are no
other principles of association except these, may be difficult to
prove to the satisfaction of the reader, or even to a man's own
satisfaction. All we can do, in such cases, is to run over several
instances, and examine carefully the principle which binds the
different thoughts to each other, never stopping till we render the
principle as general as possible.*(4) The more instances we examine,
and the more care we employ, the more assurance shall we acquire, that
the enumeration, which we form from the whole, is complete and entire.

  * Resemblance.

  *(2) Contiguity.

  *(3) Cause and effect.

  *(4) For instance Contrast or Contrariety is also a connexion
among Ideas: but it may, perhaps, be considered as a mixture of
Causation and Resemblance. Where two objects are contrary, the one
destroys the other; that is, the cause of its annihilation, and the
idea of the annihilation of an object, implies the idea of its
former existence.

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