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A new species of optics

From Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1777 edition), p. 62.

Complex ideas may, perhaps, be well known by definition, which is nothing but an enumeration of those parts or simple ideas, that compose them. But when we have pushed up definitions to the most simple ideas, and find still some ambiguity and obscurity; what resource are we then possessed of? By what invention can we throw light upon these ideas, and render them altogether precise and determinate to our intellectual view? Produce the impressions or original sentiments, from which the ideas are copied. These impressions are all strong and sensible. They admit not of ambiguity. They are not only placed in a full light themselves, but may throw light on their correspondent ideas, which lie in obscurity. And by this means, we may, perhaps, attain a new microscope or species of optics, by which, in the moral sciences, the most minute, and most simple ideas may be so enlarged as to fall readily under our apprehension, and be equally known with the grossest and most sensible ideas, that can be the object of our enquiry.

In the realm of moral theory what are the corresponding simples, the foundational sources, the founts of value? These lie in the varieties of human experience and these are determined by the types of beings who experience and create value. But how many true varieties are there? The “human being” is not a simple. It is already a complex idea burdened more with aspiration than reality. The simplest, not ideationally composite, value-generating beings are women and men qua women and men. Here the “strong and sensible” impressions begin…

Posted by luno in sex differences, Hume, feminism, Moral Theory, Weininger (Monday June 6, 2005 at 9:04 pm)

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