Deleuze on Hume
from Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature
Preface to the English edition
WE DREAM SOMETIMES of a history of philosophy that would list only the new concepts created by a great philosopher – his most essential and creative contribution. The case of Hume could begin to be made with the following list:
– He established the concept of belief and put it in the place of knowledge. He laicized belief, turning knowledge into a legitimate belief. He asked about the conditions which legitimate belief, and on the basis of this invesetigation sketched out a theory of probabilities. The consequences are important: if the act of thinking is belief, thought has fewer reasons to defend itself against error than against illusion. Illegitimate beliefs perhaps inevitably surround thought like a cloud of illusions. In this respect, Hume anticipates Kant. An entire art and all sorts of rules will be required in order to distinguish between legitimate beliefs and the illusions which accompany them.
– He gave the association of ideas its real meaning, making it a practice of cultural and conventional formulations (conventional instead of contractual), rather than a theory of the human mind. Hence, the association of ideas exists for the sake of law, political economy, aesthetics, and so on. People ask, for example, whether it is enough to shoot an arrow at a site in order to become its owner, or whether one should touch the spot with one's own hand. This is a question about the correct association between a person and a thing, for the person to become the owner of the thing.
– He created the first great logic of relations, showing in it that all relations (not only "matters of fact" but also relations among ideas) are external to their terms. As a result, he constituted a multifarious world of experience based upon the principle of the exteriority of relations. We start with atomic parts, but these atomic parts have transitions, passages, "tendencies," which circulate from one to another. These tendencies give rise to habits. Isn't this the answer to the question "what are we?" We are habits, nothing but habits – the habit of saying "I." Perhaps, there is no more striking answer to the problem of the Self.
We could certainly prolong the list, which already testifies to the genius of Hume.
Gilles Deleuze 1989