R. Scott Bakker: Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’

My friend R. Scott Bakker makes a point about my recent posts here and here on Hume and his views of the Self as interpreted by Gilles Deleuze in his Empiricism and Subjectivity, and the conclusions I draw from my reading, saying:

I said: “This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature.”

Scott asked: What ‘gap’? I just don’t see what motivates the distinction into two modalities here. If ‘reflection’ is affection (and what else would it be?), then what makes it different than any other kind of affection? Why should affection working the trace of previous affections give rise to anything so exotic as ‘cuts’ and ‘gaps’ and ‘irreducible entities’? Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’

As soon as that particular affection subsides, the self subsides with it, as it does in sleep.

Ok, if we take the standard definition of the term “affection” as: attraction, infatuation, or fondness – a “disposition or rare state of mind or body”. And, a  disposition as a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way.

Applying this in the Humean context that the self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject, would mean that subjectivity is nothing more than the disposition or tendency toward differing states of mind or body. Then in your view the sense of self is nothing more than these states, and once these states subside our distinct feeling of the “self” subsides with them? Right? In this sense we are both in agreement. The only part I was trying to establish is a need to know what if any is the relation between the reflection of the affection in the imagination and the general rule itself. These cannot be unified, so therefore there is an intervention that marks out a boundary between these two, yes? What would you term this boundary? Or would such notions for you be non-plussed (i.e., non-essential in our understanding of the ways in which affections relate and or related or disposed)?

There are those who hold to the position that Hume did not believe in intrinsic dispositions, but might have accepted the notion of extrinsic dispositions and causal powers. Yet, what do we make of such statements as this:

Even the characters, which are peculiar to each individual, have a uniformity in their influence; otherwise our acquaintance with the persons and our observation of their conduct could never teach us their dispositions, or serve to direct our behaviour with regard to them. (Works of David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature)1

Here he is assuring us that the stability of character shows us that people have intrinsic dispositions that are revealed by their actions and behavior.

Further as Hume himself states it:

Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil. The actions themselves may be blameable; they may be contrary to all the rules of morality and religion: But the person is not answerable for them; and as they proceeded from nothing in him, that is durable and constant, . . . it is impossible he can, upon their account, become the object of punishment or vengeance. – from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

This implies as you suggest that dispositions are pre-conscious and temporary manifestations, intrinsic properties of the affections, rather than extrinsic causal powers attached to the actions themselves. This also shows that against the notion of some substantive notion of Self as a persistent entity that instead Hume saw the affections all the way down, not as substantive entities that resided unchanging in consciousness termed Self. So once these manifestations subside the supposed attachment to self vanishes with them, which is why for Hume the self could not be blamed for its actions or behaviors since the very notion of a permanent self was itself an illusion.

As Lynn Joy tells us rather than allowing for the possibility of causation by active powers within a framework of mechanistic causes— as his predecessors Locke and Newton had done—Hume aimed to call into doubt the representational contents of a wide range of ideas of powers. He thus sought to undermine the physicists’ knowledge claims about the nature of physical forces as well as the libertarians’ knowledge claims about the causal power of a free will. This epistemological project was crucial to his reform of Descartes’s and Locke’s respective theories of ideas, a reform which was directed at their accounts of the representational contents of ideas, especially their accounts of how an idea can represent a causal power.  He conceived of his rejection of causal powers as a rejection of the conceptual content of those Cartesian or Lockean ideas that purported to represent powers as intrinsic properties of certain kinds of objects, such as the ideas of the causal powers of the human will and God’s will.2

Here the role of disposition is a non-representational functional role definable in either of two ways: ( a) It is what determines the observer’s mind to form the idea of an effect after having the idea of its cause; or (b) It is what determines the observer’s mind to form a more lively idea of an effect after having the impression of its cause. This function demarcates certain regular starting points and end points in what would otherwise be indeterminate sequences of impressions and ideas in an observer’s mind. It’s this demarcation of the effect or affect I’m calling the boundary marker, cut, splice, etc. between these sequences of impressions and ideas in the reflective apparatus of the mind.(Joy, ibid.)

Further when Hume is reflecting on Necessity he remarks:

Now we may observe, that, though, in reflecting on human actions, we seldom feel such a looseness, or indifference, but are commonly able to infer them with considerable certainty from their motives, and from the dispositions of the agent; yet it frequently happens, that, in performing the actions themselves, we are sensible of something like it: And as all resembling objects are readily taken for each other, this has been employed as a demonstrative and even intuitive proof of human liberty. We feel, that our actions are subject to our will, on most occasions; and imagine we feel, that the will itself is subject to nothing, because, when by a denial of it we are provoked to try, we feel, that it moves easily every way, and produces an image of itself  even on that side, on which it did not settle. This image, or faint motion, we persuade ourselves, could, at that time, have been compleated into the thing itself; because, should that be denied, we find, upon a second trial, that, at present, it can. We consider not, that the fantastical desire of shewing liberty, is here the motive of our actions. And it seems certain, that, however we may imagine we feel a liberty within ourselves, a spectator can commonly infer our actions from our motives and character; and even where he cannot, he concludes in general, that he might, were he perfectly acquainted with every circumstance of our situation and temper, and the most secret springs of our complexion and disposition. Now this is the very essence of necessity, according to the foregoing doctrine. (ibid.)

What is interesting in Hume is the acknowledgement that we feel rather than know that our actions are subject to our will. The acknowledgement of the affective relations rather than some mental knowledge is the key to Hume’s investment in a notion of intrinsic dispositions that cannot be a part of knowledge, therefore not a part of something we like to call “consciousness”. Rather these processes are affective all the way down as Scott suggests. As Hume regarding dispositions and the Self relates:

That we may comprehend this the better, we must suppose, that nature has given to the organs of the human mind, a certain disposition fitted to produce a peculiar impression or emotion, which we call pride: To this emotion she has assigned a certain idea, viz, that of self, which it never fails to produce. This contrivance of nature is easily conceived. We have many instances of such a situation of affairs. The nerves of the nose and palate are so disposed, as in certain circumstances to convey such peculiar sensations to the mind: The sensations of lust and hunger always produce in us the idea of those peculiar objects, which are suitable to each appetite. These two circumstances are united in pride. The organs are so disposed as to produce the passion; and the passion, after its production, naturally produces a certain idea. All this needs no proof. It is evident we never should be possest of that passion, were there not a disposition of mind proper for it; and it is as evident, that the passion always turns our view to ourselves, and makes us think of our own qualities and circumstances.(ibid.)

So in the end it seems what we term the Self is itself the production of another disposition or contrivance of nature, a disposition of the mind in which “passion always turns our view to ourselves, and makes us think of our own qualities and circumstances”. And once this passion subsides, so does the disposition, and therefore our sense of self with it.

1. Hume, David (2008-12-11). Works of David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, The Natural … Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (mobi) (Kindle Locations 2627-2638). MobileReference. Kindle Edition.
2. Lynn S. Joy. The Ineliminability of Dispositions in Hume’s Rejection of Causal Powers (2013-01-25). Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotleianism (Kindle Locations 1614-1615). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

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