, Volume 152, Issue 3, pp 301–319 | Cite as

Hume’s naturalistic theory of representation

Original Paper


Hume is a naturalist in many different respects and about many different topics; this paper argues that he is also a naturalist about intentionality and representation. It does so in the course of answering four questions about his theory of mental representation: (1) Which perceptions represent? (2) What can perceptions represent? (3) Why do perceptions represent at all? (4) Howdo perceptions represent what they do? It appears that, for Hume, all perceptions except passions can represent; and they can represent bodies, minds, and persons, with their various qualities. In addition, ideas can represent impressions and other ideas. However, he explicitly rejects the view that ideas are inherently representational, and he implicitly adopts a view according to which things (whether mental or non-mental) represent in virtue of playing, through the production of mental effects and dispositions, a significant part of the causal and/or functional role of what they represent. It is in virtue of their particular functional roles that qualitatively identical ideas are capable of representing particulars or general kinds; substances or modes; relations; past, present, or future; and individuals or compounds.


Hume Representation Naturalism Impressions Ideas Copy External world Resemblance Bodies Abstract ideas Owen Cohon 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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